Academic journal article Hecate

Kristeva and an Archaeology of Sources and Translation

Academic journal article Hecate

Kristeva and an Archaeology of Sources and Translation

Article excerpt

In studying the work of international scholars, such as Julia Kristeva, we are often dependent upon translations to give us access to their ideas and analyses. Fortunately there are now good translators who quickly provide the English-speaking world with competent versions. Nevertheless, it is worth bearing in mind that a translation is still an approximation--it cannot be an exact equivalent of the original--and we need to be aware of any implications this may have for the continuing dialogue between scholars in different languages and across cultures. Derrida argues that all signifiers exhibit basic instability, and this at first may seem unhelpful if it leads to a denial of any degree of permanency in the meaning of words. But further consideration reveals that a certain margin of slippage, or movement, or flexibility in the language is precisely what allows for gradual shifts in meaning and therefore plays a vital part in making new linguistic developments possible. This margin of openness to change is no t a defect in a language, but a sign of life; growth does not occur in dead languages. That being said, one might ask just how reliable translations can be for serious study. Their usefulness depends upon how skilfully the translator's basic objectives--usually to make an adequate equivalent of the text for a particular audience--are carried out, but sometimes there may also be another kind of translation involved which can reward close study by revealing more of the author's original intention.

It is clear to any interested observer that, in cultural commentary today, much illuminating use can be made of the already existing work of influential theorists. By accepting theoretical concepts and using them as tools with which to analyse sociological material, to synthesise elements, or to find suitable applications to challenging problems, a critic may shed startling new light on significant areas of human existence. However, there are particular difficulties involved when the value of the original sources may be questioned--are they to be thought of as being of absolute value or can they be relatively adjusted and usefully reworked to provide new insights? Sometimes, the result of an emerging synthesis of ideas may not be quite in harmony with historical tradition and/ or cultural acceptance.

The basic problem lies in recognising that any given literary work, no matter how self-evident it may appear, does not operate as a transparent window, but mediates other work in all sorts of ways: by choices made of some elements (which may entail neglect, or even rejection of others), or reinterpretation that may be fairly accurate, or perhaps faulty, and coloured by conscious and unconscious cultural constraints. Moreover, there are additional problems when dealing with a translation (the transferring of intellectual content from one language or code to another). The Latin derivation of the word 'translation' remains at the root of the original and still current meaning, which is 'to move (something) across.' But how successfully can meanings, formulated and understood in one language, that is to say, one linguistic code, be then moved into a different code? Some theorists claim that it is impossible, but translators will argue that it is necessary, worthwhile, challenging and satisfying to work at the cr ossroads where one culture confronts another in a never ending quest to find the adequate equivalent.

Much will depend upon which meaning-bearing cluster of signs is selected for translation, the technical difficulties involved in relation to the differing codes, as well as on what degree of loss or gain may be inherent in the process. Obviously, a word-for-word translation is successful only in very simple cases; some form of reconstruction is inevitable in the process of making the content of the discourse (what is read as the meaning) intelligible in the other language. As any language teacher knows, the medium in less than competent hands can indeed alter the message! …

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