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"Trash Talk: On Translating Garbage" by Lina Mounzer

I said garbage and I mean garbage; I mean trash piles of words arranged in a sequence that follows no syntactical or logical order. I mean sorting through the offal of language, with endless entrails of run-on sentences, adjectives and adverbs that multiply like spores, paragraphs that are dumping grounds of useless information, crawling with disease-carrying vermin quick to infect you and turn your own writing into a diarrhea of undigested thoughts, sometimes leaving you so addled you forget the basic rules of grammar and have to google which prepositions go with which words.
Regardless, the choices you have to make with awful texts are no less delicate or complicated than with the best. If anything, they are fraught with even more dangers and temptations: the temptation of changing what is before you to make it less awful; the danger of producing something that is less a translation and more a hybrid, a collaboration with someone you’d rather not be in collusion with. For example, when a ministry of interior is answering to charges of abuse of detainees and the violent coercion of confessions, it is imperative to preserve the doublespeak faithfully. “Our laws forbid the mistreatment”—here a distinction is made from the harsher abuse—“of detainees, and therefore it is impossible that we are engaging in such practices as they are forbidden by law.” I might be tempted to omit that final clause, repetitive as it is, and yet that empty insistence is in fact the crux of what is being expressed. Sometimes I am tempted to editorialize, as when another ministry replied to a human rights organization: “Honorable Sirs, you are perhaps aware of the fact that we have been devastated by war and sanctions as of late, and therefore it pains us to point out that the Ministry has jurisdiction in name only and it is in fact the militias who are responsible for the torture of refugees.” I pictured an exhausted bureaucrat sitting in one of those bare, tiled offices with peeling walls, a metal desk, and an ancient desktop computer, a city in ruins around him, and I wanted to add, because he didn’t: “Surely you’ve been reading the news? Surely, even if I’m passing the buck, you understand the futility of this entire effort on your part?”
+1
offal of language
Good challenge
Metaphor p​ermitting ​multiple r​enderings.
+1
turn your own writing into a diarrhea of undigested thoughts, sometimes leaving you so addled
Well-written
Another st​rong diges​tive metap​hor. Chall​enge here ​is to stic​k with the​ imagery.
a collaboration with someone you’d rather not be in collusion with
Well-written
Many langu​ages have ​good collo​quial syno​nyms for "​collusion.​"
mistreatment”—here a distinction is made from the harsher abus
Good challenge
German has​ no separa​te words f​or abuse a​nd mistrea​tment, so ​interestin​g translat​ion decisi​on.
refugees.
Possibility for separation
very long ​sentence, ​many optio​ns
pictured an exhausted bureaucrat sitting in one of those bare, tiled offices with peeling walls, a metal desk, and an ancient desktop computer, a city in ruins around him,
Good challenge
Another me​taphor tha​t lets us ​get creati​ve. Can no​n-Lebanese​ readers e​ven pictur​e an avera​ge Arab bu​reaucrat?


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