NSTS: Day 1

In my first post, I gave a summary of the first paper this morning from Phil Towner. Below is a summary of the two other presentations on 5/26. In between we had an excellent lunch (of course) with wine (of course) and excellent conversation (of course). I will try not to dwell too much on those topics, but you may safely assume that at any moment I am talking with somebody smart while sipping something tasty. (I will say that the fresh ravioli with pesto at dinner was especially delicious.)

Timothy Beal, "Face to Face: Translation as Ethical Encounter"

This was the first of three presentations that Tim will deliver during the conference. He began by raising the question of the ethics of the engagement of the translator with the source text. What can we do to avoid our translations becoming a sort of "aggressive imperial comprehension?" [That is his excellent phrase.] This led to a fascinating discussion of Levinas on the self's engagement with the Other, which he applied not only to the engagement of the translator with the text-as-Other, but also, through the text, the recognition of the Other within oneself (via Ricoeur).

Heaven knows this is not the place to try to explain (or understand) Levinas, but here are two points that I found particularly compelling. First is Levinas's statement that since the Other confronts us as a face, the face demands a response. It cannot be contained or turned into content. "It is uncontainable, it leads you to the beyond." Tim connected this idea to Job's demand in Job 21:5–6, "Face me and be devastated. Put your hands over your mouth!" There is something unresolvable in the deep mystery of Job's experience that must be "faced," which in Hebrew can imply presence and physical proximity. Translation is that unresolvable encounter with the Other.

Second, he noted Levinas's distinction between the Saying and the Said. The saying is the self-exposing aspect of language before it is absorbed into the linguistic system of the Said. It is an ethical openness to the other. The Said is an ontological closure of the Saying. Tim's point was that the process of translation must awaken in the Said the Saying that is absorbed in it. There is room for new Saying within the Said, growing out of the unassimilable remainder of language.

If you're not a theory nerd, that may make no sense at all. Perfectly fine! Remember that I'm giving a pale description of words that Tim spoke through his engagement with an English translation of Levinas's French original, itself very dense. The paper itself is an illustration of Levinas's point, it seems to me.

Anyway, he then moved to the idea that we may be able create a "foreignizing" translation that creates this kind of destabilized openness to the text (à la Venuti), and presented his own creative and highly original translation of Genesis 1:1–5. I won't share it here without his permission, but the discussion afterward was quite vigorous. The opening paragraph of Genesis is a good test case for Levinas's perspective 1) because the very first word is deeply ambiguous and polyvalent, and 2) creation emerges through God's encounter with "the face of the deep." In that moment just before order is spoken into being by God, it is fecund with possibility.

Edwin Gentzler, "Beyond Translation: On Post-Translation Studies"

Edwin's first presentation was easier to summarize but no less interesting. He discussed the development of Translation Studies from its beginnings as a "Pre-discipline" of non-academic translation in the 50s and 60s, and as a Discipline in the 70s and 80s. The emerging field (which began in some senses at Leuven, but really in several places in Europe at around the same time) quickly destabilized in the 90s and 2000s into an Interdiscipline. Most of the books in the last 2 decades followed an integrated approach that joined translation with subjects such as minorities, gender, language, empire, ethics, psychology, etc.

Gentzler's argument is that the interdisciplinary approach of those years did not go far enough. Now, he sees a development that he terms, "Post-translation," in which the focus is not simply on texts or linguistics, but on the myriad ways in which people constantly translate ideas from one system into another. His own work has focused on community and minority translations in the Americas, particularly in hidden, out of sight contexts in which it is a part of minority existence within a dominant language.

Thus, translation is not a separate discipline; it inheres everywhere, and can be analyzed in diverse forms such as performance, creative writing, art, architecture, and pluralinguism. He argued that "every discipline depends upon and thrives within translation studies." This led to a vigorous discussion from those in the non-Western context (the majority of the group, by the way), who objected that they do not yet have fully functional "Translation Studies" programs in their country, so why should we now be calling for its dissolution? He conceded the point, and it emerged that the "discipline" of Translation Studies is helpful inasmuch as it draws a boundary for scholars who are interested in phenomenologically similar processes. However, the field should constantly interact with other disciplines, especially in the engagement with actual "translations" of various types, beyond purely theoretical reflection.