Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Translation as Aesthetic Resistance: Paratranslating Walter Benjamin

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Translation as Aesthetic Resistance: Paratranslating Walter Benjamin

Article excerpt

Categories such as nation, society or culture could today be considered as 'translation zones.' (1) It seems to already be commonly accepted that translations, in addition to basic linguistic transference, also rewrite their respective contexts. Whereas during the 18th and 19th centuries translation was still a national issue, since the end of the 20th century it has evolved into an increasingly cultural, transnational and trans-social dynamic. All experience is in itself a translation, as it is, for instance, the construction of a sense of oneself from the idea of a cultural community--that is, an imagined community (which is, in itself, already a construction or translation).

However, we must not confuse culture with politics. There is an ongoing trend of the concept of culture to pervade virtually everything, be it the economy, the power of institutions or the actual psychological structure of the subject. For over two decades, Gayatri Spivak has been drawing attention to the fact that culturalization--as promoted by postmodernism, postcolonialism and cultural studies--has led to the depoliticization of academic theory. (2) However, this culturalization should not be considered as a social fact, but as a symptom of a methodology imposed by a privileged Western system, which is primarily concerned with controlling the canonical definitions of cultural identities, science, art, etc. To counter this discourse, Spivak has proposed the practice of 'strategic essentialism' (SE) that, without having to resort to exaggeration, seeks to save a certain element of the subject and/or collective resilience as far as dominant discourses are concerned.

Resistance, unlike processes of adaptation or assimilation, refers to the historical conflict of power and the translation of the real; but also to premeditated denial as a desire to change reality and attempt the critical recovery (both mythological and archaeological) of a past from different historical presents. Moreover, the context of resistance and translation evokes the difficulty and, at the same time, the need to step outside the restrictiveness of the paradigms and historical presents. And, last but not least, it refers to the already ongoing abolition of the myth of the original which is increasingly turning into a historical ruin of sorts, which the translator, qua historical agent, crosses unsteadily and in constant danger of self-deception. (3)

When speaking of the relation between resistance and aesthetics from a European perspective, we must call to mind Peter Weiss's Die Asthetik des Widerstands. (4) This unclassifiable literary hybridization, part novel, autobiography and history of the labour movements in Germany between 1918 and 1945, and part treatise on aesthetics, revived the quarrels between Marxist aesthetics (Lukacs) and an open conceptualization of the work of art (Brecht and Benjamin), favouring the latter. However, the main interest of this text for the present day lies in its aspiration to 'transform aesthetics as a tool of knowledge of cultural processes into an instrument of intervention'. (5) There is certainly a great need for 'instruments of intervention' in today's world: who would not agree that we are currently witnessing a colonialist Western civilization, which is imposing and multiplying mechanized habits around the world? Such globalization, which is characterized as negative and devalues everything that might be considered a culture of content, ideas and utopias, cynically instrumentalizes all prospective concepts like progress, development or education.

It is within this context of 'global culture'--not only that relating to the economic, but also that which invades and subordinates virtually all the micro-cultural internal processes of our daily lives--that translation dynamics (of identities, bodies, tastes, etc.) reveal their great potential for resistance; but how can such a broad meaning of the term 'translation' be circumscribed? …

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