Tuesday, 29 December
418. Translating Theory, Theorizing Translation
10:15–11:30 a.m., Regency Ballroom A and B, Loews
A linked session arranged in conjunction with the Presidential Forum The Tasks of Translation in the Global Context (146)
Presiding: Philip E. Lewis, New York, NY
1. “Philosophical Untranslatables,” Emily S. Apter, New York Univ.
2. “Passing Strange: The Laws of Translation,” Peggy Kamuf, Univ. of Southern California
3. “Translation, Empiricism, Ethics,” Lawrence M. Venuti, Temple Univ., Philadelphia
Empiricism is the epistemology that underlies not only the comments of most professional translators about their rendering of humanistic texts, but also the understanding of translation among most academic and popular readers. Empiricism leads to an instrumental model of translation that assumes a concept of language as transparent expression as well as a reductive notion of equivalence. Yet neither allows translators to gain a sophisticated understanding of their interpretive labor and to assess its ethical implications for both the source and translating cultures. This paper argues for the need of a hermeneutic model of translation that assumes a constitutive concept of language and a complex notion of equivalence which takes into account the institutional sites where translations are produced and used as well as the ethics of their relations to the source text and culture and to the translating language and culture. The case study that grounds this discussion is the work of the prolific United States translator Arthur Goldhammer, specifically his 1992 version of French historian Alain Corbin’s Le village des cannibales (1990). It is argued that not only does Goldhammer’s comments about his work reveal a deep investment in an empiricist notion of language and translation, but his translation inscribes an empiricist discourse in Corbin’s text through renderings of key theoretical terms (e.g. “l’imaginaire”). To consider the ethical implications of Goldhammer’s theory and practice, the paper will draw on Alain Badiou’s concept of an ethics that privileges cultural innovation.