The Aporia of Translation
Each time we express ourselves, we have to break with ourselves.
—OCTAVIO PAZ, The Labyrinth of Solitude
I don’t know how, or in how many languages, you can translate this word lécher when
you wish to say that one language licks another, like a flame or a caress.
—JACQUES DERRIDA, “What Is Relevant Translation?”
This book is about the vexed relationship between language and history
seen from the perspective of translation practices in the Philippines, the
United States, and elsewhere. Crisscrossing various colonial and postcolo-
nial terrains, Motherless Tongues explores the ways in which translation has
played an important, if overlooked, role in the unfolding and understand-
ing of particular events in the imperial and national sites I examine here.
Each chapter is a signpost for mapping those moments where linguistic
exchange and historical imagination give rise to one another within the con-
text of persistently uneven, and always contingent, relations of power. By
way of introduction, I want to begin by offering a brief narrative of my own
linguistic history that is mine by virtue of belonging to others. In a book
on the historicity of translation, we might situate such an accounting by
asking: who speaks and to whom? By what right and in what idiom? Who
or what is the I that addresses you, whoever you might be, and how does it
come about in this particular language that we share?