The Beauty of Translation

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The Art of Interpretation

Prior to college I thought translation was mostly about the science of converting one thing into another. One word into another. Not until studying Piaget and Vgotsky in a linguistics class did I begin understanding the deep complexities of translation.

It had not fully occurred to me that the cultural, biological, experiential, familial contexts determined how a text or thought or letter was rendered by it’s recipient.

Even within the same language!

As a writer and communicator, this set off a deep fascination.

It began with poetry at age nine. There was the desire to translate the emotional landscape inside my head, the conflicting, complicated thoughts that swirled around my brain.

But to find the right words, in the right order, with the right connotations… to find the right metaphorical subtext, to introduce crucial subtleties without getting lost in tangents…

Much was lost, mostly me.

I couldn’t find the right words to convey what I meant.

To decipher myself. Bring the ideas in my head to life. Turn my thinking inside out. This desire to express personal truth comes at a time when teachers and parents are trying to show you right from wrong.

Sense from nonsense.

And there is a serious risk that those children unable to find their voice will become trapped behind the bars of what outside forces tell them they should think, feel–be.

I became fearful I’d never find my language within the language. So at around seven I gave myself a message, in code, though I did not know it was in code until this past year.

The message: My purpose in life is to be colorful.

For a long time I took this to mean I should be fun, playful, the life of the party. It felt incomplete and often shallow. I felt there must be more, but I could not figure it out.

Not until a couple weeks ago, at the ripe age of forty-six did the meaning come to me in a dream.

I discovered a gleaming white room in the basement of our house.

It connected what before had been an incomplete circle of other rooms. In this white room was a bank full of curiously small white deposit boxes.

The universe would send me a single word or image– a gift surrounded by bright white light. I’d open the drawer, interpret the gift from a spectrum of perspectives, put my thoughts, my gift, back in the drawer and close it.

On the other side, the drawer opened into a blue sky that was our interconnected universe and my gift came out as a rainbow.

I was given the white light of singularity.

I translated it into a rainbow of possibility.

Beyond being powerful on a personal level, it dimensionalized the idea of translation beyond what I’d ever imagined.

It is already nothing short of a miracle to me that Dante’s Inferno could make it from Italian across the vast Atlantic of choices into English.

That my lyrics could be translated from the words inside my head into the musical composition of my partner’s guitar. Abstract painting, modern dance– the list is endless.

The nuances, internal dynamics and cultural complexities cannot be fully captured.

Much is lost.

But, something entirely different is gained.

The prism of personal experience refracts the purity of a sender’s intention into an infinite spectrum of meaning for the receiver.

The goal is not arriving at comparative equality, but rather, embarking on universal individuality.

And the only way to get there? Listening. To everything.



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