Let’s continue our journey through the Sydney Symposium on Literary Translation with a link to the presentation offered by the second keynote speaker, Marcelo Cohen. Titled ‘New Battles over the Propriety of the Language,‘ it was a mind-boggling discussion of the idea of propriety of language, meaning both its correctness e it and its ownership, as Chris Andrews points out (2:25).
Cohen is, and has been since the mid 1970s, a translator and writer of fiction, editor and literary critic. His sociological approach to language and translation in this paper opens up spaces for reflection and brings up topics that resonate with any migrant translator and anyone who has ever had to bridge the gap between two languages or two varieties of the same language.
An Argentine Jew who lived in Spain for twenty years, Cohen was accused in use youth to use a “careless Spanish” loaded with Argentine expressions in his translations and original works. He made me think about the few times I was about to use a Ligurian term in a translation, because Italian did not have an equivalent word. I remember wanting to use the Ligurian ‘arbanella’ to translate ‘jar’, instead of the clunky Italian ‘barattolo di vetro,’ and realising, at the age of 25, that ‘arbanella’ was indeed a Ligurian term.
Let’s get back to serious issues, though, since Cohen discusses the relationship between Spanish, its regional variation, and its peripheral variations in the former Spanish colonies. He pretty much embodies the struggle many migrants and diasporic people face when it comes to language and identity. And his paper is a fantastic discussion of this topic.
Personally, Cohen was one of the most inspirational figures at the symposium. Essentially because that’s exactly where I want to be in twenty or thirty years. Marcelo is a professional translator, and has not always been able to choose what books he wants to translate. He only achieved that some time ago (3:45-4:08). That was comforting for a young translator like myself, who can’t afford to be too picky yet… Moreover, he has been able to write original works on top of his translating work – let’s face it, most literary translators have some more or less concealed aspiration as a writer. And also, his reflections on language, literature, translation, and above all on the relationships between them, are extremely acute and complete the picture perfectly.
Enjoy Marcelo’s presentation here, and stay tuned for the upcoming Panel 2, featuring yours truly.