Future Relevance ／ 明天，谁说了算？ opened today. I translated the exhibition catalogue. Below, I’ve uploaded my thoughts (and translation of said thoughts) on the importance of learning to listen across unsaid assumptions, even when we don’t depend on a translator.
In our native languages, we speak with the expectation that we will be understood and if not, that misunderstandings can be easily fixed. Moreover, we often emphasize speaking as the sign of linguistic competence, rather than listening, reading, or writing, or more generally, an ability to navigate shared histories and cultural assumptions, political exigencies and economic conditions; in short, we take for granted all the unspoken social infrastructure that enables communication. Indeed, we are often so oblivious to the contexts of meaningful dialogue that cross-cultural exchanges often degenerate into fumbling searches for the “right word”.
Take for example a simple comparison of cultural associations with the English word, translation and its Mandarin counterpart, fanyi (翻译).
Coming from the Latin translatus “carried over,” the English word translation means both “to remove from one place to another,” also “to turn from one language to another.” Its prefix, trans is a preposition meaning “across, over, and beyond”. Associated words include transparent, transpire, transient, transfix, transfer, transmit, transvestite, transfuse, transcend, and transplant. In other words, an English translation is not a simple linguistic movement from here to there, but also hints at how human action transforms linguistic meaning and physical shapes beyond what may have been said, or in cases of transgendered persons and divine transmogrification beyond natural limits.
In contrast, the characters fan “to turn over” and yi “to interpret” constitute the Mandarin expression, fanyi. Associated words include fange’er (somersault), fanling (a turn down collar), fanyue (thumb through reading materials), fangai (renovate), fanxiangdaogui (ransack boxes and cupboards, turn everything inside out), fanlian (become hostile), fangun (writhe), fanbaiyan (roll one’s eyes in disgust or die), and fanshen (turn over and free oneself from oppression). In other words, a Chinese fanyi is not simply the overturning and reinterpretation of what has been said, but also suggests how human action might fanzao (restore) meaning as easily as it disrupts the world (fantianfugai – chaos).
In both English and Mandarin translations, we move between languages. However, the particularities of movement differ. In English, we move across, while in Mandarin we flip over. That small difference resonates precisely because the cultural meanings associated with moving across or turning not only over reveal different linguistic structures, but also imply latent strategies for situating interlocutors with respect to each other. Crudely, an English translator is trying to help interlocutors cross over to common ground, while a Chinese fanyiren is trying to stabilize uncertain social relations.
All this to make a simple point: the future relevance of cross-cultural dialogue – about the meaning of contemporary art, for example – is intimately dependent on the terms of engagement. Whose voice will count will in large part be decided by whether or not we can learn to hear what our interlocutor has left unsaid.
来自于拉丁语的”translatus ：携带“，英文的translation有两个含义：“从一个地方带到另一个地方”和“翻译”。作为英语前缀trans是一个介词，有《横过，穿过，跨过》等意义。相关的单词有：透明（transparent）, 发生（transpire）, 短暂的（transient）, 刺穿（transfix）, 转移或调任（transfer）, 传达（transmit）, 易装癖者（transvestite）, 移注（transfuse）, 超越（transcend）, 与移栽(植物)或移植(器官)（transplant）等单词。换句来说，一次英文翻译不是一个从这儿到那儿的简单移动，还是示意人性实践把语言和物体变化为一个超过话题的范围，还包裹超过自然的变性和变形的可能性。