“National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera reaffirms Asian identities in the national languages, as Int’l Literature Conference closes”
This was a most fitting end. After two days of plenaries and panel sessions that talked about particular aspects of a very diverse set of cultures within Asia, Filipino National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera tied everything together by highlighting our dependence on, and thus the importance of, translation in his paper entitled “The Necessity of Footnotes: Translating the Culture.”
In light of the various languages in this region we call ours, this couldn’t come at a better time.
Grounded in the tradition of Tagalog poetry, Lumbera takes from how mass movements during various historical moments in the Philippines have consistently forced a “reordering of aesthetics” in literature. It is in light of this that translation is revealed as both important and problematic. Through examples of translated poems that talk about the material conditions of the masses, Lumbera showed how the “new” poems in English failed in capturing these poems’ class character, harsh contexts, and casual or angry overtones.
To Lumbera, what is lost in translation may be articulated through the process of footnoting, which would also allow for certain culturally particular words to be kept in the translated versions. In this discipline of footnotes, Lumbera sees the possibility of keeping the flavors of the original poems, even in its rendering in a new language.
Then too, Lumbera was able to pinpoint the value of the translator in this act of transfer. Rather than just falling back on footnotes, Lumbera highlights the importance of the translator, whose “cultural perceptiveness and expression are challenged” in the act of translation. This responds to the general perception that the translation of literature must be done by those who are writers as well. On the contrary, it is precisely this kind of translator that is disruptive of the original text, as personal aesthetics come into play.
In truth, a real translator is someone who can clearly negotiate between the original and the “new” version. It is also only this kind of translator who uses “footnotes with the imprimatur of a scholar” that can do justice to the original Tagalog texts, and any other text written in vernacular languages in Asia for that matter.
Ultimately, what was revealed by National Artist Lumbera on this last day of a conference on literature and identity in Asia is not only the need to engage in the discipline of translation; more importantly, it is about keeping our identities within these texts alive.
And as we engage with a world that is dominated by English, it is a clear reminder as well of how important it is to value our vernacular and native languages as we work towards having all these texts and voices heard by the world.