What Do We Do Now?: Literary Translation in a Post-Trump World
- onJanuary 5, 2017
- Vol.34 Winter 2016
- bySusan Harris
Wednesday, November 9, was the third and final day of the translation workshop I was running at the Singapore Writers Festival. It was also election day in the US: Singapore is thirteen hours ahead of New York, so the polls were beginning to close as we started that morning. When the early returns leaned heavily toward Donald Trump I was only somewhat alarmed; but as the day continued, my leisurely peeks at the New York Times on my phone turned frantic. Finally I commandeered the classroom computer. I saw the word STUNNING. The students— Chinese, Indonesian, and Malay, the latter two Muslim—read the news projected on the screen over my head. “He doesn’t know anything about us,” one said.
That evening, still reeling, I opened my e-mail and found Agnel Joseph’s invitation to contribute to this space. Agnel suggested I talk about translation editing; his message had been sent just about the time Trump clinched. My subject had been all but handed to me.
[I]t’s becoming terrifyingly clear that our voters have made what I believe is a profoundly irresponsible choice . . . Depending on whom you ask, the votes were cast over immigration, democratic rights, disenfranchisement, anti-establishment anger, racism, isolationism, nationalism, patriotism, a massive collapse of trust, austerity, control.
These words were written, not about the US election, but in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum in late June of this year; and if they sound familiar, it might be because they appear in Danny Hahn’s piece in this space in the Summer 2016 issue. Danny’s wonderful essay, which now reads like a warning, underlines the increasing spread of insularity that we in translation publishing fight every day, and confirms the urgency of combating this ignorance and prejudice through our work.