Two Voices with Translator Katherine Silver on Horacio Castellanos Moya

Posted on October 07, 2008 by Two Voices audio

Compared to Roberto Bolaño and the great Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard, Horacio Castellanos Moya has attracted a devoted following in English with his first translated novel, Senselessness, about an embattled, displaced journalist charged with editing a 1,100-page report on the military’s massacre of Guatemala’s indigenous people.

The testimony rings with pathos, beginning with the eerie words “I am not complete in the mind.” Reading of the torture and murder that made this Cakchiquel man “not complete in the mind,” the narrator himself becomes “the least complete in the mind.”

In this Two Voices event audio, hear translator Katherine Silver explain how this testimony, recounted in the broken Spanish of the Cakchiquel people, “infects” the narrators own colonial Spanish. She further explains how both languages proceed to subversively “infect” her own English translation

Silver also reads two selections from her translation, for which she won a PEN Translation Fund Award and an NEA grant, and gives a fascinating talk on the political import of her profession. As Silver has it, translation is an act of subversion: just as language can subvert an individual’s cognitive coherence, as happens to Moya’s narrator, translation can subvert a culture’s narrative coherence. Hear Silver make her intriguing argument for how translation into English, a language of colonization, is a subversive political act that infects the colonial culture with precisely the influence it is trying to overpower.

—text by Sophia Kraemer-Dahlin