Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking ahead to 2016

So there are three main issues left over from 2015 which I'd like to talk about before I can begin to fully discuss goals for 2016...

First and foremost: While this blog has largely been dormant the past few months, it is not yet obsolete or gone. I'll likely be posting less frequently over the next few months as well, but I expect to be back full-time in the spring.

The translation world

I had the honor of speaking at ALTA this past October on the women in translation panel. While I had to leave the conference a bit earlier than I wanted, I found the entire experience to be fascinating and enlightening. Not simply because I got to learn a lot about the translator perspective on translated literature, but also because I realized that there remains a fairly large divide between the literary world at large (that readers belong to), and the publishing world of translation.

This is something that's come up a few times in regards to the women in translation project, namely that it's very difficult to encourage readers to even recognize that a problem exists when literature in translation is still largely viewed as "niche" and separate. From my selfish perspective of someone who wants to see more published literature by women writers in translation, I want to see this divide thrown out. The pervasive elitism of quite a few translators I spoke with (one of whom went so far as to question my viability as a critic simply because I've not studied literature!) makes it increasingly difficult to bridge this divide, and this is something I think will need to be addressed bluntly if we want to see efforts like the women in translation project actually succeed.

The question of gender as an exclusionary challenge

I've been thinking about the women in translation project quite a bit in the past few days as regards gender definitions. In an offline conversation with my sister, she pointed out that the way in which I define the project may be interpreted as excluding nonbinary genders or transgender writers. I was already thinking about how to address this matter in the FAQ I want to write for the project at large when I came across C. K. Oliver's post about how the "read women" movement (and I suppose, by extension, the women in translation project) excludes and is unfair to transgender men or nonbinary authors. "‘Read women’ puts NB, GQ, and trans male authors between a rock and a hard place [or under a microscope] if they do not disclose their identity, or have come out as trans men while writing their books. It’s that simple."

So while I'll include this more precisely in the forthcoming FAQ, I want to make some things very clear: The women in translation movement - which seeks to draw attention to marginalized voices - will never exclude transgender authors or nonbinary genders. My statistics are drawn up using gender markers from author biographies and have thus far not raised any transgender or nonbinary authors that I have been aware of (which of course is an interesting question in and of itself), but when I do encounter authors whose identities do not fit neatly within a gender binary, I am expanding the scope of the project to include these voices. I can do little to mitigate the problems that gender definitions create, but at least I can try to form a space in which their significance is not absolute.

Use of the term diversity

I also read Khavita Bhanot's recent post about how use of the term "diverse" is well-meaning, but only further plays into racial divides. The post effectively argues that calling non-white writers or stories "diverse" only emphasizes that they are an "other", and whiteness as a default. I found myself largely agreeing with this point (not with other aspects of the article, but I won't get into that right now) - for someone who is Asian-American, for instance, Asian-American experiences are not "diverse", they simply are. Diversity is in the eye of the beholder, which is why the signs readers hold up as part of the "We Need Diverse Books Now" differ wildly between the race of the reader.

But then I thought about how this doesn't really apply to literature in translation. Unlike racial experiences within a specific cultural context (like the US or Britain, in which these sorts of movements are most prominent), nobody can belong to all international cultures or read in every language. Literature in translation (beyond individual titles) will be diverse for literally every single reader, no matter what.

Which is why I continue to view the women in translation project as an important exercise specifically in diversity. The women in translation project is about encompassing all voices and all experiences, such that any and every reader may have the opportunity to read about something new. In this sense, the question of diversity can only be held within a single country/culture (and then Bhanot's post is largely relevant), but upon crossing borders, this definition too should disappear.

What to look forward to in 2016

A lot! Get ready...