4 minute read

Translation

Translator: The Subject In Transit

Is it possible to understand the act of translation outside monolingual address? To respond to this question, it may be helpful to consider the translator's position of address. When engaged in the task of translation, can she perform a speech act such as making a promise? Is the translator responsible for what she says while translating? Because of the translator's unavoidably ambiguous position, the answer too is ambiguous. Yes, she can make a promise, but only on behalf of someone else. She "herself" cannot make a promise. The translator is responsible for her translation but she cannot be held responsible for the pledges expressed in it, because she is not allowed to say what she means; she is required to say what she says without meaning it. In essence, the translator is someone who cannot say "I." Here the problem of the invariant message returns as the question of meaning, of what the translator "means" to say.

In relation to the source text, the translator seems to occupy the position of the addressee. She listens or reads what the original addresser enunciates. At the same time, however, there is no supposition that the addresser is speaking or writing to her. The addressee of the enunciation is not located where the translator is; in translation, the addressee is always located elsewhere. Here again the translator's positionality is inherently ambiguous: she is both an addressee and not an addressee. She cannot be the "you" to whom the addresser refers.

A similar disjunction can be observed in the enunciation of the target text—that is, in the translation. In relation to the audience of the target text, the translator seems to occupy the position of the addresser. The translator speaks or writes to the audience. But it is seemingly not the translator herself who speaks or writes to the addressee. The I uttered by the translator does not designate the translator herself but rather the subject of the original enunciation. And if the translator does indicate the subject of the translated enunciation by saying I—in a "translator's note," for example—she will then have to designate the original addresser as he or she.

In other words, in translation, the subject of the enunciation and the subject of the enunciated—the speaking I and the I that is signified—are not expected to coincide. The translator's desire is at least displaced, if not entirely dissipated, in the translated enunciation, if by desire one understands that what is signified by I in "my" utterance, ought to coincide with the supposedly concrete and unique—but imagined—existence of "me" (the desire expressed as "I want to be myself"). This is why the translator cannot be designated straightforwardly either as I or you: she disrupts the attempt to appropriate the relation of addresser and addressee as a personal relation between the first person and the second person. According to Émile Benveniste, only those directly addressing and those directly addressed can be called persons, whereas he, she, and they cannot be so designated (Benveniste, p. 224). Hence, the addresser, the translator, and the addressee cannot be persons simultaneously. The translator cannot be the first or second person, or even the third "person" undisruptively. Ineluctably, translation introduces an instability into the putatively personal relations among the agents of speech, writing, listening, and reading. The translator is internally split and multiple, devoid of a stable position. At best, she is a subject in transit.

In the first place, this is because the translator cannot be an "individual" in the sense of individuum, the undividable unit. In the second, it is because she is a singular that marks an elusive point of discontinuity in the social, even though translation is the practice of creating continuity from discontinuity. Translation is a poietic social practice that institutes a relation at the site of incommensurability. This is why the discontinuity inherent in translation would be completely repressed if one were to determine translation as the communication of information; the ambiguity inherent in the translator's positionality would have to be entirely overlooked as translation is grasped as the transfer of information.

The internal split within the translator demonstrates how the subject constitutes itself. In a sense, this internal split is homologous to what is known as the "fractured I." The temporality of "I speak" necessarily introduces an irreparable distance between the speaking I and the I signified, between the subject of the enunciation and the subject of the enunciated. The subject in the sense that I am here and now speaking designates the subject of the enunciation, but it does not signify it because every signifier of the subject of the enunciation may be lacking in the enunciated or the statement. In the case of translation, however, an ambiguity in the translator's personality marks the instability of the we as subject rather than the I, since the translator cannot be a unified and coherent personality in translation. This suggests a different attitude of address, namely, "heterolingual address" (Sakai, pp. i–xii)—that is, a situation in which one addresses oneself as a foreigner to another foreigner. Held captive in the regime of translation, however, the translator is supposed to assume the role of the transcendent arbitrator, not only between the addresser and the addressee but also between their linguistic communities. As monolingual address, translation, as a process of creating continuity in discontinuity, is often replaced by the representation of translation in which translation is schematized according to the co-figurative communication model.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Toxicology - Toxicology In Practice to TwinsTranslation - The Concept Of Translation And Its Complexity, Translator: The Subject In Transit, Modernity And The Schema Of Co-figuration: A Genealogy Of The Modern