Parts of Speech


There are only two things you must learn in this class. But you must learn them viscerally. The first is—that everything is translation. This is not to say that translation is everything, which it isn't; but on the other hand, substituting words in one national dialect for another, which is the pedagogical purpose of this course—Modern Languages 4103, "Principles of Translation"; (toward audience) is everyone in the right place?—that is, rendering from one arbitrary ethnicity of grammatical precepts to another, is but a microcosm of a cosmic principle: that each phenomenon of cause and effect, every form of response among and between individuals, species, planets, elements, the molecules of heaven and earth, is an act of translation. Hold that thought.

The second thing you must learn-and I here use the formula of words devised by the French theorist Jacques Derrida, whose Of Grammatology you are to read by the first of October—there will be a test—the second thing is that (digits make the sign for quotation marks) "communication does not occur."

So. On the one hand, everything is translation. On the other, communication does not occur. We are embarking on an inevitable impossibility.

Example. (SHE indicates the wilted plant.) This aspidistra—or whatever—was the gift of a dear colleague, a gift being a traditional form of communication which I translate to mean that he holds me in high esteem. However, I notice that the plant is not in absolutely tiptop condition. Does this indicate a lesser affection for me, and if so did he mean for me to read it in that manner? Is he, in fact, mocking me? Or is he just cheap?

Be that as it may, I turn my attention to the plant, which speaks to me. In Plantish. Or Aspidistrian. It speaks to me by means of drooping leaves, and I duly translate: I am thirsty. I respond. (SHE waters it. Peers at it.) However, it does not. Respond. I make editorial emendations to my translation: I am dead. (SHE drops it in the wastebasket.) Are we on the same page yet?

© Janet Burroway. All Rights Reserved.