- Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts
Translation, assimilation, and exoticism are among some of the strategies Western scholars and critics use to accommodate or come to terms with alterity. Such representational strategies establish the perceived relationship between the West and the “other” as they illustrate the politics of power which are operative in those relationships. To this end, the “other” is sufficiently defined and explained within the Western matrix of understanding. Translation, then, was defined solely as the linguistic process which consisted in transferring meaning from one language to another. As [End Page 232] Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier demonstrate, however, with the publication of Between Languages and Cultures, “translation is also the vehicle through which ‘Third World’ cultures [are made to] travel—transported or ‘borne across’ to and recuperated by audiences in the West.” With this expanded definition of translation in mind, they point out that even texts written in English or in one of the metropolitan languages but originating in or about non-Western cultures can be considered under the rubric of translation.
Although the book is “naturally” divided into five sections, readers soon realize, and the editors themselves are the first to point out, that the essays do not belong exclusively in given sections. On the contrary, there is a great deal of overlap and difference with respect to both style and topic, and the editors have merely “sought to retain that heterogeneity, believing that translation is not so much a discipline as an interdisciplinary practice that occurs in diverse contexts.”
Section one of the book, “Translators on Translating Across Cultures,” brings together essays of individual translators, the decisions they make regarding specific texts, and the various cultural, social, and political imperatives that influence those decisions as they seek to render “non-Western” texts into English. As these essays demonstrate, although current work on translation theory draws on various disciplines in order to foreground and explore the mediatory role of translation, the cross-cultural dimensions of translation practice have yet to be fully articulated. Whether one views translation as marking difference or transcending it, however, it is obvious that as an activity, translation should make cross-cultural power relations more visible and further enhance equitable cross-cultural exchanges.
The second section of the book, “(Not) Translating Across Cultures,” addresses the absence or lack of cross-cultural translation. The essays in this section deal precisely with those moments of absence when texts, languages, and cultures perceived as subordinate are not “transported” on their own terms or on terms congenial to those cultures regarded as dominant. While pointing out that this absence may be deliberate or inadvertent, these essays disclose the asymmetrical power relationships that obtain between so-called “dominant” and “dominated” languages and cultures.
The third section, “Examining Translations and Cross-Cultural Encounters,” focuses on the problematics of translating between the “First” and the “Third” worlds. It addresses both the impediments and the potential of the translation process at the moment of the encounter between the two cultures. The first essay, “Aimé Césaire’s Subjective Geographies: Translating Place and the Difference It Makes,” which sets the stage for the other essays in this section concerned with the exploration of the “space” crossed in translation, deals with Césaire’s deconstruction of colonial ideologies. Its author, Indira Karamcheti, however, sees Césaire’s project as both deconstructive and constructive. This is because, as she argues, Césaire “deconstructs the cult of the exotic which transforms the Caribbean into commodities fetishized by the European,” at the same time as he “self-consciously constructs a Caribbean subject by creating myths of origins, a genesis, and a genealogy” that sets his texts against those of the [End Page 233] French colonizers. For Karamcheti, who is also interested in translating Césaire into English, even though Césaire’s text can subvert the dominance of metropolitan French speakers over black Francophone speakers, translation of the text into English can undo that subversion through the structures of dominance embedded in the English...