Being a Translator in Turkey (by Elif Safak)

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Being a Translator in Turkey - Elif Safak

I often get the question: “What it is like being a writer in Turkey?” But today, I don’t want to think about this usual question, I want to think about another question. “What is like being a translator in Turkey?”

What is it like bringing a literal text, a whole book during weeks, months and sometimes years, and sometimes to think about it more than the writer himself and even expressing it better than him, from a language to another’s territorial sea? What is it like getting over boundaries of national borders, cultural stereotypes with the power of words in this time when everyone identifies themselves around the axis of nationalisms? What is it like being aware of the linguistic, consequently mental similarities, word’s and expression’s resemblances, or to the contrary, the language acrobatics that can not make an easy passage from one language to another? What is it like having foresight about not only language philosophy but also societies and not being able to completely share them with anyone? What is it like being the silent hero of every work, every translated book and not take offended? Sometimes I think that being a translator is disciplining one’s fleshly desires, such a discipline that us writers who built an ego with tons of floors will ever know.

So what is it like doing all that in Turkey? Knowing that the labor, the time, the energy spent and the mental density will not be met neither materially or emotionally, despite it all, to bury oneself in a text, giving it hours, by loving? What is it like translating, being a translator in this country while knowing that when you finish the text, neither the readers, the publishers and the writers will never comprehend all the effort? Foremost, what is like really, besides not getting your effort’s total worth, to get your share of lawsuits, being falsely accused, going to court and facing jail for the book you translated, being the target of article 301?

While my books were translated from Turkish to English and from English to Turkish, I’ve had the chance to work with American or Turkish experts in both languages. Working with translators has brought me the chance of observation not only in languages but also the two cultures. And I saw something very clearly: you can be a very good writer, at the last point; it’s the translator who makes you alive in other languages. That’s what causes the spell in this intercultural trip, I understood, in this trip between languages the captain is not the writer, but the translator.

In Turkey, the literary world and the academy owns a lot to translator’s labor. But let aside appreciation, the translators are not even taken in consideration. They are only taken in consideration in one situation: when they are subject to lawsuits and brought to court. I don’t know if you’re aware, but in this country translators are subject to lawsuits one by one. Their lawsuits don’t break out a commotion, their labor just like their problems are in the second plan. They’re not talked enough or understood enough. As a result, you see that suddenly, translator’s names are in court records, lawsuit files. If a foreign journalist comes to Turkey, and asks the crime of these people, what are we going to say? Are we going to say that their crime is to provide the flow of words from language to another; their crime is translating books, translating novels; their crime is to be a mediator so that people from different languages and cultures won’t be deaf to each other’s voices and stories; their crime is being translators?

There are vacancies and lacks causing this half surreal half funny situation in the laws. To be able to remove these, both society and the state should listen to translator’s demands, and most important, listen to translator’s common attempts.

In the last couple of times several NGO’s have tried to do something about this. They all underline a very important point. The article 2 of the Press Law that is in effect now, sees the translator as the owner and responsible of the work if the writer is abroad. It is imperative that this clear contradiction be resolved, and that the difference between the owner of the work and the translator be seen. And of course, the practices limiting the freedom of speech should change too, but that’s for another time…
Translated by Nagehan Sen

Ο λόγος είναι μεγάλη ανάγκη της ψυχής. (Γιώργος Ιωάννου)


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