I Supported Changing the Dutch Translator of Gorman’s Poetry. Why Do I Oppose Changing the Catalan Translator?

Since I wrote this post about the controversy over translating Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch, more information has come my way, particularly information about the Catalan translation being dropped.

First, what additional details have you learned about the controversy over the Dutch translation?

According to this article, Janice Deul said:

“I’m not saying a black person can’t translate white work, and vice versa,” Janice Deul told me when we met near her home in Leiden. “But not this specific poem of this specific orator in this Black Lives Matter area, that’s the whole issue.”

There, Janice Deul said that she does not have a general problem with white people translating black people’s works. She just thinks that this is an exceptional case.

While researching these blog posts, I found hundreds of comments about how horrible it is to claim that a white person can never translate a black person’s works, yet I found no one arguing that white people should never translate black people’s works. All of those arguments against having white people translate black people’s work (including editorials in respectable newspapers) are fighting a straw man. Meanwhile, I rarely find anyone arguing against Deul’s actual position: that this poem/poet is a special case. Making a good faith argument that even in this case the race of the translator should not matter is possible, especially if the poet herself takes that position. Yet those arguments are far less common than outrage over ‘a translator was forced to quit because bad people on social media will never let a white person translate a black person’ (never mind that the translator was not forced).

Good faith arguments like that would be boring. Provocative statements such as ‘ZOMYGOSH THE WOKE PEOPLE WANT TO CANCEL WHITE TRANSLATORS!!!!’ are more exciting.

Yeah, that’s a problem.

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Do You Know How Patronizing ‘The First Time a Woman Translates Homer Is a Big Deal’ Sounds?

On a podcast, I heard a translator talk about translating from a ‘post-colonialist/de-colonised’ stance. He said:

To readers who question whether that sort of thing is important… well, it actually is. As folks probably remember, it’s a big deal when Homer is translated for the first time by a woman translator into English… it’s a big deal, because depending on the political approach, and the stance as an interpreter which the translator brings to the text, lots of things which seem to be unquestionable or assumed to be true – are changed.

You’re a woman who has read Homer in Ancient Greek. Surely this makes you feel included?

Wrong. It alienates me.

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What’s Missing from the Controversy over Who Translates Amanda Gorman into Dutch?

What’s missing from the controversy over who translates Amanda Gorman’s poetry into Dutch?


Okay, now that I have the answer, I’m leaving without reading the rest of this post.

Suit yourself.

You don’t care?

I can’t force you to read the rest of this blog post.

Fine, I’m curious enough to keep reading. What are we talking about? Continue reading

Someone Put Japanese Names in the China-Coded Fantasy Fiction I’m Reading. Why Am I Surprised? (not a rhetorical question)

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of anglophone (i.e. originally written in English) fantasy fiction set in pseudo-China. The prevalence of Japanese-sounding names and obvious analogues for Japan strikes me.

The first question is: why do so many anglophone fantasy writers put (pseudo-)Japanese in their (pseudo-)China?The second question is: why do I find this surprising?

Since I am a thousand times better at reading my mind than reading other people’s minds, I’ll start with the second question.

Before I learned Mandarin, I read a few fantasy novels in China-coded setting (such as Dragon of the Lost Sea by Laurence Yep). However, the overwhelming majority of speculative fiction I’ve read with any kind of Chinese setting has been wuxia, xianxia, xuanhuan, and qihuan originally written in Chinese. Since ‘wuxia, xianxia, xuanhuan, and qihuan’ is a mouthful, I’m just going to lump them all under ‘fantastical fiction’. Thus, in my mind, fantastical fiction written in Chinese sets the standard for what I expect for a fantasy story set in (pseudo-)China.

Guess what: references to Japan, Japanese people, or recognizable analogues are rare in what is written in Chinese. Continue reading