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Wednesday, March 31, 2010



Between the original and the translation exists the same sort of ethical, emotional hierarchy that exists between the self and the other, between home and abroad. One could turn this in favor of translation, but after long periods of colonialism and imperialism, it becomes hard to say that translation has always been a “humanitarian” task; its self-delusions are perhaps as transparent as those of humanitarianism. Translation, as many studies have proved, has been one of the prime tools in the organized programs of conditioning and controlling the other and of ultimately becoming its “representative”, instead of being a mode of expressing the other.
But despite this, there is always some hope in translation. Here we should recall not only the Sanskrit tradition of regarding every creation as un-original, and the post-structuralists who viewed “originary” narratives with suspicion, but also writers like Borges who not only dissolved the mutual so-called-ness between “original” and “translation”, between “original” and “un-original”, but made it almost irrelevant. This view of translation is probably as important to any definition of the “self” as any view on one’s origins.
The lead story in this issue, “The Self and Its Translations”, is the story of Pratilipi. Whatever self this magazine has, is made of up many translated and supposedly “original” texts/selves, which don’t have, nor should have, much in common.
One hopes this can initiate some sort of dialogue.


After the Indian Government’s launch of “Operation Green Hunt” (the nomenclature itself is a kind of violence against the symbolic meanings of “green” and reminds one of the time when the phrase “Buddha Smiles” was turned into a euphemism for the nuclear tests…) the argument has intensified on what is more acceptable – the State’s violence, or violence against the State? The modern nation-state (whatever its official, functional manifestation may be) is not possible without the monopolization of violence by the State and, at least in this sense, is not too different from pre-modern states. The Hindi poet Alok Dhanva had written in 1972:
if a constable has the right to fire a bullet
to save humanity
why don’t I?

The logic behind violence/counter-violence has always been the same. One could imagine a Utopia without violence/counter-violence, but no ‘system’. This poem questioned the State’s right to a monopoly over violence. Does no one have a better way to “save humanity” than firing bullets?
In all this, the one thing that has been beyond debate is the appropriateness of violence. For both sides. For both, their violence is not the “original”, but a “translation”. Not violence, but counter-violence. If the modern nation-state monopolizes violence in order to control it, to decide between “legal” / “proper” and “illegal” / “improper” violence, then it has often, the world over, in the past 100 years, been unsuccessful in doing so. This is not the story of power submitting to the ethical, but the other way round.
In a time that is bereft of even the possibility of non-violence, Alok Dhanva’s 1997 poem comes to mind:
when Bhagat Singh stepped to the scaffold
it was non-violence
which was his toughest task.

Dr. Vishwanath Bite

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