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Ethics of Postcolonial Translation: Exploring New Modes of Power and Resistance in Transcultural Exchanges

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Organizer: Anum Aziz

Co-Organizer: Nick Tsung-Che Lu

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The goal of this seminar proposal is to provide a platform to locate the fast-evolving theoretical precepts in translation from a postcolonial and cultural studies perspective. Taking an in depth look at the possibilities and challenges posed by translation, we aim to demonstrate the ways in which ‘ethical’ translation in various possible senses can be integral to forming a resistance culture to counter the political environment in the metropole, which aims to suppress multilingual and multicultural realities in the US and beyond.


As a result of postcolonial critical intervention in the seemingly “objective” social studies, translation studies (since the coinage of the term by James Holmes) have moved away from questions of authenticity towards recognizing translation as a political act. Most postcolonial critics agree on the complexities of the colonial encounter and its continuing problematic legacies. What unites postcolonial interventions in translation studies is a need to avoid replicating unjust relations of power and highlighting the position of liminality of voices (languages) within the literary exchange. This has led to productions of theories from various contexts across the globe with competing ideologies, concerns and counter narratives. All this has been fruitful in generating debates around literary production, translation and transcreation as a means of cultural exchange. Despite this rich global scholarship, we believe there are more specific ways to discuss how translation is influenced at all times by consideration of a myriad of unbalanced power relations. For this reason, we intend to offer discussions of specific case studies to enrich and complicate what has been thus far a purely theoretical discussion of principles.


This panel has borrowed its conceptual inspirations from authors such as Bassnett, Young, and Spivak among others. These studies are distinctive in the way they treat translation - problematizing the position of the translator and hybridizing the metropole to demonstrate the scope of the problem. In view of this, our panel seeks to pose further questions: What are some of the common kinds of unequal power relations over-determining the act of translation? Beyond the straightforward task of cross-cultural communication and exchange, which translation is traditionally defined and practiced as, what are some of the factors that can add to and inflect the power dynamics of translation? For example, the different languages of different geographies, genders, sexualities, and ethnicities? What does a decolonial translation look like in practice? What impact would this translation have on translating theoretical ideas – such as feminism? By taking a more diverse approach towards these problems of translating literature and theory, the panelists will suggest more ways to study postcolonial/decolonial theoretical interventions in translation studies.

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