The Fabrics of Untranslatability (working title) – Virginie Bobin
The Fabrics of Unstranslatability (working title)
The Fabrics of Untranslatability [working title] examines and performs different ways of working with, and being affected by, translation and language politics, in what Emily Apter calls translation zones: “diasporic language communities, print and media public spheres, institutions of governmentality and language policy- making, theaters of war, and literary theories” (Apter 2006, 19). It follows past and present trajectories of migration — of bodies, ideas and languages — in the French context, as it is shaped by colonial and postcolonial histories and relations. It focusses more specifically on the relationships between French and Arabic languages in family, educational and legal settings, which reverberate, in my case, through family stories of migration, belonging and loss that are told or untold in-between French and Darija.
On a theoretical level, I will engage with the work of philosophers, cultural theorists, researchers, artists and activists who embrace translation as an ongoing labor of mutual affection, a gesture of address that can never come to closure, thereby unsettling universal claims and authoritarian positions. Among them, Myriam Suchet calls for “heterolingual imaginaries” (Suchet 2014, 13-34) in order to decolonize our relationship to language(s), and to craft other tools of mis/communication, un/learning, radical hospitality and political action. Convinced that translation is both a political activity and an act of love, Barbara Cassin celebrates “les intraduisibles” (Cassin 2016, 54) — not that that we cannot translate, but that that we never cease to translate — a radical understanding of translation that avoids foreclosures and recognizes the inherent precariousness of working in- between languages.
On a practical level, my research will slowly deploy along a web of concomitant activities, involving — but not only: translating artistic and theoretical works; interviewing interpreters and language teachers working in legal settings of border crossing; crafting a multilingual editorial platform; disintegrating into a foreign tongue; or listening to family stories of displacement, struggle and desire. Listening, for Tina Campt, “is an ensemble of seeing, feeling, being affected, contacted, and moved beyond the distance of sight and observer” (Campt 2017, 42). It acknowledges that research is inseparable from the body — that of the researcher, and that of her interlocutors and companions — as are the fragile fabrics of untranslatability, heterolingual imaginaries, and the gestures of struggle, love and address that are performed through them.
Between 2009 and 2018, Virginie Bobin worked as a curator/coordinator/producer/editor/manager/educator/mediator/caretaker/translator/cook/occasional-gardener/etc… for art institutions and residency programs supporting experimental, transdisciplinary forms of artistic research, engaging with socio-political concerns and contexts, and advocating for feminist and decolonial practices in France, the Netherlands and the United States. After having experienced the limits of working institutionally, she sought for other, slower ways of sustaining practices and projects that would embrace care, mutual affection and reciprocity.
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