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North America 7

Fayyaz Baqir

April 15th, 2017

 

 

Another important event was a lecture by New York University’s Professor Gregory Rabassa who had translated Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’. Rabassa started the talk by explaining the relationship between words and the objects. He said there can be no fixed translation of a word into another word in a different language. Words form meaning through a history. So during translation, a translator has to make effort to decide how an experience narrated in one language can be translated into another language to convey the same meaning. For this purpose, one needs to know the word, culture and history. Each language goes through its own peculiar development. Greek had a unique distinction; they had a word for many things they did not have, for example, television, telephone etc. Some words assume the meanings they never had. For example, when an Englishman saw an animal hopping around in Australia, he asked a native, what is the name of this animal? The native replied Kangaroo, which meant I don’t know. So the word got a meaning it did not have before and the animal got the word that did not belong to it. Politics and power relations also enter into giving meaning to the words. A Texan farmer, the owner of a humongous farm, was bragging to a farmer in the north, who happened to have a farm of much smaller size, back home we had such big farm that we kept driving the tractor for hours but farm would not end; I also had such a bad tractor once also, replied the Northern farmer. Rabassa’s view was that without knowing the culture and history of the other language one cannot do justice to translation. That is what he had done in translating Marquez’s novel; translating Latin American experience into American experience. For me it had great insights for constructing the political narrative across class boundaries. That is part of what Gandhi and Jinnah had done and what we disputed on ‘scientific’ grounds.      

Another most interesting event was a seminar organised by a professor of philosophy on Milton Friedman’s philosophy of ‘virtues’ of the so-called free market economy. Professor Ghazanfar Shaikh was invited to chair the session. The session began with a screening of Friedman’s video extolling the virtues of ‘free market’. Friedman’s point was that freedom is associated with fairness; hence it provides the greatest incentive for building a happy, just and prosperous society like the USA. Every economic agent has freedom of entry and exit in the market, freedom to negotiate the price and settle for the best bargain. In the end, everyone gets the best possible return for his or her effort and greatest happiness for the greatest number is produced. As usual, I was among the first ones to raise the hand. On my turn, I said, “according to economic theory there are four factors of production; land, labour, capital and management. In the American case the land was captured through forced occupation, labour was brought in through slave ship and capital was produced by use of this usurped land and labour. So, all the major factors of production producing value are acquired through coercion. Where does freedom factor in here?” An uneasy, unending, death-like silence ensued. The air was tense with anger and hostility. No one was expecting this ‘out of course’ question. Professor Shaikh smelled the hostility in the air. He had to save both his and my skin. He said’ “It is one thing to be an armed chair intellectual and quite a different thing to have an in-depth understanding of the issues”, and turned the discussion away from my question; thereby steering everybody back to the happy utopian world of the American dream. Long live America.

Philip Habib, former US ambassador to the Middle East was a witty guy gifted with the capacity to communicate thorny issues in a very entertaining way. He started his speech with the definition of a diplomat, saying “A diplomat is one who knows everything about everything and nothing else”. In my view, this dilemma very well describes the glamorous image and utter failure of diplomacy in dealing with the Palestinian question. His story about his roommate John was very interesting. Philip said, “John was an easy going and lazy guy. He did not take interest in keeping the room clean and tidy”. Philip slept on the lower part of the bunker bed and John on the upper. After much persuasion, Philip succeeded in convincing John that they should share equal responsibility for cleaning the room.  “Agreed said John; you clean the lower half of the room and I’ll clean the upper half”. Perhaps that is the kind of deal American leadership has been trying to negotiate between the Palestinians and Israelis for the last half century.

 

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