Do the Arts Honor the Figure of the Translator?

Cinema, literature and television have, each in their own way, the ability to grant cultural standing to the various figures that comprise them. Before delving deeper into the figure in question here, let’s go over certain other representations that culture makes of the different actors that comprise it, from movie and theater directors, writers and researchers, to magicians, boxers, as well as military and political leaders. Each has been immortalized by the various branches of art.

Let’s look at some examples of translators (whether professional or occasional ones) represented by the various branches of art.

  • In the last voyage in Gulliver’s Travels, the protagonist is abandoned by his ship’s crew on the first piece of land they see and he encounters a race of horses known as the Houyhnhnms (which in their language means “perfection of nature”). Gulliver ends up emulating and admiring the Houyhnhnms, rejecting the humans as beings apparently bequeathed with an ability to reason that they only use to exacerbate the vices that Nature gave them. The horses do not know what a lie is, and when Gulliver tries to explain the concept to them, he tells them “that which is not.”
  • In the now classic comic strip Asterix, specifically in the chapter called “Asterix the Legionary,” there is a character that serves as an interpreter who makes it possible for the diverse new conscripts of the Roman army to get along.
  • In the famous saga Star Wars by George Lucas, there is an impossibly well trained interpreter, the robot called C-3PO, who fluently speaks 6 million languages from across the galaxies.
  • In the novel The Islands by the Argentine writer Carlos Gamerro, the protagonist Felipe Félix, a hacker and a conscript deployed to the contested archipelago in the South Atlantic, receives the order to translate the enemy’s radio communications.

There is no doubt that translators are crucial cogs in the culture machinery. However, are we deliberately embodied in some protagonist from some movie, some book or some TV series? Shouldn’t we possess a much more solid cultural representation in light of the role we play in the dissemination of the arts?