- Embodied Molecular TranslationMy Not-So-Personal Experience of Translating Spivak and Haraway
As a social scholar and translator located in Taiwan, an island with multiple colonization in East Asia, I have come to realize that the work of translation is an embodied experience and implies molecular movements that unceasingly traverse preexisting boundaries and frequently rework them. These border-crossing processes happen at many levels and constitute what I have called "molecular translation." Molecular translation occurs whenever a thinker/translator comes across texts of different languages or paradigms and thereby works to stretch the boundaries of her own linguistic and cultural boundaries (Chuang 2019, 2016, 2012). Crossing boundaries can certainly be a pleasure, but also comes with political responsibility and ethical burden of reconstituting new borders.
What is the relationship between different notions of translation in different disciplines? Linguistic and cultural translation is molecular in the sense that it is continually crossing, negotiating, and reworking the previous boundaries between different linguistic and cultural systems. The processes of molecular translation also cut through the fictional dichotomy of culture and nature, not to mention the so-called human and natural sciences. The material standpoint of the translator is also embedded in one's work of translation along with the broader historical-material situation. We are living in an ever-expanding web woven with heterogeneous elements that, originally or accidentally, came from [End Page 129] different local ecological systems. The historical encounter of different cultures as ecological systems is often violent, colonialist, and traumatic, transformative in some aspects and destructive in others.
The molecular turn in contemporary sciences has highlighted the fact that various complicated molecular mechanisms work to sustain our bodies and the physical worlds, indeed our universe. Molecular biologists have used terms like "transcription," "translation," and "replication" to describe the organic processes in the transfer of messages and the making of proteins. Naming and description are actions more than speeches. Scientists' naming and description actively participate in the emergence of the scientific object. The act of naming and describing is performative, as Karen Barad (2007) points out. It is imperative to remember that scientific glossary like "molecular translation" is already a metaphorical trope borrowing from other disciplines or fields, including literature and physics. Translation can mean many things: change of position, a transformation of meaning, or both. The metaphor of writing is ubiquitous in the scientific discourse and technological industry of life. Indeed, as Donna Haraway (1991) suggests, DNA has become "the code of codes."
The interdisciplinary catachresis is a revealing case. Catachresis means "misuse." It could mean a "wrong word" for a specific context or a semantic error. The "incorrect" use or abuse of words, however, often overflows, stretches, and redefines a semantic horizon. The distinction between a correct and incorrect use of a word is not always easy to make. This is what happens in Gayatri Spivak's notion of "postcolonial catachresis." Following the legacy of deconstruction, Spivak (1999, 251) cautions us that the operation of catachresis is bound to "the empirical." Otherwise, we might be caught in the unproductive dichotomy between the theoretical and the practical. The detachment of the concept-metaphor from the empirical can lead to reification of a concept. A catachresis can be performative and productive when one learns how to avoid conceptual reification, what Alfred Whitehead calls the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, or even a version of conceptual fetishism, such as the common mistake of genetic fetishism in popular science (Haraway 1997, 141–148).
In my experience of translating Spivak's A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (1999) and Haraway's Simians, Cyborgs and Women (1991) as well as other academic works into Chinese texts in Taiwan, it was difficult if not impossible to draw a line between the personal and the public. There is no such thing as a personal translation of feminist works in Taiwan, or in any part of the world, especially in the so-called "non-Western" societies. The personal is political, and the public is always already personal in terms of feminist politics, writing, and translating. It is never simply about the so-called "introduction of ideas." It cannot help but involve constant embodied...