Eva Ruth Wemme

Everything merely language (English)
Berlin, January 2016

Acting as interpreter in the production of a documentary film, I thought, has to do with the ideal of truth, the dream of reality. Aha. So I’ll interpret very precisely and true-to-reality, because it’s about Roma people, and that’s a tightrope walk. Because even though the Germans love diversity, constantly travel, learn languages, take an interest, are able to rethink their politics, and regard the Good, the True and the Beautiful as clearly negotiable, somehow these modern, individualistic people revert to old, premodern concepts as soon as it comes to the Roma. Suddenly they are quite sure, know something quite definitely, are frightened out of their wits and have nightmares.

When I interpret between Roma and Gajikané [non-Roma people, ed.], fear usually rises up against me – in the worst case, from both sides – and I need good standing. Two meet who can’t understand one another, not just linguistically, and who also don’t even believe understanding is fundamentally possible. They are both stuck believing in a feral idea of alienness and hope that my translation can tame the alienness. To top it off, they always ignore that I don’t speak Romani, but only Romanian. I don’t touch the ‘real world’ of the ‘others’ even with my brain’s language centre. The usual circus.

Working with Philip and Colorado, nothing rose up against me. Unaccustomed to that, I started to totter. I almost felt superfluous; nothing hurt when we spoke. There were no cultural presuppositions or dreams that also needed to be interpreted.
Philip and Colorado encountered one another in a world whose points of reference they had created themselves. They understood each other; it was only one another’s words that were unfamiliar. A matter of the tools of my trade. And when, beyond the question of language, they didn’t understand each other, they considered it as something to be expected. People can’t see through one another like shards of glass.

In the land of Philip and Colorado, there has also always been a fourth language, a self-invented lingua franca that I, as interpreter, am not the master of. In the film it can sometimes be heard: a weird quasi-Spanish. Creating understanding was not my task.

This ‘country’ that the film shows is within our own. Even I am startled, because, after the light on the movie screen goes out, I realise that nothing can be seen in this film that was expected in the beginning. It doesn’t show me the world in which Roma films have this or that function; it is not a practical, social gesture. It is an unchildlike land, beyond myths, judgements, truths; this world is constantly breaking; it’s no world at all… everything merely language – or film language. The Good, the True and the Beautiful: nothing but words to be translated. And Philip and Colorado make a suggestion for how this fact can be eluded, playfully, freely, ‘a’-morally, humanly, musically, responsibly. And I had to deal with it; in my work I went beyond the coarse basic assumption that language is either understandable or unintelligible; it was simply present, and I strayed from my fussy concerns about knowledgeable interpreting and translating. Suddenly I no longer knew ‘more’ than my employers. Being a translator under these conditions was something I had to rethink:

I was now a transmuter of material.

Then suddenly Colorado’s diary was on my desk, vulnerable writings; I translated, abandoned the completely naked words I translated to a process that became ever more organic; some thing took on form, melted away, was sought, never captured, it grated, it sang, then suddenly something was there and seemed to breathe – how wondrously odd.

As if the first day of work prefigured all that followed: I interpreted at the birth of Colorado’s grandnephew. Almost metaphorical. A ‘translation into the world and life’. A position that came ever more naturally to me while working on this film: initiated into what would come, into plans and their progress, encouraging, silent in the labour pains, then breathing-with, waiting-with and in the end withdrawing at the moment of birth, happy to have shared the experience of this process not only intellectually, but also physically.

The title consists of foreign words – at least for us Gajikané. That’s fine. They are empty. Parizan will sing them to us. That’s enough.