Log in

Radical Translations

Project Reflections

Radical translation performing revolution Radical translations project

Beginning in the autumn term of 2019, students and staff from various departments, including the Department of French, Comparative Literature, and English came together to collaboratively translate the 1796 Manifeste des Égaux, written by Sylvian Maréchal. We had no way of predicting the ways in which this workshop would spread out, evolve, and take shape. In November we met for the first time as a multilingual, multidisciplinary collective. In early March we assembled to read aloud excerpts of our initial draft in front of the King’s College gates as a show of support to our striking university staff. Some of us took to the streets in solidarity with black trans lives, campaigning for social change not dissimilar to that which was advocated for by the Conspirators of Equals. By the time the academic year was drawing to a close, our final session was conducted virtually as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This video, produced during the end of the summer term of 2020, showcase our experiences as radical translators. In sharing participant testimonies and highlighting just a few ideas and questions that developed over the course of our work, we hope that we can inspire you to further develop what we found.

By Kathryn Woods and Iffat Mirza

Iffat Mirza (BA CompLit, final year)

The collaborative translation project has been a fantastic experience for me. Though I do not speak French and have very basic comprehension of written French, the translation project has been eye-opening for me in terms of understanding the complexities involved in the translating process. Trying to keep the original sentiments of the Manifesto of Equals given its historical context, and simultaneously make it applicable to today’s society not only posed a linguistic challenge but also provoked thoughts and discussions on the nature of revolution and certainly made me reflect on key ideas that are still hotly debated today. One such example was encountered in our first translation exercise as we approached the sentence ‘And if all art must perish for real equality to remain, so be it!’. The controversial role of art in revolution is, I think, just as prevalent today, so the discussion involving this one sentence in context of the French Revolution, the first time art was made public, is something that surprised me as well as provoking an animated discussion on the best way to approach this in terms of translation. Considering the sentiments behind this are so polemical and certainly very impassioned, it is necessary that not only the words are translated to English but the sentiments are translated to the 21 st century.

(11 April 2020)

Claire Ó Nualláin (MA Eighteenth-Century Studies)

As a student of eighteenth century history, I was familiar with the notions and ideals of the French Revolution, and they had undoubtedly inspired me in an academic context.

However, in undertaking the collaborative translation of the Manifesto of Equals, the words achieved a renewed salience through discussing and interpreting the Manifesto, thinking about its intended meaning and the reception it might have received had it been performed. Borrowing the ideas of the Manifesto in a picket line teach-out was a highlight of the project, and emphasised for me the continued importance of the message of fairness, equality and justice, both within and beyond the academy.

In relation to the performance aspect of the project, I would be interested in undertaking an experimental online version - (in part because I am a one-year student and so will not be at King's next year), but also because I think an experimental performance approach would suit this project. The limitations and opportunities of our newly online worlds present challenges to our modes of communication, but also perhaps have a democratising potential. An online performance would mark the uniqueness of the circumstances that we now find ourselves in, and it would be interesting to see that reflected in the performance of the project.

(27 April 2020)

Kathryn Woods (BA French with English, 4th year)

I joined the Translation Workshop because I was hugely excited at the idea of engaging in a collaborative translation. I was writing a dissertation on queer translation at the time, and I felt like this Workshop was the perfect intersection of translation, as well as a stimulating exercise in amplifying marginalised voices and transporting revolutionary into the twenty-first century. I gained profound insight into these concepts thanks to the excellent pace of the seminars and the challenging ideas posited by Cristina Viti.

The concepts expressed in the Manifesto of Equals - that of toppling elite systems of power and reclaiming writing for the benefit of the people - could not be more relevant in 2020. I feel that our decision to assemble on the street and read our translation to the people gathered as part of the university strike earlier in the year brought the Manifesto to life and clearly illustrated the parallels between systems of oppression in the late 1700s and those same mechanisms of power today. Both are founded on classism and corporate greed.

(2 June 2020)

Gabriella Mangham (BA French and History, 4th Year)

In terms of comments on the experience, it has been really interesting to work on a translation in such a collaborative way and having done my final year history model on Worlds of the French Revolution and focused my dissertation on the Haitian Revolution, it was really interesting to see the parallels in language used between the two in a speech that I would not have found otherwise. It was also really valuable as I did not take the final year translation module, in order to be able to have the time in the final term to focus on my dissertation, to continue a way to keep up with my translation which is something I have really enjoyed doing and I was lucky to have a french partner who contributed a lot.

(4 June 2020)

Giovanna Demopoulos (BA Comparative Literature, 2nd year)

I went into this radical translation and performance workshop not really knowing what it would entail, not really trusting my French skills, and not really sure of whether I wanted to go into translation. Still, I trusted wholly that it would be an amazing experience. That trust was certainly not misplaced. Having the opportunity to engage in discussions with Christina Viti as well as Simon Hatab was spectacular and, in itself, intellectually revolutionary. Though I participated mainly on the translation side of things, even the one session I had about performance proved really eye-opening as it got me to question to what degree revolutions are performances performed by revolutionary figures. I then spent all night mentally dissecting levels of performance within a theatrical performance about political performance, trying to find moments of metatheatre or moments which were not theatre but actually the actors being themselves. As for working on translating Maréchal’s text with Christina, it was great to be surrounded by people who were all as dedicated to having debates and discussions about words we usually would not give a thought to when we were reading in French, but which would completely alter the text’s meaning when translated to English.

The manifesto itself was a great piece to dissect, particularly in such a time of civil unrest and protests against police brutality. It truly got me to think of what ‘true equality’ looks like and if there has ever been a society to achieve this. More pertinent perhaps was the text’s implication that we should sacrifice the arts if this will lead to increased equality. This not only begs the question of what constitutes an ‘art’ as the text itself could be an art, but asks what the relationship between art and revolution is. Did art not aid the French Revolution’s fight for equality? Does the visual media we are consistently exposed to in today’s world not aid in various revolutions? It also asks whether art made for the masses should be made by the masses, just as we worked as a group to translate a text for groups of people.

Overall, the experience was entirely unique and provided a wonderful opportunity for me to see the level of detail one needs to pay attention to when trying to carry a text from one language to the next. I would be absolutely thrilled to be able to be a part of anything similar.

(8 June 2020)