A staggering essay on the task of translating stories in time of war.
War in Translation: Giving Voice to the Women of Syria, by Lina Mounzer
To translate a text is to enter into the most intimate relationship with it possible. It is the translator’s body, almost more so than the translator’s mind, that is the vessel of transfer.
The mind equates words, expressions, deals with techniques and logistics; it is within the body that the real alchemy—mysterious, unnamed and inexplicable—takes place. That alchemy has to do with truth more than signification, that is, the animating force behind signification, which transforms it into meaning, into something that moves.
There is a violence in undoing someone’s words and reconstituting them in a vocabulary foreign to them, a vocabulary of your own choosing. There is a violence, too, in the way you are—for long moments—annihilated by the other; undone in return. Neither the translator nor the text emerges from the act unscathed.