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Invoking the translator: A conversation with Raqs Media Collective


At Public Books, Avishek Ganguly talks with the Raqs Media Collective about literariness and translation in their work. Although the collective—Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, and Shuddhabrata Sengupta—works mainly in images, they explain that the literary (and the “antiliterary”) plays a fundamental role in their practice. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

AG: This discussion of figures brings me back to the question of translation. What is your concept of translation?

MN: It relates to the idea of palimpsest: that layers of language and meaning overlay each other, that they literally overlap, and you can make a new meaning because of the fact that Hindi and English and Bengali and Urdu and all of this together create something different from only Hindi or only English or only Bengali. So, in the process of translation, what happens is that you create, because it takes a figure of thought and physicalizes it within these overlapping languages.

SS: In [our work] The Translator’s Silence (2012), the incisions there create apertures for light to come through the translucent paper. The letterforms become almost portals through which light enters onto the body of another letterform. So it is very much an act of translation, because it aims to produce a visual and in some sense a tactile rendition.

AG: It makes me think of the idea of gloss: a glossary offering a gloss on words, but also shining and reflecting.

SS: Yes, the gloss that has to do with luminosity—

AG: And glossary in connection with translation—

SS: Yes, glossary creates …

All: Glossolalia! (laughing)

SS: The glossary creates something that touches the body of another language. Will You, Beloved Stranger? is a work that in some senses emerges from The Translator’s Silence. The second line of Aga Shahid Ali’s couplet that we quote—“Will you, Beloved Stranger, ever witness Shahid— / two destinies at last reconciled by exiles?” is from a poem addressed to Edward Said. So it seemed quite natural to take that line as the capital of this work, which we did in the Tel Aviv Museum in 2013. This was a performance piece for two “readers” reading fragments from the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, in Hebrew, and the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, in Arabic, interspersed with English translations. Meanwhile, a “miscegenated recension” of their joint yet fragmentary corpus, incised on translucent sheets of paper, framed the setting. The Translator’s Silence also has three fragments of poetry from three canonical poets that we have grown up with in the subcontinent: Rabindranath Tagore, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Agha Shahid Ali.

Image: Raqs Media Collective, The Translator’s Silence (2012). Via Public Books.