07. Some Writing and Translating Wisdom From Social Media

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FEBRUARY 18, 2022: Twitter can be a useful place to learn new ideas if we use it right.

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Dear Reader,

As much of my literary translation published so far has involved works from the classic Gujarati canon, I get asked sometimes about some of the problematic social mores of earlier times. My response is that I generally avoid translating works that feel problematic to me. But, yes, we have to consider such works as representative of their time when gender, class, caste dynamics were different. In that sense, they’re more like sociocultural and historical artifacts to me. That said, I also remind people that things aren’t all good now. Even when we might have improved some of our sociopolitical attitudes and behaviors, our language hasn’t always caught up.

Take this first simple example of two words, “shirtless” and ‘topless”, and how we’ve genderized their usage.

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The second tweet below is another truth that I feel hard as a literary translator.

This important essay by Alice Whitmore about the controversial #NametheTranslator and #TranslatorsOnTheCover movements on social media shares a few more Twitter truths. And this particular bit resonates deeply too.

“A translator’s work involves months or years of careful re-writing: we choose and type every single word, sometimes working in flow, sometimes in exquisite agony; we research and edit and finesse and defend the text from cover to cover, several times over. [. . .] something that ‘proclaims itself to be an aesthetic problem’ is often much more than that; ‘what is consistently at issue is power.’ The fight for recognition now taking place may feel like empty symbolism to some, but it is deeply personal for others. Indeed, what could be more personal – or symbolic – than a name?”

And, finally, I shared a small Twitter thread earlier this week about how I’ve created a sustainable writing and translating practice. I began this way back when I was still working a demanding, full-time job in Silicon Valley. Perhaps it might be helpful to others who cannot devote too much time to their writing and/or translating work.

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I don’t spend a lot of time on social media because, for me, it’s distracting and does something to my ability to focus deeply on something for long periods of time. That said, as a writer and translator from a minority background (in the US), I’ve found community and wisdom there. But, for the most part, I aim to be as professional (versus personal) there as I would be at my workplace. Everyone uses social media differently and this is the only way I’m able to use it effectively. So please feel free to connect with me at the social links below and share your own Twitter wisdom about translation, writing, language, etc. Happy to share it on.

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Until the next newsletter.

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Jenny Bhatt

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