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John N. Kim, University of California, Riverside
Andreas Langenohl, Universität Konstanz

Übersetzung und Kommentar als Reflexionsformen globaler intellektueller Arbeit

vorgestellt von Anil Bhatti

Einleitung: Übersetzung – Ein Anfang

Die Konferenz „Gesellschaft übersetzen: Eine Kommentatorenkonferenz“ hat sich zum Ziel gesetzt, Übersetzung zwischen Wissenschaftssprachen und wissenschaftlichen Idiomen in ihren produktiven und konstitutiven Effekten zu beleuchten. Die Grundannahme lautet, dass Übersetzung zwei Dinge nicht ist. Erstens ist sie nicht der unmarkierte Akt, der zwischen zwei Aussagen lediglich vermittelt und sie eins zu eins ineinander überträgt. Zweitens ist sie nicht lediglich eine Verschiebung einer Aussage in eine andere Bedeutungsdimension oder einen anderen Kontext. Vielmehr ist Übersetzung ein Akt der Setzung, ein konstituierender Akt. Übersetzung setzt Bedeutung, verschiebt sie nicht bloß. Insofern ist Übersetzung stets auch ein Anfang, nicht bloß eine Fortsetzung des akademischen Gesprächs mit anderen Mitteln.

That is to say, translation is first and foremost a practice ; and as a practice it occupies a curious temporality that cannot be reduced to repetition in another language. Rather, it is a practice that renders discursive—and not just linguistic—differences epistemologically apprehensible. To the extent that it renders differences apprehensible, translation not only constitutes meaning, but also calls meaning into question when the demand to translate back from the translation arises. Translation is in this sense always a beginning, an Anfang , of a conversation.

Wir möchten Übersetzung also aus einer epistemologischen Sicht in den Blick nehmen. Zugleich glauben wir, dass, insofern heutige Gesellschaften „Wissensgesellschaften“ sind, Fragen der Epistemologie nicht getrennt von Fragen sozialer und kultureller Integration und Desintegration diskutiert werden können.

In this sense, though we have framed this conference in terms of translation in scholarly or academic contexts, the focus of our concern go beyond the confines of the university. As the production and circulation of knowledge increasingly characterizes the habitus of life outside of the university, we who labor within it have slowly come to the realization that we stand not apart from the larger social, cultural and political movements of our particular contexts but as one of the central, if occasionally marginalized, nodal points in this matrix of knowledge production.

Auf diesen Zusammenhang zwischen Epistemologie, Gesellschaft und Kultur haben unsere Aufmerksamkeit bereits in der Vorbereitung der Konferenz insbesondere zwei Umstände gelenkt. Es ist unsere Absicht, Übersetzung nicht nur zu diskutieren, sondern auch in ihren performativen Wirkungen unmittelbar sichtbar zu machen. Es sollte darum gehen, Mehrsprachigkeit nicht nur als individuelle Sprecherkompetenz oder als institutionelle Struktur kenntlich zu machen (wie etwa die Mehrsprachigkeitsregeln in der Europäischen Union), sondern als Prozess darzustellen und verhandelbar zu machen. Was aber geschieht, wenn man das versucht? – Wir haben die Teilnehmer/-innen gebeten, Papiere einzureichen, die dann in einer anderen Sprache als der Originalsprache präsentiert werden, und diese Präsentation wird wiederum nach Möglichkeit in die Sprachen übersetzt, derer sich die Teilnehmer der Konferenz zu bedienen wünschen. Was aber erreicht man damit, und was setzt man voraus?

In asking the authors of the papers not to present their own work but allow the commentators to summarize their papers with a critical commentary, we do not seek to break academic conventions for the sake of breaking them alone. Rather, we seek to show how the processes of translation and commentary articulate aspects of the authors’ texts that the authors may not have anticipated in writing them, how their texts exceed the scope of their authors’ initial claims, and in turn provide the authors with an opportunity to see how their words are refracted by translation and commentary and to respond in kind. However, in structuring our conference in this way, we also recognize that our attempt in creating multilingual discussion forum comes with certain caveats:

Ist die Aufforderung, Papiere in diversen Sprachen einzureichen, nicht auch Teil eines Regimes der „Diversität“? Diversität ist eine problematische Kategorie, weil sie einerseits dazu neigt, Essenzialisierungen sozialer Kategorisierungen vorzunehmen, und andererseits eine Regierung dieser Kategorien erlaubt – das wissen wir allzu gut aus Managementpraktiken in transnationalen Unternehmen. Sind wir also auf dem besten Weg, durch unsere Konferenz die Universität weiter einer transnational cooperation anzuverwandeln, in der Unterschiede nicht nur exotisiert, sondern obendrein in den Rahmen einer Verwertungslogik gestellt werden? Die Betonung von Mehrsprachigkeit und ihre Institutionalisierung innerhalb eines Diversitätsregimes kann jederzeit in eine Zumutung des „Sprich Deine Sprache!“ und deren Ausschlachtung zum Zwecke der Erzielung hermeneutischen Mehrwerts umschlagen und gleichzeitig zu einer imaginären Abschließung von Wissenschaftssprachen voneinander beitragen. Uns stellte sich so die bange Frage, wieviel Sprachnationalismus man betreiben müsse, um Mehrsprachigkeit epistemisch etwas abgewinnen zu können.

Yet, at the same time, the diversity of linguistic and cultural contexts in which the participants of the conference usually work, also demonstrates another point with which we are all well aware, but often forget. Though this conference includes a Spanish-language paper by Catalan anthropologist of Japan, a Japanese-language paper by a Japanese specialist of French literature, and so on, this conference nevertheless remains caught within the regime of so-called „vehicular“ (or hegemonic) languages, in this particular case the German and English. In other words, the diversity of languages gathered together here shows, in a dialectical but regrettable sense, the continued hegemony of some languages over others in the university. In an attempt to disperse the hegemony of some languages over others and underscore the performative effects of translation, we have therefore asked the participants to actively engage with the practice of translation in their groups whenever the language of the speaker differs from the languages known by the members of the various groups.

Zweitens stellt man bei der Organisation einer Konferenz zum Thema „Übersetzung in der Wissenschaft“ zwangsläufig fest, dass Übersetzung und Kommentar längst gängige Währungen akademischer Selbstbeschreibung und Kulturreflexion sind. In vielen neueren Theorien figuriert Übersetzung als die dem transnationalen Zeitalter angemessene Form und Verkörperung der Kommentarfunktion, die für die Herausbildung des Reichs des Literarischen und Fiktionalen ebenso wie für die Differenzierung des Feldes der Wissenschaften so zentral gewesen ist. Hierzu nur ein Beispiel:

Bei dem aus dem Kontext der Actant-Network-Theory stammenden Soziologen John Law (1992) dient der Begriff „translation“ der Formulierung einer Fixierungsarbeit, in die soziale Praxen einbezogen sind. Ihm zufolge entsteht das, was man einmal „soziale Realität“ nannte, dadurch, dass einem kontinuierlichen Strom von Interaktionen und Transaktionen zwischen Menschen und Dingen Schließungen auferlegt werden. Jenen kontinuierlichen Strom nennt Law „translation“. „Translation“ ist somit die einzige Sozialontologie, die gestattet werden kann, weil all das, was die Sozialwissenschaftler „Strukturen“, „Systeme“, „Situationen“ nennen, Effekte der grundsätzlich kontingenten Kategorisierung, Kanalisierung und punktuellen Fixierung jenes Stroms darstellen und daher nur einer konstruktivistischen Analyse zugänglich sind. „Übersetzung“ als Prozess verbleibt dieser Logik zufolge als die einzige ontologische Kategorie, die dem Metaphysikvorwurf entrinnen kann; und Wissenschaft ist nichts anderes als eine Punktierung ihrer Strömung und darin anderen sozialen Praxen vergleichbar.

The concept of translation thus underscores that the social and cultural imaginary is irreducible to formalization. Viewed from the perspective of translation, the social and cultural imaginary should be understood as a practice that reinscribes with difference the system of representations that constitute the so-called imaginary. In the practice of translation within the social sphere, a certain ethical stance is assumed vis-à-vis the diversity of images encountered within the metaphorical “stream” of social and cultural relations encountered within the imaginary. It is “ethical” in the sense that it forces the pretense of scholarly impersonality to assume a reflexive stance before the social and cultural imaginary that is putatively under study. It compels the researcher to recognize his or her own implication in his or her epistemic “object,” which is first constituted as an “object” by the researcher him- or herself.

Dies Beispiel der Konjunktur von Übersetzung als Kategorie zeigen, dass sie im Begriff steht, zu einem Schlüsselkonzept der Selbstreflexion der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaften zu werden und dies in vielen Punkten tatsächlich bereits ist. Aus diesen Präliminarien zur Konferenz gewinnen wir einige Fragen, auf die wir im Folgenden eingehen möchten:

  • Wie ist die akademische Mehrsprachigkeit und die Praxis des Kommentierens in der transnationalen Konstellation zu verorten?
  • Wie verhält sich die gegenwärtige Ausdifferenzierung des Konzepts der Übersetzung, bzw. der Figur des Übersetzers, zur fundamentalen Kristallisierung der Kommentarfunktion in der literarischen und wissenschaftlichen Moderne, wie sie etwa von Aleida Assmann, aber auch von Pierre Bourdieu beschrieben wird?
  • Und wie intervenieren diese beiden Fragen mit der nach den Prinzipien sozialer und kultureller Integration – wobei hier Integration nicht normativ verstanden wird, sondern als Perspektive auf den Erhalt und die Transformation kohäsiver Strukturen in Kultur und Gesellschaft?

Commentary

It is a commonplace that text and commentary relate to one another in a paradoxical way. The commentary distinguishes itself from the text and yet is only legitimated by the existence of the text: it is its supplement; at the same time, however, the text proper first gets constituted by the existence of commentaries, which proclaim the text as text – as unity, as part of a canon, as tradition worth retaining, etc. The commentary makes the text into an historical unity and yet must be subtracted from the text, so that the latter can claim trans historical meaning.

This relationship of text and commentary is nevertheless not universal. It arises much more, for Europe at least, relatively late, not before the 17th century. Text and commentary separate from one another in the moment in which author and critic appear as public figures. This process is linked to the rise of an anonymous reading public in Europe, and thereby is also linked to changes in the financial support of writers, whose works were no longer commissioned, but written for a public, for whom the critic made these works accessible and understandable. In European aesthetic and sociological modernity, the differentiated figure of the commentator-critic became a reflexive constituent of the socio-cultural structure of society (Assmann 1995).

Along with these differentiations arose problems, which are most clearly worked out in Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory. The differentiation of spheres of value produces the problem of “partial autonomy.” Partial autonomy means that the logics of assigning value within single fields – such as literature or science – follow self-defined rules, that however at the same time the maintenance of the conditions under which these rules are valid are not autonomously posited (Bourdieu 1999, Bourdieu 2000). This is what Bourdieu means when he diagnoses that the system of science achieves “objective” truth under conditions of optimally rationalized communication and self-reflexivity, yet cannot itself secure these conditions.

Thereby universalism and particularism intersect in an unresolvable conflict in modernity. Less the procedure of commenting as such plays a decisive role in the imagination of modernity, as rather the figure of the commentator. For commenting is one of the conditions that must be fulfilled in order for validity claims to be secured intersubjectively, and hence is also the presupposition of their generalizability. At the same time, the commentary is a highly particular intervention and, this is the important point, as such reflexive and blatant [offenkundig]. Commenting as an institutionalized practice first enables the praxis of generalizing – however, the commentator as imaginary figure crosses out/effaces the generalization once again. For this reason, the commentator as a figure in a disciplined geared to generalizations, such as sociology, is seldom reflected, although it is omnipresent – from evaluators to reviewers, and of course in the figure of the teacher.

In the contemporary humanities and social sciences, as well as in transnational political configurations, translation and the translator enter into the commentator function of modernity. We don’t only see this in the contemporary boom of translation as a master-concept of the humanities and social sciences in the guise of cultural studies. We also see it in the displacement of multilingualism from an individual competency to a politically instituted and regulated regime of translation, as exemplified by the European Union’s politics of translation. The praxis of translation is negotiated not only in its technical-administrative, but also in its identitarian Aspects, for in EU-Europe only that language is equal to all others and thus fully a national language which is translated in European institutions into other languages. Only someone who is translated is allowed to comment. The praxis of translation and the figure of the translator are credited with the ability to interpret anew and save the function of the commentator in modernity, even when the contents that get introduced by the concept and praxis of translation challenge traditional canons and understandings of modernity – many of those academic streams which work with the concept of translation enunciate critique of the global distribution of academic labor. It is not only a question of whether translation as a concept can save the commentary in its constitutive function for the operations of science, but rather what gets risked by such an attempt. Meanwhile the word got out to the discipline of sociology that the “Western” theorem of social differentiation cannot be applied to other social contexts without violence – recent studies show that already within the historical West hardly a unitary pattern of differentiation is recognizable, and the “modern West” as a spatio-temporality of presumably unidirectional social processes has lost its heuristic potential (Knöbel 2007). It must be asked therefore, whether the concept of translation and the figure of the translating commentator are in the position to trace new relations between the constitution of culture and its commenting that go beyond the universalism-particularism paradox.

Community

As we gathered our thoughts around the central problematic of translation, it became increasingly clear to us that it is not disciplinary fidelity that produces knowledge, but the practice of translation across previously given disciplinary boundaries. The practice of translation produces knowledge by, paradoxically but necessarily, frustrating the will to knowledge. The practice of translation forces one to acknowledge that one never quite knows what one thinks one knows and that, if one does not know what one wants to know—e.g. another disciplinary idiom, another discourse, another language—one quite often finds oneself not knowing how to know even when told by, for example, an expository commentary .

That is to say, the practices of translation and commentary implicitly posit a notion of the community for whom a translation or commentary takes place. Whereas hermeneutic approaches treat translation as a process that takes place “between” established communities, they equally treat commentary as a process that is predicated on the imagined prior existence of a historical community for which the commentary is written. In other words, hermeneutic approaches to translation and commentary postulate community as the unreflected constant in a world of discursive variables. This conference in part places this hermeneutic postulate into question by emphasizing the performative effects of translation and commentary upon this elusive object called “community.”

In response to the massive migration of peoples across the globe, the economic and environmental devastation wrought by the capital and the changing nature of political sovereignty, some have proposed to move beyond the idiom of not only “community” but also “society” in order to address these transformations that seem to defy current conceptual vocabulary and theoretical grammar. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, for instance, have proposed the notion of the common.

The common designates neither an already constituted nor preexisting community, such as ethnic or linguistic consanguinity, but the performative act of coming together in a “conversation” (Hardt & Negri 2004: 198). The common is that which is at stake in a conversation that takes place among what are called “singularities,” or subjective positions that have amongst themselves no prior commonality, no prior level generality to subsume them, but whose plight or struggle brings them into conversation regardless of their geopolitical local or historical moment. Hardt and Negri cite for example the common constituted by the early nineteenth century Caribbean slave revolts and the anti-colonial struggles of the mid-twentieth century in Asia, Africa and Latin America (213) or more recently the protests against the WTO summit in Seattle in 1999 (214-15). None of these are equal; each remains singular to the other; but all partake in the common, for each seeks a radical break from the given. Or, in Hardt and Negri’s words, “[e]ach local struggle functions as a node that communicates with all the other nodes without any hub or center of intelligence. Each struggle remains singular and tied to its local conditions but at the same time is immersed in the common web” (217). In other words, the common is neither a positivity nor a negativity, but that which emerges when singular local struggles come into “communication” with other singular local struggles (213). It is in this sense that Cesare Casarino expands upon the notion of the common by adding that “… the common is that which is always at stake in any conversation: there where a conversation takes place; there where we are in common, there and only there is a conversation possible” (Casarino 2008:1). The common thereby is not constituted by a logic of identity and difference, but by the production of commonality through singularity (Hardt & Negri 2004:217-18), by sharing practices in heterogeneous situations.

However, these recent elaborations of the notion of the common as an alternative to community and society also provoke many questions. If the common is constituted in conversation, what then happens when linguistic heterogeneity impedes the emergence of a conversation whatsoever, i.e. when one cannot even recognize that a conversation might or should arise out of a common concern because one does not even know how to know what is being said due to linguistic differences? Might the idiom of “communication” which informs the notion of the conversation not itself assume too much about what language does? That is to say, might communication itself, as Sandro Mezzadra has recently suggested, not serve as the capitalist economy’s means of homogenizing the singularities and the diversity of living practices (or “cultures”) found across the globe into the monotone language of “exchange value” (Mezzadra 2009:3-4), in which each singularity is rendered exchangeable with another? In other words, what appears missing from the current discussion around the common is a conception of translation—in the broadest possible sense—as the condition of possibility for entering into a conversation or even aspiring toward communication. If translation is not simply the transfer of meaning from one language to another, but the very procedure by which a difference in language is rendered apprehensible, then translation is prior to communication and hence also the first gesture toward constituting anything like the common. Translation then, as Naoki Sakai has argued (Sakai 1997), is a form of address, that is, an appeal to an addressee, who may or may not ever hear it, to come into the common with the addresser.

Literatur

  • Assmann, Aleida (1995): Der Eigen-Kommentar als Mittel literarischer Traditionsstiftung. Zu Edmund Spensers The Shepheardes Calendar . In: Jan Assmann/Burkhard Gladikow (Hg.): Text und Kommentar (= Archäologie der literarischen Kommunikation IV). München: Fink, 355-373.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre (1999): Die Regeln der Kunst. Genese und Struktur des literarischen Feldes. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.
  • Bourdieu, Pierre (2000). Pascalian meditations . Cambridge, Mass.: Polity Press.
  • Casarino, Cesare and Negri, Antonio (2008): In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio (2004): Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin Press.
  • Knöbl, Wolfgang (2007): Die Kontingenz der Moderne. Wege in Europa, Asien und Amerika. Frankfurt a.M./New York: Campus.
  • Mezzadra, Sandro (forthcoming 2010): Living in Transition: Toward a Heterolingual Theory of the Multitude. In: Richard Calichman and John Namjun Kim (eds.): The Politics of Culture: Around the Work of Naoki Sakai. London: Routledge.
  • Sakai, Naoki (1997): Translation and Subjectivity: On "Japan" and Cultural Nationalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.