Monday, February 20, 2006



Today is a very exiting day for myself and for my friends. We are giving birth (virtually) to an international child. This child speaks many mother tongues, and it resembles each one of us just a little bit. The newborn comes to the world kicking, laughing, crying, full of life and energy. It's almost a human child, because it carries the most important aspect of humanity in its DNA, language. Not one language, but many.

Tlaxcala is a collective of translators who work together to discover, diffuse and promote texts, authors and ideas into a space that goes beyond the moment of its creation in the mind of the writer. How was it conceived? In the simplest of ways, actually. One day in an email exchange between friends from several countries two talented activists were stating how it was always a challenge to spread texts around and especially how frustrating it was that there was a dominant language of activism. Many of us have been translating papers and putting them on blogs, sites and mailing lists, but finding that without organisation, it was work that at times bore far less fruit than the seed has as its potential. At that point I thought, if three of us feel this way, without a doubt others do as well. I sent out an email to a handful of friends who speak and translate in various languages, proposing to pool our resources, and before I knew it, discovered that our frustrations and hopes were far from being a marginal opinion. Rather, what we felt was widespread and as strong a sentiment in others as we felt within ourselves. In the space of a few weeks, we became a group of individuals who are collaborating on a common goal, with results that I can only emphasise are STUPEFYING! We have translated over 300 texts, diffused them in hundreds of sites, and now, we have launched our own site. (bookmark it!)

Wanting to give a meaningful date to the birth of our child, we opted for launching the site on this day, even though it is incomplete and still under construction, so at the moment, what can be found is our MANIFESTO, but the site itself, in the coming weeks will be chock full of fresh and archived material in a variety of languages, from authors you didn't think you could find anywhere, because they never got translated into other languages. It will be a site like very few others, based also on the variety of texts and our common goals and commitments.

Now, a word about translating: Not even half of us are professional translators, although we have all adopted the highest professional standards of "second set of eyes" revisions and cross-checking the original source. We contact the authors when we have issues that are unclear, and we add explanatory footnotes and introductions when necessary.

We translate for what my dear friend Ariella Atzmon calls The Joy of Translation. It goes beyond a necessity of communicating data, but as she puts it, "the vital urge for being heard and understood." There are two verbs there, to be heard, that is, to be available to some other who is able to receive this information, and to be understood, which goes beyond mere reception, but enters into the realm of integration into the other. To make your voice interiorised. She correctly states that it has the character of an urge, that it is pressing, insistent, strong and compelling. I can assure you, sometimes, translating is hard work, because you want and need to be precise. Time seems suspended, as you are searching for the most true way to exchange one linguistic-symbolic code for another. Revising your text, you then change into reading it not as a translator, but as a reader of that substitute language. The text should not resemble anything translated, it has to "work" completely in the new idiom. This is where the pitfalls lie, and where one must have deep knowledge of both the source language and the target one, as well as a good grasp on the material being translated and the style that is being used. It is a mental exercise that has no paragons to anything I can think of, not even writing in a non-native language. It is a task that is like nothing else on earth. I could almost say, if so many talented and busy people volunteer their time and hard work, (hours of it each day!) it wouldn't be too far off in saying there is something addictive, stimulating, narcotic in translation!

Translation is not substituting one word for another. Anyone who speaks more than one language is aware that it is worldviews, entire cultural elements that are transposed. There is a moment of reflection in any work of translation, you don't work on translating the author's words, since the words are just instuments, but the author's thoughts, a completely different thing! You have to read his text, understand it, become friends with it and even fight with it sometimes (there is always something Un-translatable!). Poems and verse present a further challenge, as they must maintain the idea of the "unexpressed but suggested", as well as formal elements such as metre and rhyme. Most of all, you have to become subserviant to the text you are working with. You can't "re-write" it, but you are forced into "re-creating" it. Which leads to one of the revelations for anyone philologically inclined, Re-creation = Recreation = Play = JOY!

And, I want to take this space to personally and publicly thank my friends, old and new, who give me joy and share the parentage of our beautiful child, as well as thanking our child's Godfathers:

First and strongest thanks naturally goes to Manuel and Ernesto, whose insights and initial question started the ball rolling. Ernesto is a loyal and committed friend, and Manuel is simply a golden treasure in every conceivable way! Manuel is the muscle behind the site set-up, and it wasn't unusual for him to go 20 hour stretches to get something set up in time for our launch.

Closely following are Fausto and Nancy. Fausto is simply a hurricane, a superhuman supply of pure energy and intelligence. Nancy is more than a colleague, more than a sister. I can't think of ever undertaking any life endeavour without her participation. She is pure inspiration, and she sure knows how to make me laugh when I need it!

Miguel and Miru, dear and beloved friends, brilliant writers and outstanding linguists who have illuminated me are part of the Italian crew comprised of the charm and talent of the other great Italians: Davide, Valerio, Mauro, Giampiero and Caterina.

The French crew! What a crew!! Marcel, the fastest linguist in the Western world is just part of a strong team including Maria, Fausto and Yves.

Agatha, Ahmed, Eva, Elaine, Ramez, Alex, Kristoffer and Vera handle languages that aren't always easy to find on every site such as Korean, Dutch, Portuguese, Arabic, Catalàn, Swedish and Russian.

The Spanish crew is a powerful one!! Manuel, Ernesto, Carlos, Germàn, Juan, Rocìo, Ulise, Antonia, José.

Zaki (my designated problem solver and headcleaner for ages) also is part of the core group. Friends who have lent a hand include Silvia, Paul, Jean Marie, Abbé, Santiago, Gennaro, Gilad, Diego, Franco, Ragnar, Enrico and Dena, although I am sure there are even more who have given moral and material support in these past few months.

Our super fantastic, one in a million house artist is Juan.

OUR GODFATHERS!! (affiliated sites)
Les at Axis of Logic, the website of Rebeliòn and also Quibla.
It's been a pleasure getting to know Les and his family, itself something to be thankful for!

In tomorrow's post, I will put up the birthday greetings from our Godfathers.

To all my friends and colleagues at Tlaxcala, many kisses and much love and thanks.


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