Monday, September 29, 2014

Of Violence and Resistance: Translation as Transference

Outlining the origin and history of translation, in Almario’s "Kasaysayan ng Pagsasalin ng Pilipinas", demonstrates the significance of translation as the foremost activity in the interaction and engagement of cultures around the world. True to its etymology, to translate – from the Greek transferre or translatus – means “to convey” or “to ferry across”. Translation is thus an act of transference; meaning the act of transferring something from one (linguistic/cultural) form to another. Traces of this transference, in ancient civilizations for instance, are manifested and revealed by studying translation activity – the dialogue, exchange, and contact between cultural groups.

With transference of course comes the peripheral interplay of knowledge and power for both the translator and the translated — resulting in either violence in the collective episteme (from Spivak’s “epistemic violence”) or in the collective consciousness and emancipation of a cultural group. The Philippines is a nation that enacts this very idea of translation as transference, both in its (epistemologically) violent and emancipative sense. The relationship between translation and colonialism, in the case of the Philippines, is manifested in the transference, among other things, of Christian religious system to hopefully displace the pre-colonial belief system of the natives.

The publication of Doctrina Christiana (“The Teachings of Christianity”) in 1593 for instance, with its said versions in Spanish (Mexico, 1539), Chinese, Portuguese (Goa, India, 1557), and later in the Visayan language (1610), reveals the extent of the colonial project — deemed to be violent because translation-as-transference here involves the imposition, obliteration, and displacement of an existing knowledge system of a cultural group. Ironically however, this very act of translation is also employed to resist the epistemic violence inherent in colonization.

In the Philippines, translation as transference, particularly of ideas on liberation and freedom from 19th century Europe, furthered the country’s understanding of national consciousness and emancipation. As Almario’s article indicated, the translation of The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (Ang mga Karampatan ng Tawo, 1891-92) introduced the liberal ideologies of France to Filipino propagandists. Moreover, the translation of Rizal’s works into Tagalog and regional languages promoted the Filipino imagining of the nation. Translation – or in the Greek sense, the “ferrying across” of liberal thoughts and nationalist ideas played a significant role in shaping Philippine history and in imagining the Philippines as a nation. 

(I'd like to comment further that Almario, in his survey, excluded translated works from the region (e.g. visayan version of Doctrina Christiana in 1610, Alonso Tomas' first translation of J. Rizal’s El Filibusterismo in 1911, Vicente Flores's visayan translation of Dumas’ Konde sa Monte Cristo in 1928 etc. etc). A lot of translation works from the regions I found in Resil Mojares' book "Cebuano Literature: A Survey and Bio-Bibliography with Finding List")
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