Shot in the face

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Who remembers the story of the Long Island Lolita, Amy Fisher? A Long Island high school girl who had an affair with a car mechanic, Joey Buttafuoco, and then when he dumped her, she went to the Buttafuoco house and shot Joey’s wife, Mary Jo, in the face. What in the hell did Mary Jo have to do with this conflict? Sure, the teenage girl is unhinged and somehow sees the wife as the hindrance keeping her away from her lover. But it wasn’t the wife. It was the man: blaming his inability to know what he wants, playing all sides, having cake and eating it. But the women pay the price.

It was a long time ago, and you would be forgiven to have forgotten this sordid, ripped-from-the-headlines, made-for-tv tale. It was mined once more in a recent season of Mozart in the Jungle, but even that is not a must-watch for most, so the Buttafuoco/Fisher story isn’t immediately at the ready in most people’s memories. No matter – it is just an extreme example of the cautionary tale that we’re fed: women are jealous; women are crazy; women will try to kill each other over a man and imagine the worst intentions in the other woman. In fact, the other woman may be completely in the dark.

So often, it’s not the women. It’s almost always the men. The men are the ones making poor choices, misleading women… and then these blind women, who never have all the facts, end up doing stupid shit like shooting each other in the face.

Most are not shooting anyone in the face. Nothing quite so dramatic… or criminal. But I wonder about the majority of the women I know. There’s a lot of lip service about being supportive of women, being feminists, believing and listening to other women. But in practice, even the most reasonable of women are always suspicious of and placing blame on another (or ‘the other’) woman. But I don’t think the majority of women would, for example, actively pursue someone (male or female) whom they knew to be already involved/unavailable.

I wonder today, along these lines, how could woman A (a nameless/faceless woman) read book after book, all feminist manifestos and dialectics of women supporting women, and yet be so territorial about the man she lived with and supposedly didn’t even love or want? Woman B is simply told that man Z has split up with woman A. But woman A apparently has a different understanding of the situation. Why does she then blame woman B, who does not have accurate or truthful information about where things stand? Woman B has stumbled into a situation about which she does not have, well… any information. (Although that does not become totally clear until the end, when it no longer matters.) The problem always comes back to man Z. And why would either woman, given how they are being played and given false or incomplete information, even want man Z?

How could woman A, apparently intelligent, thoughtful and brilliant, after reading so much about women, act as though and treat other women – strangers, in most cases – as though they were enemies to her cause? As standing in her way? As trying to steal from her? Women so often, especially when someone else is in the middle, do not have all the information they need.

And the world goes on being a horrible place for women not only because of men’s oppression, which of course is in the news now – dominating headlines – but also because of women’s suspicion about each other and what they do to and how they treat and view each other.

The translation lie

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In some other universe, when I was young and attended university, I thought a lot during long commutes about translation. This was during a time in my life when language was the be-all, end-all. How it fit together, where it came from, how it all formed the pieces of a puzzle. I loved nothing more than to learn new languages and delve into semi-obscure poetry (at least in the English-speaking world). My mind was opened by the broad field of linguistics. I never specialized, and never pursued a professional career relating to language or linguistics, but that low-level passion bubbles away under the surface.

I wrote a paper during my first year at university about lying and forms of lying. It was in response to a book by Sissela Bok: Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. I think I took the assignment in a different direction than the professor sought, but it nevertheless kept coming back to me as I drove the 50 miles to campus and back, contemplating how I could frame translation as its own form of lying, unintentional though it is.

I don’t have the paper any longer, nor any copies of the Bok book (haha – bok book!). But the basic concept: translation as lie, comes back to me frequently, particularly as I move through the world and experience everything as a foreigner, as a non-native speaker, and constantly observe the non-native use of English as the foremost business language. It endlessly fascinates me, and thus when I recently read a dazzling book, Tram 83, by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, I was all the while curious about the book in its original French. The translation seemed vibrant and vital (which I say without having the original to look at for comparison), but then I stumbled on an interview with Mujila in which he voices very similar sentiments to those I’ve been carrying around with me for 30 years:

The interviewer asks: “But how did you experience the process itself?”

Mujila: “The process? I think that translation is not like getting a photocopy, or a printout. The translation of a text involves a process of re-creation. The English version of Tram 83, is not the French version of Tram 83. They’re two different books, because the translator doesn’t translate… Perhaps even the word ‘translator’ is… It always irks me…”

“I might say ‘re-creator’. Because the word ‘translator’ is like someone who buys beer and then goes and sells it, while the translator does more than buy and sell beer: he buys the beer and then he adapts the beer to the taste of his customers. A person doesn’t translate a text, he re-creates a text. It becomes another text. The English translation will be another text, and the Italian or Swedish or Dutch translation will be yet another text, particularly since this novel is aimed at a wide range of cultures and imaginations; it’s aimed at readers who may or may not have a connection to the Congo. When I wrote my characters, I didn’t think that these characters would one day speak German or English. I think that translation is a precious profession – more than one might think. I myself constantly slalom between languages. I speak several languages, and I myself have had to translate my own poems and texts into German, before I began writing in German too. And so I think that translation is more a work of … perhaps re-writing, but I think that above all we need to find another term instead of translation, or translator, another term that can illuminate all of these energies, because one doesn’t translate sentences, one translates a culture, one translates imaginations, one translates countries, one translates characters, one translates impressions, one translates sounds, smells, the smell of Kinshasa, the smell of Lubumbashi, the atmosphere of the mines, everything that happens around the mines, noises, the sound of glasses… And so a translator is not just somebody who buys beer wholesale and sells it retail, it’s more than the work of a salesman. A translator is like a ferryman, but beyond being a ferryman, a translator is a creator in his own right.”