24 November 08 | Chad W. Post

A couple weeks ago one of our translators directed me to this very impressive web-based project dedicated to academic research on translation. The project actually began in 2005—and supposedly ends this year—so there’s a ton of content available online.

This concept piece lays out the drive behind this project:

If there is any single buzz word of contemporary cultural discourse, it is the notion of translation. Hardly any other notion has made such a rapid career in the intellectual world. A concept of quite humble origins was suddenly elevated into the position of one of the key metaphors of modern political and cultural discourse. Like a magic spell in a fairy tale, translation is supposed to provide a key which opens every door and solves every problem of a globalising world. But how is it that a notion derived from concrete literary and linguistic practice has taken on such an important political, cultural and even emancipatory role?

Keeping pace with its new importance, the meanings of translation have multiplied. Translation is no longer exclusively used to describe the processes of communication between different languages, but also becomes a model of time-space, of geopolitical relations, of postnational identities, and ultimately even a metaphor of culture itself.

The website can be a bit confusing (the way titles rotate through various languages is pretty cool at first, but a bit disorienting and dizzying . . .), but the most recent “issue” is on “Talks in Translation” and has a few interesting interviews.

“Talks on Translation” is in fact a cluster of six interviews discussing the topic of translation from different angles: philosophy, cultural and literary theory, political activism, critical reflexion on migration, globalization, European integration, etc. The partners in the dialogues are a British philosophy professor curious about how modernism functions beyond its allegedly original context; an Indologist and feminist philosopher, herself a cosmopolitan migrant, speculating on the notion of mother tongue; a German cultural theorist who wrote a book about “cultural turns” (and a “translational turn” among them); an American professor of Slavic and Comparative literature who is the author of “A Manifesto of Cultural Translation”; a theorist from Paris, director of the famous international journal of critical thought “Transeuropéennes” and political activist who reflects on translation in the context of European integration; a professor from Tamkang University (Taiwan), an ex-American living in East Asia, interested in heterolinguality and the phenomenon of broken languages. What do they all have in common? At least the fact that in each of their particular fields translation has a problem to solve.

In particular, the conversation between Tomislav Longinovic and Boris Buden about Longinovic’s essay Fearful Asymmetries: A Manifesto of Cultural Translation is pretty interesting, as is Buden’s interview with Doris Bachmann-Medick about A Transnational Perspective for Cultural Studies.

This bit from Doris Bachmann-Medick is pretty interesting:

The category of translation unfolds its potential to stimulate cultural studies only if it reaches beyond the qualities traditionally ascribed to translation, such as equivalence, “faithfulness” to the original, appropriation, or representation – that is, provided that the realm of translating language and text opens up to include a wider horizon of cultural translation practices. Only then can translation develop and become a fundamental category of analysis that is able to meet the cultural challenges and those of cultural studies, when these are faced with the contentious field of “cultural encounters” in an emerging global society. There is an additional, decisive quality to cultural translation conceived in this way: in contrast to cultural dialogue, cultural hermeneutics, and cultural comparison it is more closely tied to reality and agency. For, “translation” conceived of as cultural practice does not describe a certain kind of cultural expertise; rather it is part of everyday life. Translation processes are methods of crossing boundaries with an awareness of differences and as such are also quite useful in analyzing cross-cultural relationships and problem areas.


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