Dreaming the Collective: (E)co-Translation in the Era of Climate Crisis

a difficult question

“What I would like to propose is that we situate value elsewhere and consider how collaborative forms of translation might be situated within a posthumanist ecology of translation. In other words: is there a way of attaching value to what translators do that does not involve the sacrifice of a sense of collective responsibility?”

Michael Cronin, “A New Ecology for Translation”

a speculative response

In her 2019 Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, Arundathi Roy grapples with the ways that literature might respond to our current moment of ecological and political crisis, as “the ice caps melt, as oceans heat up, and water tables plunge, as we rip through the delicate web of interdependence that sustains life on earth” (“Literature Provides Shelter”). In asking what it means to be a writer at this critical juncture, and what it has meant for her to know that her work has reached “readers on the frontlines” of struggle — readers who have very different perceptions of what literature “should be in the first place” — Roy asserts a vision of collaborative literary practice:

[T]he place for literature is built by writers and readers. It’s a fragile place in some ways, but an indestructible one. When it’s broken, we rebuild it. Because we need shelter. I very much like the idea of literature that is needed. Literature that provides shelter. Shelter of all kinds. (“Literature”)

On first read, Roy’s metaphor calls to mind the image of worn book boards that transform into a roof over our heads. This shelter is less about offering imaginative “escape” — although that can certainly be part of it — and more about contesting power and dreaming up an alternative to the systems we find ourselves locked within. In this sense, literature, for Roy, is a structure that offers essential cover — dispelling, as Audre Lorde has done, notions of “luxury” that linger around practices of storytelling and poetry — from the increasingly authoritarian and techno-progressivist ordering of our global political economy that has led us to “nightmare” (“Literature”).[1] Instead, literature can be fashioned as a “commons”: a life-giving web of resources, accessible to all, that exists outside the framework of private property. Central to Roy’s claims, then, is that no single person can build this shelter, and that no sole set of arms can bear its weight, which is why she insists that literature must be a structure “built by readers and writers” together — a place of our own construction, where we might practice relating with the un/familiar in mutualistic ways.

Since beginning my work of organizing around issues of climate justice and ecosocialism a few years ago, I have found myself asking a very similar question: what does it mean to be a literary translator in these uncertain times, especially for those of us who live in the United States? After all, “Capitalism’s gratuitous wars and sanctioned greed have jeopardized the planet and filled it with refugees” writes Roy, and “much of the blame for this rests squarely on the shoulders of the government of the United States” (“Literature”). What’s more, if literature offers shelter, what kind of cover does literature in translation afford? To whom does it offer cover? What materials, what conditions, what relationships make literature, and the process of translating stories, a place of possibility for those who enter?

I’ve wrestled with these very questions across the various sites of translational practice I’ve occupied in the last ten years: in the university classroom, where I remain committed to workshop pedagogy as key to translation praxis; in the publishing sphere, where I’ve collaborated with myriad translators, authors, and editors to amplify stories from the minority-language matrix from which I work (Catalan, Spanish, and Galician); in the graduate workshop in literary translation I co-founded with fellow translator and graduate worker Emily Goedde, which has acted as a core space for community-making in my own department; and in the translation workshops I’ve designed for English-language learners in a nearby secondary school. When I bring these sites to mind, I’m overcome with flashes of joyous and difficult collaboration. I remember how texts were not taken as static, but were instead living bridges opening up a terrain for the collective negotiation of meaning. (I’ll never forget a lively discussion I had with a group of Spanish-speaking high-school students who were trying to render the term “chingona” in English.) And I’ve come to realize that an engaged, careful practice of literary translation doesn’t skirt the lived experiences we bring with us to any text — it seeks them out. Put another way: the object of (literary) translation is never simply a text, but instead the relationships revealed and transformed by the translational process.

While Roy doesn’t directly address the questions of literature in translation as it takes shapes within the publishing industry, we can safely assume they inhabit her considerations; as a writer in constant engagement with readers, her sense of building becomes apparent as she maps out the ways her own work has travelled “into other Indian languages, printed as pamphlets, distributed for free in forests and river valleys, in villages that were under attack, on university campuses where students were fed up of being lied to” (“Literature”). Her considerations also occupy my own, as I am interested in the ways that literature is re-made as it travels, not only through the practices of translators, but also through dominant publishing and distribution networks, which are often trapped within the transactional logic of market-driven consumption. Despite these current systems, I’m convinced that literary translators have much to contribute to this process of reorientation toward interdependence, for building together, after all, requires that the instruction manual be accessible across languages and lifeways.

As a literary translator and educator, I hold tight to Roy’s insistence on the spirit of co-creation, because translation, in my understanding, is a lived process of (re)building ideas — through reading and writing — across languages and bodies and space. Translation leans into worldly things; it’s an embodied, collaborative act. In fact, “the popular image of the lonely translator is strikingly at odds with the reality of his or her work within the profession,” for translators are in constant collaboration with others: authors, readers, editors, publishers, and, often enough, other translators (Cordingley and Manning 2). Indeed, “A focus on collaboration is a focus on process” (Huss 449). And when a text enters into translation, when it’s “no longer a stable object owned by a single author, it emerges as a site of translational or editorial labor” (Apter 1410). With the rise of Translation Studies as a discipline, literary translators have probed and resisted the historical discourses that would categorize them as invisible mediator of others’ stories and, in doing so, they have played a role in how we perceive our (in)separability from one another and from the world that animates us. And when we encounter stories from “outside,” from “elsewhere,” that move us, we open ourselves up to other ways of being in and traversing the world — we participate in the collective process of imagining what enduring shelter might look like in the first place.

Out of this sense of interdependence emerges a critical vision for the future: When we act together, in the spirit of comradeship and togetherness, we also shelter one another. For “comradeship” — a living and lived expression of “reflective solidarity,” of mutual responsibility — “is a political relation of supported cover” (Dean Comrade, 2020).[2] And to live and act in comradely fashion is to act with care: to hold ourselves and others accountable to those with whom we are intertwined — and to hold ourselves and other accountable for the world that we share, the world that shelters us. In contributing to this cover, we acknowledge that “translation and justice,” as James Boyd White suggests, “first meet at the point where we recognize that they are both ways of talking about right relations, and of two kinds simultaneously: relations with languages, relations with people” (322, my emphasis). Making right, in this sense, is also a speculative “making ready,” a prefigurative living in the world we occupy now, and in anticipation of the world we hope to bring into being, to which literary translation can contribute.[3] In fact, the only way to bring that world into being is through translation (Cronin 13).

It is in this sense of “making ready” that I perform what Michael Cronin, whose question opens this conversation, has called “eco-translation,” which “covers all forms of translation thinking and practice that knowingly engage with the challenge of human-induced environmental change” (Eco-Translation 2). In a certain sense, all translation at this historical moment is “eco-translation,” much as “in the twenty-first century, all politics are climate politics” (Aronoff et al. 3). Importantly, here’s where we can make the distinction between collaborative translation in the past and that of the present and future: “eco-translation” challenges the “tyranny of ends over means,” a rhetorical move that captures discourse around translation as primarily a product that has, turn after turn, upheld the authority of certain institutions, whether they be the Church, the market, or publishing norms (Crodingley and Frigau 3).[4] Even when co-translations became somewhat of a frequent practice, as within the Anglophone Modernist context, these collaborations were often flattened to uphold the idea of singular authorship, as Claire Davison’s concept of the “isolated paradox” reveals.[5] So while collaboration may have indeed been a core value of translation in other periods, it has often been downplayed because our analytical tools, so often based in what “belongs” to one author or another, as Davison argues, get in the way of making meaning out of collaborative endeavors in the first place (8).[6] This erasure of process ties in, however subtly, to Cronin’s paralleling of product-oriented translation to that of the “the more general concealment of the earth’s resources that have made human action possible” at the cost of all other forms of life (Eco-Translation 3).

Throughout this dissertation, I will build on the labor of Cronin and many others to provide an incipient blueprint that incorporates the linguistic, material, and interpersonal concerns I flag above, recognizing that literary translation, as praxis and pedagogy, holds the capacity to repair harm only if we understand it as embodied and many-bodied labor, that is, as decidedly process-oriented. My use of “many-bodied” underscores one of my primary contentions throughout this dissertation: A literary translation practice that takes ecological thinking seriously insists on collective labor and collaborative translation, recognizing that no single translator necessarily possesses all the critical knowledge to take on a translation in an “open-ended” way; in this sense, the co-translation is always already embedded in eco-translation. This movement toward (e)co-translation becomes even more important in a moment when we must act swiftly, and in new transnational configurations that greatly reduce high-carbon travel. At its most intimate, (e)co-translation might facilitate what Marc Fischer calls “mutually-supportive practice” by embracing co-translation — in pre-negotiated, freelance teams or in translator collectives — and, in so doing, dispensing with the tired enmities of competition, property, and domination, especially as they are expressed through Western constructions of authorship. (E)co-translation is, then, not a “resistant” strategy, but an active, reparative one, and comradeship, in the form of collaborative and co-translation, has the capacity to be a highly ecological mode of communing and creating. And a translation practice that is, at its heart, ecological, must attend not only to the making of worlds between text, body, and land, but between bodies themselves. In this context, we can move from discussing translation in terms of craft — which traps the art form into a discourse of singular artistry — to translation as the art of care for the many. And as poet Aja Monet reminds us, “Self-care may be an act of resistance, [but] collective care is revolutionary” (@aja_monet).

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Translational Labor and Collaboration

While I fundamentally believe in the potential of translation as a kind of care-full building, I’ve also had to grapple with the fact that literary translation has, wittingly and not, contributed to the machinery of cultural othering, owing to the fact that our dominant conception of literary translation has emerged from a historical excision of that which doesn’t neatly fit — a harmful “ethnocentric violence” in Lawrence Venuti’s term — over solidarity across difference.[7] For Venuti, “The violence of translation resides in its very purpose and activity,” that is, in the repositioning of texts to “fit” within the “hierarchies of dominance and marginality” that shape the structures of meaning and conditions of legibility by which readers in a given target culture will be able to make sense of them (20). I’m not convinced, however, that this violence is “inherent,” as Venuti proposes; it seems more likely that these dominant models are a question of potentiality and socialization over the “nature” of translation writ large. In any case, it certainly stands that we must reckon with these dynamics now, for the logic of “straightening out” for the sake of intelligibility or acceptance within discourses of power is a material process as much as a conceptual one: the harm is clearly more than textual. Because “when the movement of texts (translation) is linked with the movement of bodies (migration),” writes poet and translator Madhu H. Kaza, “issues of language and culture necessarily collide with questions about politics, history, race, and imperialism — the very contexts of migration and diaspora” (13). These embodied collisions — shearings, woundings, even slayings — have been integral to exposing deep (and deeply unjust) structural flaws in this fortification we call the United States of America, proving that not all forms of shelter serve the good or the many.

Many contemporary literary translators and scholars have dedicated considerable thought to minimizing discursive violence in the texts they take on. Some, like Tejaswini Niranjana, have called for targeted disruption, “one which she explains ‘shatters the coherence of the “original’ and the ‘invariable identity of sense . . .’ in a practice in which we constantly interrogate ourselves and our right to speak as and to speak for” (Merrill 161). Doing so requires a keen sense of what Gayatri Spivak calls the text’s “rhetoricity”: the strategic handling of language, of what’s said and left unsaid, as well as a given language’s entanglement in the world (181).[8] Building on this post-colonial stance, others have attempted to turn the violence of translation against itself by positioning translation as what Joyelle McSweeny and Johannes Göransson call a “deformation zone,” where “a wound . . . makes impossible connections between languages, unsettling stable ideas of language, productive ideas of literature” (quoted in Choi 4). In this regard, Don Mee Choi has advanced the idea of translation as an “anti-neocolonial mode,” reminding us that we can only begin making “impossible connections” when we refuse “to uphold the notion of national literature . . . as if such borders are ahistorical and apolitical” (4). These multiple theoretical interventions have been critical to mapping the logic of domination that structures our encounters in/of the world and how we come to occupy and reproduce them.

Yet, beyond issues of textual strategy, it’s worth mentioning that exclusion still structures the ways we tend to gather and build, especially within the most visible communities of literary translators — those whose most publicly represent the “human” image of the translator in the public eye — in the U.S. Here, too, those insistent, institutionalized “hierarchies of dominance and marginality” are difficult to simply will away. Despite being a profession that seeks to promote meaningful diversity, the Author’s Guild 2017 Survey of Literary Translators’ Working Conditions — the first of its kind, and not without its methodological limits, including its small sample size — reports that the majority of U.S. literary translators self-identify as white, college-educated women (with many holding Ph.D.s).[9] Yet, as Corine Tachtiris has noted, “Though women translators outnumber men about six to four, their total publications are nearly equivalent — evidence of gender inequity in publishing practices in which the work of women translators is published at a lower rate than men’s” (“Allyship and Intersectional Feminism in Translation”). What’s more, Tachtiris points out, the question of who translates also collides with whom is translated, as available data reflects that male authors are more regularly translated, and that “a bias also persists toward European authors, or at least authors writing in European languages” (“Allyship”).[10] These are difficult, uncomfortable questions to ponder together, made more difficult by the fact that we don’t have extensive, easily consultable demographic data about the translation industry (literary or technical), which indicates a larger problem likely linked to the very problem of the translator’s historical invisibility itself.

While the Authors Guild Survey isn’t definitive, as its authors themselves note, it helpfully points to experiences that coincide with the translation community as I have, albeit briefly, known it: 1) that the field of literary translation in the US is overwhelmingly white, 2) that literary translators rarely make a living from translating literary works alone, and 3) because many literary translators cannot make a living from their work, they often seek shelter elsewhere, including in academia. As a white woman pursuing a Ph.D. and as someone who learned her second and third languages later in life, I’ve sat with this disquiet over the past ten years. While my sense of identity as a translator cannot be reduced to these broad categories, which fluctuate depending on institutional location, class, race, and gender identification, etc., they are nonetheless instructive. Overall, though, I’ve grown only more convinced that the shelter we’re constructing — that white, “educated” we — looks more like the Ivory Tower I currently occupy than the sanctuary it could be.[11] Indeed, this tower does offer some kind of shelter, for “at its best, the academy feels like a refuge from the exigencies of the rest of the world,” and yet, it “increasingly relies on the same exploitative economic forces that power the rest of the world (Hsu).[12] We tend to (re)build, however unconsciously, what we know; that’s what makes the socialization of domination and its reproduction through us so terribly effective.

While we certainly need more data on the subject, literary translators are grappling with these questions nonetheless.[13] With defiant clarity, Kaza draws our attention to this difficult divide between literary translators in her introduction to Kitchen Table Translation (2017), an anthology dedicated to translators of color in the Anglophone sphere. For Kaza, gathering together voices and strategies “distinct from the mainstream of literary translation” — that is, whose work is generally published — is not a form of “congratulatory diversity,” but rather an affirmation that “some of us experience translation all the time in our bodies, names, homes, movements, and daily lives even if we are not translating from one text to another” (15). Despite the fact that “in most parts of the world — particularly in post-colonial contexts — translation is recognized as inherently political,” Kaza notes that “discussions of literary translation in the U.S. emphasize formal concerns with a light attention to cultural variance” (14). Drawing on the work of Venuti as well as those marginalized voices featured in the anthology, Kaza suggests that these “formal concerns” are often articulated in the desire to promote “fluency, which often coincides with ideas of accessibility and seamlessness . . . There is an emphasis on the translator’s mastery of language and artfully inconspicuous technique” (14). And while we might acknowledge, as Kaza does, that the question of “resistant translation” animates academic debates on translation, the drive to “fluency” still often dictates publishing norms. What’s more, a fixation on the mastery — often through assimilation — often leaves little room for (and little room for “error” from) those who have been socialized to doubt their own experiences with language, namely immigrants and first-generation US citizens.[14]

For some, it might be easy to balk at Kaza’s contention that craft is not political. After all, how many panels at the major annual literary academic conferences (those of the American Literary Translators Association, Modern Language Association, and American Comparative Literature Association come to mind) contain the word “political” in their descriptions? Of course, the ways in which language use resists or re-inscribes power is a political question, and the questions asked and knowledge produced during these panels — and in the investigatory papers presented by panelists — are not without their scholarly value. But, again, that the content of scholarship can be so systematically divorced from the context of scholarship is the problem. While many translators might readily underscore the political ramifications of their texts, institutional privilege and questions of the translator’s positionality (a positionality that indexes one’s relationship to the world and how social and political contexts contribute to one’s sense of identity across race, gender, class, sexual preference, ability status) often come second, when they’re even addressed at all.

This divide, then, between what many of us situated in that “mainstream of literary translation” say we want translation to be and how we go about producing the material change needed to get there is, at root, the political question we need to ask. In my own experience, Kaza’s inquiries come to a head in discussions of literary translation as a form of labor. Building on Kaza, Tachtiris contends that literary translation, as a profession, has tended to exclude two communities: “people of color whose families have been in the United States for generations (predominantly African Americans whose ancestors were enslaved) and more recent immigrants of color or the children of immigrants of color” (“Allyship”). Here, Tachtiris identifies second-language acquisition as a major challenge for those communities in entering the profession, and so is right to establish that the question of diversity is a structural issue not easily remedied by interventions within our field alone. Yet, she also points to how “young people in domestic communities of color often face pressure to participate in ‘social uplift’ by entering well-paid and well-respected professions” (“Allyship”). This tracks, at least anecdotally, with the impression that more people of color work in technical translation and interpreting, which tends to offer a more stable salary. This last point suggests one way that we, literary translators in the US, contribute to these exclusionary structures: Instead of demanding a living wage for our labor — a demand that implies (and necessitates) a kind of class consciousness that directly connects our individual fight against the de-collectivization of public life to the collective struggle of a broader, more diverse coalition of workers — literary translators in the US have tended to focus on making the current system marginally workable, despite how it limits who can participate in the first place.[15] This is a complicated question, especially considering that our ability to collectively negotiate rates as translators in the US has been historically undercut by federal bodies like the FTC, who famously brought suits against the ATA as early as the 1980s.[16] Yet, even in the UK, where the Translators Association provides recommended rates, the problem of fighting for a living wage persists.[17] As Deborah Smith puts it,

We should all be aware that these kinds of books are usually not commercially self-sustaining, and therefore it’s a choice the translator has to make, if they’re not lucky enough to have private funds, between balancing translating the work they love for not very much pay, and doing other, better-paid jobs, some of which could be commercial translation, or teaching, or waitressing.

While Smith inadvertently reinforces the “do you what you love” trope in describing the conditions most publishers and translators face, it’s clear that we cannot ignore that literature translation is not “commercially self-sustaining,” and I hold little hope that increasing the visibility of translators will ever, on its own, lead to the kind of books sales necessary to pay them, as well as everyone else who’s involved (editors, designers, booksellers, readers etc.), a living wage. Across industries, it’s clear that our love and our precariousness connect us, which is why literary translation cannot — and should not — be divorced from the plights of other workers.

Despite what seem to be a set of structural problems, there’s a lack of discussion around what other models might be able to do justice to the collaborative work we take on as translators. Our attention tends to remain within the text, an arena in which we are made to feel “in control,” instead of asking how we might move away from a publishing industry model that leaves the projects (and people) that comprise it constantly underfunded. From conversations with my closest translator comrades, I would say that we’re nervous to examine larger issues within the industry publicly because doing so would rock the boat, heightening the very waves of precarity that led us to go along with the status quo in the first place. In the backs of our minds, at least, many translators are aware of this critique, which is why so many of us feel compelled to qualify our work as a “labor of love” rather than insisting that, whether we love it or not, it is still labor for which we should be adequately compensated. This qualifying compulsion is a testament to our good and noble intentions, sure, but it also inadvertently submits us to the harmful logic behind the “Do What You Love” trope, which, as Miya Tokumitsu writes, “exposes its adherents to exploitation, justifying unpaid or underpaid work by throwing workers’ motivations back at them” (7).[18] (This, of course, is by no means a problem unique to our field.)

If we want to be the change, if we want to start chipping away at the behaviors that allow dominant power structures to operate through us, we have to ask ourselves who can “afford” to be strictly literary translators in the US in the first place. In my own limited experience, those who have made it — those who have crossed what Anton Hur calls the “emerging translators valley of death” — have tended to be white with either enough outside monetary support (inherited wealth, partners, a job in academia etc…) to keep the dream alive. I would have quit long ago, if not for my own place in academia, which has allowed me to divert some institutional support to freelance literary translation projects, oftentimes paid in “visibility” instead of money, without having to rely on literary translation as a primary source of income. (And doing work without pay or for minimal pay, even when taken on in order to advocate for important causes, might also contribute to a feedback loop of underpay, as Tachtiris suggests.[19]) However, regardless of the unique privileges that literary translators are afforded by their respective positionalities, their success is seldom attributed to their station or their proximity to resources that aren’t available to others. Instead, as the persistent bootstrapism of capitalist ideology compels us to believe (and to want to believe), it’s all about talent and determination. There’s a politics, then, to the way in which translators and their work attain professional “legitimacy.” But the cultural and socioeconomic conditions that inform the mechanisms of professional legitimation rarely require us to confront or engage with the nagging contradiction of the rugged individualist fantasies undergirding our self-serving sense of “distinctiveness,” deservingness, and independence; in fact, more often than not, they do the opposite. As Michael Cronin so forcefully articulates, even though “[t]ranslation is seen to be all about relatedness,” at least in conceptual terms, “[t]ranslators have been keen to deny relatedness of a kind in their desire to emphasise the value or distinctness of their profession” (Eco-Translation 14).[20] Ultimately, we can’t build a better alternative to the systems in place without grappling with the underlying myths of “deservingness” and meritocracy that buttress systems of dominance and hierarchy in the realm of literary translation (and beyond).

I should pause here to say that there’s nothing wrong with rightfully demanding all due recognition for our work (on book covers, in reviews, etc.) or courses that stress literary translation as craft. Such recognition has been a crucial part of the “humanization” process over the past century by which translators and their labor have become more visible to the reading public. I certainly wouldn’t be a literary translator if it weren’t for these efforts. Yet, if we believe that literary translation is a form of “passionate advocacy” or “activism,” as is sometimes claimed, somewhere in our calls to elevate the voice and status of the translator to an equal footing with those of the Author — one of the principle ways we’ve been socialized to defend our labor — we might well have forgotten that our task isn’t just to produce cross-cultural texts or to become “professionals” (this is just one effect of the wear and tear of capitalist discourse, which inevitably designates our social roles in individualistic, hierarchical terms).[21] We may well have forgotten that the very idea — and, in fact, the dream — of translation presumes from the outset that there is an implicit social good in connecting with other people, other texts, other worlds. “In other words,” as Cronin writes, “there is a clear contradiction between . . . the ‘messianic tradition’ in translatorial self-representation, and the idea of translation as a collective project of mutual understanding and the regimes of value that have been dominant in Western Modernity for more than three centuries” (Eco-Translation 15).

Our task should instead, I argue alongside Cronin, be guided towards the construction of a more just, more connective world for everyone. (As I write, Barbara Smith whispers in my ear that “the word ‘professionalism’ covers such a multitude of sins. […] what usually follows is an excuse for inaction, an excuse for ethical irresponsibility” (49).) Put otherwise, our present vision of translational practice, despite its underlying collaborative impulse, isn’t yet focused on collective stewardship. Our labor has yet to become a labor that transcends the bounds of the individual for the care of the many, a labor that relishes in creating together, that finds its purpose in securing collective passage not behind a luminary leader, be it author or translator but, rather, in joyous lockstep. (Even if we disagree with the notion, we still act in ways that correspond with the antiquated idea of “a vast army moving forward, preceded by the most daring innovators and thinkers, followed by a mass of slower and heavier crowds,” as Bruno Latour writes (472).) A labor that, as poet and Disability Justice activist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha evinces, would harness “the power of a march moving as slow as the slowest members, who are at the front” (“To Survive the Trumpocalypse”). And the issue at hand is not just that translation can and should become a form of collective stewardship; in even broader terms, coordinating any type of collective building to address the needs of our interconnected world will require careful translation — not only of conversations, critiques, and demands from around the globe, but also of our shared visions for future shelter.

A renewed focus on collective action would require redoubling our efforts to build what Dean calls “reflective solidarity”: an intentional act of cultivating relations of mutual support, care, and responsibility; a good-faith movement that prioritizes collectivity not as a way to overcome difference, but to celebrate it.[22] We should imagine this collectivity as something that will be necessary in reconceiving of a translational practice that emphasizes collaboration and co-translation, as well as a force that activates us in the wider world as we engage with efforts of mass liberation, including movements for abolition and decolonization.[23] Doing so will better situate our current labors into the broader struggles — as Roy’s emphasis on interdependence above makes clear — for livability, struggles that concern all of us, whether or not we currently have the privilege of being able to comfortably ignore it.

Ecologies of Translation — Toward Refuge

At the heart of the struggle for livability is the ideational frame of “ecology,” that is, a way of understanding the dynamic interconnectedness of our world that concerns itself with relations of different, even incommensurable, ways of being.[24] Importantly, this includes how we interact with one another. Murray Bookchin, through the concept of “social ecology,” sketches out this sense of interdependence (and the stakes of it) on both a local and global scale:

[T]he way human beings deal with each other as social beings is crucial to addressing the ecological crisis. Unless we clearly recognize this, we will fail to see that the hierarchical mentality and class relationships that so thoroughly permeate society are what has given rise to the very idea of dominating the natural world. (20)

If we cannot provide shelter in our own relationships, how we can enact transformational change on a larger scale? Indeed, questions of scale seem particularly important when facing the crises of governance and ecological interdependence before us because “scalability,” as Tsing describes, has so often been tied into capitalist models of growth that do away with care and entanglement. For Tsing, easy scalability “requires that project elements be oblivious to the indeterminacies of encounter; that they allow smooth expansion. Thus, too, scalability banishes meaningful diversity, that is, diversity that might change things” (The Mushroom 38).

In contrast, literary translation, when seen as process and not product, can engender its own kind of ecological thinking to the extent that it maps relations between and among relations that, within individual language communities, cannot be seen. Translators, then, play a significant role in how these ecologies take shape, because translating requires thinking about how culturally specific terms accrue meaning from history, context, and the positionality of the speaker, but also in close relation to other words in a text, then outward from the text to the desires for connection they index and arouse, and whether those connections might be equitable, might be just. At this point in time, our desires are less linked to interdependence and more indelibly linked to the petrocultures we currently inhabit and the ideas of “independence” and easy mobility that undergird them.[25] Yet, another world is indeed being born, and translators have a role to play in bringing it about. And it is a dedication to cultivating togetherness across difference — across a myriad of communities, contexts, places, and points in time — that foregrounds the radical nature of translation and of livability writ large.

As literary translators, we might start to provide this comradely cover to one another and to our communities by rethinking methods for showing solidarity with one another beyond those that are forcibly circumscribed by and limited to the capitalist logic of professional competition and individual achievement (“distinctiveness”). We can do more than simply buying, reviewing, and promoting one another’s work — the too often transactional terms of a literary activism governed by the overarching logic of consumerism. We can shed the very desires for personal acclaim and stature that existing systems of domination need — and need to reproduce in us — to function in the first place. We can work together, pooling our resources, knowledge, and experience, a kind of practice that is already being experimented with in the various “translators collectives” that have emerged in our field in the past few years (and which I will address in chapter four). What’s more, we can take the unequally distributed benefits and affordances proffered by our hierarchical political economy and weaponize them against it; in whatever spheres we occupy, in as many ways as we are able to, we can utilize the respective positionalities and privileges that give us a leg up to extend a hand down to others, to redistribute power and access. Uplifting one another need not contribute to upholding entrenched hierarchies of deservingness — indeed, it should be the opposite. We move toward liberation, then, by (re)investing ourselves in one another: those around us, with whom we’re currently in community, and with whom we strive to be in community.

We move toward livability by (re)committing ourselves to ways of living, thinking, working, and being that take our ecological interconnectedness as a given — being is always being-together — and by accepting the responsibility that comes with it.

But here’s the thing: Comradeship, like translation, is no easy thing. And we cannot truly begin the work of dismantling hierarchy and building solidarity until we grapple with our own positionality as translators in the US. As Douglas Robinson writes, “What makes capitalism so powerful is precisely this broad-based internalization of mastery, which makes it difficult to fight the power: what one finds himself resisting is oneself, one’s own hegemonic attitudes and belief about reality” (Dao of Translation, 187–188). Like the work of translation, building comradeship requires carefully growing and sustaining relations among relations — it entails seriously addressing the question of who communicates and how they go about it. To pretend otherwise, I believe, is to dismiss the historical harm that has wrought so much destruction upon the delicate ecologies that sustain life itself.

Many of us are only now admitting how much we depend on and can’t do without these delicate ecologies — only now, as the impacts of ecological disruption become harder to ignore, as we feel more of the pain of our aching world, which existing power structures, privileges, and disparately allocated resources have largely protected us from feeling before. And so it’s a time of reflection, which we should undertake together. These are some of the questions rolling around my mind: Can we, those who currently benefit most from those existing structures, be more tender, more honest? Will the current system of publishing in translation — entrapped in the circuits and hard confines of a capitalist political economy that is against its very mission — ever be able to make good on these grand and vital visions? Not without struggle; not without those of us who labor within that system being willing to forego the meager payoffs it offers for the promise of something more just. Perhaps the real question is: If we, as translators, are not contributing to that struggle, what could possibly be keeping us from doing so? Do we fear losing our status, privilege, contracts — perhaps the very “refuge” of whiteness itself, as James Baldwin put it?[26] Do we fear leaving the capitalist system we know behind because we’ve made it workable in a marginal way?

In the end, though, what do those losses matter when there’s everything to gain? A livable world, ways of living and working and being in the world that will allow us to experience (in ways we have hitherto been denied) the full, sustainable, inclusive, and collective meaning of ecological entangledness — is that not worth fighting for? It’s precisely this kind of questioning about what we love, what we fear losing, and what world we should have, precisely this movement into difficult and vital emotion, that amounts to what Audre Lorde describes as the kind of careful tending that begets reparative action — justice, we might say — in what she calls the “house of difference” that poetry and stories make possible. And it can only be with an “abundant justice,” as adrienne maree brown puts it, “that we can stop competing with each other, demanding scare justice from our oppressors. That we can instead generate power from the overlapping space of desire and aliveness, tapping into an abundance that has enough attention, liberation, and justice for all of us to have plenty” (Pleasure Activism 12). Translation and justice are inextricably linked by their very concern for seeking repairing relations.

With the concern for broad ecological care in mind, it stands to reason that what we need now isn’t just shelter born from literature or literature in translation, which, to rework Amitav Ghosh, enacts the “containment” of an experience, but instead a sort of larger translational refuge that centers livability on a much larger scale (16). Refuge, then, isn’t something we simply build using the resources from the world around us, but something we cultivate: something we grow into, as it grows back into us. Perhaps it’s something like what anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing calls “contamination,” the “transformation through encounter” by which distinct beings impress themselves into one other, shaping each other into something else (which is not to imply that said beings exist in some state of untouched “purity” before such transformational encounters — “purity” is a myth) (The Mushroom at the End of the World 29). Refugia, in Tsing’s understanding, are just those spaces of transformational encounter, where “those species wiped out elsewhere continued to thrive” — a dense forest, for example, with its leafy canopy shielding the roving undergrowth and its kin from the worst of the storm (“A Threat to Holocene Resurgence is Threat to Livability” 54). These speculative refuges can also be seen as “climate refugia,” that is, “‘areas that remain relatively buffered from contemporary climate change over time and enable persistence of valued physical, ecological, and socio-cultural resources.’ The key attribute of refugia is their relative persistence, despite changes in the climate in the surrounding landscape” (Morelli and Millar).

Approaching literary translation as refuge, then, means understanding that the relationships that translational practice brings together are the very fibers that make refuge in the first place, and that refuge can only ever exist to the extent that we can care for it together and transform in the process. These refugia are also sites where we uphold the three principles of translation ecology that Cronin identifies: “place,” or “a place-based rather than ethnos-based sense of identity [that] allows for the inclusion of all speakers of a language, both natives and newcomers”; “resilience,” which “is generally understood as the capacity for individuals, cultures and societies to withstand stress or catastrophe”; and “relatedness,” which draws together “historical contexts, languages, and cultures,” and that, more than ever, theorizes connections to the non-human (Eco-Translation 16–19). What joins these principles, in my reading, is a commitment to collective care, not only in our texts, but also in our practice.


So, what does it require to transform the work of literary translation into the work of cultivating refuge? And how soon is too late in a world that’s burning and bleeding and sliding toward barbarism — a world of unmitigated climate breakdown? A moment that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated requires “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” — that is, revolution — if we are to avoid complete collapse (“Summary for Policymakers”). Tending to transnational refuge requires anti-imperialist, anti-racist, feminist, and post-anthropocentric practices because its endpoint is mass liberation within a care-work economy, because there is no retrofitting capitalism to meet the needs of people. Like other forms of care work — that is, labor and practice that “involv[es] the nurturing of all that is necessary for the welfare and flourishing of human and non-human life” — literary translation may be undervalued in our (capitalist) society, but it is everywhere at work (Care Collective). Situating translation as a practice of care work underscores the translator’s recreative and resurgent position as an intermediary between the productive and reproductive, the liberatory and the embedded, the agentive and the collaborative, and the visionary and the reparative. We are now, I believe, at the point where we must lean into translation’s transformative potential to dream bigger, and working toward livability is, after all, the most important form of care work there is.

In reorienting ourselves, it’s clear that there are no easy answers, but there’s also no room for nihilistic despair. Tracing the broad strokes of what Bruno Latour calls his “compositionist manifesto,” the ideas to follow are “a call to attention, so as to stop going further in the same way as before toward the future” that further seeks to “compose” — in the sense of gathering together — instead of merely performing critique (473–5).[27] This difficult work entails making forms of relation visible across multiple registers (institutional, historical, philosophical), and struggling against those larger forces that deem to keep us separate. In this sense, I will continue to use Cronin’s broad definition of “eco-translation” while adapting it to draw out a more focused vision of (e)co-translation: a practice that honors our interdependence and that positions the making of literature across languages and borders as a form of care work, as a tending to one another and to our shared home. (E)co-translation, then, includes more than attentive practices of textual translation and what gets translated in the first place, but also the way we care for one another and the land and the struggles — in the streets, at home, at work — we take up together in order to move toward a future based on collective stewardship instead of individual desire for distinctiveness. In doing so, we re-commit ourselves to a practice of literary translation that doesn’t just have a claim on the figurative, but that can also carve out a political and ethical space for cultivating refuge.

The following series of essays maps several existing and emerging relations between translational, ecological, decolonial, and literary discourses, and gestures to how (e)co-translation might take shape in conversation with these frameworks. The essay form, in particular, allows me to approach (e)co-translation from an exploratory, speculative, and writerly position, and to draw conclusions as they have emerged from my personal practice instead of set definitions. As such, each essay invites readers into the meaning-making process while it also asks them to hold tightly to an overtly optimistic and utopian vision of literary translation that presses up against the limits of our lived realities.

Essay One: In “(E)co-Translation as Entanglement in Cristina Peri Rossi’s Strange Flying Objects,” I reflect on the process of translating Peri Rossi’s speculative fiction into the contemporary context of climate breakdown, while paying special attention to how collaborative translation, as an emergent practice, opens up new possibilities for collective engagement that moves into the realm of political organizing. These collaborations allowed me to re-orient my interlingual translation practice to draw out moments of entanglement between the novella’s human and non-human characters. I end with a close reading suggesting how the suspension of the plot for the Strange Flying Object’s female protagonist and the animalized UFO leaves open a space to re-work past injustices into a politics of care that must be negotiated across species.

Essay Two: In “‘Carrying Ourselves Across’: A Self-Translation Workshop,” I draw on my experiences as an intern with 826michigan in order to situate (e)co-translation, as a practice, within a moment of increased climate migration. In particular, I discuss how I co-designed and facilitated a self-translation workshop for English-language learners at a nearby high school in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Reflecting further on the project, I point to the ways that we might reorganize literary translation workshops to center English-language learners by insisting on pedagogy that embraces their dynamic multilingualism instead of the established directives of mastery and fluency. In a close reading of Noor Ghali’s collaborative self-translation of her Arabic-language poem “Jasmine Tears,” I demonstrate how the intersections between land and body that Noor cultivates within the text become a critical example of what Indigenous scholar Vanessa Watts has described as “Indigenous Place-Thought.” I conclude that Noor’s poem is one example of what Nayanika Mathur calls “climate translation,” where “the task of the climate translator lies in the transference of stories reflective of people’s relationships with the world across domains — such as that of science and myth or quotidian chatter and conservationist discourse — that are normally kept separate” (78).

Essay Three: In “Careful Collaboration: On Barings // Bearings,” I meditate on the process of co-editing the 2019 special issue of Absinthe: World Literature in Translation on contemporary Catalan writing by women. While I had been working for several years as a managing editor for Absinthe, which is based in my home department of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, Baring // Bearings represents the culminating project of my tenure at the publication. In particular, I focus on the delicate work of embracing “mutually-supportive practice” in place of competition, which might begin, as I demonstrate, with a single meaningful partnership — in this case, with my then co-editor (and current co-translator of Muriel Villanueva’s The Left Parenthesis) María Cristina Fernández Hall. In so doing, I discuss how we might position the process of editing an anthology of translations within our current infrastructures as a form of care work, a theme that dovetails with that of the volume itself.

Essay Four: In “The Rise of the Translator Collective,” I document the recent founding of several translator collectives in the Anglophone sphere. Here, I move from thinking about my collaborative practice as a co-editor/translator in the previous essay to the broader community-making practices taken up within collectives. By reflecting on my personal experiences with the Emergent Translators Collective as well as other shared conversations and interviews, I propose how we might open ourselves up to cultivating what Mark Nowak calls the “first-person plural,” a weaving together of a workshop’s individual and collective voices, so that the model might become a space to build “emergent solidarities” for future transnational struggle.

Essay Five: “Cultivating Refuge: Toward a Care-Centered Translation Practice” develops a framework for approaching translation practice within discourses of ecology. In particular, it examines two theories of translation that emerge from Tsing’s theory of “refugia”: the first, a Plantationocene translation that operates according to the logics of commensurability and equivalence. The second, a “messy,” incommensurate translation that stages encounters of difference and, as such, promotes the cultivation of refugia. Working outward from the second theory, I return to the concept of oikos — shared dwelling — to articulate how the practice of literary translation can contribute to “eco-poesis”: the dreaming up of a care-centered socio-economic paradigm.

Coda: Finally, I dream up a day in the life of a translator who lives according to the principles I introduce throughout the essays, including: ecologizing translation as an interlingual practice, reaching out to the broader community through collaborative workshops, and working together in collective formations that contribute to what I describe, in chapter five, as a “care-work economy.”

While the ideas I present may be tentative, what remains clear is that growing into the unknown and making good on translation’s latent collective potential will require leaning into the fact that all labors of translation are fundamentally material practices, embedded in our everyday (inter)actions and bodies. It is this very sense of interdependence across difference that foregrounds the ecological ethic of the translator’s task. Understanding that the choices we continue to make can be reoriented to move us toward a better world addresses the answer to the oft-asked question of personal agency: What can one lone translator do in the face of crisis? It is there, at the edge of uncertainty, that translation retains its utopic glint: it is an unreachable horizon, as Eduardo Galeano’s much-loved saying goes, that demands our tireless advance — to one another.

[1] In her essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” Audre Lorde conceives of poetry as a type of “sanctuary” in which we might grapple with our sense of self and our sense of others as inextricably linked. Lorde writes, “As they become known and accepted to ourselves, our feelings, and the honest exploration of them, become sanctuaries and fortresses and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas, the house of difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action” (25). The goal of poetry, for Lorde, is not to offer some “unthinking” respite, but rather to build a space where we might carefully reflect on our process of becoming — our entanglement — in a harmful world, and how that reflection gives way to careful action.

[2] As Jodi Dean writes, “Etymologically, ‘comrade’ derives from camera, the Latin word for room, chamber, and vault . . . Sharing a room, sharing a space, generates a closeness, an intensity of feeling and expectation of solidarity that differentiates those on one side from those on the other. Comradeship is a political relation of supported cover” (3, 2020).

[3] Patricia Reed explains how “making ready” carries with it a long history of collaboration: “There’s an expression outlined by philosopher Robin Mackay that I’ve found helpful as a way to orient artistic practice, what he called ‘making ready.’ It’s an idea he wrote about following its coinage from the artist Simon Sterling. Obviously it’s a play on words as a follow-up to the paradigmatic ‘ready made’ operation of artistic production, which is more about the presentation or recontextualization of things that already exist. What I infer in the idea of ‘making ready’ is a more hypothetical position; rather than reconfiguring what is, it engages propositionally with what could be. This ‘making ready’ is a way to prepare the sensorium for worlds, and configurations that don’t (yet) exist, so it’s potentially a way make these unknowns experiential, in order to make them amenable to cognition since so much of the phenomena we’ve been talking about often escapes sensory perception. Even if those ambitions for artworks may seem a bit bloated, I think of this ‘making ready’ in a humble way, away from the tropes of a heroic singular artist. Sylvia Wynter once noted that abrupt change doesn’t just magically come about, that the seeds of seemingly abrupt change have been planted and cultivated for some time, so perhaps in this light we can see our role as contributing to a setting of such seedbeds for hypothetical worlds to come” (“Towards Post-Anthropocentric Cosmologies”).

[4] As Anthony Cordingley and Céline Frigau Manning argue, “tracing this history in the West, Belen Bistué (2013) has argued that the desire to represent translation as a conflation of different roles derived from a will to accord the translated text poetic unity and singular authority. This aligned it with wider political processes in Europe that were consolidating power around the unification of church, state, family and patriarch. Devolving upon the individual the task that was sometimes performed by the many allowed those writing about translation to promote an image of the translator as the text’s surrogate author” (19–20).

[5] In her study Translation as Collaboration: Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, and S.S. Koteliansky, Davison writes that there has been, historically, a “tendency to underrate collaborative translation” in the modernist context, even as translating, as a cultural process, was taking greater hold (4–6). She asserts, “Yet even within this welcome rereading of transnational literary dynamics, two paradoxes lingered on. First, the ‘entropic paradox’ (Cronin 2006: 128): translation is acknowledged conceptually as a driving force in cultural exchange, yet individual translations continue to be assessed in terms of what they lose in the linguistic exchange. And second, what might be called the ‘isolated paradox’: despite the consensus surrounding a collective cultural interchange, translators themselves tend to be evoked in isolation. The temptation to draw up hierarchies and to resort to binary qualitative assessments also feeds this ‘isolated paradox.’ The welcome focus on Constance Garnett’s immense translation achievements, for example, seem to require a concomitant downplaying of Aylmer Maude; it applied her courageous, single-minded resolution but at the expense of prevailing linguistic and translation ethics; it also overshadowed her working methods, which depended, particularly in the early years, on her work alongside a native guide: Stepniak, Fanny Stepniak or Natalie Ertel-Duddington. The dynamics of translation as a collective partnership, a common practice particularly when engaging in literatures in languages for which there were few thorough dictionaries, and fewer scholars or specialists, are even further marginalised. Translation carried out by novelists and poets tend to be broach only within their individual biography. If their translations are idiosyncratic or experimental, they might be taken as a lesser part of the final oeuvre, or as extended expressions of the writer’s personality. If the translations are ‘faithful,’ painstaking or unspecialised, they are more often discounted. Here too, if writers are not proficient in the languages they translate from, and work collectively, the tend to remain ‘invisible in the margins of someone else’s translation’ (Dalgarno 2020:3)” (5–6 my emphasis).

[6] In the context of Woolf and Mansfield’s collaboration with Koteliansky, Davison declares, “Another factor to be taken into account is that individual approaches to the writers inevitably downplayed the co-translations because they were collective, giving no material indication of the writer’s singular contribution” (8).

[7] Lawrence Venuti, in “Translation as a Social Practice: Or, the Violence of Translation,” states: ‘’The violence of translation resides in its very purpose and activity: the reconstitution of the foreign text in accordance with values, beliefs, and representations that pre-exist it in the target language, always configured in hierarchies of dominance and marginality, always determining the production, circulation, and reception of texts’’ (20, 1996). Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier advance a similar argument in the introduction to their critical anthology Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts (1995). In order to “resist” this violent tendency, Venuti proposes a “foreignizing” strategy over a “domesticating” one: “Foreignizing translation in English can be a form of resistance against ethnocentrism and racism, cultural narcissism and imperialism, in the interests of democratic geopolitical relations” (20, 1995).

[8] In one of her most-quoted arguments, Spivak asserts, “In the act of wholesale translation into English there can be a betrayal of the democratic ideal into the law of the strongest. This happens when all the literature of the Third World gets translated into a sort of with-it translatese, so that the literature by a woman in Palestine begins to resemble, in the feel of its prose, something by a man in Taiwan. The rhetoricity of Chinese and Arabic! The cultural politics of high-growth, capitalist Asia-Pacific, and devastated West Asia! Gender difference inscribed and inscribing in these differences! For the student, this tedious translatese cannot compete with the spectacular stylistic experiments of a Monique Wittig or an Alice Walker” (182). While it is fair to say that Spivak identifies a particular problem in the way that mainstream publishing standards tend to demand legibility, we should also hold open the possibility that affinities exist across languages, and that notions of what any writer should sound like also enforces its own prescriptiveness.

[9] The 2017 Author’s Guild Survey of Literary Translators’ Working Conditions puts this disconnect in stark relief: 83% of respondents reported that they were white and 77% have completed either a Ph.D. or M.A. Yet, the survey has its limits, given that the question of who identifies as a literary translator, and thus who responded, is a messy one. For example, although the survey was sent directly to members of various professional associations (approximately 1,200 people) and was publicized on social media, only 205 people responded. Moreover, respondents were over 30 years of age. Given these constraints, we don’t know who remains outside the report’s remit (those outside of professional associations, for example) or what encouraged/discouraged respondents to answer in the first place. This is only further complicated by the fact that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics — whose data reflects a broader swath of workers — doesn’t offer a “literary” category in their summary of Interpreters and Translators against which to compare results.

[10] Tachtiris: “Despite the fact that women translators outnumber men, however, men authors in translation are published at a higher rather than women authors, at a rate of 65–70% men to 30–35% women, in recent years (data collected from the Open Letter Translation Database)” (“Allyship and Intersectional Feminism in Translation”).

[11] Interestingly enough, Jason Grunebaum draws the direct connection between freelance translators and adjunct faculty: “Like adjunct faculty, translators constantly struggle for visibility in a world that would rather pretend they don’t exist. Translators are often not considered “real writers” similar to how adjunct faculty are often seen as also- ran tenure-track professors. In a landscape of scarcity, most full-time translators, like adjunct faculty, have to hustle all the time, and live in a state of constant contingency, where being able to say no to work is a luxury. And how many literary translators are also adjuncts?” (“Translators and Collective Action”).

[12] Hua Hsu contends, “At its best, the academy feels like a refuge from the exigencies of the rest of the world. It’s why many of us came here in the first place, to pursue knowledge or meaning at a safe distance from market forces, political fashion, the logic of short-term deliverables. And yet from the adjunct crisis to ballooning student debt, our profession increasingly relies on the same exploitative economic forces that power the rest of the world. Our spaces of critical inquiry are now built on a system in which a minority has absolute job security, and most are permanently waylaid, living paycheck to paycheck” (“The Purpose of Our Profession is at Risk”).

[13] In 2016, a series of formal and informal conversations about the overwhelming whiteness at the American Literary Translators Association annual conference occasioned the creation of the Peter K. Jansen Memorial Travel Fellowship, which is “preferentially awarded to an emerging translator of color or a translator working from an underrepresented diaspora or stateless language” (“Jansen Fellowship”).

[14] Tachtiris, drawing on Kaza, extends this critique: “Recent immigrants or the children of immigrants often translate simply as a way of life, yet as many panelists indicated on the 2016 ALTA panel “Inheriting the Future: Cross-pollinations of Race and Translation,” these communities may also not picture themselves as literary translators because of anxieties about a “lack of fluency” in one or both languages (later published as Perry et al, 2018). Madhu H. Kaza — the editor of Kitchen Table Translation, featuring translations, essays, and other reflections on translation by young immigrants or children of immigrants — encourages immigrants and heritage speakers to move past the idea of mastery and just try their hands at translation, to take a text and think of translation as a form of play (in Perry et al 2018: 198–199). She also argues that inclusivity should not amount to assimilation into the established norms of the profession. In her words, “If you’re having this big translation party, it involves opening the doors so that more people can come to the party. But the party has to change, too” (Perry et al 2018: 187). This can include, again, breaking down the idea of “mastery,” as Haitian-American translator and performance artist Gabrielle Civil does in a performance piece in which she mockingly takes on the role of her male translation professor critiquing her mistakes (2017: 44–45). Changing the party also includes an openness to how people arrive at it” (“Allyship”).

[15] I would like to acknowledge that the debate over whether literary translations can count toward tenure introduces an interesting wrinkle to the argument. For more on these developments, see the Modern Language Association’s recent guidelines for “Evaluating Translation as Scholarship” as well as the American Comparative Literature Association’s statement on “Translation and Academic Promotion and Tenure.”

[16] As the ATA website reports, “The ban on price discussions within ATA dates back to the late 1980s, when ATA as an organization published annual guidelines with price recommendations for translators. As a result of an investigation by the FTC, ATA as an organization (meaning all employees, elected officials, and publications of the Association) had to agree not to post specific prices. As a consequence, we are very cautious about price discussions, for example, in ATA-sponsored discussion groups for chapters or divisions” (“It’s Ok to Tell”).

[17] It is important to remember that “there is no standard translation rate in the United States, nor are U.S. professional organizations permitted to recommend or publish rates. However, considering the rate ‘that UK publishers are prepared to pay,’ as reported by the Society of Authors in the UK (‘in the region of £95 per 1,000 words,’ or about $0.13 per word at the time of this writing), and the rate prescribed by the Canada Council for the Arts ($0.18 Canadian per word, or $0.14 U.S., for genres other than drama or poetry), it is clear that a large number of U.S. translators are being paid rates that make it difficult, if not impossible, to earn a living” (2017 Author’s Guild Survey of Literary Translators’ Working Condition).

[18] Tokumitsu writes: “DWYL is an essentially narcissist schema, facilitating willful ignorance of working conditions of other by encouraging self-gratification…. DWYL exposes it adherents to exploitation, justifying unpaid or underpaid work by throwing workers’ motivations back at them; when passion becomes the socially accepted motivation for working, talk of wages or reasonable scheduling becomes crass” (7).

[19] Tachtiris: “Those of us for whom translation is not a major source of income should not agree to payment below the market rate. Not only can this drive the price down for other translators who primarily work freelance, it also contributes to the persistent stereotype that translation is a labor of love rather than a viable profession. […] Academia conditions us to labor without pay for translations, articles, etc. because it ‘counts’ (though sometimes minimally) for tenure” (“Allyship”).

[20] Michael Cronin briefly traces the Western philosophical path of this idea of “self-interest,” ultimately arguing, “The individual assignation of identity and value in the liberal, utilitarian paradigm would seem then to be in obvious tension with the collective embrace of the relational that is seen as part of the utopian promise of translation. In other words, there is a clear contradiction between what I have termed elsewhere the ‘messianic tradition’ in translatorial self-representation (Cronin 2013: 89), the idea of translation as a collective project of mutual understanding and the regimes of value” (Eco-Translation 15).

[21] On the question of literary translation as activism, see Jamie McKendrick’s essay “Forms of Fidelity: Poetry Translation as Literary Activism,” Laetitia Zecchini essay “Translation as Literary Activism: On Invisibility and Exposure, Arun Kolatkar and the Little Magazine ‘Conspiracy,” and Laura Cesarco Eglin’s interview with Jeannine Pitas, “Translation is Activism Because it Involves Bringing One Culture into Another: An Interview with Laura Cesarco Eglin.”

[22] Importantly, Dean suggests that we must lean into “reflective solidarity,” which she takes up in her book Solidarity of Strangers: Feminism after Identity Politics. “In conventional solidarities,” writes Dean, “members are expected to sacrifice their own identities, desires, and opinions for the good of the group. They are expected to nod in silent acquiescence. Reflective solidarity, however, recognizes that members and participants are always insiders and outsiders” (Solidarity of Strangers 34).

[23] Throughout this dissertation, I draw, directly and indirectly, on the frameworks of “care” that have emerged in writings and conversations on abolition and in particular, the (often coauthored) works of Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Mariame Kaba, Angela Davis, Saidiya Hartman, Harsha Walia, Robyn Maynard, Ejeris Dixon, and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha as well as those by the Bay Area Justice Collective, Incite!, and the Chrysalis Collective.

[24] “The two basic axioms of an ecological epistemology, connectivity and diversity,” Hubert Zapf writes, “need to be taken seriously both in the ways in which ecocritical issues and subjects are explored and in the ways in which ecocriticism positions itself within the wider spectrum of contemporary academic disciplines” (4).

[25] “What do we mean by ‘petroculture’? We use this term to emphasize the ways in which global society today is an oil society through and through. It is shaped by oil in physical and material ways, from the automobiles and highways we use to the plastics that fill up every space of our daily lives. Even more significantly, fossil fuels have also shaped our values, practices, habits, beliefs and feelings. These latter can be difficult to parse. It might be easy to point to a highway interchange and understand why it is an important part of our oil culture, but much harder to name andisolate the ideas and ideals of autonomy and mobility that have become essential values to people around the world. In a very real way, these values are fueled by fossil fuels, as are many of the values and aspirations that we have come to associate with the freedoms and capacities of modern life. It is in this sense that we are a petroculture; and it is for this reason, too, that transitioning from fossil fuels to other sources of energy will require more than new technologies. We will need to transform and transition our cultural and social values at the same time” (Szeman, Badia, Diamanti, O’Driscoll and Simspon).

[26] As James Baldwin writes in a letter to Angela Davis, “[A]s long as white Americans take refuge in their whiteness — for so long as they are unable to walk of this most monstrous of traps — they will allow millions of people to be slaughtered in their name, and will be manipulated into and surrender themselves to what they will think of — and justify — as a racial war.”

[27] Here, Latour explains, “The difference [between critique and composition] is not moot, because what performs a critique cannot also compose. It is really a mundane question of having the right tools for the right job. With a hammer (or a sledge hammer) in hand you can do a lot of things: break down walls, destroy idols, ridicule prejudices, but you cannot repair, take care, assemble, reassemble, stitch together” (475).

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