- Introduction:The Embodied Afterlives of Translation
Translation is usually understood as a mimetic transaction between the language of the original and another language into which meaning is reproduced, transposed, or approximated. Although the classical formulation of translation alludes to "sameness of meaning," "almost inevitably," John Sallis observes, "translation goes astray." Translation aims at approximation, if not replication, yet in transposing one meaning onto another set of coordinates, "it cannot but breach the sameness in the foray that must be made into alterity, for instance, into the alterity of another language." In attempting to ford difference in the service of legibility, however, translation itself becomes vulnerable to what Sallis calls the "excessive drift of the sense of translation":
Once translation is extended to cover the very operation of signification as such, it will contaminate, as it were, whatever is bound to discourse. On the other hand, one may, with some legitimacy no doubt, insist on limiting the drift of translation, on restricting the sense of the word such that it applies only to certain linkages between signifiers in different languages and perhaps also between signifiers in a single language.1
In emphasizing the "excessive drift of the sense of translation," Sallis is acknowledging the conventionally narrow yet potentially limitless scope of the concept. Translation may contract to circumscribe "only certain linkages between signifiers in different [End Page 185] languages" or expand to become coextensive with signification itself: "as such, it will contaminate, as it were, whatever is bound to discourse."
The essays in this special issue stage a productive surrender to this sense of translation as intractable drift, a way of naming and approaching the crosscurrents of cultural discourses whose effects and afterlives can be managed but never fully foreclosed as they move across conflicted, differential fields. In addition to this sense of being carried along a spatial trajectory, drift by definition refers also to "a deviation from a true reproduction, representation, or reading." The term also allows, so my dictionary tells me, another, lesser-known sense of the term: drift as "something driven down upon or forced onto a body,"2 provocatively encapsulating questions of coercion and corporeality in translations conducted under asymmetrical or inequitable conditions (what Talal Asad calls "forcible translation," explored later here).
This special issue brings together interdisciplinary scholarship by young feminist scholars working on Asian film and media from a variety of nationally inscribed and transnationally imbricated perspectives. Four of the six essays gathered here focus on Southeast Asian film and media—contemporary Philippine cinema, Burmese transnational media, 1990s Thai sakon cinema, and Vietnamese diasporic filmmaking—areas that remain profoundly underresearched in the discipline of Film and Media studies. Two of the essays attest to the new market proximities enabled by globalized neoliberal economies: the transnational uptake of a South Korean media celebrity, on the one hand, and of a Hong Kong martial arts genre, on the other.3
Though each case study is singular, the interdisciplinary textual, cultural, political, and industrial critiques of the various scholars assembled in this issue are thematically interrelated and cohesive, which makes the breadth and variation of their contributions all the more exciting. Read together, the essays in this issue affirm the inherent "errancy" of translations, their tendency to wander from or undermine the uses to which they are put.4 These critiques share the conviction that translations are possessed not only of inordinate drift but also of intractable errancy, especially when the site of translation is not confined to language but opens to the irreducible specificities of bodies at the coordinates of gender, sexuality, nation, class, race, cultural and economic policy, spiritual belief, technical history, and generation. In framing the drift of translation as embodied drift, several of the essays demonstrate what happens when body and transformational reinscription are deployed together. What happens when translative operations are [End Page 186] emplotted onto bodies themselves? Unexpected forms of knowledge, profitability, and pleasure, with their accompanying residues, excesses, and elisions, are produced when appropriations, borrowings, adaptations, and repurposings among screen texts are sited on highly particularized bodies.
In a Foucauldian epistemological movement, embodiment is lived as a productive constraint. On the one hand, the body is the...