Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Africa: The Problems of Translation

April 12, 2011

One of the things I’m working on while I’m here at Vermont Studios is getting down all the stories I gathered in Uganda. I’ve already been working on this, but it’s a tedious project (someone recently told me I should have gotten a foot pedal for transcribing, something I hadn’t even thought of, but after many long hours working on this I see the value in not having to use one hand to keep turning the machine on and off so that you can just keep typing).

I have never done any translation. And in some ways I wouldn’t say I’m translating these stories either–someone else translated and I am just transcribing. But this, too, poses its own challenges. I have three different people who translated, and they speak English to different degrees and with different styles. As I go through the stories, then, I need to decide several things: what is merely erroneous wording that is the result of the translator searching for the right word or phrase in English vs. what is a kind of repetition of language that is true to the speech patterns of the speaker? What is a speaking style that is perhaps true to an “African” speaker but not inherently Batwa? (the translators were African but not Batwa, so they may be translating in a way that represents the Batwa speech pattern or they may be translating in a way that highlights a different speech pattern that is not Batwa). And what material is perhaps stylistically true to the speaker’s speech patterns but not essential for the story in written English form? For instance, I can’t see rendering all of these stories exactly as told because there would be a great deal of repetition, so I am making decisions about shaping the stories anyway. I am weeding through and finding the unique elements from each speaker’s story so that the whole adds up to an interesting and true representation of their stories, but so, for instance, we don’t have five different versions of the method of Batwa making fire (of all the fascinating elements of Batwa life in the forest, I’m not sure why this one is so essential–it’s clearly a cultural tidbit that has been reinforced over the years, but I’d hate to break it to them that a Boy Scout in the U.S. also knows how to do this, certainly not the most essential aspect of Batwa culture to convey to an American audience. But then too am I making judgements on how to portray another’s culture? Or is such post-colonial angst self-defeating in a project like this). It’s a fascinating project for me, but it’s also quite alien to the way I work. Some great material, but it’s much slower going to get at that material than I would have expected with many challenging questions I don’t really have the answers to. But onward…

Sabbatical Gone Amok

April 5, 2011

I would never consider myself a particularly organized person. I find a clear mind an aesthetic pleasure: I appreciate people who can think clearly, who can follow a line of thought, who can hold multiple lines of thought and express them clearly. I’m just not one of those people. My mind is muddled on the best of days, distracted on all the other days. That said, I generally keep a pretty organized desk; it always helps counteract what’s going on in my mind to have a clean space to work.

One of my sabbatical goals was to get even more organized. I’m revamping all my courses, one step of which is to go through all the folders of notes and articles and weed them out–what’s actually worth keeping? what course does it best belong to? I wanted to go back into the next school year feeling somewhat streamlined.

But then I look at my desk and realize all has gone wrong somewhere along the line. I think it’s the result of working with several big projects: I’m working on my book about the Batwa; I’m working on design for my book of poetry forthcoming this fall; I’m working on my collection of essays about landscape and environment; and I’m working on my conspiracy novel. All at the same time as trying to do my taxes, too, I guess. None of this helps my mind’s naturally disorderly functioning, but has helped my office organizational skills less.


What I really need is to just get away from all this for awhile and write, get away from the clutter and work. It’s not that I’m not being productive–I’m being very productive–but I can’t quite get a handle on what it is I’ve accomplished. I want to immerse myself in the work without all the piles of distractions. So this week I’m headed to Vermont Studio Center for a few weeks, just a few notebooks and my laptop, only so many distractions, only so many piles of work I can generate, and I’ll see where I go. I’ll deal with this mess when I get back.