The Translator’s Art of Failure: Engaging the Other in Imperfect Harmony

Katherine Silver


Rather than view translation as a compromise at best, a failure at worst, and always derivative and secondary, I explore the practice of literary translation as one of engagement: with the text, with the Other, and with the world. I will discuss the nature of this engagement as dynamic, electric, life-affirming, an encounter and a dialogue that offers an opportunity for both unification and separateness, freedom and intimacy. From this perspective of the personal, I will reach into the realm of the “political,” the broader context within which translators work—the power differentials, the objective material conditions—and the specifics of my own translating relationship: between Latin American Spanish and North American English. My understanding of that relationship—which could be framed as the theory behind my practice—influences what I want to translate—passionate engagement—and how I translate: how I approach the object of desire. I will read from and discuss several of my most recent translations, texts that in themselves explore questions of language and power: the power of language to subvert, and the dis-harmonious and unequal association of languages and cultures in this “globalized” world, where issues of separateness and unification are often a matter of survival.


Translation; Latin America literature; cultural studies; Ethics

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ISSN 1920-0323