Distal: A New Translation Series

Distal is an anatomical term to describe what is situated away from the center of the body. The word is used in relation to points of the body: an elbow is distal to the upper arm, a hand is distal to the elbow, fingers distal to the wrist. Distal points such as fingers, toes, or the top of the head often initiate a person’s movement. Distal ends become the first point of contact or touch; they orient us away from the self toward another.

We write, read, and translate with our bodies. Sometimes they exceed the legible and remake the language that we speak. We understand differently through the corporeal.

When considering the act of translation—whether that of a translator seated at her desk, an interpreter speaking sign language, or a nonverbal gesture made to communicate with someone—we are foremost reminded of the laboring body. Our shoulders curl forward as we work. Our eyes strain. We get sick. Joints, muscles, wrists, knees, feet start to hurt. At worksites there is injury. There is boredom. Sometimes death. Bodies are the first and immediate sites of contact at which the possibility of risk, the effects of history and time, and the experience of trauma continuously unfold.

Then there is the geopolitical body. Terms like “center," "periphery," and "margin” are used to describe the spatial and political relation between the west and the Global South. People are shuttled, moved, displaced, and coerced across waters and nationally enforced “borders” toward the “center” to seek asylum, refuge, forms of subsistence, community, or oftentimes, proximity to power. Distal foregrounds these movements and migrations as critical context for the multiplicity of knowledges, expressions, and experiences the series gathers. At the same time, it imagines new forms of languaging that refuse the arrest of empire, colonialism, and capitalism to carry forward writing that thrives outside of what is deemed legible or legitimate to the anglophone world.

We use the term distal to shape the orientation of the translation series. Distal turns away from the point as an anchoring attachment, in this case, to the west and the anglophone world. A distal end, the first point of contact, might instead become a site of contamination, contagion, risk, but also of intimacy—the site of potential for another attachment that exceeds its own limits. Distal is an infinite stretching away from the “center” we are situated in. A refusal to be stagnant.

This introduction to Distal is a living document to be moved, shaped, and reformed as the series expands.

Learn more about the series here.

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