- Language Should Not Keep Us Apart!Reflections towards a Black Transnational Praxis of Translation
Imploro-te ExuPlantares na minha bocaO teu axé verbalRestituindo-me a línguaQue era minhaE ma roubaram …Laroiê!—Abdias do Nascimento, “Padê do Exu Libertador” Buffalo, New York, 1981
There is no world of thought which is not a world of language, and one sees of the world only what is provided for by language.—Walter Benjamin, “Translation – For and Against”
I want to begin this paper by going back to the genesis of a few ideas, ideas prompted, in the first instance, by a visit that Professors Conceição Evaristo and Eduardo de Assis Duarte paid to Brown University almost exactly a year ago, and the conversations that ensued.1 Those ideas fell into my mind and took up company with some others which had been there longer, and were prompted by black transnational lives—my own and that of others who inspired me—and the need to think more deeply about what it means not just to write theoretically about diaspora, but rather also to practice diaspora.2 Or as I think of it more and more, to live diaspora, in all its contradictions and crossings with other ways to live and be and think. In a manner of speaking, such lives are a translation, sometimes a productive one—but not always. I will try to demonstrate how reading Professor Evaristo’s work opens up possibilities for thinking about, and exploring, the idea of a black transnational praxis of translation. In a sense, I am thinking about how Pan African decolonial liberation and human rights struggles, and my participation in some of them over decades, engendered and influenced my experience as an interpreter. But because I am what someone once called a “community feminist,” and also I believe in the emancipatory projects of other peoples and provocative notions no matter their provenance, other concepts have also shaped how I think about and cross language borders in work and personal life. So my reflections are not limited to the distinctive political activity and body of ideas called Pan Africanism. More went into the pot, as my grandmother would say. [End Page 632]
In this text I want to tease out some of the ways in which the historical experiences and the creative expressiveness which mark diasporan lives conjure up companion ideas and expressions, and hence may fruitfully bring particular inflections and enriched meanings to translation and interpretation. To do so, I will give a certain reading of Conceição Evaristo’s work, in particular Becos da Memória—but I warn you that it won’t be the close reading of literary scholars, or professional translators of poetry and fiction, because I am neither!3 Rather, my discussion will make more apparent the thought processes of a once-upon-a-time interpreter who comes out of a certain black radical and feminist tradition, when faced with the linguistic joys and conundrums that Evaristo’s work invokes. We might think of this as following Walter Benjamin’s injunction to add the practice of commentary to translation, if we want it to work well, and not just be a technical exercise to try to produce a duplicate (“Task”). I will along the way make some provisional assertions, not conclusions—provisional because I am still thinking deeply, while here in Brazil, about all this. I need to listen and observe a lot more, and converse more with some other black folks whose paths to translation and interpretation have been somewhat parallel to mine. We aren’t that many, as you will understand from some of the things I will shortly relate.
In brief, I want to suggest four points, not necessarily with any linearity or didactic explicitness. The arguments come from the spaces I inhabit and the crossroads at which life has placed me, of course, but that by no means implies that they are limited to people who look like me, or even to the languages of Portuguese and English. Rather, they might also serve as a springboard to wider discussions about translation, and about constructing and crossing that...