Before moving on to the ethics of translation, let us consider what bearing the above discussion has in relation to the current decolonial moment.
In various parts of the world, not only in the global South but also in the global North, there is growing pressure to reposition indigenous knowledges and related epistemologies and worldviews. Although decolonialism and decoloniality can be accommodated within other broad frames such as poststructuralism or postmodernity, they are specific in seeking to shift the centrality of Western (colonial) aesthetics, histories and learning, and opposing the universalising thrust of Western ways of knowing and seeing the world. The latter are seen to represent “an aspect of the colonial matrix of power, of the imperial structure of control” (Mignolo and Vazquez 2013:n.p) starting from the sixteenth century and continuing beyond colonisation up to the present. For decolonial scholars, the colonial project has implied “not only control of the economy, the political, and knowledge, but also control over the senses and perception” (Mignolo and Vazquez 2013:n.p).
The modernity/coloniality school, which places decolonial aestheSis in opposition to Western colonial aesthetics, was initiated by South American scholars such as sociologists Anibal Quijano and Maria Lugones, and the philosopher and semiotician Walter Mignolo (Bhambra 2014:115) although the decolonial project is being taken forward in many parts of the world. The 2016 Fees Must Fall movement in South Africa focused attention on the way Western/colonial aesthetics have dominated academia and configured the literary and other disciplinary canons in a particular direction. In the case of literature, this domination included the under-appreciation, if not exclusion, of literary works falling outside the canon, and thus also under-appreciation of potentially different textual readings of the canon. However, this was not the start of the decolonial project in South Africa, where indigenous knowledges have long been seen as critical to imagining a future world “outside a Western way of knowing, imagining and seeing” (Ndlovu 2014:84). In North America,
scholars have been developing archives for indigenous language research. Examples of the latter are the Recording Lives: Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age at Boston University, Massachusetts, and the development of a digital archive, by inter alia Ellen Cushman, to support the translation of American Indian manuscripts and “de-orient from the Western epis-temic standpoint to view indigenous language manuscripts from positions original to and still unfolding in the Americas” (Cushman 2019:115).
The decolonial perspective highlights the use of translation to privilege colonial perspectives in different parts of the world, to contain and disempower colonial subjects by erasing epistemologies that are different from (not necessarily even in conflict with) colonial/Western ones in a movement which Rolando Vazquez (2011) refers to as “epistemic violence” and “translation as erasure”. Using modes of representation that compare the understanding and traditions of the colonial subject against a normative (colonial) standard, translations have been used to present the other as inferior. An ethical reading aims to respect the beliefs and traditions embodied in indigenous or culturally other literature and to disrupt slavish epistemological obedience to (Western) traditions. The foregrounding and acknowledgment of plural and diverse epistemologies and indigenous knowledges in the current decolonial turn are germane to the translator’s ethical responsibility to consider the plurality of the literary text. The hermeneutics and privileging of otherness in a decolonial approach to translation is central to an ethical approach to literary translation.
Decolonial translation approaches are not that different from literary strategies in general such as playing with the language of the text to reflect otherness, disrupting expectations of form or, at the translation policy level, adopting an activist position in relation to decisions about what to translate in the first place. For example, Arney Olen (2015) discusses Daniel Cano’s publication of a dual Q’anjob’al-Castilian book of poetry, Stxaj no’ anima/Oración Salvaje (Savage Prayer) as an act of decolonial translation in the context of the imposition of Catholicism on the Maya people and the attempt to erase Mayan belief systems. Cano writes the poems in Q’anjob’al and self-translates into Castilian. According to Olen (2015:214), the poems represent two aspects of decolonial translation, the first being “an indigenous critique of the legacy of Catholic epistemological imposition” and “spiritual coloniality” written in Q’anjob’al from the margins of power in Guatemala in the form of a resistive translation to restore a Mayan worldview. The second aspect is the translation from Guatemalan Q’anjob’al into the dominant Castilian with the presentation of the original and translation side by side producing (Olen 2015:215) “a view of his writing as, in and of itself, a process of translation and negotiation of cultural and linguistic difference” in a move to restore ethnocultural balance. Another example of decolonial translation is Anzaldúa’s moving seamlessly from Spanish to English in Borderlands/La frontera (1987), forcing the reader to cross language borders.