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The Concept Of Translation And Its Complexity, Translator: The Subject In Transit, Modernity And The Schema Of Co-figuration: A Genealogy Of The Modern

What may summarily be called translation has been practiced in many parts of the world for centuries and even millennia. The rendering of Buddhist texts into literary Chinese and the Latinization of the Bible in the first millennium are two instances of celebrated achievements in the long history of translation. There are countless cases where translations are known to have played a decisive role in the development of literary cultures, pedagogical institutions, ecclesiastic reformations, and the global spread of the nation-state and capitalism, particularly since the Renaissance and the European conquest of the Americas. Yet, until the 1970s or 1980s, translation did not attract much academic attention and consequently had not been studied systematically, though such diverse writers as John Dryden (1631–1700), Motoori Norinaga (1730–1801), and Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) offered insightful speculations on their own practice of translation.

In the early twenty-first century a number of scholars became aware of both the conceptual complexity and the politico-ethical significance of translation. Simultaneously, they came to realize that translations not only in the fields of literature and religion must be problematized but also those in the spheres of commercial advertisement, popular entertainment, public administration, international diplomacy, scientific research and publication, judiciary procedure, immigration, education, and family livelihood.

The conceptual complexity of the term translation and the difficulty in any attempt to define it make it necessary to historicize the particular ways translation has been understood and practiced in modern societies. The politico-ethical significance of translation is always complicit with the construction, transformation, or disruption of power relations. Translation involves moral imperatives on the part of both the addresser and the addressee and can always be viewed, to a greater or lesser degree, as a political maneuver of social antagonism. In addition, the representation of translation produces sociopolitical effects and serves as a technology by which individuals imagine their relation to the national or ethnic community.

The particular way translation is represented is conditioned by the essentially "modern" schema of co-figuration—most typically, the communication model according to which translation is represented as a transfer of signification between two clearly demarcated unities of ethnic or national languages—by means of which one comprehends natural language as an ethno-linguistic unity. In other words, the commonsensical notion of translation is delimited by the schematism of the world (that is, by the act of representing the world according to the schema of co-figuration). Conversely, the modern image of the world as "inter-national" (that is, as consisting of basic units called nations) is prescribed by a representation of translation as a communicative and international transfer of a message between a pair of ethno-linguistic unities.

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