Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation

Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation

Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation

Nation, Language, and the Ethics of Translation


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, Ethics, 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, Franoise 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.


Sandra Bermann

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. Waves of migrating peoples have made the contemporary nation-state, and especially its urban centers, into global sites with multiplicities of languages and cultures. At the same time, the international trade, finance, and information technologies that support these sites both depend upon and often seek to bypass translation for economic growth within world and regional markets.

The global reach of international law and politics only heightens the importance of language and translation. Military networks, governmental agencies, as well as international entities such as the United Nations, the United Arab Emirates, and the European Union translate for purposes of intelligence, negotiation, and the dissemination of information or propaganda, as do the growing number of nongovernmental (NGOs) agencies, be they religious or secular. Global media and information networks provide news and interviews on a minute-to-minute basis to serve multiple linguistic constituencies as well as specific cultural and political purposes.

In a world of rapidly transforming populations and technologies, where language and citizenship are caught up in tightly woven webs of economic, military, and cultural power, language and translation operate at every juncture. Indeed so central is translation's role that, as Ilan Stavans recently noted, with only a hint of hyperbole, “modernity… is not lived through nationality but… through translationality.”

Yet if language and translation have become increasingly important in national and international relations, and in the processes of “globalization” more

Parts of this essay were presented at the American Comparative Literature Association Conven
tion in 2004. I am indebted to colleagues there as well as to Michael Wood and to the readers for
Princeton University Press for their very helpful suggestions.

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