Thursday, July 05, 2012

July the Fourth

"Esta tierra mágica y clemente, que llama a sí a los tristes y sin cansarse amasa panes para todos los que se proclaman sus hijos". — José Martí

"This magical and merciful land that beckons the unfortunate and tirelessly kneads the bread for all who proclaim themselves her sons." — José Martí

Monday, July 02, 2012

Laura Lomas Continues to Defame José Martí: Part 2

In her article in Translation Review, which runs 22 pages (including endnotes), Laura Lomas does not have much room to exhibit her prodigious ignorance of Martí's biography, or, perhaps, after her tour de force in Translating Empire, she no longer has anything to prove (certainly not to us). Still, the reader who has the patience to chop through the weeds will not go unrewarded; the field may be smaller but that very fact allows a more careful inspection and greater scope for presenting our findings in this limited space:

p. 13 "Translation serves [Martí] as a method of defining his own, his region's, and his diasporic community's perspective and concerns in relation to the 'other America' (OC 6:34), or [to] 'the America that is not ours' (OC 8:35)."

We are still waiting for Lomas to explain how Martí's translation of Hugh Conway's Called Back or Thomas Moore's Lalla-Rookh, not to mention his projected translation of Dianah Mulock Craik's John Halifax, Gentleman -- all from English/Irish authors -- "serve[d] him as a method of defining his own, his region's, and his diasporic community's perspective and concerns in relation to the 'other America,' or the 'America that is not ours.'"

p. 13 "[M]artí translated from English to Spanish, but also from French to Spanish, and in a few instances (and most likely in collaboration with others), from Spanish to English."

Martí also translated from English to Portuguese while employed at the commercial firm of C.[arlos] Carranza & Co., 60 Wall Street, from 1883 to 1885. (Yes, Martí worked on Wall Street. In fact, among the Papeles de Martí, collected by Gonzalo de Quesada y Miranda, there is a letter of recommendation on Martí's behalf from C. Carranza & Co. to W.R. Grace & Co.).

p. 13 "Martí initiated the translation of [Helen Hunt] Jackson's bestselling novel [Ramona] at his own expense."

Martí's friend, the Uruguayan diplomat Enrique Estrázulas, to whom Versos sencillos is co-dedicated, paid for the printing of Martí's translation of Ramona.

p. 14 "Another way of categorizing Martí's translations might be to divide them into self-initiated projects (translations of Hugo, Jackson, excerpts of prose and poetry of Emerson, Whitman, Longfellow, Renan, Poe) that reveal Martí's criteria in electing to make certain texts and authors available to readers of Spanish, and projects that Martí completed at the behest of others."

In 1874, while briefly in Paris, Martí was introduced to Victor Hugo by the poet Auguste Vacquerie (whose brother Charles was married to Hugo's daughter). Hugo presented Martí with a copy of Mes Fils and entrusted to him the Spanish translation. Clearly, this was not a "self-initiated project" but one that Martí "completed at the behest of [Hugo]."

p. 14 "[M]artí's primary goals as a translator were to guarantee his América's sovereignty, and to liberate and culturally enrich Hispano-American literature."

Those were the primary goals of some of his translations (e.g. Ramona and the anti-Cuban editorial in The Manufacturer, which was re-printed and refuted by Martí in The New York Post). As for other translations, see note above [p. 13/1].

p. 16 "[M]artí translated from the belly of the emerging U.S. empire."

Not very "emerg[ed]" at the time of Martí's death, nor destined to expand much after. In fact, this "U.S. empire" contracted more in the 20th century than it expanded.

p. 16 "This history of dislocation, after serving a prison sentence for his anti-colonial beliefs, after residence in various Central and South American nations and Spain as part of a Latin American and Caribbean diaspora, and with a canny sense of U.S. aspirations to 'take' his island and control or exploit aspects of other Latin American countries, led Martí to theorize translation (and its prerequisite, multilingualism) as a weapon for counteracting a complex of racial and imperial discourses about his América."

What it led Martí to do was to sacrifice his life (see his final letter to Mercado). Nothing could be more ridiculous than to suggest that "to theorize translation (and its prerequisite, multilingualism)" was the culmination of Martí's "history of dislocation" and the "weapon [slingshot?] for counteracting a complex of racial and imperialist discourses about his América." As a would-be translation theorist herself, it is perhaps not surprising and to some degree excusable that Lomas would seek to enlarge that minor aspect of Martí's literary legacy; but to place it center stage and make Martí's entire life the prelude to it is nothing but self-serving. Despite her frenzied efforts (and because of them) no one in the future will ever "privilege" Martí as the "Heroic Translator."

p. 17 "[Martí's] defense of mother-tongue maintenance parallels his stalwart endorsement of self-government according to the unique cultural situation in the region."

Any author that would coin such an abomination as "mother-tongue maintenance" and does not have Helen Keller's excuse should take to heart and follow the maxim (slightly altered here) that they also serve who only stand and teach. Forget about "publish or die." Some academics will teach longer the less they publish.

As for Martí's "stalwart endorsement of self-government," it was never contingent, as Lomas suggests, "on the unique cultural situation in the region." This implies that the absence of self-government (such as in Cuba) could be explained or even excused by "its unique cultural situation" -- that is, a culture of tyranny, which is indeed "unique" in the region, though not without would-be imitators. I pointed out in Part 3 of my review of Translating Empire that Lomas is obsessed with the culture of the volk as the defining principle of government and source of its legitimacy, which is a position that Martí never held. Democracy, not caciquism, was Martí's programme for Cuba. To admit that fact discredits "Cuba's current government," and Lomas never does. Carried to its logical (or illogical) conclusion Lomas' (not Martí's) theory of self-government would legitimize the ancient Aztec practice of infant sacrifice, which is at the very heart (no pun intended) of Mexico's auctonomous culture, and explain the results of Sunday's presidential elections on the basis of it.

p. 17 "In light of Martí's utopian desire to build a print community of Spanish speakers that extended across national borders [...]."

This is the second time (see main review) that Lomas refers to Martí's ideas as "utopian" (and it won't be the last). But what is so "utopian" about "build[ing] a print community of Spanish readers that extended across national borders?" Martí did precisely that many times. His crónicas were reprinted throughout Latin American (often without his permission) and made Martí the region's first internationally syndicated columnist.  La Edad de Oro circulated throughout the Hispanic world. Indeed, Martí's contemporary fame as a writer was not so much national (his writings were rarely published in Cuba) as international.

p. 18 "This brief article celebrates a fellow Cuban translator, Gabriel [de] Zéndegui, who taught literature in the United States during a period of twenty years."

Gabriel de Zéndegui did not teach "literature in the United States for a period of twenty years." In 1882, he consulted Martí about relocating to the U.S., and did so briefly (1885-1888) before settling in Argentina. La Nacíón, probably with Martí's recommendation, appointed him its foreign correspondent in London, which position he exercised for 14 years. Upon the inauguration of the Cuban Republic, in 1902, Zéndegui was named Secretary of the Legation there. He resided continuously in England from 1888 until his death in 1922.

p. 18 "Martí lived in New York in the wake of a failed Reconstruction that witnessed the rise of lynch law and Jim Crow, the Asian [sic] Exclusion Acts, and massacres or military subjection of native peoples."

It's the "Chinese [not 'Asian'] Exclusion Act" [singular], signed by President Chester Arthur in 1882. No other exclusion acts were enacted in Martí's lifetime. (The Immigration Act of 1924 excluded for the first time other Asians besides the Chinese).

Too bad that the current sufferings of Cubans under military subjection (which include lynch law, Jim Crow, massacres and exclusion acts) are of too recent vintage to merit Lomas' attention much less condemnation. We do not doubt (how could anyone doubt it?) that these outrages would meet with Martí's disapproval, however.

p. 19 "En Arkansas se unieron texanos y arkanseños, y mujeres y hombres, y quemaron contra un pino a un negro untado de petróleo."

         "In Arkansas, Texans and Arkansinos, women and men, came together and burned at the stake of a tree a black man covered with tar." [Lomas' translation]

In the translation of this one sentence Lomas manages to confute burning at a stake with tar and feathering, and tar with gasoline. Tar and feathering, which involves the application of tar to the skin and then feathers, though undoubtedly painful and humiliating, was rarely fatal. Burning at the stake always was. The black man in Arkansas who was tied, probably with chains, to a pine tree and set on fire, was not "covered with tar" but with gasoline, which is the correct translation for Martí's "petróleo" in American English. Tar in Spanish is alquitrán or brea, which Martí does not use (and which the white mob wouldn't have used either because tar is not as combustible as gasoline). Martí knows the difference between tar and gasoline, Lomas obviously does not, and transfers her ignorance to Martí in her translation. In the process, she diminishes the horrific act depicted by Martí with the introduction of extraneous words ("stake" and "tar") and awkward phrases not in the original ("the stake of a tree") which are intended to "refine" Martí's prose but only succeed in redefining (and corrupting) his meaning. She also does not identify the tree as a pine, which, supposedly, could supply her superfluous tar. We suspect that Lomas replaced gasoline with tar because she thought Martí's use of "gasoline" was an anachronism. In fact, gasoline is a naturally occurring by-product of petroleum (and hence did not have to be "invented") and it was in commercial production long before it was used as a fuel in automobiles. The word itself dates to1865.

p. 20 "No longer a pure, homogeneous essence or a biological or genetic principal [sic], the logic of diaspora opens the social formation of diaspora to a range of languages and cultural practices."

Yes, this is nonsense, complete and utter nonsense: not only doesn't it mean anything, it is also ungrammatical. As has been noted previously, Lomas, an assistant professor of English at Rutgers, doesn't know the difference between "principle" and "principal" and uses them interchangeably in Translating Empire. In the four years since her book was published, she has apparently remained clueless. How this is possible for a supposedly bilingual speaker we are hard-pressed to explain since "principal" is not only spelt the same but has the identical meaning in both Spanish and English. A monolingual English speaker might have difficulty distinguishing between "principle" and "principal" (it is a common error). But how can someone who knows Spanish make such an error in English? In the next paragraph, Lomas uses "principle" correctly ("a principle of hospitality"). Like Aunt Ri's quilt in Ramona, "it's called her 'hit-er-miss' pattren," though with Lomas, unlike Aunt Ri, it's "miss" oftener than its "hit."

p. 21 "Giving the lie to claims about equal opportunity and myths of justice for all in the United States, this use of translation as thinking-across reveals the possible terrors that posed a bodily threat specifically to a heterogeneous, racialized or non-standard-English-speaking group, living in the North."

Lomas does not specify who is "giving the lie to claims about equal opportunity and myths of justice for all in the United States." But since the article is about Martí and his use of translation, we must presume that she means Martí. Isn't it interesting how Martí spoke in the 19th century in the same terms ("equal opportunity" and "justice for all") as we do today? It would be interesting if he had, but he didn't. This is not to say that Martí did not decry racism and injustice. He did, wherever he found them, and he did not only find them in the United States. Ironically, it was only in the United States that Martí found "equal opportunity" and "justice for all" for himself -- not in Cuba, not in Spain, not in Mexico, not in Guatemala, not in Venezuela; nowhere but in the "other America."

p. 21 "Translation as thinking-across [...] promotes inclusiveness across differently racialized ethnic groups in the "hybrid" and "mestizo" imagined community of Martí's America."

Martí did not have to "imagine" Our America to be "hybrid" and "mestizo" because it was (and is) hybrid and mestizo. What he never imagined, however, is that some day the "Other America" would also become hybrid and mestizo. (Please note that Lomas is afraid to use those words except with quotations marks, as if the existence of hundreds of millions of people could be put in doubt by affixing them).

p. 23 "Martí practiced and endorsed a radical nationalist politics throughout his life, a discourse that can become complicit in reinforcing cultural conformity and ethnolinguistic intolerance of difference."

Out of the blue, without presenting any evidence to support her contention, Lomas accuses Martí of being potentially "complicit in reinforcing cultural conformity and ethnolinguistic intolerance of difference." Let us suppose that she is right (while bearing in mind that she never is). Shouldn't a people be allowed to evolve its own culture and is it "intolerant" to prefer one's culture to all others? Conformity is not tyranny unless it is enforced at the point of a gun (as in Castro's Cuba). Nor are all differences to be applauded and embraced -- that doesn't multiply choice, but, rather, eliminates it. And that, too, is tyranny.

p. 26. "[Martí] concurs with [Ernest Renan] that nations are social constructions, and that modern humanity will eventually be undivided by the barriers of nationality and free from threats of aggression. However, [...] this utopian view already appeared hollow, with imperialism stalking the more vulnerable parts of the world in the nineteenth century."

This is the third time that Lomas characterizes Martí's views as "utopian." The more humane and idealistic that Martí is, the more "utopian" he seems to Lomas. I do not personally share this "one world" view of the future. I neither believe it possible nor desire it. But I admire those who can and do. It is to me proof of a belief -- almost religious in nature -- in the perfectivity of man and inevitability of justice. We would expect Martí to espouse such a view. This is the Martí that we know and love: the "Universal Cuban." Because I admire him, I do not discount the possibility that he might be right any more than I would dismiss the likelihood that Jesus Christ is right. "Utopians" are ineffectual men, which defines neither Martí nor Christ.

p. 28 endnote 3 "Gabriel García Márquez revindicates underpaid translators and acknowledges his preference for some passages of Gregory Rabassa's translations of his work into English over the original in 'Los pobres traductores.'"

I repeat it only because it is to the credit of a fellow Cuban: García Márquez actually said that he prefers Gregory Rabassa's English translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude to the original. This is very high praise indeed even from a cretinous apologist for Fidel Castro.

p. 29 endnote 6 "Martí refers to his attempt to translate Hamlet, and notes in his fragmentary writings that he couldn't get pass the scene of [the] 'sepulteros,' a probable [emphasis mine] reference to Act V, scene i, when two gravediggers pull out Yorick's skull as they prepare Ophelia's grave (Martí, Obras Completas, 22:283)."

Probable? How many other "sepultero" scenes are there in Hamlet?

p. 29 endnote 9 "In 1896, Appleton published a twelve edition of [Martí's translation of Hugh Conway's novel Called Back], available in the New York Public Library."

I own the twenty-third edition, published by D. Appleton and Company, in 1908. Very successful indeed.

p. 30 endnote 14 "Martí encouraged second-language learning as a means of self-defense in a night school on 63rd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues run by Federico Edelman:

"Hombre que no conoce la lengua del país en que vive, es hombre desarmado. Bien harían en pasar las noches desocupadas en la clase de Edelman los cubanos que se sientan como desvalidos, por no hablar la lengua rubia, en esta tierra que tiene en poco a los que no le contestan en su idioma preciso y áspero" (Patria, 9 [de] marzo 1894).

"A man who does not know the language of the country in which he lives, is an unarmed [disarmed] man. Cubans who feel defenseless [helpless] for not knowing the high-toned [blonde] language in [of] this land where one is belittled [held in little regard] for not answering in their [its] necessary [precise] and rough [brusque] language, do well to spend their free evenings in Edelman's class."
[Lomas' translation with intercalated corrections].

This translation is deficient on many grounds. A foreigner feels disarmed because he does not speak English, not "unarmed." He could learn English, as Martí suggests that he should do, and then no longer be disarmed. If, as Lomas translates, he were "unarmed" -- that is, without the aptitude or the means to learn -- it would be impossible for him to overcome that limitation or profit from Martí's practical advice. Cubans, Martí writes, feel "desvalidos" (helpless) because they don't speak English; this is not the same as feeling "defenseless," which implies that they are under attack. Nor does Martí say that they are "belittled" because they don't know the "blonde language" (which Lomas somehow manages to translate as "high-toned language"); but, rather, the U.S. "[los] tiene en poco," that is, holds them in little regard because of it. Once they can answer natives in their own "precise and brusque language" they will no longer be considered of little account because the U.S. is a democratic and classless society where immigrants do not face insurmountable obstacles to integration and success. Martí certainly does not consider learning English to be an insurmountable obstacle (as proponents of bilingual education do today). What Lomas construes as "a revealing comment about discrimination faced by non-English speakers" is in fact Martí's summons to his exiled countrymen to avail themselves of the opportunities afforded them to realize their full potential in American society.

Not only does Lomas tendentiously mistranslate Martí here, but she has no idea whatever of the context of this particular quotation because of her less than serviceable knowledge of Martí's biography. She is unaware that Federico Edelman's night school class was held at a public school under the auspices of the New York City Board of Education. What Martí endorsed was a government-sponsored and taxpayer-supported program to assist newcomers with language acquisition which disproves by its very existence Lomas' (not Martí's) contention that non-English speaking immigrants were under siege, "unarmed" and "defenseless," in a hostile America.

Moreover, Lomas incorrectly surmises that the "school on 63rd Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues [was] run by Federico Edelman," which it was not. Edelman only taught an English class there, as Martí clearly states in the paragraph cited by Lomas. But this is not the worst of it: Lomas is apparently unaware that Martí himself had only recently been a teacher at that very building known as Central Valley Evening School, located in the premises of Grammar School No. 74, at 220 East 63rd St. Martí had been hired as "Instructor of Spanish" there in January 1891, and his appointment was renewed for 1892 and 1893, though he presented his resignation at the end of 1892. Lomas quotes Martí's praise for Edelman's interlingual approach to teaching English through Spanish. This is all very well, of course. She could, however, have quoted Martí's own summary of his approach to language instruction, which is contained in a "Synopsis of Methods of Instruction in the Various Branches of Studied Pursued" at Central Evening High School: "The instructor in Spanish [Martí] reports that his aim has been, 'to teach strict grammar without appearing to teach it.' The language was taught by pronunciation, orthography, dictating nightly different forms of sentences to the students, and then more elaborately as they showed signs of progress. The relation of Spanish moods to those of other languages was fully set forth. Commercial letters and short descriptions were written by the students, and corrected by the teacher from time to time. Constant use of the black-board familiarized the minds of the students with the ideas imparted by the instructor."  [Journal of the Board of Education of the City of New York, New York, 1891, pp. 690-692].