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Translation as Defiance

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Organizer: Fredrik Rönnbäck

Co-Organizer: Matthew Trumbo-Tual

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Translation theory often returns to the tension between fidelity and freedom. The inherent passivity of both these terms, however, tends to relegate translation to a subordinate role within the field of literature, since its creative freedom is limited by the tragic necessity of making impossible choices determined by the source text. To reposition translation instead as a productive force, we propose considering translation as an act of defiance.

What is a defiant translation?

A defiant translation might critically examine the historical, socioeconomic, and political hierarchies inherent in the text by addressing linguistic and poetic features that cause a text to be marginalized or overlooked. This might include challenging notions of untranslatability, marked and unmarked registers, and linguistic hierarchy to bring not just authors and readers, but also languages, dialects, or sociolects into new relationships that resist structures of power and exclusion. It might also engage power dynamics within language to counter literary and translation practices that perpetuate coloniality.

A defiant translation might also challenge the concept of fidelity. Since the function of translation is precisely to act as an intermediary between the apparent dichotomies of author/reader and source language/target language, the responsibility of the translator cannot be reduced to fidelity to one or the other. Instead, as Lawrence Venuti writes in “Translation, Empiricism, Ethics,” we must consider the ethics of translation in a world dominated by capitalist and imperialist ideologies and strive to “construct a new intellectual community that did not previously exist.” This might include overcoming institutional, political, or socioeconomic barriers set by academia and publishing.

Too narrow a focus on the ethical aspects of translation, however, risks obscuring and strengthening the very hierarchies it aims to tear down, since, as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak notes in “The Politics of Translation,” an ethical approach implicitly pushes translation in the direction of turning “the other into something like the self.” A defiant translation might therefore also aim to reject false equivalences and neutralities by examining dynamics of domestication, foreignization, and exoticization.

We welcome papers engaging these, or other, expressions of defiance within the field of translation. Proposals might examine, but are not limited to, the following topics.

Translation and:

—linguistic hierarchies based on factors such as region, class, race, and gender.
—code switching, heteroglossia, or creolization.
—relationships across marginalized communities.
—decolonial strategies.
—historicity and anachronism.
—authenticity and representation.
—the cooptation of texts, authors, and movements.
—untranslatability, nonsense, or constructed languages.
—power dynamics within publishing, academic, and cultural institutions.

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