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Rethinking translation

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Published on Monday, July 27, 2020 by Anastasia Giardinelli

Summary

Now that the scientific and political issues of our society belong to a world-system (Wallerstein, Arrighi, Amin), translation plays more than ever a central role in the circulation of texts and ideas. Translating is a cognitive and social activity that informs the way we relate to reality and to others. It implies a particular worldview and has cognitive, social, ethical and political effects. From this perspective, thinking and practicing translation as a neutral operation is a form of denial of its ethical and political significance. A model of translation as a simple transfer of meaning from one text to another is not acceptable given the complexity of the factors and actors involved. Hence the need to rethink translation in the light of contemporary issues.

Announcement

Editors

Special issue edited by Sacha Carlson (Charles University, Prague), Angelo Vannini (Paris Nanterre University) and Caroline Zekri (Paris-Est Créteil University)

Argument

Now that the scientific and political issues of our society belong to a world-system (Wallerstein, Arrighi, Amin), translation plays more than ever a central role in the circulation of texts and ideas. Translating is a cognitive and social activity that informs the way we relate to reality and to others. It implies a particular worldview and has cognitive, social, ethical and political effects. From this perspective, thinking and practicing translation as a neutral operation is a form of denial of its ethical and political significance. A model of translation as a simple transfer of meaning from one text to another is not acceptable given the complexity of the factors and actors involved. Hence the need to rethink translation in the light of contemporary issues.

What does ‘rethinking translation’ mean? Re-asking basic questions that thoroughly inspect practices and their preconceptions? Why translate? What deserves to be translated? What does translation focus on in a text?

Should we begin by observing the practice of translation across time and space, as a plural perspective over the course of history? 

Should we dare to imagine translating what we never imagined we would translate, or should we translate in a new, truly unimaginable way?

For whom and why to rethink translation?

Here are three main, but not exhaustive, lines of thought that we would like to explore:

  1. The ‘unthoughts’ of translation

Translation, as we know, is practiced and understood from a particular but implicit conception of language and reality. Rethinking translation must therefore begin by questioning this ‘unthought’ of translation, which nevertheless still determines its meaning and direction.

This leads, first of all, to clarifying the status of this ‘unthought’. In this respect, we could speak of: episteme, with Foucault and (post-)structuralism; institution (Stiftung) of meaning and of world, with Husserl and Merleau-Ponty; social, historical and symbolic institution, with Marc Richir. However, all these expressions are not answers, but questions that need to be thought out and elaborated in a rigorous and consistent way, since for us it is a question of understanding that from which the very act of translation is determined in different instances, historically and in each culture.

Secondly, it is a matter of further clarifying the contours and nature of our cultural area, namely the symbolic institution - or epistemic space - of modernity, which implies a specific conception of knowledge, politics and exchange. How has Western modernity received, understood and re-elaborated the question of translation? In what way has this re-elaboration obscured whole sections of the texts, narratives, languages and knowledge systems that it intended to translate and understand?

  1. Theorising the difference

In the complex and diverse space in which we inhabit, the process of translation can easily involve the confrontation of two heterogeneous symbolic institutions - or epistemic territories. In this case, how do we deal with the necessary transition from one to the other?

Is it always the more or less well-informed and motivated decision of the translator the only relevant criterion? This practical question, now so common in the contemporary activity of translators, requires a theoretical elucidation.

Should we think of translation beyond the dialectic of fidelity and betrayal, to take into account the broader dimension that this operation necessarily implies? Is it possible, in this case, to rely on a common background of language, which would not allow a faithful translation of the text, but rather the activation of resonances between one text and another?  In short, what should be translated and how? Could what the original text seeks to say, if it cannot be accurately reproduced, just resonate ‘by sympathy’ in the translation?

Would the fidelity/ betrayal alternative have to be rethought, not in relation to the so-called original text, but in relation to the much wider network of subjectivities and entities differently involved in the translation process? Or is it conceivable, or even preferable, to take a completely different theoretical approach?

  1. Ethics and politics of translation

Finally, the third guideline seeks to bring out the ethical and political dimension inherent in any translation practice. While translation is primarily a ‘cognitive’ or epistemic problem, it also has an ethical dimension from the outset, in the very need to respect the other meaning to be rendered in the target language; and it also becomes a political issue when it comes to deciding what should be translated, how and for whom.

It would therefore be a matter of reflecting, on the one hand, on the social, political or community issues involved in the act of translating and, on the other hand, on the perhaps more decisive injunction made on translation to respond to current human, societal and environmental issues. How can we deal with ‘epistemicides’ (Boaventura de Sousa Santos) or the political and economic hegemony of a language? What can translation do against linguicides, monocultural globalisation, inequalities and asymmetries produced by different structures of domination, such as ‘race’, gender, class, religion, cultural identity, etc.? What can translation do to counter climatic injustice or the global extractive apparatus (Mbembe, Balibar, Harvey, Fraser, Lazzarato) that is capitalism? 

 

It is in the necessity and urgency of translation that decisions are most often taken, that paths are drawn and it is thus that history makes its way. Thinking about translation - with its difficulties, its flaws and its challenges - leads to deepening the question while deploying the ‘patience’ of the concept. It is a way of saying that one must resist any rage to conclude, but patiently take charge of the urgency of a question that cannot be resolved theoretically.

Submission Guidelines

Send the following three documents (in Word or pdf format) by the deadline to repenserlatraduction@gmail.com :

  1. an abstract of the paper you wish to propose (300 words)
  2. a letter of presentation of your proposal (maximum 300 words), in which you will explain in the clearest possible way (i) the theoretical problem being addressed and (ii) the novelty and importance of your contribution.
  3. a short bio-bibliographic note (maximum 200 words)

Deadline for submission of proposals: 15 September 2020

NB: The editorial board will review and select proposals taking into account only documents A and B, after having anonymised them; document C will be used only afterwards to notify the journal of the list of selected contributors.

Selected authors will have several months to complete their paper, which will then be submitted to a peer-review process. Publication of the issue is scheduled for 2022.

NB: The language of publication of the volume is French. Authors interested in this project who are not able to write in French can contact the editorial board in order to discuss the possibility of translating their contribution into French.

The issue will be published in 2022 in a prestigious French scientific journal, indexed by Scopus. (The regulations in force prevent us from mentioning the name of this journal before the publishing contract is officially signed: for purely contingent reasons, this signature had to be postponed until September).

Date(s)

  • Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Keywords

  • translation studies, translation theory, philosophy, philosophy of language, philosophy of translation

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Angelo Vannini
    courriel : repenserlatraduction [at] gmail [dot] com

To cite this announcement

« Rethinking translation », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, July 27, 2020, https://calenda.org/792997

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