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The Translation Trap:

‘While being translated might be a small victory for a writer working in English, it is a kind of consecration for a writer from the Global South. The market for foreign works is so slim that what gets translated is usually tailored to a particular kind of American reader — one who reaches for Latin American literature to encounter difference, or maybe to feel morally righteous for reading about the misfortunes wrought by an American government she doesn’t support. Such a reader is not looking for “universal” subjects, but for “authentic” representations of poverty, cartels, and border crossings. As a result, Latin American writers find themselves straining to cater to demand — putting on the poncho, adjusting the sombrero, and talking about the agrarian revolution or the narcos, as Mona puts it. Throughout its history, Latin American literature has been molded by translation, marketing, and distribution in the U.S. and Europe. Its waves of popularity in the mid-20th century crystallized a logic that persists today: Latin American literature can be popular overseas, but only if it closely tracks how an American reader sees, or does not see, the region’s political significance.’

I, myself, giggled a bit years ago when a Danish music reviewer threw a hissy fit over an Indonesian heavy metal band. The nerve: don’t they know it is only to be gamelan for them, for ever?


© Henning Bertram 2022