“We make a mistake to think that because I call the cow ‘cow,’ that that’s what it calls itself.”
The American poet Lucille Clifton once argued that all language is translation, “the closest we can come to what we mean.” Her cow, at once familiar and foreign, stands as a cipher for the mysteries of being among other beings. It invites a coming to awareness of the limits of knowing and naming, yet also marks a point of departure for creative exploration of these limits.
For its 2015 issue, you are here invited submissions on the theme of translation; what it illumines and what it occults. Drawing from my longstanding interests in literary translation and my new home in the discipline of geography, I posed the following questions to contributors: How does translation influence our perceptions of places, things and other beings? How can the multiplicity of languages and art forms used to make meaning offer insights into a shared world? With these questions I invited explorations of the figurative borderlands of translation, and especially those points at which the search for correspondence comes up against difference. As multiple perspectives enhance depth of field, so translation presented opportunities for exploring singularity in the task of “writing the world.”
The submissions gathered in this issue weigh in on these questions with a proliferation of creative experiments, organized here into three broad themes. In “Translations,” the contributions enact translations across dialects, discursive conventions, and visual media. In “Residual Matter,” they home in on the material residues linking places, people, and things across linguistic and political boundaries. In “Life Among Tongues,” they explore how multilingualism shapes experiences of place, identity, and belonging. While the themes provide a loose organizing framework, the contributions also resonate across them and need not be read in any particular order. Together, they showcase the unique capacities of creative media to reveal places and bodies as sites of difference, and to invite us into new encounters with them.
Fiona Gladstone, 2015 Editor
School of Geography and Development
The University of Arizona