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Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation

Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation

Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation
    Book Description:

    In recent years, scholarship on translation has moved well beyond the technicalities of converting one language into another and beyond conventional translation theory. With new technologies blurring distinctions between "the original" and its reproductions, and with globalization redefining national and cultural boundaries, "translation" is now emerging as a reformulated subject of lively, interdisciplinary debate. Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation enters the heart of this debate. It covers an exceptional range of topics, from simultaneous translation to legal theory, from the language of exile to the language of new nations, from the press to the cinema; and cultures and languages from contemporary Bengal to ancient Japan, from translations of Homer to the work of Don DeLillo.

    All twenty-two essays, by leading voices including Gayatri Spivak and the late Edward Said, are provocative and persuasive. The book's four sections--"Translation as Medium and across Media," "The Ethics of Translation," "Translation and Difference," and "Beyond the Nation"--together provide a comprehensive view of current thinking on nationality and translation, one that will be widely consulted for years to come.

    The contributors are Jonathan E. Abel, Emily Apter, Sandra Bermann, Vilashini Cooppan, Stanley Corngold, David Damrosch, Robert Eaglestone, Stathis Gourgouris, Pierre Legrand, Jacques Lezra, Françoise Lionnet, Sylvia Molloy, Yopie Prins, Edward Said, Azade Seyhan, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Henry Staten, Lawrence Venuti, Lynn Visson, Gauri Viswanathan, Samuel Weber, and Michael Wood.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2668-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    There has probably never been a time when issues of nation, language, and translation have been more important or more troubling than they are today. In a world where individual nation-states are increasingly enmeshed in financial and information networks, where multiple linguistic and national identities can inhabit a single state’s borders or exceed them in vast diasporas, where globalization has its serious—and often violent—discontents, and where terrorism and war transform distrust into destruction, language and translation play central, if often unacknowledged, roles. Though the reasons for this are undeniably complex, they are, at least in broad terms, understandable....


    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 11-14)

      In the very last note of Minima Moralia, Adorno suggests that the only responsible philosophical answer to despair is “to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption.”¹ The essays in the first section of this book all situate themselves at some distance from despair, but they do consistently register difficulty, and they do have redemption firmly in mind. The essays concern the role of the intellectual as translator of what gets forgotten in the contemporary world, the possibility of translating law from culture to culture, the actual practice of simultaneous translation, the translatability and...

    • The Public Role of Writers and Intellectuals
      (pp. 15-29)

      Twenty-one years ago, The Nation magazine convened a congress of writers in New York by putting out notices for the event and, as I understood the tactic, leaving open the question of who was a writer and why he or she qualified to attend. The result was that literally hundreds of people showed up, crowding the main ballroom of a midtown Manhattan hotel almost to the ceiling. The occasion itself was intended as a response by the intellectual and artistic communities to the immediate onset of the Reagan era. As I recall the proceedings, a debate raged for a long...

    • Issues in the Translatability of Law
      (pp. 30-50)

      Consider statutes and judicial decisions, two of the most common legal artifacts. If one accepts that statutes are not enacted by legislatures and that judicial decisions are not made by courts with a view to applying to foreign legal cultures, then legal borrowing across legal cultures is the practice of interrupting intention, which is a form of epistemic violence.¹ Statutes and judicial decisions nonetheless regularly find themselves being imported across legal cultures—that is, across cultures and languages—in order to underwrite local reforming agendas. In the process, these texts pass into new semiotic constellations. However, just as there cannot...

    • Simultaneous Interpretation: Language and Cultural Difference
      (pp. 51-64)

      Though modern simultaneous interpretation with its microphones, earphones, and sound equipment is a relatively new phenomenon, it certainly has ancient analogues.¹ In the first Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul orders, “If any man speak in an unknown tongue let it be by two, or at most by three . . . and let one interpret” (14:27). At various times interpreters have served as missionaries, liaison officers, military envoys, court interpreters, business couriers, and trade negotiators. The French drogmans (dragomans), who were trained in Oriental languages, were required not only to translate what was said but also to advise French...

    • A Touch of Translation: On Walter Benjamin’s “Task of the Translator”
      (pp. 65-78)

      If one were to search today for a way of reflecting on the destiny of language and literature in an age dominated increasingly by electronic media, there is probably no better place to start—and perhaps even to end—than with the question of translation. This might seem a somewhat surprising assertion to make, given the widespread tendency to associate the rise of electronic media with what is usually called the “audiovisual,” as distinct from the linguistic, discursive, or textual. Such an association is, of course, by no means simply arbitrary. In 1999, the dollar value produced by the sales...

    • The Languages of Cinema
      (pp. 79-88)

      What is the language of a Russian film? Of a Japanese film? The question sounds like a trick or a riddle, a children’s joke, along the lines of “Who wrote Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony?,” or “What was the date of the 1848 revolutions?” And there is an obvious answer, of course. The language of the film, in the most literal sense, is Russian or Japanese. But if we say this we need to note at once how much we have smuggled into, or taken for granted about, the meaning of the word “film.” We are probably thinking of sound films, although...


    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 89-92)

      Though all the essays in this volume deal with the ethics of translation, those included in this section make it their primary theoretical focus. Several address the ethical double bind in any act of translation—the impossibility of fully rendering another’s voice or meaning, and yet the necessity of making the attempt. Other essays focus on the question of the “original,” a topic raised by Weber in part I, that returns as a leitmotif throughout the volume.

      As the first four essays underscore, much responsibility for creating an ethical translation lies with the translator. If translation has always been a...

    • Translating into English
      (pp. 93-110)

      I’d like to begin with what should to be an obvious point. That the translator should make an attempt to grasp the writer’s presuppositions. Translation is not just the stringing together of the most accurate synonyms by the most proximate syntax. Kant’s “Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason” is written with the presupposition that mere (rather than pure) reason is a programmed structure, with in-built possibilities of misfiring, and nothing but calculation as a way of setting right.¹ Since the eighteenth century, English translators, not resonating with Kant’s philosophical presuppositions, have psychologized every noun, making Kant sound like a...

    • Tracking the “Native Informant”: Cultural Translation as the Horizon of Literary Translation
      (pp. 111-126)

      Within or, at the boundaries of, literary studies, the most radical extension of the contemporary reflection on the “ethics of translation” is unquestionably that of Gayatri Spivak, with its relentless pursuit of inaccessible cultural otherness. What makes this pursuit so difficult to follow, as some critics have complained, is the accompanying metacritical reflection, adhering simultaneously to Marxism, radical feminism, and deconstruction, on the positionality of the theorizing Metropolitan eye in all its varieties, especially those most closely related to Spivak’s own perspective: the Metropolitan first-world feminist and the “diasporic” intellectual who has come from the Third World to ply her...

    • Levinas, Translation, and Ethics
      (pp. 127-138)

      Many commentators have suggested that translation is central to the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. Not, clearly, translation from one language to another, in the sense of translating, say, German into French, nor translation in the sense of introducing intellectual developments from one national tradition into another, although Levinas is widely credited with introducing phenomenological thought into France in 1930. The commentators suggest that Levinas offers translation in a wider sense between what he calls “Hebrew” and “Greek,” where the names for the languages stand in for much wider frameworks or worldviews. However, although this is a constructive approach that...

    • Comparative Literature: The Delay in Translation
      (pp. 139-145)

      It is often claimed today that comparative literature is a kind of translation and, being a practice less transparent than translation, should take translation as its model. This claim feels avant-garde: it resonates with the “linguistic turn” that informed most of the humanistic disciplines during the last quarter of the last century and vividly survives today in neighboring disciplines, like English, foreign languages, history, and anthropology, with their concerns for globalization, the media, and the mentalities of postcolonialism. But whether the translation model for comparative literature is to be a step forward, a step back, or the source of a...

    • Translation as Community: The Opacity of Modernizations of Genji monogatari
      (pp. 146-158)

      Several recent studies focus on translations in order to deconstruct notions of the other and, thereby, to reveal the foreign originary light filtered through the domesticating (here read colonizing, racist, sexist, etc.) lenses of a translating self. Such studies that rigorously locate translations in the moments and places of their translation (rather than in some translatable essence) may expose some general presumptions of lay readers who overlook the translated-ness of a translation. In doing so, however, they obviate the possibility of not only translation, but also reading. That is to say, in finding difference, in explicating the ways in which...

    • Translation with No Original: Scandals of Textual Reproduction
      (pp. 159-174)

      In a short story titled “The Dialect of the Tribe” by the American Oulipo writer Harry Mathews, the narrator ponders an academic article authored by an Australian anthropologist of the 1890s by the name of Ernest Botherby. The article is of interest because it offers the example of a mysterious technique, “used by the Pagolak-speaking tribe to translate their tongue into the dialects of their neighbors. ‘What was remarkable about this method was that while it produced translations that foreign listeners could understand and accept, it also concealed from them the original meaning of every statement made.’”¹ The narrator is...


    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 175-176)

      Social groups both fear and need difference, and three of the essays in this section are linked by this double preoccupation. The other essays explore difference from a slightly different angle: within the very concepts of translation and naming, and across the line, if there is such a line, which divides lived history from memory.

      Translation, paradoxically, has often been used to build national identity by means of organized borrowing from different languages and cultures. In this “specular process,” as Lawrence Venuti aptly calls it, one becomes more one’s self by selectively becoming another. Or rather by openly trying and...

    • Local Contingencies: Translation and National Identities
      (pp. 177-202)

      These comments are drawn from Victor Hugo’s 1865 preface to his son François-Victor’s version of Shakespeare’s works. They are worth examining, not simply because Hugo uses translation as the basis for a critique of nationalism, but because his critique at once exposes and is itself riddled with contradictions that have characterized the relations between translation and national identities, regardless of the language and culture in which the translating is performed. Formulating the contradictory implications of Hugo’s comments, then, will be a useful way to introduce my reflections on nationalist agendas in translation.

      Translation can be described as an act of...

    • Nationum Origo
      (pp. 203-228)

      Globalization has taken our tongues from us—local, autochthonous, idiomatic, ancestral tongues. Its clamorous internationalism hangs critics on a mute peg, with no common voice or general vocabulary on which to string alternative inter- or transnational forms of work, thought, and organization. And so the disarmed, heteroglot opposition takes shelter in various weak utopianisms, in weakly regulative images generally and understandably drawn from increasingly abstract domains (from reinvigorated notions of the “human” and of “humanism,” for instance or, most recently, from the sketchy descriptions of an antihegemonic Europe that Jürgen Habermas and Derrida erect against the depredations of the United...

    • Metrical Translation: Nineteenth-Century Homers and the Hexameter Mania
      (pp. 229-256)

      The question of metrical translation—its history, theory, and practice—is not often posed in current translation studies, except perhaps by translators who confront “a choice between rhyme and reason,” as Nabokov asked himself in translating Pushkin: “Can a translation while rendering with absolute fidelity the whole text, and nothing but the text, keep the form of the original, its rhythm and its rhyme?”¹ Like swearing an oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth before going on trial, the translator who vows to be true to “the whole text, and nothing but the text” must be...

    • Translating History
      (pp. 257-273)

      René Char’s “Feuillets d’Hypnos” brings before us the lived history of the French resistance, joining traumatic memory with hopes for a future of freedom and human dialogue. Closely intertwined with Char’s own actions as captain on the maquis, the collection of prose poems offers a rare engagement with historical experience in poetic form, both a tragic affirmation of life and, in its own right, a means of resistance. But I also argue here that this example of historical poetry illustrates some important connections between the writing of lived historical event and translation. Both are linguistic acts dedicated to the “survival”...

    • German Academic Exiles in Istanbul: Translation as the Bildung of the Other
      (pp. 274-288)

      Alexander Rüstow, a classicist by training and a Socialist by calling who was the administrative director of the German Machine Manufacturing Association (Verein deutscher Maschinenbauanstalten) and Dozent at the Berlin Trade Institute (Berliner Handelshochschule) made a narrow escape to Istanbul, when his efforts to form a coalition government to keep Hitler out of power failed. Political activist, cultural sociologist, economist, and philosopher, Rüstow taught economics, economic geography, and philosophy at the University of Istanbul between 1933 and 1949. He was also active in the anti-Nazi movement of the German refugees in Istanbul and acted as liaison between the OSS (Office...

    • DeLillo in Greece Eluding the Name
      (pp. 289-310)

      “I think fiction rescues history from its confusions.” This tentative assertion in one of the rare interviews with Don DeLillo could draw a hail of objections from historians, as it insinuates, with confident and serious nonchalance (DeLillo’s characteristic style), that history is confused. Elaborating, the novelist goes on to attribute to the writing of fiction a capacity of historical insight that the writing of history cannot possibly possess, a clarity of perception into history’s own things: “[Fiction] can operate in a deeper way: providing the balance and rhythm we don’t experience in our daily lives, in our real lives. So...


    • [PART FOUR Introduction]
      (pp. 311-314)

      Looking to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the essays in this section examine the role of translation in an increasingly interwoven, globalizing world. Here, translations become exemplary “traveling texts,” capable of highlighting the complex interactions between still vital nationalisms on the one hand, and growing local and international cultures on the other. Four of these essays explore colonial and postcolonial issues in texts from francophone Africa, India, South Africa, and Latin America, while the fifth and final essay takes its literary example from the war-torn Balkans. As each “thick description” suggests, though in very different ways, translations today demand an...

    • Translating Grief
      (pp. 315-325)

      In her 1993 essay, “Order, Disorder, Freedom, and the West Indian Writer,” Maryse Condé takes a clear-eyed position on the créolité movement, and on its leaders’ 1989 manifesto, Eloge de la créolité.¹ She criticizes, in a thoughtful tone, the mots d’ordre or “commands” that the authors of the manifesto have felt entitled to dispense to their fellow Antillean writers. She pointedly surveys the numerous literary taboos and prejudices that have served as creative straightjackets for Caribbean writers, restricting them to themes and idioms that, in her view, deaden the imagination and stifle the ability to dream. She bemoans the continued...

    • “Synthetic Vision”: Internationalism and the Poetics of Decolonization
      (pp. 326-345)

      By the time of home rule agitation in both Ireland and India, anticolonial movements blended into a more internationalist vision then beginning to emerge in the years following World War I. To extreme nationalists, internationalism was a complete anathema, a more refined term to prolong the evils of colonialism indefinitely under the guise of a universal humanism. However, to those who still considered themselves nationalists, but believed they had a responsibility that extended far beyond the immediate goal of liberation from colonial rule, internationalism was the only solution to a world totally sundered by ethnic fratricide. The frightening reality of...

    • National Literature in Transnational Times: Writing Transition in the “New” South Africa
      (pp. 346-369)

      Among the many changes we credit globalization with—including the increasing interconnection of nations, cultures, and economies, the rapid and widespread flows of persons, goods, information, and capital across national borders, and the production of new forms of identity and community—we may add the reconfiguration of academic disciplines from national to global frameworks. As a practice of critical thought, intellectual globalization is marked, as Anthony D. King notes, by “the rejection of the nationally-constituted society as the appropriate object of discourse, or unit of social and cultural analysis, and to varying degrees, a commitment to conceptualising ‘the world as...

    • Postcolonial Latin America and the Magic Realist Imperative: A Report to an Academy
      (pp. 370-379)

      The first part of my title refers to the discomfort of many Latin American intellectuals when faced with a postcolonial “model” into which they feel they are expected to fit; a model whose terms have been formulated from, and in reference to, a “center” whose interventions, however well intentioned, continue to be seen as imperialistic and/or simplistic. This is a postcolonialism with which modern Latin American intellectuals and scholars have, at best, a mediated relation, one necessitating multiple reformulations and translations. Furthermore, this is a postcolonialism the nature of which very much depends on its site of enunciation, a postcolonialism...

    • Death in Translation
      (pp. 380-398)

      According to the Preliminary Notes to Milorad Pavić’s Dictionary of the Khazars, his book is a reconstruction of a long-lost encyclopedia concerning a people who lived around the Black Sea until the tenth century, when they disappeared from history. Published in 1691 by a Polish printer in Prussia, the Lexicon Cosri was destroyed a year later by the Inquisition. Only two privately held copies survived. One, fastened with a golden lock, was printed in poisoned ink; it had a companion copy, not poisoned, fitted with a silver lock:

      Insubordinates and infidels who ventured to read the proscribed dictionary risked the...

    (pp. 399-402)
    (pp. 403-413)