Discussion Question

On positionality

“This concept not only allows researchers/academics to acknowledge and account for constantly shifting personal and intellectual settings and the effects of such shifts on scholarly ‘knowledge’ and analyses, but it can also be used as a fluid location from which to construct meaning, a perspective from which values are interpreted and constructed”

How do we understand the difference between acknowledgement and accounting? Do rote acknowledgements (of privilege, of social status, of personal history etc.) force us to actually reflect, or can they also function as shorthand ways of preempting a counter argument? Does me starting a controversial point about social with the acknowledgement ‘I am a white man from a middle class family and there are things that I don’t have first hand experience with…etc. etc.’ possibly serve as a defense mechanism to defuse or frustrate actually being called to account for my own position?

Reading notes 11/29

General note: Looks as though the articles was published in 1998, and it generally strikes me as a having a very distinct ’90’s’ flavor to it, both specifically in regards to feminism and the humanities more generally.  Concepts of essentialism and ‘identity politics’ are obviously still quite a big part of the discourse, but here they are used without all the baggage they have accumulated over nearly two decades.

p. 4 …it is beginning to explore what theorist Alice Parker (1 993) has tentatively termed polysexual and multigendered approaches to translation.” These two terms aren’t really unpacked or brought up again as far as I see. I would have liked to get a little more about this.

‘survival strategy’- This also is not much unpacked. Seems to be a reference to ways that marginalized groups ‘survive’, though what exactly this metaphor denotes is unclear to me. It is a provocative phrasing, but the stakes aren’t made clear and this seems to cheapen its use. i.e. using a word like ‘survival’ is going to cause some people to roll their eyes–that doesn’t mean its not true or shouldn’t be used, but highlighting the stakes implied in the word choice would give it more weight. (Of course, the implied audience of a piece like this may be those for whom such unpacking in unnecessary; perhaps also it is a term of the art within a given academic or cultural community functioning as a kind of shibboleth.)

p.5 “But univocity and consensus also shut down development.” Agreed, which is why the dated aspects of the piece are even more disappointing. There is so much casual theory strewn about with the unintentional implications of consensus

 Identity Politics- Odd to see the term used in a neutral sense. It seems even those who would agree with Flotow’s sense of it here avoid the term today, where it has become a pejorative, denoting tokenism for a subset of the left and ‘reverse racism’/political correctness for the right.

On the question of translation and activism-This is pretty interesting to me. What exactly would a-political translating look like? It seems like you can’t avoid it entirely (and we probably shouldn’t act like we can), but such a stance also seems able to countenance indifference. Going off of the examples from the article: it is one thing to enhance the rhetoricity of the feminist strain in a work and entirely another to remove anti-feminist or patriarchal elements. But what is the guiding principle here? I see these two as being on different sides of some line, but I can’t honestly account for how I draw it.

Autobiographical approach-The lengthy qualifiers seem to be out of fashion in the academy (or at least literary studies), but have gained popularity in wider culture particularly on left-leaning social media. I wonder how well this approach had aged. It often seems ossified. i.e. more of signaling gesture of belonging to a certain group (usually some general notion of the progressive left) than an attempt to actually acknowledge the way that ones identity impacts what one is going to say. It is also often deployed as a marker of authority or right (i.e. that it is permissible for one to speak on a given topic).

Discussion Question: 11/15

What are the benefits and drawbacks of expanding what we consider to be ‘translation’? Do new angles and viewpoints offer us a way to rethink translation that is ultimately productive, or do they conflate different actions (e.g. adaptation, interpretation) and result in less rigorous thinking? It seems that both are possible or even inevitable. If so, how do we balance these competing forces when comparing, for example, translation to psychoanalysis (this week) or to post-colonial writing(last week)?

Reading Notes 11/15–Mahony on Freud

“Freud and Translation”

Three parts to the subject of Freud and translation:

  1. Freud as theorist (of translation)
  2. Freud as translator
  3. Freud in translation

“Freud made translation a unified field concept that encompasses the interaction of intransystemic, intersystemic, and interpsychic phenomena…[and] deemed the following to be translations: dreams…parapaxes;fetishes” etc. etc.
Seems to me that this way of phrasing it totally removes the distinction between translation and interpretation. (or as the later note suggests, between translation and ‘transposition’) This is similar to our discussion with Professor Gillespie about different type of ‘translation’ and what can be considered a translation. I think this free ranging view is very productive. but what Mahony lacks, and our in class conversations had, is the consideration of where these similarities break down, or of how the conflation can end up blurring any meaningful difference.

“…patient may be conceived as an accumulation of translations.” Once more this seems like a conflation or an overly metaphorical approach. That doesn’t make it bad, but it does seem to be using the idea of translation to shed more light of psychoanalysis than the other way around (which would seem to the more interesting avenue)

Freud translated five books, including John Stuart Mill. (838) For all the Freud I have encountered in literary studies, I was unaware of this. His translation method seems very suspect however. It would be interesting to look at the results since so much seems to hinge on Freud’s supposed photographic memory and individual genius.

“Linguistically, Freud is one of the greatest prose writers and rhetoricians in German literature…” This is a very bold claim (which is not to say I don’t buy it), considering the number of literary (and philosophical) heavyweights who have written in German. (Though I guess it helps that several of them were poets/playwrights and so perhaps don’t figure in here) Still: Hesse, Goethe, Mann, Grass, Marx, Boell, Doeblin, Kafka etc.

The discussion of Freud in translation seems a little sparse and vapid compared to the expansive treatment in the other article. The question of macrolinguistic DNA is interesting and makes me think of Poemage.

“Hemeneutics and Ideology”

Starts with a discussion of Whorf-Sapir, so I’m already a bit skeptical, but the point about foreclosure and facilitation is one that I am willing to consider. Still, such discussions always seem to make it a one way street from language->culture. A two way street seems more likely and if it were one way, the opposite directionality seems more intuitive to me. i.e. Russian speakers aren’t able to more accurately distinguish certain colors because the language shapes there perceptions, but rather cultural distinctions of color are mirrored in the language.* (There is probably some mutual reinforcement granted, but come on)

*I believe this is one of the examples that Lera Boroditsky often uses

Next, there is a weak argument advanced about the structure of German and whether it faclitates this kind of process based thinking. Suggestion that this lends itself to psychoanalysis. Why then are all the second (or perhaps third) wave psychoanalysts of note French rather than German?

Figurative language as integral to Freud’s way of writing and thinking: This I can agree with, but I still fail to see what this has to do specifically with German. This seems much more of a stylistic argument rather than a linguistic one and is one that can be made for various ‘continental’ thinkers of many languages other than German.

The example of composition–> writing is interesting, but perhaps wrong, or at least becoming outdated. With the increasing professionalization of the mission of the liberal arts, English PhD programs have increasingly begun offering specializations in Rhetoric and Composition, and job listings now increasingly look specifically for those with such qualifications.

Where is the Sapir-Whorf stuff? There is very little that seems to link the opening paragraph to the rest of the essay, outside of a few weak examples, which he excuses by claiming the right to the same process-oriented approach that Freud used. It seems little more to me than an excuse for a scattershot and poorly thought out argument that doesn’t really know what it wants to say. The title bears witness to this. There is almost nothing here about hermenuetics or ideology in anything but the most general sense. Maybe I am totally missing something, or my own internal defenses were activated when seeing Sapir and Whorf in the first paragraph, but I really am having trouble seeing anything at all in this essay.






Discussion Question

Kwame Anthony Appiah spends the last section of his essay discussing some of the pedagogical considerations that should inform his idea of ‘thick’ translation. I wonder to what extent certain institutional norms and forces are already ‘baked into’ our educational systems and so already shape our consideration of the kinds of pedagogical goals that are appropriate.

How powerful can a ‘thick’ translation truly be in this regard? Appiah seems to equate the intention of his own produced translation with the effect that it will have on readers (in this case students) in way that seems at odds with his early discussion of literature and intentions. Furthermore, the more important limiting factor seems to be not literal meaning vs literary meaning, but between pedagogical orientation and the actual use. How many heavily footnoted books, many of them in translation, are ordered by professors every year just because the edition is the standard? How many students consider such paratextual materials to be required reading and so actually absorb the thickness of the text? It seems to me that we would need to take into account not only textual and linguistic questions, but also questions of the ways that the actual TTs are deployed and made use of in classrooms.

Reading Notes -11/3

Thick Translation

“…what interests us in the translations that interest us must is not meaning, in the sense that philosophy of language uses the term…”  (332)

I think we could say something similar about literature more broadly. Much more going than on that ‘simple’ speech acts, intentions, logical diagrams, or other such concepts can fully account for.

assetoric vs. optative.: Statements that assert vs. statements that express wishes preferences

“…it will often only be a matter of luck whether the relevant intentions are possible for both of two communitites, between which we are translating.”

Luck, or closeness of the two languages. How much of the way we think about translation (or thought about it) was influenced by the relative ease of translating between similar Western European languages/cultures where the relevant intentions were more likely to coexist?

Literal translation is often impossible, but Appiah finds this uninteresting; it says nothing, in a given case, of the possibility of translation more generally.

‘Canceling of literal intentions.’ This is an interesting way of describing the framing devices of stories in how it relates to the language deployed by a given story.

“[W]e must begin with the literal meanings of words, phrases, sentences.” But as Appiah notes, this is not enough.  (What about, however, idiomatic phrases that have lost their literal sense? These are often mispronounced for this very reason: champing vs. chomping at the bit; right down the pike/pipe; etc.

338 – Discussion of non-literal meanings; references Joyce and other texts that defy any sense of the literal meaning as a starting point. Wish he would say more about how we deal with or make meaning out of these texts within the context he is trying to explain here.

339- Makes a point about novels lacking conventions to help define meaning, but this seems limiting. Certain subgenres, flavors, tropes, etc. certainly point to at least partial intentionality based on convention. E.g. didactic literature, the Bildungsroman, agitprop etc.

This question of meaning and how it relates to translation seems to come down to a question of how we decide what matters, at least for Appiah. By understanding and ‘facing up to difference’ the true pedagogical potential of ‘thick’ translation can be realized. We must account not only for the difference in the other, but for our own desires which demand his reproduction. It seems to me that part of translation always risks translating the other not with regard to the type of difference that Appiah discusses here, but in service of a vision that we already have–somewhat like Berman’s idea of exoticization.

Discussion Question

In Adaptation, there is a scene that shows how certain Orchids mirror in appearance the insects that they attract. Could this be viewed as a kind of natural adaptation or translation? Eco-criticism and eco-semiotics are popular in literary studies, and I assume there must be some application of them to translation studies as well. What sort of avenues might such approaches open up to us?

Reading notes 11/1

“Colonization, resistance…”

relevance of postcolonial theory to china- the piece begins by contrasting India and Africa with China. China has not been subject to foreign occupation, excepting Hong Kong and Taiwan. (What about the Mongols? I realize that was not during the Western imperial period, but hard to see how it doesn’t count).

p. 54 discusses the idea of a self-imposed colonization. Not sure how productive this framing is. It is not clear to what extent globalization and its effects can be said to be self-imposed.

p. 55 The idea of linguistic and cultural purity is always somewhat uncomfortable. On the one hand, it is hard to fault a besieged culture for attempting to create something of its own. On the other of course, the 20th century has perhaps permanently cast a dark pallor over any talk of ‘purity’.

p. 55-57 I’m very interested in the linguistic points made here. I’d be interested in hearing what ‘mainstream’ linguists (both Chinese and Western) have to say about the claims for Chinese particularity.  I know little about the Chinese language from a technical standpoint (other than its tonality) so I can’t say much about how well ‘Western models’ can explain it, but standard models are perfectly capable of describing non-Indo European languages; Japaneses is well studied in this way. In this context, it seems like sino-superiority mixed with legitimate postcolonial considerations and I’m not clear which is stronger.

p. 60-61 He brings up the idea of cultural residue that stretches back 5,000 years. In this context, it would have made sense to discuss the Mongols as part of a colonial residue, no? But perhaps the Mongol invasion and occupation is conceived of differently within Chinese culture? After all, the Mongols mostly adopted the styles and customs of the Chinese court, if I recall correctly, rather than imposing their culture on the Chinese.

As a general point, I am always skeptical of movements that attempt to effect change in a language in some particular. Certainly, cultural changes and cultural imports change the language, but is not clear that they do so in predictable or direct-able ways.


“‘Safety’ is the appropriate term here…we are talking of risks, of violence to the translating medium” (313)

We have read other theorists who have discussed ethics and violence, but the sense of immediacy and high stakes is striking in Spivak’s writing.

“…cannot engage with, or cares insufficiently for, the rhetoricity of the original.” (313)

Which is the greater sin?

“…founding violence of silence at work within rhetoric” (314)

One of the most poststructuralist things I have ever read.

“Therefore these texts must be made to speak English.” (314)

This is an interesting conception of what the act of translation is. The text speaks rather than the translator, but I wonder if this risks undoing some of the emancipatory work of Venuti and Derrida?

“…has earned the right to become the intimate reader…” (315)

Such a fraught concept. Who is the arbiter of such decisions?

“I have been unable to catch…” (317)

Here Spivak foregrounds her own shortcomings as a translator. I think that this perhaps answers my above question about which is the bigger sin. Imperfection is perhaps inevitable in some cases, but it is pardonable if it not the result of expediency or carelessness, and the offense is perhaps somewhat mollified by the kind of self-awareness Spivak displays here.

(319) Discussion of being able to tell between good and bad literature. Seems another fraught category.

NOTE: She addresses this point later. Spivak has an interesting flow to her writing. Many times I find myself raising an objection, but then a few pages later she circles back and accounts for it.

(321) Surrender means being literal. But why? I’m not sure I can really get to the heart of the point she is making here. She difficult in a different way than Derrida. Each sentence seems simple enough and there are no words I don’t know. But often at the end of a paragraph, I am not sure that I have understood anything at all.

(323) Claims she has used examples of women but the idea applies across the board. This is another place where she has seemingly circled back to address a possible concern of the reader.

These last two sections are mostly opaque to me. As someone who is pretty familiar with Morrison and with Beloved, I still find it hard to follow Spivak’s point. That’s not to say I get nothing out of it, but it seems rather performative and evocative, more poetic than theoretical. It spurs thought, but I’m not sure what to do with in regards to more concrete discussions of translation



Discussion Q: 10/24

Venuti gives the example of a retranslation that the New York times deemed good, mainly based on a perceived need to update the outdated language in the original translation.

Does a similar need exist for older work that were originally published in English? Does it make sense to translate Shakespeare into more modern language, not in the Cliff-notes No Fear Shakespeare kind of way, but in a way that attempts to mirror the complexity of nuance of the original? After all, Shakespeare is intelligible to a modern reader but is hard to argue that there is something lost in the linguistic difference that makes it difficult for a contemporary reader to fully appreciate the text as one could have in Elizabethan England.