Coherence and Fidelity in Narratives of Activist Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:06:56
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Babels have now been considerably expanded to service organizations identified with the Charter of Principles of the World Social Forum. There are national coordination centers in France, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Greece, Hungary, Turkey, Russia, the United States, Brazil, Korea, and Japan, and their website mentions а facility for linguistic coordination for Arabie, but it is not clear what this facility consists of.

In addition to unpaid translation and interpreting work, the tasks undertaken by Babels volunteers range from giving (moral and material) support to interpreters to developing linguistic tools that are available to anyone, Babels is perhaps the best example to date of а carefully planned, equitably structured, and highly politicized international community of translators and interpreters; indeed, it explicitly describes itself as а player in the anti-capitalist debate.

The group is also committed to orchestrating а conscious process of contamination in which the excellent language skills of the politically sympathetic trained interpreter interact with the deeper political knowledge of the language-fluent activist to develop а reflexive communications medium organic to the social forum movement. In other words, Babels does not see itself as а low-cost service provider for the social movement but rather as an active member of that narrative community with а key role in elaborating the narrative vision of the World Social Forum.

Clearly the groups discussed above do not simply come together on the basis of national or other such static affiliations, nor are they motivated by personal ambition or profit. These are communities created by election, to use Fishers term. Translators and interpreters come together in these groups willingly to volunteer their time, to invest emotionally and intellectually in projects designed to undermine dominant discourses, and to elaborate more equitable and peaceful narratives of the future.

What we make of their efforts depends on our own narrative location and on how we judge the coherence and fidelity of the narratives they elaborate about themselves. Narrative theory allows us to examine communities of these types and their work from at least two different perspectives. In the first instance, it is possible to examine the type of narratives these groups elaborate and to ask how they mediate those narratives, both in terms of the selection of material to be translated and the specific modes of translation adopted.

Questions such as the following are productive in this regard. What type of texts do members of such activist communities select for translation? Do they embellish certain narratives in order to give those whose voices are suppressed and marginalized а better chance of being heard? Do they frame narratives with which they disagree strongly, such as the Project of the New American Century, in specific ways in order to undermine and expose their underlying assumptions?

Do they omit or add material within the body of the text or do they rely on paratexts to guide the readers interpretation of each narrative? Do interpreters in the social for а reveal their own narrative location through such factors as tone of voice, pitch, or loudness? With regard to the issue of marginalization, for example, Robert Barsky argues that the nature of the asylum system is such that it systematically works against claimants, however valid their claims might be.

He describes how interpreters working within this system often elaborate а claimants statement, supplement it with details they learned prior to the hearing, and improve it stylistically and rhetorically. Interpreters working for disempowered claimants who are ill served by their lawyers and the system as а whole may at times mediate the gap between the claimants competence in matters of self expression . . . and the requirements of the Refugee Board (1996:54); indeed, one of the functions they fulfill can be to quite simply tell а good story (1996:57).

In terms of translation and activism, а systematic examination of interventions of this type in the output of committed communities of translators, using а theoretical framework that makes it possible to transcend narratives of neutrality and objectivity, would be а worthwhile and illuminating endeavor, І suspect it might demonstrate, for instance, that direct textual manipulation of the type that preoccupies many theorists of translation are relatively rare.

In tact the accuracy of translation in this context becomes even more important, because blatant interventions can be used against the translators to brand them as biased and hence untrustworthy, which would have repercussions for the credibility of their own narratives and the narratives they set out to promote, undermining their characterological coherence (in Fishers terms, as outlined above).

Instead we may well find that accuracy acquires an additional value in this context and that much of the political work is done through the selection of material to be translated and through various methods of framing the translation including paratexts, timing of the release of translations, where translations are placed, and so forth.

Another line of inquiry informed by narrative theory involves examining the relevant translation communities own narratives for coherence and fidelity, using the framework outlined by Fisher above, А brief analysis of the narrative of one such community, Translators without Borders, serves to illustrate the potential for this application of narrative theory.

Aligning itself with what has been dubbed the sans frontierisme or without borderism movement, Translators Without Borders or Traducteurs Sans Frontieres consists ot а group of volunteer translators and interpreters who provide free translations for organizations they deem deserving, including Doctors Without Borders, Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International, and Handicap International. In some respects this is а very different type of community from Babels and Translators for Peace.

As mentioned in the introduction to this article, Translators without Borders is an offshoot of Eurotexte, а commercial translation agency based in Paris, with offices also in Lisbon, Fishers principles of narrative coherence concern the way in which а story hangs together. Perhaps most relevant in this context is structural coherence, which to my mind would test negatively in the case of the narrative of Translators Without Borders because of а lack of internal consistency.

This inconsistency results from the conflict between humanitarian and commercial agendas consequent on the identification of Translators without Borders and Eurotexte. The Eurotexte site features several prominent links to the Translators without Borders site, often collapsing the distinction between а commercial organization and а not-for-profit community of volunteer translators.

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