Greatest Women in Translation: Canan Marasligil

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Created by Erick Tonin

Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series, dear readers!

Today, let’s welcome Canan Marasligil.

Canan Marasligil

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1. I have to start by mentioning I absolutely loved your website! How creative to add a video to the landing page! Do you think your video attracts more people (especially potential clients) to your website and somehow make them navigate through it to learn more about yourself?

I don’t necessarily think about attracting more people to my website, I think that if they are already there, it means they found me in some way (probably via social media). I like playing with the web – I make my own websites (I have to thank Squarespace for offering such fantastic tools to play with) – and I am interested in how people interact online. So, to me, it is a matter of expressing my own creativity and offering as much interesting content as possible throughout the online spaces I inhabit.

2. On your website, you mention you “have started working with video to explore the links between literature and images.” How does that work?

Although I mostly work with words – as a writer, as a literary translator, as an editor – I am passionate about visual media, and am especially interested in the interaction between writing and images. That’s why I’m into comics, into screenwriting, and that is also why I started to create my own visual language through video. You don’t need much material nowadays to capture high quality images, so it is all about your eye: what do you see, what stories do you want to tell. I was inspired to start my YouTube videos thanks to French writer François Bon who has been creating a wide range of videos on his YouTube channel to talk about literature – he does readings (he is an amazing performer), hosts writing workshops, has a regular “service de presse” where he shares other writer’s work and much more – so I have joined this online community of literature makers he has created on YouTube (I know he probably won’t like me saying he created it, but he did). I have to admit, it is motivating to have an audience ready to watch what you are doing (even if very small, also, it depends how you look at it: I don’t think I could easily fill a room with 100 people which I am doing with a video and I think is amazing). I’ve been told I have an artistic approach to translation, so I think my video-making is also part of that urge to create. I see the world in a certain manner, I am inspired, visually, by the world that surrounds me, so I try to capture how I feel about it, and then edit it into short videos. It isn’t so different than writing actually, it’s all about stories you want to tell. I’m just using a different medium to do so.

3. You also mention “Translation off the page” is one of your favorite topics. Could you elaborate, and tell us why you like it so much?

I have to admit I do more translation work “off the page” than “on the page”. To start, I am not earning all my income from translation – if I would do that, I’d need to translate a few more books per year, which I don’t. This is a personal and deliberate choice, and I have many reasons for it. I am a hyperactive person (people who know me reading this will probably laugh now nodding) and I get bored very quickly when I translate, not because of the work – 90% of the time, I select what I want to work on so I usually love what I translate – but I am a slow translator, I usually don’t work on more than four pages in a day, and I am drained after, not just intellectually but emotionally. You see, I pour all my heart into a translation project, it is not just a job to me. This is why I am also picky with the projects I choose to work on. I recently accepted to translate work I have not chosen myself, and I regretted it.

To me, translating someone’s work means that I believe not only in their literary merits, but in their voice, as a person, as an artist, what they stand for.

I don’t separate the work from the artist. I am not talking about character here, I don’t care how nice or (un)friendly a writer is, I am talking about sincerity and values someone stands for. So, if at any point I feel my values are not aligned with an author’s, I cannot translate them. You have to remember that out of all the languages I could have translated from (I was trained to work in English, Spanish, French), I chose to focus on Turkish (the language my parents spoke to me in) and contemporary literatures from Turkey, and in the current political context, there is no way I can be apolitical about my choices. I guess this kind of “off the page” work is close to what one could call activism. Other types of “off the page” work I do is through workshops, and the idea behind these activities is to give tools to people – children, young people, adults – to play with languages and be creative using their own existing linguistic skills. I always start my workshops by asking participants about the languages in their lives – not how many languages they speak, read or write, but which languages surround them daily – by framing the question in this way, I already tell them: see, multilingualism is all around us, and we are all experiencing it, in one way or the other.

4. Could you tell us a bit about your project City in Translation, and pinpoint one or two fascinating aspects about it that you have come across during your exploration?

City in Translation is part of my work taking translation off the page. It started from my own urban explorations – I am what you can call a “flâneuse” – I like walking across cities. I do this a lot, and I don’t mean just walking from one place to another, it is a practice I am very attached to. Wherever I go, I always set aside some time to do these city walks by myself, camera in hand, without any specific purpose. I am interested in interacting with everything that surrounds me in cities, especially through translation. This means that I look at written words mostly (I could work on sound, but I haven’t focused on that yet), I search for the traces we are leaving across urban spaces, usually in many different languages. Sometimes I understand the languages, sometimes I don’t. It is one way to observe the world we live in. Through this process, I also learn so much about the different cities I walk in. Languages can tell you about the history of a neighbourhood, about its demographics, about the political context, and much more… So, I use this personal and artistic practice to develop content, like I did with the Yearning for Turkish exhibition I created and which was shown in St Andrews and in Norwich, and the various workshops I do with City in Translation. With Yearning for Turkish, I realised that this constant search for languages across cities was also one way for me to find “home” – my understanding of home being in movement, even if I keep seeing one of my main languages – Turkish – everywhere I go.

5. As a social media lover myself, I am also widely present on different social channels, and I am frequently asked how I find time to juggle them and manage to work at the same time. Well, I cannot help it but ask you the same question, since you have an even wider social presence than me, I think. What is your secret? (By the way, you may have noticed I have already started following you everywhere! )

I love social media because I love interacting with people. I met so many interesting people on social media. I am personally active on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and all my profiles are public. I usually share things I am interested in, and bits of my own life without revealing intimate or private moments. So, if I post a selfie, there will usually be a story behind. Sometimes it can just be about showing people I’m happy and I love myself, and if it can help other women (even just one) loving themselves unapologetically, it makes me happy. I also post a lot about social justice issues, about freedom of expression, about women’s rights. I think social media can be a useful tool for creating one’s voice and empowering oneself and each other, to create solidarity, and to show the world that you (and people like you) exist, but not necessarily in a self-centred and narcissistic manner (while we can argue posting a selfie can be a narcissistic act, I am not interested in doing couch psychology and judging people). Also, people follow you on social media only if they want to. I don’t really care about being unfollowed, I am at peace with how I use social media. One thing that’s true though, it can eat your time up, and sometimes I do have the feeling that I am wasting a lot of time on social media, time I could use to write for example. But I think we’re all still learning how to use it the best way we can.

6. You have participated (and still do) in a few residencies for translators, in different countries. Could you tell us a bit about the experiences you have had and the benefits of being a Translator in Residence, in your opinion?

I love residencies. I have done a few, and I am currently doing one with La Contre Allée, a wonderful indie publisher in Lille, France. My first residency was with the Free Word Centre in London in 2013, and that truly changed my life. So many good friendships have started with this residency, and I am still working with many people I met during my time at Free Word. I am interested in residencies where you interact with local communities, not with residencies where you are given a room and space to write. I already have that in my home – life in Amsterdam is good and I am very privileged in that sense. If I travel to spend days, weeks or sometimes months somewhere else, I want to meet people, I want to learn from locals, from the different communities – with Free Word, it was about meeting all the wonderful organisations working around freedom of expression, but also with schools and more, in Senegal, I have learned from local artists, writers and musicians, but also from villagers on the impact of climate change, in Copenhagen I have interacted with academics and researchers working on topics about cities and culture, and in Lille, I am working with libraries, the city council, publishers… I learn from each one of them and I bring my own expertise too, it is a true exchange of ideas, knowledge and lots of fun too.

7. Although I could go on with the questions, let’s wrap up and find out who you pick to be our next Great Woman in Translation.

I want to nominate Marta Dziurosz, who was a translator in residence at Free Word Centre a couple of years after me. She is working in Polish and English. I especially love that she debunks the “native language” myth, which I’m sure she can tell you more about.

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