Review of Sarah Maitland: What is cultural translation - Kapsaskis 2019.pdf

Review of Sarah Maitland: What is cultural translation - Kapsaskis 2019.pdf
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  Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found athttp://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=rtrs20 Translation Studies ISSN: 1478-1700 (Print) 1751-2921 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rtrs20 What is cultural translation? Dionysios Kapsaskis To cite this article:  Dionysios Kapsaskis (2019): What is cultural translation?, Translation Studies,DOI: 10.1080/14781700.2018.1559762 To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/14781700.2018.1559762 Published online: 02 Jan 2019.Submit your article to this journal Article views: 6View Crossmark data  BOOK REVIEW What is cultural translation? , by Sarah Maitland, London and New York, BloomsburyPublishing, 2017, 192 pp., £81.00/£22.49/£21.58 (hardbound/paperback/e-book), ISBN9781472526861/ 9781472526274/ 9781472530455 Sarah Maitland ’ s  What Is Cultural Translation?   constitutes a bold attempt to de 󿬁 ne a conceptthat remains one of the most ambiguous in the  󿬁 eld of translation studies. As the authorexplains in her preface, cultural translation is an  “ evocative and frustratingly abstruse ” concept (p. vii). Maitland sets out to convince the reader that it is also an urgent one, at atime when di ff  erences between people across the globe are accentuated, reciprocal understand-ing becomes problematic, and mediation is more important than ever before.I think of Maitland ’ s endeavor as bold for two reasons. First, because she resists some of thedominant conceptualizations of cultural translation in order to propose one of her own that isdistinctly di ff  erent and not based on a cultural theory (such as those of Bhabha and Spivak,which are discussed in the introduction). Second, because, unlike other mainstream translationtheory concepts which are not explicitly contextualized in relation to any critical theory, Mait-land ’ s concept of cultural translation draws on twentieth-century continental philosophy andspeci 󿬁 cally on critical hermeneutics. This theoretical model is important for Maitland ’ s analy-sis insofar as it champions a way of understanding the world that not only preserves di ff  erencebut also builds upon it so as to inform new ways of thinking. This model is best represented inthe work of French philosopher Paul Ricoeur, the main theoretical reference of the book.For Ricoeur, cultural life is a constellation of meaningful phenomena that can be viewed as atext that is constantly being written and in which di ff  erence and otherness express themselves.The reader of this text is each one of us as a member of a shared cultural heritage. We are thuscalled upon to interpret this text using our creative imagination, assimilating the di ff  erencesthat are embedded in it and producing new ones. Maitland picks up precisely on our ability to creatively re-interpret cultural phenomena as if they were texts, in order to establish ananalogy with translation. She analyses the archetypal mode of   interlingual   translation withreference to a dialectics of sameness and otherness that leads to something new and unprece-dented. According to her,  “ [t]ranslation [ … ] both preserves and overcomes distance, for itboth acknowledges that which is di ff  erent and inscribes it within its own creations ”  (p. 99).Based on this analogy between translation and hermeneutic interpretation, and drawing onthe work of Walter Benjamin and George Steiner in addition to Ricoeur, Maitland organizesher argument in such a way as to eventually reach a startling conclusion: not only is translationpresent in cultural transactions of every kind, but in order to understand ourselves and theworld at all,  “ we must employ cultural translation ”  (p. 161).The book is organized in  󿬁  ve chapters that represent key gestures in people ’ s criticalengagement with culture. These gestures are: interpretation, distanciation, incorporation,transformation and emancipation. Addressing each one of them, Maitland explains how Ricoeur ’ s critical hermeneutics help us understand the work of translation in cultural life,and its implications for e ff  ecting change in society. In chapter 1,  “ Interpretation ” , theauthor explains that we always process reality through representational (symbolic) thinking and that language and action are not simply means to an end but the very substance of being alive. In other words, interpretation is an ontological mode of being rather than a tech-nique of arriving at pre-existing truths. Based on that, Maitland formulates her approach asfollows (p. 53): TRANSLATION STUDIES  My approach to cultural translation is concerned with investigating how di ff  erent peopleoperationalize interpretation in di ff  erent times and in di ff  erent places in a bid to achievedi ff  erent ends within di ff  erent audiences. It locates in the social world of human expressionpolitical gestures of motivation, determination and desire we associate most commonly withthe audience-directed nature of interlingual translation. While we constantly interpret the world around us, cultural translation refers speci 󿬁 cally tothose engaged acts of interpretation that are directed towards particular audiences and aimat particular goals. As the above quotation suggests, in the process of cultural translation, itis not the intended meaning of the author of a text (including cultural  “ texts ” ) that mattersso much as the motivations and desires of the text ’ s interpreters and receivers.The idea of the autonomy of the text is discussed in chapter 2,  “ Distanciation ” . This notioncan be thought of in relation to the broader theme of detachment and alienation which lies atthe heart of philosophical and aesthetic modernity, predominantly in terms of the impossi-bility of having non-mediated access to reality   –  whether natural or cultural. Following Ricoeur (and Rorty, whom she also quotes), Maitland turns this problem on its head by suggesting that lack of access to authorial intention and, more generally, absence of   󿬁 xedpoints of interpretation must be celebrated as conditions enabling freedom. The work of cul-tural translation is not that of mourning for the loss of the author, but that of developing adialectics of distanciation and approximation aiming, in Ricoeur ’ s words,  “ to unfold, infront of the text, the  ‘ world ’  it opens up and discloses ”  (Ricoeur 2008, 33, quoted in Maitlandp. 79.)Once this is granted, the way is open for Maitland to claim that translation is an  “ exercise of sovereign authority  ”  (p. 100)  –  a statement which begs the question, whose authority and inwhat terms? At one point in chapter 3,  “ Incorporation ” , Maitland states that  “ [a] translatedtext does not seek to represent the intentions of the author of the srcinal foreign text butthe totality it projects before the translator and the translator ’ s construction of such aworld ”  (p. 87). Clearly, then, the authority of interpretation emanates strictly from the culturaltext, and the terms are those of the interpreter who creatively appropriates it so that the “ in 󿬁 nite possibilities for understanding located in it ”  are revealed (p. 103). This is a liberating gesture thanks to which the interpreter, having incorporated the text, actively owns and trans-forms it for the purpose of cultural critique. Importantly, after the opening up of interpret-ations, Maitland ’ s translational model requires the interpreter to  󿬁 x upon a speci 󿬁 c non-exclusive solution and take full responsibility for that choice.In chapters 4,  “ Transformation ” , and 5,  “ Emancipation ” , Maitland discusses the termsbased on which this choice is made and the wider implications of cultural translation for per-sonal improvement and social progress. Following Ricoeur, Maitland claims that, through theexperience of distanciation, we resist the fallacy of the autonomy of consciousness and begin tounderstand ourselves as truly others. The transformative potential of this realization, especially when it manifests itself as oppositional action in the cultural space, has the potential to lead tothe emancipation of the self and society. As in every chapter, Maitland discusses this withreference to a wealth of examples in which audience-focused and sometimes irreverent (e.g.satirical) re-enactments of speci 󿬁 c cultural practices are enlisted in the cause of social and cul-tural change.Maitland ’ s account of cultural translation is coherent, profound and fascinating to read. Atthe same time, it leaves some questions unanswered, at least for this reader. The most impor-tant one concerns the possibility of judgement that allows us to evaluate the work of culturaltranslation as not only   “ resistant ”  and  “ subversive ”  but also  “ emancipatory  ”  (all of these wordsare used in the book). Maitland shows well how, through cultural appropriation, we can exposethe illusion of single truths and thus  “ [translate] ideology back to itself  ”  (p. 151). What remains 2 BOOK REVIEW  to be explained is how this process can be trusted to provide a framework for social emancipa-tion, especially since, quite evidently, cultural translation can be operationalized to achieve the “ wrong  ”  goals (e.g. racist or oppressive). This point is particularly relevant at the current pol-itical juncture when a culture war rhetoric is increasingly being used to steer the discussionaway from real issues and progressive policies, in many parts of the world. Maitlandanswers this question by evoking Ricoeur ’ s motif of the hermeneutic  “ wager ”  (p. 139 and145): while we cannot empirically verify our interpretations, we must wager on the possibility of attesting their validity in qualitative ways. In other words, we must believe that sound (i.e.better attested) interpretations will prevail over unsound ones. There is a messianic undertoneto this belief and,  pace  Maitland ’ s carefully chosen examples, it remains unclear to me how cultural translation ’ s wager pays o ff   over time, in terms of its emancipatory e ff  ects.Despite these aporias, Maitland ’ s book makes a strong and valid case for the relevance of translation as a critical tool in the analysis of cultural phenomena. It also shows how trans-lation in the restricted, textual sense of the term can be used to inform analytical practicesthat extend beyond interlingual transfer and are applicable to the study of broader socialand cultural transformations. Note on contributor Dionysios Kapsaskis  is Senior Lecturer in Translation at the University of Roehampton, London,where he is programme director of the MA Translation and the MA Intercultural Communicationin the Creative Industries. Kapsaskis lectures on translation theory, audiovisual translation andtranscreation, as well as on French literature and culture. His research has appeared in varioustranslation and literature journals including   Perspectives: Studies in Translation Theory and Prac-tice ,  Translation Studies , and  Dalhousie French Studies . His editorial work includes guest-editedissues in the journals  Synthesis  (2012), and  The Journal of Specialised Translation  (2018). Kapsaskisis currently co-editing with Esperança Bielsa  The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Globali-zation  (forthcoming 2020). Reference Ricoeur, Paul. 2008.  From Text to Action . Translated by Kathleen Blamey. London: Continuum. Dionysios Kapsaskis  Media Culture and Language, University of Roehampton, London, UK  d.kapsaskis@roehampton.ac.uk  © 2019 Dionysios Kapsaskishttps://doi.org/10.1080/14781700.2018.1559762  TRANSLATION STUDIES 3
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