From deconstruction to
cultural translation
Anthony Pym
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Universitat Rovira i Virgili
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Equivalence became unpopular
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Because it assumes repetition of function
(Skopostheorie)
Because it was seen to be historical (DTS)
Because of epistemological skepticism
(indeterminacy)
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Heisenberg
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“The more precisely the position is
determined, the less precisely the momentum
is known in this instant, and vice versa.”
(1927)
The Uncertainty Principle
Aka Principle of Indeterminacy.
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Quine
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Gavagai =
Gavagai =
Gavagai =
Gavagai =
Rabbit
Lo! A rabbit!
Detachable rabbit part
There is a flea on the
rabbit’s left ear.
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Indeteminacy as doubt
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ST1 can be rendered as TT1, TT2… TTn.
There is no rule for decid¡ng between TTs.
The decision process is not binary.
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The translation will be “right but…”.
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Two alternatives
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Translations are always inadequate to their
sources (“similarity” and not equivalence)
(aesthetic ideologies of the transcendent
source).
Indeterminacy is already in the source
(deconstruction).
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Similarity as semiosis
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“The meaning of a sign is its translation into
some further, alternative sign.” (Jakobson)
Translation creates meaning.
Translation creates equivalence?
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Deconstruction
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Indeterminacy is at the “source”.
There is no “transcendental signified”.
The source is in more than one language
(“plus d’une langue”).
Translation means transformation.
Benjamin: translations extend and add; they
do not reproduce.
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Indeterminism as complexity
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Texts have nodes where indeterminate
decisions have to be made. (Der gute
Mensch)
The more such nodes, and the more
indeterminate, the greater the complexity.
A complicated text need not be complex.
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Living with indeterminacy
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Pure belief in certainty (Bible translators)
Apply norms and regulations (localization)
Learn through trial and error (professionals)
Show up-front peronal interpretations
(Levine)
Be foreignizing (Venuti).
Give extensive extratextual material (Spivak).
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For example:
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“Yes we can.”
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“Any action may result in all-out war.”
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Deconstruction across the board:
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There is no source (text, culture, author).
All texts and cultures are hybrid.
All texts and cultures are translational.
Translation always happens within and
between cultural groups.
Translation is always cultural translation.
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Cultural translation
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The ethnographer’s description of a culture.
(Asad)
The languages of migration and the
postcolonial third space. (Bhabha)
Understanding as a constant interpretation of
the other (Iser).
The languages of culturally fragmented
postmodern societies. (Renn)
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Extensions….
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Translation is the displacement of theory from one
topographic location to another (e.g. Miller 1995).
Translation is “a metaphor for understanding how the
foreign and the familiar are interrelated in every form
of cultural production” (Papastergiadis 2000: 124).
Translation is part of all meaning production; there is
no non-translation (Sallis 2002),
Translation plays a key role in the transmission of
values from one generation to the next, and is thus
part of all “literary invigoration” (Brodski 2007).
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Translation sociology
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By “translation” we mean the set of negotiations,
intrigues, acts of persuasion, calculations, acts of
violence by which an actor or a force accords or
allows itself to be accorded the authority to speak or
to act in the name of another actor or force: “your
interests are our interests,” “do what I want,” “you
cannot succeed without me.”
As soon as an actor says “we,” he or she translates
other actors into a single aspiration [volonté] of
which she or he becomes the master or
spokesperson. (Callon and Latour 1981/2006: 12–13)
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Positive points
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Cultural translation focuses on people, not
things.
It recognizes that boundaries move.
It recognizes hybridity.
It relates translation to other sciences.
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Negative points
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Once you are studying everything, you have
no discipline.
Brot and pain can be translated as
equivalents…
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Final questions
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Equivalence survives at points where
indeterminacy is low?
Different kinds of utterance have different
levels of indeterminacy?
Indeterminacy undermines all other theories?
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Activity
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Working in groups of four, write two sentences in
Chinese, one that you think will be highly
determinate (clear, unambiguous, not open to
different readings) and the other highly
indeterminate (complex, open to different readings).
Write each sentences at the top of a piece of paper
(i.e. two pieces of paper).
Go around the class and have your sentences
translated three time into and from English (i.e. six
translations).
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Activity
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Look at the first and last sentences and
answer these questions:
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Did the most complex source undergo the most
changes?
So does equivalence apply to all texts?
Or is indeterminacy a feature of all language use?
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