The translator must always navigate space and absence. The relationship between a translation and its source is often analyzed in these terms – how far has a translation come from the original? Has the translation gone too far? What is lost?
Of course, absence entails the possibility, or at least the idea of presence: what is absent from the translation is, for example, that rhyme scheme that was present before. In that sense, the concept of absence tells us more about a relationship between two or more entities than it does about what is not present (and what is) — each of these categories might hold infinities.
The translations gathered here question what it means to be without. In Sean McDonagh’s translation of Cesare Pavese’s “Camp Dreams”, the seemingly endless silence in the barracks is defined not as an absence of sound, but as a “drone of silence [which] sometimes makes you think of a scream, a clamor so deafening that you can no longer hear”. This is one of several pieces which explore the unexpected presence found in absence, either by way of contrast or, as in the Pavese, by its capacity to engulf and unsettle.
The creators in Alex Halatsis’s translation of Antonio Martínez’s “Mother” orchestrate absence. “The ones who do by not doing” create the space for what is to stand out in relief against what is not, working in the language of ice, stars, flowers and death to carve a stillness out of the noise of the world. Similarly, Chen Du and Du Xisheng’s translation of Yan An’s “Balloon and Emptiness” considers empty space and the solid Earth together. Earth, “an unexpected balloon/With a solid inside and an empty outside” holds the truth of the endless emptiness in its solid form. The concepts of absence and presence require each other to hold meaning; they always exist together.
I hope this exploration of absence and presence can redirect conversations on translation that revolve around loss and encourage, instead, conversations that celebrate what is generated. I hope we let the absence of what might have been inform not only our appreciation of the source text, but also our appreciation of the space that absence makes for what is created in new iterations.
Daryl Lim Wei Jie’s translation of, and correspondence with, the Tang Dynasty Chinese poet Bai Juyi, utilizes an epistolary mode which bridges the vast distances of space and time between Lim and Juyi. This space makes their conversation possible, one in which ancient figurations of flowers and social media platforms meet. The incredible power of translation lies in the otherwise impossible conversations the space between languages, time periods, and cultures holds — it is not a Sisyphean process of unavoidable loss, but a mode in which an existing work responds to a new environment, stretches, and expands.
—Kaylee Lockett, Managing Editor