Translating Borders / Negotiating the Past, by Richard Huddleson
Queen Mary, University of London
Ahmanson-Getty Postdoctoral Fellow
In early April, 2021, many of us were horrified to see images of a Belfast bus being engulfed in angry flames. The fire wasn’t a mechanical flaw or some terrible accident, but rather a deliberate act. As events unfolded, we later saw groups of angry protestors throwing projectiles and petrol bombs at the gates dotted along part of Belfast’s peace wall, a multiform structure that divides the Protestant and Catholic majority areas in part of the city. These moments of mindless violence felt like echoes from our troubled past and reminded us all of how fragile peace can be. As the embers cooled and the rubble was cleared, commentators were quick to point to socio-economic issues as the root of this violence, highlighting that the economic dividends of peace had not reached everyone in Northern Irish society. There is no doubt that deprivation had a role to play in the unrest, but in the days that followed another clue surfaced as lampposts in many neighbourhoods were plastered with stickers stating, “No Irish Sea Border.”
Borders, real or imaginary, are a concept with which we have become intimately familiar over the past decade. However, much unlike the broad, impenetrable lines that we may have come across on maps in our history and geography lessons, borders are entirely permeable. We see certain politicians, stalwart in their defence of borders, moving quickly to establish an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ narrative that sits neatly on either side of a border. And yet this binary set-up completely overlooks the idea of borders as contact zones, where different cultures and languages meet and teem with hybridity. Nevertheless, borders can also be dangerous spaces where, far from sight, rights are curtailed and lives cruelly cut short. This is as true today as it is in the early modern Galician play, Entremés famoso sobre da pesca no río Miño (1671), by Gabriel Feijoo de Araújo, which details a bloody encounter between a Galician labourer and a Portuguese noble on the River Minho, the natural border between Galicia and Portugal.
As part of the Clark’s 2020-21 Core Programme, “Resituating the Comedia’”, I decided to take this play and, through my research, I asked the following: What can an early modern Galician play tell us about borders and Spain’s imperial imagination? And, by creating a travelling text through the acts of translation, what can this play tells us about borders and identities elsewhere? Taking into consideration the damage done to communities in Northern Ireland in the wake of Brexit, as well as the older, ignored legacies of violence that ripple across the generations, I am eager to see how this text and its eventual performance can help create understanding and defuse some of our conceptions of borders in Ireland and elsewhere. It is a delight to be working with the Clark on this project, as I am interested in exploring how and where the GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) and the act of translation can come together to help us unpack, understand, and negotiate the past, its legacies, and the long shadow they cast on us today.