ترجمة وتفسير

'Tarjamah & Tfseer'
Ibrahim Hannoon & Julia Schlüter
Ibrahim Hannoon, born in Libya, grew up in Rafah, Gaza Strip. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in economics at the Islamic University of Gaza, he worked with civil society organizations. Currently an editor for 28 Magazine and a literary translator, he is curious about almost everything, but especially interested in the occurrence of common perceptions of the world in distant places.
Julia Schlüter was born and raised in Dortmund/Germany. She studied law at the European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder). After pursuing her Master’s in International Human Rights Law in Sweden, she is now based in Berlin again. Besides her current research interest, the relationship between new technologies and human rights, she is keen to explore potential interplay between law and art. 
When starting to learn English as a second language, I assumed that translation skills are an inevitable result of mastering another language. I used to think that translation is a process that completely relies on vocabulary and phonetics. During my professional experience as a translator for Mahmoud Al-Shaer/28magazine and in cooperation with Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), I realized that translation is an extremely demanding, complex and engaging form of art. Moreover, I become aware that I need much more than vocabulary and overall command of a language to ensure that content does not get lost whilst translating.

[التجربة, Al-Tajroba; the attempt to actually try something]

During the last six months, I enabled Mahmoud to communicate with the people we met in the (Un)Learning Place at HKW in January 2019 and subsequently in the context of the ongoing New Alphabet School. I was astonished by what I have learned, and am still learning about translation. I’d like to share some insights from this journey as a translator, simultaneously including the perspective from ‘the other room’, as I provided translation up until now mainly via digital means. Vinit Agarwal in his Translatio-cene Manifesto1 includes a description of the translator’s mode of existence that perfectly fits how I feel about it: translators are “the living dead”.2 This might sound harsh – which does not necessarily mean it is not true. In order to be able to translate, you have to put all your thoughts, beliefs and opinions on hold – at least so I thought. In other words, you should shut down your mind and only operate using your ears and your mouth.

Mahmoud, Ibrahim and I keep speaking after the (Un)Learning Place at HKW was over. At some point I realized that in a confusing way, the two faces, bodies, brains I communicated with via digital means, in my perception unconsciously merged into one set of ideas. The thoughts and ideas of one person, Mahmoud, being expressed by the other one, Ibrahim, in the language I’m able to comprehend and respond in. Despite seeing them both physically, I am not entirely able to clearly distinguish between their thoughts. In the moment I expressed my confusion, I realized its sweeping scariness by the facial reaction I witnessed on screen.

Besides ethical questions, shutting down one’s mind is a challenge and potential threat to the content which is supposed to be translated. The translation might appear linguistically “correct” . However some of the original content will almost inevitably lose its soul. When I was translating general cultural and theoretical aspects of learning and unlearning, I tried to shut down my mind and “operate” using solely my ears and mouth. As a result, I ended up with a high-quality translation but neither myself nor Mahmoud captured the soul of what has been said by others.

[الشمول, Al-Shomool; the action of collecting, covering and including all parts]

Thinking about the translation software available by now, a similar issue seems to be inherent in it. Even if the words and semantics would be “perfectly” translated (by now, depending on the languages involved, there are still many flaws. I try to find a translation of a German word into Arabic using google translate. The fact that the results keep changing each time I switch the direction of translation makes me nervous and insecure to a point that I switch to English. Without being entirely confident about the English word I chose to replace the German one, I feel secured by the fact that the result remains the same no matter how often I push the ‘switch’-button), there is no machine in the world by now that can capture a story behind words. Read between the lines. To sense a feeling, an emotion, the spirituality behind mere words is the luxury of the human being. The machine won’t cry reading a poem. I’m getting aware of the insufficiency of mere words the most when translating Mahmoud’s poem Against the Siege, Higher than the Wall.

[التعاطف, Al-Tatoff; the ability to experience someone’s feelings by imagining yourself in one’s shoes]

Another quite significant but not very obvious result of existing as a living dead is the intentional or unintentional lack of awareness of the translator’s existence by others. This is a very critical struggle for Mahmoud and me. He constantly asks me to interrupt people in order to let them know, remind them and insist, that this not a traditional communication process between two people. That it includes a third person. Me, the translator. Me, in need of time to capture and translate in both directions. I always deny Mahmoud’s request in order to not interrupt a line of thought unfolding. A conversation taking place between others on the screen in front of us. Instead, I force myself to focus, translate and memorize at the same time to ensure that nothing is left untranslated, without interrupting. I have to recall some points after the end of a conversation in order to provide them to Mahmoud. There were moments in which I feel the need to scream out loud. To tell people to shorten their sentences in order to create some space for translation to happen. To create some space for me being there. I almost never do.

[التفاني, Al-Tafani; the state of working really hard and put your heart into your work]

I did not have any considerable experience in communicating with a translator involved. My unfamiliarity with the situation made me ignore it. Pretending, that this is a ‘normal’ conversation. Maybe driven by the attempt to not point to the obvious: that there is not a common language between Mahmoud and me. Increased by the wish to alleviate the hard-to-ignore power disbalance regarding the two languages involved. I realize how my approach creates an almost unbearable situation for the person translating only when, after hours of communication, Ibrahim very politely but obviously exhausted asked for setting up a bottom-line. Which basically consists of acknowledging his part in the conversation by shortening my statements and providing time. In that moment I realize how the concept of the – also literally – invisible translator prevents any concessions and considerations. I ask Mahmoud and Ibrahim to ensure the visibility of both of them on screen. Witnessing the facial expressions of the person in fact enabling the entire conversation ensured that I am at least reminded of his existence constantly.

On 17th and 18th June 2019, the first edition of the New Alphabet School #1 Translating takes place at the HKW in Berlin. I am deeply hoping to physically attend this event. Not only in order to translate, but because I feel I am the very target group. This is our second public virtual translation experience and both Mahmoud and I felt progress and ease. Most likely because during the (Un)Learning Place in January my role as a translator was established to overcome Mahmoud’s inability to travel. Back then, everything happened in a matter of seconds after I translated a Skype- conversation between Mahmoud and Gigi Argyropoulou, who was in charge of the blog Peopled Spaces accompanying the (Un)Learning Place. I mainly did this to show support and sympathy to my friend. I ended up being a translator with no guidance whatsoever.

[البصيرة, Al-Baseera; seeing with the heart, metaphorically being guided by the heart]

The second day of the event #1 TRANSLATING within the frame of the New Alphabet School at HKW consisted of five workshops, due to time issues and digital limitations we are able to witness only two. The first one is Socio-political Representation and Ethics of Translation with Nadiye Ünsal, moderated by Nahed Mansour and Júlia Ayerbe. It was a brilliant workshop which I enjoyed attending even via screen from Gaza Strip. The moderators introduce us to a technique that manages to sum up the situation of translation since translation was first introduced to human civilization. Each of the participants had written a personal story and sent it to the moderators prior to the workshop. During the workshop, these texts were then read and interpreted by other people while the author was listening silently. Afterwards the authors revealed their identity and shared the feelings about the interpretation of such a personal text by a stranger. The amount of feelings and emotions that were triggered by this technique appeared to be sufficient to fill all translation gaps. At some point I was looking at Mahmoud and there was no need for translation, he was able to capture everything that was happening without me adding words to it.

[الصمت, Al-Samt; the state of Silence with no verbal communications]

While trying to grasp and make sense of what is contributed, discussed and added during the morning session Cultural Translation/Translation and Technology with Lydia H. Liu, moderated by Sima Reinisch and Thomás Cohen, I feel somehow relieved that Mahmoud and Ibrahim are not attending the workshop with me. The amount of references made to philosophical, psychoanalytic and sociological concepts and authors mainly rooted in western history of ideas appears to be challenging to me. Someone who was born and raised in the very same geographical location and has spent quite some years in Middle European universities. I feel overwhelmed and completely unable to provide much more than the references made as a summary of what happened. Which would of course not be a summary of what happened. As it feels rather like a slightly distressing list than an inspiration, I decide not to suggest Mahmoud to dive into Adorno, Freud and Horkheimer by now.

The second workshop we attend is Translating appropriation, assimilation, anthropophagy, the workshop that we were supposed to be part of as guests. Instead of being physically present, we had to deal with an enormous amount of pressure, stress and technical issues just to ensure that the workshop we spent months on discussing, creating and preparing will fulfill its goals. Preparing while assuming that we will be there, able to spontaneously interact like everyone else. Two days before the workshop takes place, we finally have to acknowledge that we are forced to adjust everything we had in mind to a situation of distant participation via digital means again.

The technical setup on both ends appears to be incredibly improved compared to the situation in January during the (Un)Learning Place. Two video-calls mirroring each other on screen, while one of them being transferred on a bigger screen to enhance the visibility of Mahmoud and Ibrahim for the other participants. Enhanced, high-quality audio transmission for the spoken contributions in both distant rooms. Combined with the possibility to text and simultaneously listen to what is heard in the other room.

[التماشي, Al-Tamashi; the ability to play along and adapt to any kind of change in a harmonic way]

After the need to adapt, our goal for this workshop was to provide the participants with a translation act via the digital. To enable them to examine this act and make their own evaluation and conclusion of what works, what goes wrong and what can be done to enhance it. I am most certain that no one will be as harsh in evaluating it as I am. Mainly, because I had huge expectations regarding the first edition of the New Alphabet School beforehand. But also because I am forced to realize the persistent flaws and shortcomings enshrined in the technological solutions available.

The entire technical setup not only appears promising. During the first minutes, all people closely involved in the transmission share some sense of being on the edge of losing orientation. Orientation regarding who is actually heard by whom when and where. Not to mention the visual dimension. After adapting, things seem to work out smoothly. There is a literal presence of Mahmoud and Ibrahim despite the almost 3000 km of distance. Interactions, reactions, questions and answers. Only via text messages I realize that this almost comfortable feeling is only sensed at one end of the digital participation. In the evaluation afterwards, I am astonished. Astonished by the efforts I have to make to convince both of them that things went well. Astonished by realizing, how painfully the entire setup falls short of transmitting an atmosphere. Appreciation. It seems like the success felt at one end is not easily transmitted to the other.

On the other hand, we are glad that our intervention lead to a discussion that almost all participants took part in. This is the only source of joy for us in our small, very far away room. As we know for a fact that whenever and wherever there is a discussion, there will be learning and unlearning.