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 Lost in Translation? Tracing Linguistic and Economic Transactions in Three Texts TAT - S I O N G B E N N Y L I E W With her suggestion of using the term ‘‘planetary,’’ Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak talks about an interdependence beyond postcolonial independence and hence ‘‘an undivided ‘natural’ space rather than a differentiated political space.’’1 Part of that interdependence involves, for Spivak, the need to learn another language so that one can read its literature—especially its poetry—to experience the impossible.2 In a delightfully ironic way, Spivak also sees language learning as a way to counteract the temptation to accept and abet the neocolonial status quo behind the pretext that transcultural knowledge is plainly and simply impossible.3 She is clear, at the same time, that a lot of persons learn languages for a different purpose, namely, for trade.4 The lines between linguistic, intellectual, cultural, and financial exchange are, of course, also almost impossible to draw. For Karl Marx, the way ideas in the form of a mother tongue need a foreign language to produce meaning is comparable to how commodities need prices to produce value. These parallel processes enable circulation and exchange; Marx further capitalizes on the foreign quality of language to verbalize, textualize, or transcribe the experience of alienation under capitalist societies. In a section of Capital titled ‘‘The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof,’’ Marx writes, ‘‘It is value . . . that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic. Later on, we try to decipher the hieroglyphic, to get behind the secret of our own social products; for to stamp an object of utility as value, is just as much a social product as language.’’5 In other words, the change from actual labor to abstract labor is a process of transformation—or translation—that is hard to read, unless you learn how to read the language. Similarly, Ferdinand de PAGE 102 ................. 17764$ $CH6 10-28-10 12:07:00 PS t r ac i n g l i n gu i s ti c a nd e c on o m ic t r an s a ct i o ns 兩 1 03 Saussure states that both economics and linguistics ‘‘are concerned with a system for equating things of different orders—labor and wages in one and a signified and signifier in the other.’’6 Transactions of translations—from which language into which language?—are also market-driven and dependent . In 1987, for instance, translations of books from English for Brazilian readers outnumbered translations of Brazilian works into English by a ratio of one hundred to one.7 In 1985 Spivak published ‘‘Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism .’’8 And twice, she has published a book by translating three different short stories of Mahasweta Devi from Bengali into English.9 In what follows, I would like to focus on reading three brief texts or stories—all of them concerning loss and translation—to talk about the complicated relations between language and money in the context of imperialism and Spivak’s planetary love. BETWEEN DIVERSITY AND C OMPLICITY: A THIN L INE Let me begin our textual travels with a story of translation that got lost. By getting lost, I mean both how a project of translation turned into something else and how this story has been largely forgotten. I. A. Richards was one of the most prominent literary theorists of the first half of the twentieth century and, as such, possessed of an influence comparable to that of Spivak in her role as a founding figure of postcolonial theory and criticism. Richards was ‘‘a founder of the ‘Cambridge School’ of English in the 1920’s.’’10 His influence was trans-Pacific as well as trans-Atlantic. He had also famously compared religious statements to poetry, and his theory of rhetoric— particularly that of metaphor—has continued to be used by some in biblical interpretation.11 Like Spivak, Richards advocates for the power or potential of literary studies. In fact, according to Richards, poetry—notice not only a similar emphasis on poetry by Spivak but also the religious language Richards uses here—‘‘is capable of saving us; it is a perfectly possible means of overcoming [the] chaos’’ of modernity.12 Particularly with his practical criticism, Richards believed that a person might learn to respond fully to a poem. By doing so, one might not only train and facilitate the kind of mental operation that was needed to deal with the...


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