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Translating Philosophy

Translating Philosophy
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    Translating Philosophy Elad Lapidot The purpose of this article is to raise the question of translating philosophy. Its basic observation is translation’s unique relation to philosophy within that area of human existence to which philosophy has been assigned almost from its very beginning, namely within science. 1. The “Translated Science” In fact, if we look at the institution of science, the place where science happens, in teaching and research, if we look at the University, nowadays, it is clearer than ever that translations distinctively stand at the center of philosophy. In no other academic discipline is the textbook so often translated. In English speaking universities this fact may be more easily overlooked, since it seems natural that most basic texts are writ-ten and read in English. The occasion for translation seldom arises. However, in Uni-versities that teach in other languages, students in almost all disciplines are very aware that they are required to read srcinal texts: either in their own language or in English. “Introduction to Political Science” is seldom translated. You read it in Eng-lish or you write one in your own language. In political philosophy, on the contrary, almost any BA student today will read a translation of Plato’s philosophical textbook about politics, “The Republic”. Furthermore, in no other discipline is the translated text so often the studied object itself. Sciences whose objects are texts generally look at the srcinal. Students of French literature would ultimately be expected to read Flaubert in French. Not so the philosophy students in the seminar on Rousseau. In-deed, judging by its curriculum, “philosophy” can be defined as the “translated science”. It is all the more astonishing, therefore, to take notice of the almost absolute lack   of philosophical translation as a theme of scientific research in general, whether translated or not. Notwithstanding translation’s seemingly distinctive importance for philosophy, science, in its present state, not only does not recognize any special rela-   name contributor 2 tion between translation and philosophy, but for the most part 1  ignores the theme of philosophical translation. This state of science may well be characterized as an “em-barrassment” (Venuti, 1998: 106). It is precisely with the embarrassment of science, its being at a loss, the  aporia , that philosophical questioning begins. 2. The Evil Translation The lack of scientific questioning of the translation of philosophical texts, as scientif-ic texts, can certainly be no mere omission. One of science’s essential themes is pre-cisely the way in which its own text is produced, namely the scientific method  . Since one of the very beginnings of science, since at least Aristotle, the way true things are said, the  Logic , constitutes not only a basic concern of science, but one of the deter-mining subjects of that discipline of science which philosophy is to become. Yet consider Aristotle’s book of Logic, which is one of the most translated books by one of the most translated philosophers of all time. The title,  Περ    Ερµηνεας  , could be literally translated as “On Translation”. Instead, it has been traditionally translated in English as “On Interpretation”. The book, indeed, seems not to talk about transla-tion at all. On the contrary, its opening sentences, which are some of the opening sen-tences of the history of philosophy, according to the English translation, speak against translation. At the very beginning of the text Aristotle is translated by H.P. Crooke and H. Tredennick as saying the following:   As writing, so also is speech not the same for all races of men. But the mental affections themselves, of which these words are primarily signs, are the same for the whole of man-kind (16a4-9, Cooke & Tredennick, 1938). What this text suggests is that the German word  Brot   is a different thing than the French word “pain” – they look differently, they sound differently. But the mental af-fectation, the image that the German-speaking person has in mind when she says “Brot” is identical to the mental affectation connected to the French word “pain”. Simply put, these two words are two different names for the same thing: bread. That is, from the very beginning of philosophy, it seems that different languages are un-derstood to be just different names for the same things. 1  The few recent exceptions include Venuti (1998), Moutaux et Bloch (2000), Albert (2001), Ż ychli ń ski (2006).  3 header article   This historically prevalent understanding of language and linguistic diversity has always led to a profound paradox with respect to translation: Seemingly, the equivalence of names constitutes not only the most basic condition for the very possibility of translation, but the very reason to engage in translation. If dif-ferent languages are just different names for the same things, then, for the sake of science, the factual diversity of languages constitutes a pathology of communication, which translation is called upon to relieve. Translation is about building a bridge. If we can’t all speak the same language, translation is the lesser evil. However, if linguistic diversity is indeed in itself a pathological case of com-munication, then the way for science to deal with the empirical diversity of languages should not be translation. If translating from one language to another means using different names for the same thing, then translation itself only creates confusion, more confusion than there already is, and so for science it is not simply the lesser evil, but evil pure and simple. In fact, quite consistently, science’s policy in dealing with the empirical diver-sity of languages has never been translation, but rather the creation of one language, one universal language, which would make translation unnecessary. Science’s ideal is not translation, but one language. This can be most convincingly observed in transla-tion’s own science, the science of translation. 3. Science of Translation (1) Non-Translation of Science The twentieth-century science of translation emerged with modern linguistics, largely determined by the Saussurian approach to language as a formal system of signs. Ro-man Jakobson’s seminal essay on translation thus considers interlingual translation as a special case of translation, construed in general terms as the substitution of any lin-guistic sign for “some further, alternative sign” (Jakobson 1959: 113). The paradigm of translation, therefore, is determined as “equivalence in difference” 2 . 2   The equivalence ideal also defines, negatively, the research of “translation shifts” from “formal correspon-dence” (Catford, 1965), as well as the variants of the situational (Snell-Hornby, 1988), functional (Holz-Mänttäri, 1984; Vermeer, 1990; Nord, 1993) and “relevancy” (Gutt, 1991) approaches to equivalence.     name contributor 4 Translational equivalence-linguistics works to expose the one equal value of different linguistic signs. In other words, it looks for the tertium comparationis, which would constitute the universal language. For this purpose translational linguistics has been using models such as Chomsky’s generative grammar and deep syntactic structures as well as the analysis of structural semantics 3 . The equivalence ideal is ultimately in-vested by contemporary science in the project of Machine Translation, which, not-withstanding its name, does not embody the concept of translation between different languages, but the scientific ideal of linguistic indifference, namely of the interlingua that requires no translation. This paradoxically self-annihilating, anti-translational ideal nurtured by transla-tion science itself is best manifest by translation science’s current understanding of the translation of science. “Scientific translation” is almost without exception oriented according to the natural sciences and indiscriminately fused with the “tech-nical” translation (Jumpelt, 1961). Scientific-technical translation is universally con-sidered to be less problematic than other types of translation due to the universality of scientific language. Yet, being “technical”, the translation of science, an epitome of interlingua, is considered “the poor cousin of ‘real’ translation” (Byrne, 2006), being “unworthy of theoretical treatment” (Horn-Helf, 1999) – and, indeed, is rarely theo-rized. (2) Translation of Non-Science So, while some research exists on translation of religious scriptures 4 , science’s para-digm of translation has more often been, especially in the last decades, the translation of literature. As far as science is concerned, the words of literature are primarily un-derstood not in their reference to realty, but in their own reality, as text. This is why, for science, literature is inherently fiction: it is not science, but only an object for science. Accordingly, literary translation science no longer refers to translation as a part of science, but as a certain fact of literature (Even-Zohar, 1990). “Translation Stu-dies” are an “empirical discipline” of “translation phenomena” (Holmes, 1972). Con-sequently, by turning away from linguistics, science does not challenge the concept 3   For instance the Leipzig School (Kade 1968). A similar direction is taken by more recent research in dis-course analysis (House 1997; Baker 1992; Hatim/Mason 1997).   4   Notably on the Bible (Nida 2001) and increasingly the Koran (Mustapha 2009).    5 header article   of translation as name-equivalence, but renounces any concept of translation alto-gether. Its object is anything “offered” as translation - “no further questions asked” (Toury, 1995: 26). The only remaining feature of translation is thus the relation be-tween different languages, which are no longer considered as different names for the same things, but simply as different things: as different cultures. Translation becomes “cultural transfer” (Frank/Turk, 2004). The “cultural turn” of translation studies 5  certainly led to a renewal of critical study, reopening the question of translation theory and practice 6 . However, paradig-matically considering the translated text as literature (understood as the expression of a particular culture) and not as science (that aspires to a universal truth), culturally and socially critical translation studies further increase the gap between science and translation. Science of translation becomes the “representation of migration and dias-pora, in just the one global language, English” (Trivedi, 2007: 287). 4. Philosophy of Translation Science’s problematic understanding of translation is also dominant in the science that is  translated, namely in philosophy. Notwithstanding the long history of transla-tion of philosophical texts, philosophy itself has rarely conceived its own translation as inherent to philosophy’s essence or translation in general as one of philosophy’s central themes. If we look at some of the most influential and exemplary 7  discussions of translation that were  offered by philosophy in the twentieth-century, it is the same negative concept of translation that unites two of the main schools dividing contem-porary philosophy: the hermeneutical and the analytical. For one of the leading proponents of modern hermeneutics , Hans Georg Gadamer, for example, translation is the paradigm of “situations where coming to an under-standing [ Verständigung ] is disrupted or impeded”, as translated by Weinsheimer and Marshall. This claim appears in Gadamer’s well-known book, Wahrheit und Methode  (1960), which has been translated to date into Italian, English, French, Spanish, Ser-bo-Croatian, Japanese, Hungarian, Romanian, Chinese, Polish and Portuguese. Con-   5   Important research orientations include postcolonial studies (Niranjana, 1992; Spivak, 1993), feminist theory (Gerlach, 2008), queer theory (Harvey, 2003), transformation (Böhme/Rapp/Rösler, 2007) and globa-lization (Apter, 2006; Cronin, 2006)   6  See Liu, 1995; Venuti, 1995; Tymoczko 2007.   7  I recognize at least three important exceptions to that rule, which I will treat in a later article: Walter Benja-min, Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida.
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