Susie Hatmaker’s “The Radical Abundance of Silica: Potential for a Digital Ethics” is concerned with translation as movement: movement of a natural resource from one locale to another, movement of minerals from their raw state to economic value. In many ways, though, the story she tells is one of misrepresentation through faux translation (my term). That is, the histories of Silicon Valley and the computer chip industries housed there are not simple stories of taking an abundant resource–sand–and transforming it into abundant forms of digital information with nothing wasted, nothing extracted. (Nor is it the case with Silicon Valley’s closely related industry, the manufacture and distribution of solar power panels, an industry which claims to transform sunlight into clean, abundant energy.) As Susie’s paper reminds us, the silicon chip and the resulting electronic data industries have never been a pure translation of a natural resource into uncontaminated digital bytes. In order to see those impurities, Susie suggests we listen to the silica, heed its geologic and economic history. Only in this way, we can begin to approach a digital ethics.
Similarly for literary translations. Because all translations are impure, the only false translations are those that deny their impurity or imperfections. However, because there seems to be a universal desire for pure translations, these modes of willful (perhaps, sometimes, naïve) misrepresentation are seductive. Repeatedly, we see Chaucer and his translators resisting the lure of faux translation and importing impurities that mark the ethical integrity of their task.