Yes, you did misunderstand my point. To state it more generally, I don't think that there is anyone in the Netherlands who has the same cultural background as anyone in the US. To suggest that the experience of being black is the same in any country is certainly incorrect. Not being an American is a more profound difference than not being black. Gorman's poem was fundamentally about the black experience in Amercia, where blacks were kidnapped and enslaved and remain to this day victims of that legacy. To me that is clearly different from living in a country because it offered you refuge.
I wonder what you would think if a black translator were fired because someone wrote a column claiming that she could not possibly relate to the experience of the original poet, who was white? If the chasm between them is disqualifying in one instance, isn't it precisely the same-sized chasm when viewed in the other direction? Should Gorman not get to translate Rijneveld’s poems into English?
I'd be interested to see a double-blind experiement. Let the original translator present his/her/their translation to a focus group of black female performance artists, and let the substitute translator present a translation as well. I wonder which the focus group would prefer? Are you really confident that it would necessarily be the replacement translator? I mean, it could be, but would you necessarily think it? Is it inevitable? Or would you maybe expect that the translator who is the better poet would be preferred? To me it's obvious that the better poet would be likely to create the better poem in translation.
Of course I would have had absolutely no objection whatsoever had they originally selected a young black woman to be the translator. In fact, it would have made a lot of sense and no one would have questioned it in any way. What rankles me a bit is that they didn't do that. They chose someone else. That was their choice. Gorman was fine with it. But somehow other people got into the act and told Gorman that her own choice was wrong and it was a horrible gaffe that had to be apologized for.
Rejecting an interracial combination - a black author and a white translator - based on race is a form of racism. It shouldn't be given a pass, anymore than any other manner of racism.
Isn't that a racially-influenced distinction that is not actually motivated by racism?
[Edited to add: Note that in Deul's original statement, Rijneveld's lack of experience in this field is the main objection. Race and gender identity are secondary to that. Yet race has been made the central theme of the outcry, and the importance of rhyme and meter in Gorman's work, and the lack thereof in Rijneveld's work, has not been mentioned in a single complaint I've read about the translator changes.]
I think only the specifics of pecking order nastiness by
Also, if a
And yes, absolutely, Gorman should NOT get to translate Rijneveld's poems into English, since I assume Gorman doesn't know any Dutch and therefore isn't qualified. (What the heck? You seem to be bending over backwards to manufacture some sort of Bizarro World racial equivalency flipside, where there is none. I understand the hypothetical impulse here, but it just doesn't hold up to any sort of scrutiny.)
Here are English translations of five poems by the original translator, Rijneveld. The translations aren't rhymed or metered, because neither are the originals. The translator's note says:
[Edited to say: Here's the English translation of the Dutch poem that Rijneveld published in the Guardian on Saturday, regarding their decision to resign.]
Isn't it possible that a practitioner of Dutch spoken word poetry, familiar with the effective use of rhythm and rhyme, might actually be "the better poet" to translate a rhymed, cadenced poem? Even if these qualifications weren't specifically mentioned in Deul's description of a more suitable translator, I think they are strongly implicit.
From my (White but formalist) perspective, a translator's experience working with meter and rhyme seems far more important than the color of the translator's skin, for this poem. That said, the color of the translator's skin is almost certainly a factor in the choice of meter and rhyme and performance as that person's chosen genre for self-expression.
I have a few issues with your take on this. I hope to get them all out then move on.
I don't have any issue with Deul expressing these opinions. Whether I agree with them or not, they’re reasonably expressed. I don't agree that "Most people are upset NOT about what Janice Deul actually said, but about bad-faith characterizations of it". I know people here have have been responding to the take in the Barrios opinion article I posted, but really I don't think it's what Deul did or didn't say, or whether she has been misinterpreted, that has "upset" people. People are free to express any opinion they like (within reason) and they do on social media every day. People wouldn't be "upset" about it, or even have heard much about it, if she hadn't been successful. That's the point. It's the increasing power of social media outrage in forcing publishers and artists to capitulate to its whims that disturbs people.
I agree there's some straw-manning in the Barrios article. Deul doesn't actually say that she thinks only black writers should translate other black writers etc. But I think it’s unfair to suggest that the reasons for Barrios’ possible hyperbole are “in order to enlist others in battling a perceived threat to her own livelihood as a translator”. Barrios is a successful, widely published writer and poet and I give her the benefit of the doubt that what she is writing is sincerely felt rather than motivated by her bank balance. I also think it unlikely that she would genuinely fear that her income from translating would be massively affected if it suddenly became the norm that she could no longer translate black writers. If anything, putting her head over the parapet to criticise this decision is more likely to lose her work. Also, that slippery slope Barrios alludes to is already being slid down. The notion of "staying in your own lane" regarding what is acceptable subject matter in literature is increasingly commonplace among ID politics inspired social media users. It's what led The Nation to apologise for publishing a poem for the first time in its 80 year history when Anders Wee dared to write a persona poem from the pov of a homeless black man.
You sidestepped Roger's hypothetical about Gorman translating Rijneveld, calling it Bizarro World because Gorman doesn't speak Dutch. What about a more generalised hypothetical. Following a social media campaign, a black, Dutch translator is pressured to step down from translating a collection by a white Midwestern farmer poet. Some campaigners claim it's because the poet wrote mainly in form and the translator mainly in free verse but the original essay prompting the uproar mainly focuses on the poet's status as a role model for working-class Mid-westerners and his strong white identity which no other group could possibly identify or empathise with. What do you imagine yours and the general response would be? Quite rightly, one of upset and indignation I would imagine. Because investing whiteness with quasi-mystical properties is something that only neo-Nazis and white supremacists do. Of course, I understand that historically oppressed and marginalized groups will justifiably be invested in a sense of their identity more than historically privileged groups, but I don't think it is something that should reasonably begin affecting editorial decisions.
I also wonder if Rijneveld really "voluntarily stepped down after sympathising with Deul's position" as you say, or if in fact they felt they had little choice after the social media outpouring of "pain, frustration, anger and disappointment" at their having got the job. To stubbornly dig in could risk them being labelled at best unfeeling and at worst racist. Given the nature of social media mob pressure, it's naive to think this was a completely free choice. I do also wonder if feeling "anger" and "pain" at the idea of a young, non-binary, Booker Prize winning author translating Amanda Gorman, simply because they have the wrong skin colour, or are not part of the spoken word scene, is a reasonable response. I'm aware this might not be a fashionable opinion.
Now, I could be very wrong here but I've started now so in for a penny...I find the notion of "The Hill We Climb" being “sacred to many Americans, but particularly to Black Americans” a bit hard to swallow. I have a problem with sacred texts in general, and I find the idea that all black Americans, or even the majority, see it like this to be a little patronising. Certainly it was a powerful and iconic moment, but is "sacred" pushing it? I’m sure many Americans, white and black, now look back at the inauguration with affection but see the moment for what it was beyond the symbolism: a talented, ambitious young woman getting a big stage with a crowd-pleasing poem and an incumbent administration disassociating itself from the previous, horrendous one in a very media savvy, striking way with a young, black, “modern” voice. The whole idea that there is something special, something sacred, in Blackness, or in any part of a person’s identity over which they have no choice, so that their inner essence and experiences can only be apprehended by someone sharing that identity, is the racial equivalent of the idea that there is something mystical in femininity. And where femininity is dogged with the Madonna/whore dichotomy, white notions of Blackness can be dogged by the sacred/profane dichotomy. I think it’s time we realised we are all just people, equally flawed and pained and bumbling through life and equally capable of the very best and worst of humanity. Art should be about recognising this common humanity and frailty. Again, very unfashionable opinions no doubt and probably informed by my privilege as a straight, white man. And I do mean that genuinely, even though it probably sounds sarcastic.
As to the hypothetical question of whether Rijneveld would have been a good translator of Gorman’s poem, when I read their “response poem” after they stepped down I was struck by two things. The first was how ambivalent it was. The way I read it, they seem to spend the first four stanzas of the six stanza poem expressing their deeply held belief in the notion of empathy in art, of being “able to put yourself / in another’s shoes, to see the sea of sorrow behind another / person’s eyes”, of decrying (in the first stanza) “pulpit preaching…the Word that says what is / right or wrong”, of the need to “face up to all the bullies and fight pigeonholing with your fists raised” and “all of humankind’s boxing in”. This, along with the telling title, reads to me like someone very much of the mind that translation in poetry is an art that transcends racial boundaries and embraces the common humanity of the human race. That having a young marginalised white woman translate the words of a young, marginalised black woman would actually be a positive thing and the deluge of social media criticism was not something they instinctively agreed with. It’s only in the last two stanzas that the poem turns and begins to sound like more an “apology”. And the poem is at its weakest and most prosaic here, like it was written under some form of mental duress. And tellingly, they end on the unifying, defiant note that people should “straighten together our backs”. I felt quite sad reading it.
The second thing that struck me was how easily I could hear the poem in my inner ear with the recognisable rhythms and cadence of spoken word poetry, with its long, flowing, incantatory sentences and rhetorical repetition of “Never lost that”. I think they would have been a fine choice.
I echo what Roger said here:
Here’s Rijneveld’s poem:
Never lost that resistance, that primal jostling with sorrow and joy,
or given in to pulpit preaching, to the Word that says what is
right or wrong, never been too lazy to stand up, to face
up to all the bullies and fight pigeonholing with your fists
raised, against those riots of not-knowing inside your head,
tempering impotence with the red rag in your eyes, and
always announcing your own way with rock-solid pride,
watching someone reduced to pulp and seeing the last
drop of dignity trickling away, you are against craniometry,
against bondservice, against all of humankind’s boxing in.
Never lost that resistance, that seed of wrestling free, your
origin is dressed in mourning attire, your origin was fortunate,
it had an escape route, not that your experience is aligned,
not that you always see that the grass on the other side may be
withered and less green – the point is to be able to put yourself
in another’s shoes, to see the sea of sorrow behind another
person’s eyes, the rampant wrath of all wraths, you
want to say that maybe you don’t understand everything,
that of course you don’t always hit the right chord, but that
you do feel it, yes, you feel it, even if the difference is a gap.
Never lost that resistance and yet able to grasp when it
isn’t your place, when you must kneel for a poem because
another person can make it more inhabitable; not out of
unwillingness, not out of dismay, but because you know
there is so much inequality, people still discriminated against,
what you want is fraternity, you want one fist, and maybe your
hand isn’t yet powerful enough, or maybe you should first take the hand
of another in reconciliation, you actively need to feel the hope that
you are doing something to improve the world, though you mustn’t
forget this: stand up again after kneeling and straighten together our backs.
Anyway. Here we go again. All the best to you, Julie.
From: The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity by Douglas Murray
We are going through a great crowd derangement. In public and in private, both online and off, people are behaving in ways that are increasingly irrational, feverish, herd-like and simply unpleasant. The daily news cycle is filled with the consequences. Yet while we see the symptoms everywhere, we do not see the causes. Various explanations have been given. These tend to suggest that any and all madnesses are the consequence of a Presidential election, or a referendum. But none of these explanations gets to the root of what is happening. For far beneath beneath these day-to-day events are much greater movements and much bigger events. It is time we began to confront the true causes of what is going wrong. Even the origin of this condition is rarely acknowledged. This is the simple fact that we have been living through a period of more than a quarter of a century in which all our grand narratives have collapsed. One by one the narratives we had were refuted, became unpopular to defend or impossible to sustain.
The explanations for our existence that used to be provided by religion went first, falling away from the nineteenth century onwards. Then over the last century the secular hopes held out by all political ideologies began to follow in religion’s wake. In the latter part of the twentieth century we entered the postmodern era. An era which defined itself, and was defined, by its suspicion towards all grand narratives. However, as all schoolchildren learn, nature abhors a vacuum, and into the postmodern vacuum new ideas began to creep, with the intention of providing explanations and meanings of their own. It was inevitable that some pitch would be made for the deserted ground. People in wealthy Western democracies today could not simply remain the first people in recorded history to have absolutely no explanation for what we are doing here, and no story to give life purpose. Whatever else they lacked, the grand narratives of the past at least gave life meaning.
The question of what exactly we are meant to do now – other than get rich where we can and have whatever fun is on offer – was going to have to be answered by something. The answer that has presented itself in recent years is to engage in new battles, ever fiercer campaigns and ever more niche demands. To find meaning by waging a constant war against anybody who seems to be on the wrong side of a question which may itself have just been reframed and the answer to which has only just been altered. The unbelievable speed of this process has been principally caused by the fact that a handful of businesses in Silicon Valley (notably Google, Twitter and Facebook) now have the power not just to direct what most people in the world know, think and say, but have a business model which has accurately been described as relying on finding ‘customers ready to pay to modify someone else’s behaviour’. Yet although we are being aggravated by a tech world which is running faster than our legs are able to carry us to keep up with it, these wars are not being fought aimlessly. They are consistently being fought in a particular direction. And that direction has a purpose that is vast. The purpose – unknowing in some people, deliberate in others – is to embed a new metaphysics into our societies: a new religion, if you will.
Murray, Douglas. The Madness of Crowds (pp. 8-9). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
. . . . .
When Martin Luther King Jr addressed the crowds from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on 28 August 1963, he appealed not only to foundations of justice in the founding traditions and principles of America; he also made the most eloquent defence anyone has ever made about the right way in which to treat other human beings. He spoke not only after centuries in which black Americans had been first slaves and then second-class citizens, but in an era during which racist laws were still on the statute books in American states. Racial segregation laws including anti-miscegenation laws were still in place, able to punish couples from different racial backgrounds who had fallen in love.
It was Dr King’s great central moral insight that in the future about which he dreamed his children should ‘one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character’. Although many people have attempted to live up to that hope and many have succeeded, in recent years an insidious current has developed that has chosen to reject Dr King’s dream, and insist that content of character is nothing compared to the colour of someone’s skin. It has decided that skin colour is everything.
—Murray, Douglas. The Madness of Crowds (p. 142). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Suggesting that race doesn't or shouldn't matter, or wouldn't if racial, ethnic, and gender minorities weren't making such a big deal about it, overlooks the fact that these identities usually ARE noticeable and DO matter, a lot, both to others and to ourselves. They are central to our first impressions of others and to our sense of belonging within a wider community, through bonds sometimes strengthened by cultural factors like religion, language, music, dance, food, etc.
Claiming that people are somehow doing something wrong when others choose to identify them as Other and choose to treat them differently because of that, rather than judging them by the content of their character, seems unrealistic at best, and victim-blaming at worst, if that treatment is negative.
There goes my thesis that the commissioned translation project was for a single poem. (Although the March release will be of a single poem.) And that Deul was only talking about a single poem.
Well, this is awkward.
Thanks for calling me out on it in such a calm, kind way. Not that I would have expected any different from you, but it's a rare gift to receive such courteous correction these days.
But I still think that people in privileged groups should not try to speak for people who have traditionally not had opportunities to make their voices heard, but who may be perfectly capable of speaking for themselves now. However well-intentioned the White person is who tries to speak on their behalf, they still don't get to speak while he or she is speaking. And wouldn't firsthand witness be more accurate, anyway?
That was the problem (as I see it--after having just gotten the above problem wrong) with the 40-page poem in Poetry, by the white poet whose white narrator occasionally quoted the banal racism of his white grandmother. White guys, collectively speaking, have had plenty of opportunities to have their views heard on everything, and when they are given 40 pages in which to blather away on race, no one else can get a word in edgewise.
I found the link to the Rijneveld's poem just after having posted, and although I realized that it torpedoed many of my conjectures, I thought it would be helpful to the discussion to include it. But I didn't have any more time to spend, so I just cut it, pasted it, and turned it red so people wouldn't miss it.
Over the past twenty years, I've posted any number of really cringeworthy attempts at translating rhymed, metered poetry to the Translation Board here. And a handful of decent ones. And two or three good ones.
I know that in large part, my verse translation failures have been due to unique personality and processing flaws that make it difficult for me to perceive what the original poet was thinking and feeling. Which in turn makes it nearly impossible to convey the same with any degree of success. And also I am often reluctant to sacrifice things like perfect rhyme, when doing so might be the only way to preserve another aspect of the poem that is more important. But I am vain enough to think that for the most part, my failures have been due to the fact that rhymed, rhythmic translations are just really difficult to do well. Such a high-visibility performance poem, or set of poems, doesn't seem like an ideal learn-on-the-job opportunity for someone who almost never works in form.
But maybe I'm wrong, and Rijneveld's translation would have been brilliant. it seems that no one will ever know.
All I know is that whoever the substitute or substitutes are will now have a nearly-impossible-to-please audience judging their work.
Thanks again for your time and thought, Mark, and if you don't have the time or energy to engage with this right now, feel free to take a break and come back to it in a few days or weeks.
I think you added another paragraph in the middle after I started replying, so apologies if you've changed other things that I didn't notice. I'll go back to look at what you said in the morning.
Sheesh, it's 3am here now. I keep telling myself not to do stuff like this. I'm sure you know the feeling, Mark!
Appropriation is most harmful to minorities, which is mostly why it’s
so offensive. And anti-art, no question. No black Hamlet maybe?
not many minority roles in Shakespeare. No openly gay people
Allowed either I suppose. Even no women come to that, considering
all the female roles were originally played by men.
what worries me most is that if that’s the game its only a matter of time
Before some English fascist will try and plant his big, white fascist flag
on the English language itself. We own the language: It’s ours: and no
One else can play with our ball. If you’d like to go and find your own
Language then fine, but we own this one because, well, we’re English....
Dave, if someone were to claim the English language as English-only, would they have to give all the loanwords and calques back? Heh.
And if we're getting technical, the casting of Hamlet wouldn't be just restricted to Whites, but to Whites of Danish ancestry, in which case a lot of White English actors would still be out of a job.
Seriously, though, I don't see why no Black Hamlets would be allowed. There's a long tradition of resetting Shakespeare in modern times, the 1920s, etc., in which multicultural casts make sense. And also a very long history of women playing Hamlet, including women of color. It's way too late to put that genie back in the bottle.
I'm pretty sure we won't be seeing any more blackface White Othellos for awhile, though. However long that tradition is. Current casting and costuming decisions are less a matter of whether a White actor can do justice to the role, and more about the troubling history of blackface. And to a lesser degree, about giving non-White actors Shakespearean leading role opportunities, which have not been available to them until relatively recently.
Speaking of cultural appropriation, there's a reason we've yet to hear Danes complain about exaggerated ethnic stereotypes in Hamlet, or Scots complain about them in Macbeth. Or Greeks about depictions in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Etc. And that reason is that exaggerated ethnic stereotypes of Danes, Scots, Greeks, etc., aren't there. The anti-Semitism in the depiction of Shylock is, but so is Shylock's humanizing speech. Whether those two things really offset each other is debatable, of course.
In recent years, I've attended two productions of Mozart in which the libretto's sexism and/or cultural appropriation was obvious. Both productions chose to present those depictions as in the original had had them, but with significant pauses added for the audience to softly hiss or throat-clear after the now-offensive lines. I thought that this expression of solidarity by the audience made these productions far more meaningful and engaging experiences for everyone, including the women and the members of the appropriated culture, than censorship or tinkering would have.
Mark, here's the bit I missed in your post--probably due to an editing error on my part rather than a later addition:
BTW, in my view, there is absolutely nothing wrong with White people taking pride in their own race or ethnicities or religions or other cultural signifiers. It's only when they feel the need to sneer at, suppress, exclude, or discriminate against other people's races or ethnicities in order to feel secure about their own--which is what neo-Nazis and White supremacists do--that I have a problem with White pride.
Yes, exactly. I was kinda joking obviously, in poor taste, but
All that is true.
As a serious point though my worry is things being seen as
One thing or the other. Appropriation works both ways, which I
don’t think anyone has said yet. Yes, we claim something as our
Own: but...we also decide that something else is yours. That’s the
Dangerous bit imo.
Things are kind of at that point now. Everything with a little flag
on it. novelists, poets, acting roles, plays. I think the phrase is...
stay in your lane....which is a goddam depressing thought.
Personally, I think the following factors should be considered when determining whether getting out of one's lane is acceptable, or even commendable:
1. Goodwill vs. Selfishness. Does the artist's main motive in attempting this representation seem to be that of promoting deeper or broader understanding? Or does the artist seem to be more motivated by a desire to exploit a trendy or exotically novel theme for profit (monetary, political, or notoriety/publicity-wise)?
2. Enough Respect to Do One's Homework. Has the artist done the proper research to make sure that the depiction does not mis-represent any aspects of the other culture, gender, etc.? Or is the artist simply relying on readymade clichés and unexamined stereotypes?
3. The Fairness of Any Implied Broader Implications. Are the strengths and flaws of these fictional characters--and yes, all fictional characters must be flawed in order to have any verisimilitude or interest--likely to be taken as applying to others with the same cultural or gender traits? And if so, is that a fair implication?
4. Quality of the Resulting Work. Obviously it's much easier to look kindly on a depiction if it is part of something excellent.
An example of an artist who has successfully gotten out of his lane is Kazuo Ishiguro, the 2017 Nobel-prizewinning author of books with unreliable narrators who are obviously different from himself in various ways, such as the painfully repressed English butler in The Remains of the Day and the eventually stoic Kathy H. in Never Let Me Go. Even Ishiguro has had some misses along with his lane-changing hits; some of his choices definitely work better than others. But when he gets it right, it's great.
And there are of course many other such artists. Wally Lamb's eerie inhabitation of an obese female narrator in She's Come Undone comes to mind. And yes, body size is an identity.
Perhaps others can add to this list of successful lane-changers, or add to (or subtract from) this list of guidelines.
The factors are somewhat different when evaluating a publisher's or producer's decisions. But I've yammered on long enough and will let others discuss those if they wish.
|All times are GMT -5. The time now is 07:38 AM.|
Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.7.4
Copyright ©2000 - 2021, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.