Translate into / Übersetzen nach / Перевести нa / 翻译成   English   に変換 / 로 번역

Naoki Sakai, Cornell University

Translation and the Schematism of Bordering Übersetzung und der Schematismus der Grenzziehung

vorgestellt von Doris Schweitzer


I The Overdetermination of the West

What I am going to present will be situated in some larger on-going project to which I tentatively assign the title “The Dislocation of the West.” Since I published an article of the same title “Dislocation of the West” in the inaugural issue of Traces, I have been working on this project. I would like to outline the overarching problematic of my project, in the service of which I have invented such concepts as ‘co-figuration’ and ‘the schematism of translation’ in order to facilitate my investigation on translation.

So let me explain why I find the figure, image or identity of the West increasingly bothersome today. At the same time, it is also my belief that the overdetermined nature of the West serves us as an entry point to the general problems confronting us: national humanism, the global advancement of commodification, the colonial formation of the modern international world, and persistent but constantly mutating racism. On the one hand, the historical analysis of the West will provide us with a new chronology of modernity in which the transformation of capitalism was accompanied by the ethnicization and nationalization of population; on the other, it will help us understand the changing production of minorities. In short, an analysis of the West is indispensable to our understanding of racism.

The West is a mythical construct of a historically rather recent currency (no older than two centuries), whose unity is increasingly suspect. Compared with the other old uses of this word – or its equivalent in other languages – in which the West bespoke the Western portion of the Roman world after its division into two empires, the so-called New World or the frontier located in the west of large cities along the Atlantic Shore in the North American Continent, or the remote seas located in the furthest western periphery of the Central Kingdom (China), the West came into general use after the capital originating in Western Europe was perceived to be omnipresent in global capitalist domination. The West appeared gradually consolidated as the reign of international laws was established from the seventeenth century.

The West is supposed to indicate a certain group of people called “Westerners” in terms of their habitudinal geographies, mores, traditions, races, and ethnicities. It may appear to be a proper name and its propriety is often marked by the capitalization of its first letter. Whereas ‘west’ suggests a direction, ‘the West’ retains the denotation of a geographic area in the direction of the setting sun. Hence it is generally believed that the West is, first and foremost, a cartographic index. Although it derives from the directional adverb, the natural tendency is to assume that it should point to a cartographic area on the surface of the earth. But, as Antonio Gramsci pointed out some eighty years ago [1], since the earth is a globe, there is no fixed location that can be designated by ‘west’ and any point in the world can potentially be so called. Let me note tentatively that the West is therefore a shifter, and that it designates relationally and remains undeterminable unless the directionality of its address is invoked. The West as the delimitation of ‘west’ must then be diacritically distinguished from that which is not the West, that is, the Rest of the world. Only insofar as it is distinguished and alienated from the Rest, can it refer to something other than a mere west. In this respect it is dependent upon how the Rest is determined, and the binary opposition of the West and the Rest prescribes the meaning of this word. Thus it can be imagined to be a fixed and identifiable geographic referent only as long as the Rest is postulated as a fixity.

As a cartographic index, however, the West sustains little coherence. The majority of those who live in countries in Western Europe believe themselves to be Westerners, but at the same time some white people in South Africa and Australia, for instance, might also insist that they are “Westerners.” Conversely the colored population in North America is rarely recognized as “Westerners” even if the majority of residents in North America have claimed, more frequently perhaps since the end of the Second World War, that they too are in the West. So, insofar as race is imagined to be the physiological property exclusively belonging to the body of the individual human being, it may appear that the West is primarily a racial index rather than a cartographic one; as a matter of fact, it is closely associated with the racial fantasies of whiteness. But, once again, this assessment contradicts the historical fact that Eastern Europe and Russia have generally been excluded from the West, not only during the period of the Cold War but throughout the twentieth century. Generally speaking, the racial notion of whiteness is organized arbitrarily enough to allow those groups who would be excluded from being white in other regions in the world, such as certain peoples from the Middle East, to be recognized as such in East Asia or North America. As people move from one place to another, their racial status may well change. Furthermore, we now know that not only the concept of race in general but also whiteness as a social category is historically so arbitrary that it is hardly an index of a stable identity; whiteness as a racial or ethnic category is historically and sociologically a conceptual monstrosity or sheer nonsense that one would be hesitant to take seriously.

Just like the racial notion of whiteness, the West does not cohere as a concept in empirical knowledge. The unity of the West is far from being unitarily determinable on empirical grounds. The West, therefore, is a mythical construct, which achieves powerful effects on us as it gathers varying and contradicting properties around itself. Yet it is important not to forget that what we believe we apprehend by this mytheme is increasingly ambiguous and incongruous: its immoderately overdetermined nature can no longer be shrouded. This does not mean that the West has ceased to be a reality whose putative objectivity is globally accepted. And our sense of the world is still directed by this historical construct. This is why the West must be understood, first of all, as a mytheme which regulates our imagination concerning how to hierarchically configure peoples and institutions on the world map and also which functions only as one term of the binary opposition of the West and the Rest.

The investigation that I would like to undertake in this presentation is about the potential connections between this cartographic imagination that maps contradicting and differing social relations on the plane of cartographic surface and various power relations that the civilizational difference of the West and the Rest serves to represent spatially, and thereby establish the identities of races, nationalities, traditions, and religions to constitute the hierarchies of social discriminations. In short, the fil conducteur that I will go along is why the discrimination of the West from the Rest is ever able to mark such diversified qualities of an individual person such as of racial superiority, colonial command, class domination, cultural distinction, ethnic pedigree, religious exclusivity and so forth, whereas these qualities are too evidently contradictory to one another to be attributed to a single individual; how the civilizational difference of the West from the Rest can ever function so successfully as a trope of synthesis between a single person’s qualifications and the collective features symbolic of a race (white), civilization (secular scientific), tradition (since Greek antiquity), religion (Christianity), economic ideology (Capitalism and free market liberalism), and political commitment (national sovereignty based on parliamentary representation); how the determinations of the West have penetrated so deeply and pervasively into the subjective interiority and obsessions of intellectuals, particularly those well-educated individuals, of or from the Rest.

Now let me shift our focus from this broad picture to the specifics of our conceptual weaponry concerning translation. The second part of this paper is designed to serve a mediating role in the two thematics:

  • cartographic Imagination and the regime of translation
  • the modalities of bordering and social relations

II Cartographic Imagination and the Schematism of Co-figuration

Translated from Japanese by Gavin Walker and Naoki Sakai

When one seeks an explanation of translation, one is inclined to too often and too facilely speak of translation as if its central aim consisted in the transfer of a text written in one language to a text written in another language. Here, I choose to utilize this compound “central aim” (“master eye” shugan) precisely because it is difficult to draw narrow conceptual limits around the word “translation,” which is almost always used metaphorically. Translation possesses an amplificatory character because it is applied supplely, from a single word or combination of a few words, to the proposition, the paragraph, the single work, and then the complete works of an author.

For example, “sentence” is a single word, but it is not equivalent to the meaning of “sentence” as bunshō. “Sentence” does not form a sentence. Nevertheless, the phrase “‘sentence’ is a single word” expresses the meaning of “bunshō” as a sentence. Thus, although the word “bunshō” is a translation of “sentence,” it would not be a mistake to say that “The sentence is not a sentence but a word” could translate “sentensu wa bunshō de wa naku kotoba de aru.” If we consider the translation of a single work such as Notes from the Underground, we can also speak of the translation of the collection of works by the author known as Dostoevsky. That is, we become able to speak of a sequence as a single bundle or assemblage by means of translation, moving from the commensurable to a unity that is combinatorially formed from the multiple.

Of course, it is not only “translation” which possesses this amplificatory character. Actually “language” itself is precisely the most prototypical example. The word “language” (kotoba) in the phrase “don’t you believe what I’m saying?” (Watashi no kotoba o shinjirarenai no ka) cannot be limited to vocabulary (tango) nor to the sentence (bunshō). This is because this idiomatic phrase can be extended as a general speech act meaning, “I’ll stick to my promise” (Watashi ga yakusoku o suikō suru).

Precisely in this sense, translation operates by exceeding the narrow meaning of language. A novel is translated into a film, just as a political idea can be translated in action. A human being’s creative capacity can be translated into capital, their desires translated into dreams, their aspirations translated into seats in parliament. Translation passes through and circulates in the intervals of different instances of meaning, threading together discontinuous contexts. As a consequence, translation is conceived of as something that is particularly metaphorical within the metaphor and thus often referred to as “the metaphor of metaphor.”

We cannot forget that the term translation contains a doubled sense of meaning. Translation is the work or process of re-writing and re-stating, but at the same time is the text which emerges as a result of passing through this work or process. To speak of the translation of Proust’s À la recherché du temps perdu on the one hand signifies the task of repeating the original text in another medium, and at the same time, it also connotes the new text that is born as a result of this task. From the outset, the work of translation differs from that of literary creation in that translation has the character of imitation performed on citation. It is possible to cite words, sentences, books, images, human actions and so forth, but the cited referent is presented as an assemblage, a bundle (hitomatome). Citation is “shifting something elsewhere” and at the same time, “assembling or bundling together,” in other words, it is an act of unifying. We cannot speak of translation in the case of something which cannot be cited. If you cannot cite, you cannot translate. That which is cited is separated from the actual context of citation – the cited text possesses a different temporality from the context of citation. It is precisely for this reason that translation can be something like the “afterlife” of the work. [2] Yet translation is never wholly unrelated to the original work. Translation is a “repetition” of the cited original text. The fact that the original work and the translation mutually reference each other neither indicates that they share the same message, nor that they convey the same signification. Nonetheless, some creative moment is never negligible in translation, and this is creativity that accompanies repetition.

Let us consider, for a moment, a hermeneutic conception of translation; translation must be guided by the project (tōki) which bases itself on the belief that translation is an attempt to recover the correct meaning of the original work. According to hermeneutics human beings cannot abandon this attempt, even if recovering this “correct meaning” of the original work is impossible to actualize, all the work of reading guided by this project towards meaning should be simply considered an act of interpretation. Hence, translation is one form of this type of interpretation. As a result of a belief in the “correct meaning,” the practice of translation becomes something that discloses the differences in the horizon of the pre-predicative judgment in the interval between the present of the enunciation of the original and the present of our reading – cultural presuppositions that precede thematic judgment or historical differences in common knowledge in the prejudices of the life world. When translation is thus treated as a kind of interpretation, it should disclose the epochal differences, the differences of tradition, or culture, between those who wrote the original works and the “we” who read these works.

But translation is not a type of hermeneutical interpretation [3]; it is not interpretation based on the form of understanding. If translation is simply interpretation, it would be incapable of occurring in the form of “repetition.” Through the work of translation, which cites the original work, the new text “repeats” this original. If translation did not take this form of repetition, it would be impossible to conceive of it, even if only as a transfer of a message or signification.

In this essay, I aim to liberate the possibility of translation from the curse bestowed on it by the view of translation organized around the image of communication: the communication of a written text from one language to another. Translation is not a task limited to the written word, but a concept which grants us the possibility of examining social action in general anew, something which offers us an invaluable gateway by which to enter an inquiry into sociality itself. Nevertheless, the traditional view of translation has elided this potent sociality that suffuses it, through its collaboration with the substantialization of “national” and “ethnic” languages. It goes without saying that the argument regarding translation that I offer here tries carefully to avoid lapsing into another systematic dichotomy of the differentiability (known as phonocentrism) of the written and the spoken. But this is not all. By “text” I do not mean the traditional view of the text which limits it to documents or books, nor do I adopt here the widely-disseminated dichotomy between the practical task of oral interpretation (tsūyaku) and the translation (honyaku) of scriptures, philosophy, and literature in written form. I simply do not accept the distinction between interpretation and translation precisely because I want to examine the operation of metaphor, which suffuses the situation of translation, while simultaneously historicizing the traditional view of translation.

In studying translation, we must pay close attention not only to how trope operates, but also to how it malfunctions. In other words, in order to devise shifts in the discussion of translation, we not only need a transformation of the basic concepts, but also a recomposition of the tropes and figurations that we employ. Today the very presumption that a language has its inside and outside must be scrutinized, and we must call into question the regime of translation according to which one language is represented as external to and exclusive from another language spatially. I have referred to this regime of translation, in which translation is represented through the strict distinction between the interior and exterior of a language, as the “homolingual address.” In my view, we must historicize the stigma of this regime of translation while at the same time, turning ourselves towards thinking of translation as a “heterolingual address.” [4] The “homolingual address” derives its legitimacy from the vision of the modern international world as a juxtaposition of state sovereignties as well as the reciprocal recognition among nation-states. Of course, the international world and the nation-state offer mutual reinforcement and form a system of complicity. In order to unravel this traditional view of translation, and to recombine the tropes of translation towards a forum for the elucidation of sociality, the trope of “translation as a filter” provides us with an appropriate thematic. Let us attempt to begin thinking about translation from the title of this paper.

II-1 On the Title

This title, “Translation as a Filter” was something given to me rather than something that I proposed. Nevertheless, since it was this title that prompted me to write the present essay, I ought to briefly discuss the relationship between the title and the argument I make here. I accepted the title, neither because it accurately named a guiding thread for the discussion of translation that I intended to develop here, nor because I particularly want to take this title as my thematic subject and formulate a justification of it. I do not dare to say that it summarizes my argument well, either. Rather, what sparked my interest was precisely that this title encompassed a certain complexity that cannot be resolved in a typical manner. It contains numerous pitfalls that discussions of translation have often fallen into. Thus what I intend to do here is to utilize this given title “Translation as a Filter” as a springboard for discussion, disentangling its intricacies in order to attempt to find an escape from the traditional view of translation.

The title of this essay might appear provocative, but it may ring hollow with certain readers since it contains few unexpected insights. The reason that I presume to call it “provocative” is that, like the solving of a puzzle, this title invites a variety of interpretations and is open to multiple definitions. At first glance, proposing a metaphorical relation between translation and a filter seems understandable, but in fact, one quickly develops a nagging feeling of incomprehension. In conjoining “translation” and “filter,” there are too many indefinite elements that intervene between these two terms, and thus even the provisional judgment “translation is something like a filter” immediately renders this title unacceptable. In what ways and as a result of which aspects, can the term “filter” serve as a metaphor for translation? Is it not the case that precisely because we utilize this term “filter” we become incapable of moving past the restrictions it places on translation? It is my contention that, in order to gain an understanding of this type of metaphorical judgment, we cannot avoid the fact that we lack something urgent, that we need a more persuasive explanation.

Nevertheless, this title anticipates a certain view of translation – the mode of being that the term “filter” describes, in fact expresses this view perfectly. In the traditional view, translation is often grasped as if some already determined “meaning” passes through a barrier, and thus the figure of the filter effectively corroborates this representation of translation. From such a viewpoint, the filter is a curtain or barrier permeated by a fluid mediator. Of course, the term “filter” describes something which allows certain things to pass through while blocking others; thus it is only at the point where permeability and impermeability coexist that a certain blocking entity comes to acquire the characteristics of a filter. A filter is precisely a semi-permeable membrane. Permeability presumes the existence of a mediator which passes through it, and therefore within it are flows and movements; a filter, by blocking a flow which has a certain directionality, is put under pressure by this mediator. Thus, we might unfortunately imagine, inspired by this figure of “translation as a filter,” that translation is a situation arising only when there are two sides: something that passes through and something that does not pass through. In this view of translation, the coexistence of permeability and impermeability is presumed, and thus there must be a flow with directionality. Furthermore, the filter indicates a site where there is a curtain or barrier as obstacle. This is often imaged as a line that bisects a surface, or as a surface which bisects a space. The basic material property of a filter is to be something that obstructs, something that hinders movement, even if it is full of holes or permeable, and thus those things that cannot pass through it are gathered in the filter and held in stasis. As a result, the impermeable objects that previously circulated freely are held in place at the site of the filter, and prevented from slipping through to the opposite side. This is the metaphor that first emerges when we intertwine the terms “translation” and “filter.”

A crucial function of translation is frequently alluded to at the starting-point of this trope. A filter selects and classifies what is permeable and what is impermeable from something mixed. Differentiating what can pass through and what cannot pass through is precisely the act of filtration, that is, the term “filter” always indicates this act of filtration. However, should we therefore consider translation to be something that, like a filter, identifies and distinguishes the translatable from the untranslatable? Practically speaking, the function of filtration, as a metaphorical connotation, has often insinuated its way into the discussion of translation. In other words, it is precisely here that we are encountering the pitfalls inherent in the metaphorical statement, “translation is something like a filter.”

II-2 Communication and Translation

The discriminatory function of the filter is not limited solely to the classification of the permeable and the impermeable. We cannot overlook the fact that it also differentiates into two distinct areas a space which is presumably connected on this side and that side. It splits one contiguous space in to two. This function of filtration is possible only when this filtration is unidirectional, when the filter operates as a threshold, and only on condition that the upstream and the downstream flows are not blended together. Through the exclusive partitioning of space, the filter acquires another trope of discrimination: border. The filter thus takes on the sense of a national boundary or enclosure, that is, not only the partitioning of space but also the partitioning of the surface. Just as a surface is a specific type of plane segment of space, the filter is a spatial threshold, but the national border is an exceptional example of a threshold in space. On the one hand, the national border discriminates between those who can pass and those who cannot. If every person can pass through, a national border cannot exist. Further, the national border is the site of the customs boundary; it distinguishes between certain things that can pass through it and others that cannot. Nevertheless, on the other hand, the national border constitutes the outer edge of the territoriality, inscribed with the limits, of the sovereignty of the nation-state. If you cross the border, the sovereignty of the nation-state operating on one side becomes invalid on the other. In other words, the enclosure is an apparatus that discriminates between those allowed to enter and those who are not, but at the same time marks the outer edge of the land as property. Thus, the figure of the filter can be expanded to encompass the distinguishing of heterogeneous areas of a surface, the establishment of demarcations between interior and exterior on the land, and the mapping of sovereignty and ownership; thereby it governs the communication between areas. It is the question of law or right related to this governing of the communication between the different areas of sovereignty and ownership. Thus, in our examination of translation, the filter acquires yet another metaphorical function. Translation serves as a boundary that distinguishes the space. Its role is in introducing the threshold into a space.

It is not particularly difficult to discern how various characteristics of language are being articulated within this economy of trope. A bundle of articulatory paradigms and generative rules such as the regularities of phonetics, morphology, and syntax are seen as the special characteristics of a given language, and are often thought of as the archetypal examples of what does not typically pass through the filter. Can we not say the following: the paradigms according to which an enunciated voice is articulated into phonemes, the generative rules of comprehension and composition, the criteria which combine words together, and indeed the systems of classification that distinguish words as morphologically significant units express the particularities of a given language, and constitute precisely the typical example of what is erased by translation? Or maybe we should put it another way: to transmit a text into another language is to erase the particular characteristics of the original language; the filter as translation manifests itself through the erasure of the grammatical traits of a particular language.

The conception of translation according to the model of communication finds its raison d’être precisely in the economy of the tropes that I have sketched out here roughly. This is to say that the model of communication cannot be maintained unless the transmitted content and the rules of communication can be clearly separated. Transmitted content is generally seen as information. Throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, the term “information” swept through the fields of economics, cognitive science, manufacture, technology and so forth, but it has been overshadowed by the question of communication. “Information” means a knowledge transferred by means of the act of informing. In other words, it is what one is informed of. To inform is to advise or teach, by giving form and shape to the spirit of the other, and the information thus communicated has the characteristics of a message delivered by a messenger. Whether or not the institutions and technologies develop, from a paper letter carried by the courier to the postal service managed by the national state, or from the cabled telegram to the international wireless internet, the theory of communication is incapable of shedding its reliance on this schema of the message handed over by a messenger. [5] In its original Latin etymology, communication is a word which links the senses of “common;” it brings to mind the commonly-held land (“the commons”), “communion,” indicating communal ownership and spiritual interchange, and “community,” as well as “communism” or “communalism.” Thus, communication as a way of thinking implies the specific mode of being of a community, but, as has already been discussed at length, this notion of community that is conceived of by the model of communication contains numerous political dangers. [6] In the model of communication, the transfer of information is understood as parallel to the metaphor of the messenger communicating a message, from addresser to addressee. Generally speaking, however, this point is not understood even in arguments that attempt a scholarly classification of translation, such as Roman Jakobson’s. [7] The apprehension of translation according to the model of communication conceives of translation as a specific example of this type of general communication. The textual reading strategy known as “deconstruction” has already demonstrated in detail the strict impossibility of maintaining a clear discrimination between the communicated content (message) and the rules of communication (code). Nevertheless, let us proceed for a short while as if this demarcation were sustainable.

Let us attempt to graft the metaphor of “translation as a filter” onto the metaphor of the message communicated by a messenger from addresser to addressee. In so doing, we would realize that what is filtered by this “filter” are first and foremost, the rules of communication. In the apprehension of translation through communication, what cannot pass through the filter is first identified as the particular grammatical qualities of a language (phonetics, syntax, morphology, and so forth). Here we must touch briefly on one result brought about by the distinction between content and rule in this understanding of translation. Translation studies, a scholarly discipline established in an increasing number of universities in the world today, for the most part conceives of translation premised on the model of communication, thus trusting in the possibility of a principled distinction between message (content) and code (rule). When content is translated from one language (to adopt the vocabulary of translation studies, the “source language”) to another (the “target language”), this content contains elements that, like a proper noun, do not necessarily follow the rules of a particular language. It is generally accepted that a proper noun is not translated, nor is there any need to do so strictly following the code of the target language. Aside from such an exception, translation is expected to be an all-encompassing transformation of rules (code). When content (message) in the source language is translated into content in the target language, the rules of the source language should presumably be completely erased from the content expressed in the target language. Translation conveys content to us, but does not teach us the grammar of a different language. [8] Thus, by seeking the distinction between the translatable and the untranslatable solely within the communicated content (message), the communication of rules (code) is foreclosed from the outset, separated by the mutual exclusion between content and rule in this economy of metaphor. It is anticipated either as a translatable message or as an untranslatable message. Because the grammatical rules or the particular qualities related to the organization of language are excluded from things that can pass through the filter, the materiality of the text is not examined as something translatable, and is thus neglected. Consequently, the distinction between the translatable and the untranslatable is anticipated only on the level of the communicated content (message). That is, according to the model of communication, the untranslatable is determined from the start as something in the content of the communication: the untranslatable is only anticipated as “the part of the message that does not arrive.”

II-3 The Symbiosis of Culturalism and Subjectivity

Further, we can also associate this economy of metaphor with the typical arguments on subjectivity. A person cognizes things in the world through a certain system of categories. It is not easy to objectify this system of cognitive categories as a whole, but it may appear comparatively simple to identify it in terms of differences between one language and another. The confinement to one’s (native) language may well explain the confinement of one’s subjectivity to one’s (native) culture. For the time being let me overlook the contradictions inherent in this argumentation since I will examine this point later. We can see most starkly the conspiratorial linkages between the model of communication and culturalism precisely in the discussions of subjectivity that are bound up with translation in the representation of language. Here too, the trope of the filter exhibits a new force.

We are born within a given language, and acquire the ability to cognize the world under the grammatical rules of this language. Many might accept this as a valid claim. It should follow then that, well before we produce words, before we gain a knowledge of other languages, our cognitive capacity should be determined through already given cognitive categories; we should be able to perceive the world only through a given filter. In this way, discussions of subjectivity jump too quickly to conclusions by way of the spatialized trope of a language, a spatialized figure with a clear contour. I have no intention here of reducing the discussions of transcendental subjectivity that emerged in the 18th century to the problem of culturalism, but the trope of “translation as a filter” clearly exposes the symbiotic relation between discussions of subjectivity and anthropological culturalism, such as that inspired by American Structural Linguistics presented by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf. [9]

The filter, which distinguishes the permeable from the impermeable, enables the representation of two different spatial areas, but that is not all. It also forms these areas into spaces saturated by differing systems of grammatical rules (rules that are organized by means of phonetics, syntax, and so forth). Here, “different space” carries the connotation of “different language.” Language, which is assumed to be a potential system of rules (of phonetics, morphology, syntax, and so on) is given a spatialized figure as if it were a closed area. If individuals enter the world burdened by their language of birth (their “native language”), they would have been born already located in one of these specific spatial areas to the extent that they depend on the trope of “translation as a filter”. [10] In other words, the area distinguished by translation becomes a space that expresses a primordial belonging, which symbolizes the destiny of the individual. The location in this space is imagined as the destiny of one’s cognitive capacity that cannot be changed by the individual’s own initiative; it is an innate trait, like colorblindness, an ability given with one’s birth. I experience the things of the world through a certain system of categories, so in principle I have no access to a position from which to judge the relevance or irrelevance of my experiences as a whole . There is no way for me to judge in advance whether or not the world I am given is biased or distorted. I might see the world through colored lenses, but these colored lenses are the only lenses I was born with, which goes by the name of “native language.” Regardless of whether my eyeballs themselves are in color or not, I cannot be given a perspective that could correct my own prejudice towards the world that I embrace in perception. One reason that this phrase “translation as a filter” has a certain persuasive power is that it prepares us for the deployment of a trope which makes it possible to mobilize translation within this type of argument on subjectivity.

At the same time, let us not overlook the following point. By inciting us to construe the representation of translation in terms of the tropic figures of the upstream flow and downstream flow of the filter, or as two spaces separated by a barrier, “translation as a filter” enables us to figure language as a space distinguished by boundaries. This trope serves as a schema for the spatial figuration of language.

It has long been known that this type of argument, which asserts these limitations in terms of the nativism of cognitive capacity, cannot avoid certain inner contradictions. In order to show that we are pre-determined to perceive the world through a filter, we must postulate the experience of seeing without this filter, as if we could see without the colored lenses. If the filter is an innate condition of our perception, how could we possibly assume a situation in which it would be possible to cognize something without this filter? We should pay close attention to this point wherein the topic of the trope starts to slip. Translation, insofar as it is a filter of permeability, separates space into two areas, but whether or not these separated spaces are necessarily formed as enclosures has not yet been problematized. For now, however, the filter does not merely divide the continuous space into two; it implies an overarching condition that restricts my capacity to cognize the external world, like the camera accessory that selectively transmits light coming into a camera obscura. Here, it is as if this “translation as a filter” has come to possess the character of an optical filter, covering the main lens of a camera, rather than the form of a filter as a semi-permeable membrane.

Yet, curiously, although the figure of the filter is called for in order to postulate the innateness of cognitive capacity in terms of spatial belonging, it becomes a principle by which to explain the typical situation of cognition prior to translation. Knowledge that is acquired by means of translation is postulated in order to explain the apparent existence of innate capacity prior to translation. Here we see the contradictions in the argumentation mentioned earlier. To gain an awareness of the constraints immanent in the cognitive capacity in one’s ‘native’ language, one must have the experience of othering /being othered (ika) in relation to a foreign language, and consequently, those who can neither speak nor read a foreign language are not even capable of being aware of the constraints imposed upon them by the ‘native’ language. Without “the incomprehensible,” or without an encounter with someone one does not comprehend, one cannot become aware of the limitations of one’s own cognitive capacity. Translation folds over upon itself and gives rise to the moment of what may well be called ‘reflection.’ Let us note by passing that the reflection into native language has a fundamentally different temporality from that of transcendental reflection, and we should not confuse these two. Nevertheless, it is still worthwhile to keep in mind that translation provides a negative moment in relation to the native language, and that, therefore, without the presumption of a foreign language, the awareness of something as native language should be impossible from the very outset. Thus, it should be argued that the nativism that posits native language as an innate condition for one’s cognitive and practical capacity becomes possible for the first time only in passing through a moment of negativity in relation to native language itself. Is it not the case, as far as the tropic economy of “translation as a filter” is concerned, that to establish the identity of a native language is to posit translation as a “mediation (Vermittlung) ”? [11] Of course, in this argument so far, I have not overtly doubted that a native language could ever exist in and of itself.

Thus, the pitfalls of the tropics of the filter have been disclosed. Just as the topics – in the sense of the place of subject-matter – slips in the shift from “translation as a filter” connoting the filter as a semi-permeable membrane to the filter as an optical lens, so too is this shift accompanied by a slipping of the focus, from the binary segmentation between the spaces of the upstream and downstream flows separated by a thin membrane, to the relation of the one and the many between a native language and many foreign languages. The filter of permeability, divides two spaces, but the properties of each space are determined in relation to the other space. Each space is determined relatively, dependent upon the other space it is paired with. However, as soon as the trope of filter acquires the sense of an optical filter, the determination of the space’s property is altered: it is no longer relative. Each of the spaces separated off from each other by the filter come to be represented as if they already possessed these properties as determined within themselves. Each space is represented as if it were pre-determined in its properties irrespective of the other space from which it is differentiated. Then, we will be unable to pay attention to the very unity of the space that arises only when the threshold divides it from the other space. People tend to forget that translation is first and foremost expressed in the verb “to translate,” that translation is an event, an action, a movement. This is analogous to the way in which people forget that the national border is not a natural condition, that it is an institution created through acts of sovereignty by the state, the ruler, the national people, and so forth. In precisely the same sense, we must not ignore the fact that the border itself cannot exist independently of the act of discriminating.

II-4 What Enables Translation to be Represented as the Filter

The representation of translation as a filter attributes a fixed and definite image to translation. While it may assist in terms of thinking of translation, it also creates pitfalls for the discussions of translation. The trope of ‘translation as filter’ is not only sporadically utilized in certain exceptional ways, but tends to function as a means of organizing multiple examples in a broad sense; it serves as a schema in the comprehension of translation. In order to attempt to think what is difficult to think – the representative example of a difficulty for thought is time, and because it is difficult to represent time directly to ourselves, people depend on the schema of time. For this reason, the schema of time is well known in modern philosophy – we rely on tropes and images to provide us with some equivalents in the sensible. Without the aid of a graphic figure, a geometrical problem is difficult to apprehend, but with the aide of a rough graphical image, one can try to solve it more easily. To systematically comprehend the characteristics of a macromolecule, one appeals to its molecular formula; similarly, to comprehend the diplomatic relations of the international world one draws a map with differentiated state territories. The image or figure drawn on a piece of paper or on a computer screen, a flow chart, and various other visual figures guide our thought in istead of the direct representation of complex topics to ourselves. Thus, when we encounter the representation of a complex topic, we rely on an image, a shape, a trope, and a figure. We attempt to think of the complex topic that is difficult to represent to ourselves by relying on these images. The schema is precisely this sort of equivalent in the sensible that is applied to something difficult to directly conceive of; through the utilization of the figure or the trope, we render a subject-matter for direct thought representable, and we call this operation of schema “schematism.”

Of course, it is exactly the role of the schema to construct a relation of equivalence between a theme difficult to represent and a certain image. Equivalence is always a relationality between two terms, that is, without assuming a contrasting term, it is impossible to speak of equivalence. Yet, in the case of schematism, a schema is called for precisely because one of the two terms is posited as a representation. The relationality in schematism therefore appears to be unidirectionally-determined by only one of the two terms. It may appear that the theme is passive while the figure or image is active. Let us not forget this point: how something is made equivalent depends on the schema. As a schema, an image has the power to postulate something that cannot be represented.

The figure deriving from the trope of “translation as a filter” serves as a schema for the representation of translation. Yet, it is important to note that, in the representation of translation, not only one but also two figures are called for; translation is represented as filtration between two schemata.

The way in which translation is represented is sustained by a certain institution. Hence, this title “Translation as a Filter” is unlikely to surprise any readers – it has a certain persuasive power so that one feels that one understands it at first glance, even without a detailed explanation. It can give us a false sense of familiarity and self-evidence. But in what way is this convention of representing translation through the trope of a filter itself formed? How can we historicize this type of institution? The metaphor of the filter also contains a reverse side – that is to say, there is also a negative of this image. The image of translation unfolds in the gap between the positive and negative, it unfurls itself from surface to obverse like the turning of a page. [12]

First, let us point out two opposite directions in which the image can unfurl. The first is oriented towards the presence of the filter itself, and in doing so, leaves indeterminate the two areas divided by the filter. The difference between the two areas is dependent upon how the filter classifies and what it filters, explicitly showing us the difference between the upstream space, a mixture of the permeable and the impermeable in the process of permeation, and the downstream space, purified by the sole presence of the permeable. Yet, precisely the opposite conception is also possible: an orientation towards each of the divided areas. Here, the filter becomes a void or absence. It is possible to see translation as an act that links the gaps or ruptures between the two areas, rather than as a substantial barrier of filtration dividing a continuous space into different areas. Instead of considering it as a positive blockage that divides space, we can understand it as a negative interruption that produces impossibility of passing through by rupturing the ground. Then, translation is seen as an act which links two areas that are detached by an abyssal gap, as an operation of crossing over, as a leap to the opposite bank. The filter is transformed into something negative, a symbol of absence. The two orientations suggest two contrary views of the filter, one a rupture isolated by the abyss and the other a barrier preventing permeation, as a void that separates humans in contrast to a porous obstructing entity.

The orientations are in opposite directions, but are complementary alternatives in the model of communication; in either orientation we are led to the common presumption. Should we say that “the cup is half full,” or that “the cup is half empty?” Do we see two faces joined in profile or simply the body of a vase? A shape is dependent on the viewpoint; it can unfold itself as a trope of either substantiality or absence. When we approach it as substance, translation is close to the figure of a filter; if we approach it as a void, we associate it with the image of crossing a bridge.

This is why the metaphor of filter invites the other metaphor of abyss, for these two metaphors are alternatives complementary to one another. Even though the model of communication does not contradict the metaphor of a semi-permeable membrane, it is maybe more sympathetic to this latter model of the void. A speaker and listener who do not share the same code of a language are mutually cut off from each other by the absence of a common code. Therefore, there is no possibility for meaning to be transmitted from the speaker to the listener. Here, the absence of a common code is explained by the existence of the strange mediating figure known as the translator. The translator simultaneously possessing both codes is the mediator who crosses over the rupture. Translation is thus not the process of filtration, but the process of switching codes. The model of communication, according to which translation is nothing but a conversion from one code to another code, is accompanied by the turning of the filter into an absence and the substantialization of the spaces divided by the filter.

However, when the filter’s existence is transformed from something substantial like a barrier or semi-permeable membrane to something non-substantial like an abyss or gap, something happens that cannot be overlooked. This is that the determination of the space divided by the filter is surreptitiously transformed. Although the space split into an upstream flow and a downstream flow by the substantial filter is divided into two spaces, neither space possesses a principle of unity. In other words, these spaces can only manage to maintain their own positions precisely by being divided by an obstacle. However, if the filter is taken to be something non-substantial, then conversely, this space begins to take on substantial characteristics. We begin to be able to conceive of these divided spaces as if they possess internal unities. We become able, as it were, to treat these spaces for the first time like islands arising in the ocean of the void, as if they were unities whose contours were given form by their boundaries. If we go one step further, these spaces each acquire the capability of becoming self-sustaining unities with organic organization.

In the conception of translation that relies on the model of communication, it is no longer the filter that we notice but rather the void or rupture that separates people from each other. The trope for translation becomes one of leaping over the void to the other side, or building a bridge across the gap.

Although we are now coming from a contrary direction, this contrastive grasp of translation is still predicated on common assumptions; that translation inscribes and confirms two areas as different; translation is treated as the establishment of a connection between this side here and that side over there, two sides that pre-exist. This is precisely the reason why the two figures of the filter and of the void are jointly called forth.

In either case, the representation of translation mobilizes two schemata, and translation is represented as if it were an interaction or bridging of two separate and distinct spaces. In other words, the representation of translation is a schematism of duel schemata, a process of co-figuration.

Obviously, in the model of communication, which sees translation as a kind of switching from one code to another, the de-substantialization of the filter and the substantialization of space are two corollary processes. Thus the two spaces divided by the filter become spaces saturated by languages. As a result, translation is represented as an operation of crossing the crevice between one language and another. When language is represented by an enclosure, the filter is associated with a lens covering the optical entry into a camera and linguistic nativism begins to exercise its power.

A new moment arises when we move towards this trope of an optical filter as lens covering the camera’s main eye: space becomes specifically enclosed space. In as much as a certain flow or contiguous piece of land is split by a barrier or by the abyss, in as much as there is a division between upstream and downstream, this shore and the other shore (this world and the other world), these distinct spaces do not yet form closed areas. Space is not differentiated into interior and exterior solely by the existence of a barrier or abyss. In the trope of the optical filter, on the contrary, eye sight is enclosed within the native constraints of cognitive capacity, so every light passes through the filter in order to be perceived. In the trope of an optical filter as constraint to subjectivity, it is not only that space is demarcated; but it also implies that “I,” or “we,” are enclosed in a certain interior. When this metaphor is adapted to the question of language, we move towards a perspective which sees native language as interiority.

What then enters the picture is the image of the “I” or “we” as confined to the space of the native language. Thus, culturalist standpoints such as the national character study or the discourse of Japanese uniqueness are accompanied by the presupposition of a “we” or a “they” as nation or ethnicity confined to this space of native language.

When the space demarcated as interiority is determined as enclosure of the national language, national culture, and national subjectivity in the tropics of translation, I call it “area.” It goes without saying that the area in parenthesis refers to the area of “area studies.”

II-5 The Schema of the Filter and the World

This schematism presents translation in a representation of the world. The space split into upstream and downstream by the semi-permeable membrane soon slips towards the space of one language and another, and is finally amplified into the split between the spaces of one national language and another. Thongchai Winichakul depicts the historical transition in which the Kingdom of Siam was transformed, over the course of the 19th to 20th centuries, from a kingdom that did not yet possess clear territorial boundaries to a sovereign state with a territory enclosed by national borders. [13] He traces the process by which inter-state relations linking different states through a tribute system were transformed into inter-national relations between sovereign states identified by their respective territories. In Siam Mapped, Winichakul employs the concept of the “geo-body,” and, by depicting the discourse of cartography in Thai politics, analyzes the gradual transformation from a sovereign power without national boundaries to a modern state sovereignty with a clearly-delineated territoriality. The geo-body does not simply refer to the cartographic image of state territory, but also describes the nation as a community represented as an interiority, newly-determined as an enclosed area. In other words, the geo-body is an apparatus of imagination demarcating an interior “us” from an exterior “them,” facilitating the formation of state sovereignty through its symbiosis with the figure of the homogeneous national community as a result of which the subjects of the Kingdom of Siam began to live as Thai for the first time. Furthermore, according to Winichakul, the inhabitants were gradually unified into a single sovereign state, whereas previously it was normal to belong simultaneously to multiple states. The unification of the people or the nation of the Thai state was established through negotiations with English and French who were gradually colonizing areas around the periphery of Thailand. It was the process through which the Kingdom of Siam acquired legitimacy as a sovereign state within inter-national relations. The English and French colonization of Indochina and the emergence of the modern Thai state were not in contradiction but were instead mutually-facilitating processes.

Let me present two points as to why Winichakul’s investigation is crucial for the thinking about translation. First, he clearly demonstrates that the area in which the nation or people are located was formed through the demarcation of the national border. Prior to this, no technological means were available – neither modern cartography nor the method of triangulation – for the construction of a constant national border, and there was simply no need for unification of the territory because there were many ways to determine interior and exterior in relation to the sovereignty of the state. With the spread of customs that rigorously differentiated human beings of the interior from those of the exterior or compatriots from foreigners, the systematic legitimation of the sovereignty of the modern state was completed. There is one more point to note; this is not one directly addressed by Winichakul but is one that we can logically deduce from his argument. The establishment of the national border does not merely imply the recognition between one sovereign state that monopolizes the territory and another neighboring sovereign state, but it rather indicates a sanction by the inter-national world in general. The establishment of the national border goes hand in hand with the recognition of the international world consisting of the sovereign states, each one determined as an enclosed areas. To return to the trope of the filter, the recognition of the national border is not the division of space into two, but rather the creation of these spaces divided by the demarcation of space as enclosed areas, in correspondence with the creation of independent interiorities formed by their respective languages. In other words, the national community for the first time became possible in the inter-national world, and the destruction of the ancien régime of diplomatic relations based on the tribute system was necessary for the formation of the national community.

Of course, the international world does not refer to the system of natural relations among peoples of the world. It is a global order for mutual recognition among the modern state sovereignties that developed from the 17th century and continued well into the 19th and 20th centuries, in which the institution of the nation-state and modern colonialism came into existence.

What Thongchai Winichakul clearly shows us in the concept of the geo-body is that three processes are interrelated; 1) the representation of the world as the topos of mutual relations among “national bodies” (kokutai); 2) the determination of every site on the earth’s surface as a coordinate by means of cartographic measurement, and 3) the clear division of the population into the interior and exterior of each of the nations/ ethnicities. The relation of “here” to “there,” or to the “neighbors,” represents the life we live in a variety of ways, and brings a certain order to life by the representation of these relations. In this order we encounter things, events, and people, and comprehend them in our life experience. Let me call the framework of our life experience “the world” [14] and in the world a multiplicity of registers exist; from the quite familiar register of space-time in which “here” and “now” are assigned, the contextual relations of before and after in actions and events, the registers that express the arrangement of rooms in a dwelling or the placement of daily objects, the registers of the passage of everyday time, the registers of the knowledge of places in which to buy and consume the daily necessities of life, the dates of the calendar, to the register in which the territory of the nation-state is represented. These registers are intricately linked to each other and are continuously shifting. The total order of the representations and the comprehension consisting in these multiple instances is what I can call the schema “world.” We encounter various phenomena and comprehend them within the order by representing them: the world is this order of representation and comprehension.

The filter as the semi-permeable membrane and the filter as the optical lens are tropes that operate in differing registers. In the phrase “translation as a filter,” neither the national border nor state sovereignty is explicitly mentioned. Nevertheless, the instances of these tropes are integrated into the schematism of the world and operate in that world. Today, the reason that translation is seen as a transfer of information from one national language to another is precisely that, at present, we only attempt to conceive of translation within this modern schema of the world. As I briefly mentioned earlier, in Roman Jakobson’s theory of translation, translation is determined from the very outset as communication from one language to another. He classifies translation into three kinds: intralingual translation, interlingual translation, and intersemiotic translation. Intralinguistic translation – re-wording between the different fields of specialty or genres and intersemiotic translation – transcoding between different media – are treated as secondary to, or derivative of, the most authentic genre of “interlingual” translation, and the unity of a language is taken as a natural given. [15] Language here is conflated with national or ethnic language. Thus, for Jakobson, “proper translation” is from the very outset determined as interlingual translation. Consequently, the trope of the filter wields an awesome power in Jakobson’s discussion of translation. As long as translation is understood in terms of the model of communication, we cannot put down the analytical weapon of schematism.

II-6 The Representation of Translation and the Act of Translation

When translation is represented as the transfer of information from one language to another, it may seem that the trope of “translation as a filter” functions smoothly. This trope posits that, in translation, information is communicated while its signs are transformed from one system of code into another. In the trope of “translation as a filter,” both the utterance prior to translation and the utterance after translation are given as ones with determinate meanings. Certainly, the instant of translation indicates a rupture between one language and another, but this gap is created by means of the figure of the filter. Here, the trope of the abyss that divides this shore from that shore seems to capture the essential moment of translation – the abyss is an image that seems to beautifully give form to this gap or rupture – but the fact remains that this shore and the other shore are within a continuous world. Something fundamental is omitted from the working of this trope. Of course, precisely because it is a trope, it neither expresses adequately nor as a whole, but we must consider that it elides the indispensable moment of translation.

What is this indispensable moment? For translation to occur, one must encounter some form of incomprehensibility or unintelligibility. One translates because one does not comprehend. However, incomprehensibility cannot be reduced to the absence of correct interpretation or the lack of proper meaning. [16]

When we comprehend or articulate something in the world, the following presupposition seems to ensue. Let us take up a cut between “here” and “there” or between “now” and “soon” in order to clarify what I imply by this presupposition . What is at issue here is a situation such as this: “here” signifies my house grounds and “there” is the premises of my neighbor’s house, or “now” is today, while “soon” is tomorrow. The calendar’s daily demarcation is drawn between “today” and “tomorrow.” Or for example, a boundary line between my house and my neighbor’s property is drawn in the land registry. What allows us to insert a cut is that my house and my neighbor’s house are on a continuous land, or that tomorrow follows from today. Only when there is continuity can we insert a cut. When the surface of the earth consists solely of property with coordinates, when time is arranged in the chronological order of past, present, and future, then we are within the world as a schema. Consequently a cut occurs only within a given, continuous world, and only as long as it cannot destroy or alter the continuity of the world. In other words, the continuity of the world guarantees that we can smoothly move and create cuts within this given order of comprehension. From this world of continuity, incomprehensibility is excluded [17]. It is supposed not to exist in the world. In as much as a cut is possible in this continuous world, we are not supposed to encounter any situation that cannot be comprehended. If translation is a response to the situation in which “I do not comprehend,” then how should we rethink the relation of translation and the world that we have held onto up to this point?

Obviously, the filter is a trope for this sort of cut. It is a marker of both “comprehensibility” (wakaru koto) and “divisibility” (wakerareru koto) [18]. Yet, it is expected to indicate the locale of incomprehension! That is, it is a device whose basic feature is to represent “not comprehending ” as if it had been “comprehended.” That is to say, when we think of translation we must guard against the trope of the cut.

Thus far, I have insisted upon a rigorous distinction between the representation of translation and the act of translation because we have to be cautious about the tropics of the cut. The cut does not express discontinuity; on the contrary, the cut serves as an affirmation of continuity. Correspondingly I have tried to be exact about the idiom “translation as a filter.” It is precisely because the workings of the cut are preserved within this trope: it seals translation within “comprehensibility,” thereby eliminating its most crucial moment, which is expressed by the idiom “I do not comprehend.” In order not to confuse the act of translation with its representation, we must confront this situation of “incomprehensibility.”

I have already filled a significant amount of my allowed pages, so let me simply indicate the current state of the issues that are at stake for translation.

II-7 The Heterolingual Address

First, we cannot overlook the fact that “incomprehensibility” is essentially a matter of sociality. “Incomprehensibility” can only occur when I co-exist with “you,” and in this the basics of sociality appear. Of course, I might immediately be rebutted by someone asking whether or not any act can occur at all outside of the scene of sociality, but for the time being, let us simply state that translation occurs in the scene of sociality. As I have discussed earlier, translation is something about citation; it cannot occur in the modality of immediacy such as “I speak” or “I write.” Translation is an enunciation, but insofar as it is a citation, it is imitative and retrospective, and it is because of this retrospective referentiality to an other past text that I necessarily betray my own spontaneity in translation. [19] Furthermore, translation anticipates a differential between one who comprehends and one who does not. And it is the strange subject called “translator” who articulates this differential between the one who comprehends and one who does not. Therefore, it is rather one-sided to claim that “comprehensibility” demonstrates social connectedness between people while “incomprehensibility” expresses the lack of social connection. For a situation of incomprehension to take place there must be a relation between people. If “comprehensibility” simply expresses a situation in which communication is accomplished, “incomprehensibility” must also be a situation in which communication occurs [20]. “I do not comprehend” clearly expresses the situation in which the limitations of the model of communication are most explicitly revealed. Translation occurs in aleatory sociality , a social relation of the wager.

Translation does not occur in between one language and another. Rather, the image of a language as an enclosed and unitary totality is posited precisely through the representation of translation. Put another way, the figure of “translation as a filter” is what regulates the representation of translation. This is because the schematism of translation renders “incomprehensibility” into “comprehensibility” by projecting (tōsha) – or project-ing (kitō) – translation into the world. Therefore we can say this much: by representing translation as communication between one language and another, these two languages come to be represented as enclosed ‘areas.’ This is why earlier I referred to the schema that operates when we represent translation as “the schema of co-figuration.” [21] Thereupon, the schema of co-figuration gives rise to the institutionalized expectation that the difference of languages ought be the cause of “incomprehensibility.” However, at the locale of “incomprehensibility, translation is attempted by various people in various ways, and we cannot always mold this locale of “incomprehensibility” to the image of the semi-permeable membrane or abyss located between spatially-represented languages. “Not comprehending” takes place everywhere – or in an “exteriority” that is not simply the obverse of the interior – yet, thanks to the configuration of the international world, it is assumed that we should be able to comprehend one another within an identical language. Thus, we come to imagine a world in which incomprehensibility and comprehensibility are allocated to the cartographically demarcated territories of state sovereignties and the locations of national languages and cultures. In other words, the act of translation is located in the schema of the world as the continuous totality of those who say “I comprehend.”

Here, translation holds an ambiguity. The representation of translation is a work of presenting “incomprehensibility” as “being already comprehensible,” and the act of translation also aims at turning what I do not comprehend into “something that I comprehend.” But, the dimension of turning “what I do not comprehend” into “something already comprehended” is entirely different from the dimension of turning “not comprehensible” into “comprehensible.” Here, I do not have the space to undertake a lengthy analysis, so I ask your understanding in my employment of the problematic method of arguing by example.

By chance, I happen to meet a visitor from Africa, but I do not understand anything she tries to say. Perhaps I explain to myself by claiming that my incomprehension of her speech is caused by the difference between my language and hers.. In other words, the reason for my incomprehensibility stems from the gap between my Japanese and the Hattari that I suspect she speaks; by alluding to this gap between the two languages, I can turn my incomprehensibility into a comprehension of my incomprehensibility. Let me reiterate the point: since I do not understand the Hattari, I am not even sure that she is speaking it. However, by representing a different language as an enclosed area from which I am no doubt excluded, I comprehend my inability to understand what she is saying as a gap between two languages. This is an idealistic resolution of “incomprehension,” I must hasten to add. Let me remind us, however, that there is another manner of interaction. I do not understand what she is saying, so I look for common terms that we share by using a mixture of broken French or English, fragments of some colonial heritages she and I might share, and pursue the possibility of communal work through non-linguistic texts like gestures or maps. Evidently this is what children do when they meet someone they do not understand. What one attempts to gain by this method is neither the original meaning nor the correct interpretation. It is simply a way of turning incomprehensibility into a kind of comprehensibility. This attempt to say “let me try to understand you” is from the very beginning something collective, something co-eval (kyōsonzaiteki). I would not hesitate to call this approach a materialist resolution to incomprehensibility. Incomprehensibility is a matter of sociality. I meet a visitor who happens to come from Africa, and a situation of incomprehensibility arises. Of course, if someone who understands her speech in the Hattari is there, she can request assistance from this person, and he can play the role of the translator. However, we do not know whether or not he actually comprehends the Hattari unless he translates for our comprehension. We learn that incomprehensibility is multilayered and involves many potential relations. Our attempt to translate reveals that we are engaged in many potential relations of incomprehensibility in which we discover ourselves.

An act of translation invites another because it takes place in sociality. Translation is repetition, and one can capture a glimpse of this essence of translation. When I talk about translation, I also want to approach the act of translation from this dimension.

At the same time, it is not the case that the act of translation can completely exceed the dimension of its representation. To comprehend through translation is to return to the world, and to discover that the world to which we return has been changed. As I discussed at the beginning of this essay, the “heterolingual address” is a refusal of the idealistic resolution to the situation of incomprehensibility. In rejecting the schema of the international world in which individual national languages co-exist by their classification as mutually external to each other, one accepts that one’s everydayness is characterized by its scattered pockets of incomprehensibility – this is to say that the heterolingual address attempts to approach incomprehensibility from the standpoint that I myself am a foreigner.

II-8 In Place of a Conclusion

Since the advent of German Romanticism in the 18th century, the arguments on interpretation put forward by the Sorai school or other projects whose monuments are beyond my comprehensibility, translation has been the central institution of the Humanities, and one would not be able to understand either the formation of modern European languages or of the modern Japanese language without taking the institutionalization of translation squarely into account. Moreover, the regime of translation have always accompanied the project of nation building. For instance, it was common to argue that the ideal of democracy could be realized only in the medium of a homogeneous national language. However, this logic of imagining a society based on the presupposition of national or ethnic language, and then developing democracy within that society, no longer holds the relevance that it once enjoyed. Now the democratic subject resides not in the nation or ethnicity, but in the immigrant and the refugee, those who are heterogeneous to the assumed homogeneity of the nation. It is necessary to think of democracy not after the figure of the nation, but rather after the figure of the foreigner in us – that is, to envision a democratic society founded not on national language but on translation. [22]

The traditional discussions of translation have been constrained by the discourse of Bildung – it is well-known that the concept of culture played the most central role within the logic of the formation of the national subject. ‘Culture’ never refers to the empirical fact of what has already been but always connotes some idea of what should be. This is why culture cannot be discussed independently of subjectivity. However, culturalism is prone to overlooking the aspect of poiesis (production) inherent in the concept of culture because it conceptualizes national culture as a pre-existing given and not as something to manufacture. [23] Historically – even beyond the European contexts – culture means nothing outside the problematic of nation building. For Romantics, who distinguished between what was foreign and what was authentically national, translation possessed an important significance as the process of assimilating the ideal forms to emulate within the imported, and eliminating what was irrelevant to the ideals. [24] What was thus translated was the genre of texts that later came to be collectively called “literature,” in other words, tragedies, poems, philosophy, religious scriptures, and so forth, whereas translations of fields closely-linked to everydayness such as commerce, litigation, military affairs, immigration, and so on, were treated as “interpretation” (tsūyaku), which isolated these fields from translation in the Humanities. The heterogeneity found in those trivial genres were considered counterproductive to the formation of national subjectivity. At the present moment, however, what must be studied translation is not at all this sort of translation, a technique for the formation of elite subjects. Rather we must focus precisely on the ways in which people participate in incomprehensibility in workplace, the home, school, and so on – today, it is imperative to submit the concept of culture as well as that of translation to a total critique.

In pursuing the tropics of “translation as a filter,” I have tried to show how the representation of translation is subject to its historical limitations. There are other issues I could have treated here by analyzing the multiple forms that translation can take, and by extension, the impoverishment of the form as a result of the formation of the nation-state. For instance, I could have devoted more space to illustrating that the unity of a national language is not given in experience but can only exist as a regulative idea. But these issues have been dealt with elsewhere. By pursuing the trope of translation as a filter with regard to the figure of the international world, I have emphasized that the representation of translation operates by reproducing the international world.

The modern international world developed around two fundamental axes. One is the continually-expanding movement of commodification, while the other is the movement of containment that entraps the multiple “incomprehensible” differences in the attempt to resolve them in the direction of the “comprehended” differences of the system of co-existing nation-states. The former is well-known as the movement of the accumulation of capital, but as to the latter, we do not yet have an adequate understanding. The nation-state nurtures and cares for the “life” of the population that resides within the territory of that state in order to manage it, but this is only one aspect of the biopolitics of nationality. It also constitutes its sovereignty by selectively expelling bodies passing through its territory beyond its national borders, or by enclosing them within. The manufacture of the national subject is always accompanied by the apparatuses of expulsion as well as integration of those who are not part of the national people. Moreover, the self-legitimation of state sovereignty is moving further and further towards the domain of security. This is precisely why people such as Zygmunt Bauman and Giorgio Agamben compare the nation-state to the “concentration camp.” [25] The movement of capital accumulation and the movement of the classification of global humanity into nation-states operate together and are complicitous. Therefore, in order to confront globalization, we must first confront the structure of the nation-state’s manufacture of subjectivity. The question of translation cannot be evaded, precisely because a critical analysis of capitalism cannot be carried out on the presumption of the national subject. [26] For, the representation of translation posits the unity of a national language, and the unity of a national language has formed the inner kernel of the techniques for the manufacture of national subjectivity. It is by inventing a different way of representing translation that we can continue to seek a mode of collective being that is neither national nor ethnic.


[1]Antonio Gramsci
[2]In his well-known essay “The Task of the Translator,” Walter Benjamin argues that the best translation is one which rescues the “translatability” of the original text. In connection with this “translatability,” Benjamin speaks of the “afterlife” of the work: “by virtue of its translatability the original is closely connected with the translation; in fact, this connection is all the closer since it is no longer of importance to the original. We may call this connection a natural one, or, more specifically, a vital connection. Just as the manifestations of life are intimately connected with the phenomenon of life without being of importance to it, a translation issues from the original – not so much from its life as from its afterlife.” Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator” in Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), 71.
[3]See Jean-Luc Nancy, Le partage des voix (Paris: Galilée, 1982). English translation as “Sharing Voices,” trans. Gayle L. Ormiston in Transforming the Hermeneutic Context: From Nietzsche to Nancy, eds. Gayle L. Ormiston and Alan D. Schrift (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990), 211-259.
[4]See Naoki Sakai, “Introduction. Writing for Multiple Audiences and the Heterolingual Address” in Translation and Subjectivity: On “Japan” and Cultural Nationalism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 1-17.
[5]The model of communication has a diminished sense of the common or the collective. In general, the model communication postulates a major distinction between two representative contexts: the transfer of information between two individual consciousnesses, and, as it relates to our present question, the transfer of information between one national language and another. Although at first glance these two problems seem to designate two contrasting registers – one the micro-individual level and the other macro-collective level -the conception of the unit, either the individual or the collective, is homologous; both the individual and national language form an interiority and both are individual, indivisible entities. In the representation of translation according to the model of communication, therefore, the interior and the exterior of a language are contrasted. In the case of the individual, the external world is posited in contrast to the interiority of the individual consciousness. The model of communication thus produces the figure of the boundary that encloses either the individual consciousness or the national language as an interiority. As goes without saying, “translation as a filter” is precisely an example of the figure of this interiority.
[6]On the problems of communication, see in general the work of Gilles Deleuze. For an analysis of the complex linkages between “communication,” “commune,” “communism,” “community” and “communication,” see Jean-Luc Nancy’s La communauté désœuvrée (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1983); The Inoperative Community, trans. Peter Connor et al (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991).
[7]Roman Jakobson, “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation,” in Selected Writings, vol. 2 (The Hague & Paris, Mouton, 1971), 261.
[8]Even without taking into account deconstruction, we can point out the intertwined elements of content and form by considering the reading of Chinese texts in the Japanese style (wakun or what is referred to as kanbun in modern Japanese) as a case of translation. In this case, the existence of kunten, the punctuation marks showing how to read the Chinese text in Japanese form, preserves the form of the source language within the translated text. Ogyū Sorai, who embraced a theory of translation close to the modern view of translation, severely attacked this practice of wakun in the 18th century. See Ogyū’s Yakubun sentei and Kunyaku jimō in Ogyū Sorai zenshū, vol. 5 (Tokyo: Kawade Shobō Shinsha, 1977). However, by denying the practice of Kanbun kundoku, he rendered void the vast bulk of Japanese literary history. Considered from the perspective of translation, this effectively illustrates the irony of the notion ‘Japanese literary history,’ an institution which relies on an image of the fixed continuity of a national language.
[9]As I have criticized extensively, this type of argument stemmed from National Character Studies was reproduced in the discourse on Japanese uniqueness (Nihonjinron). At present, the substantialization of national or ethnic culture is widespread: it is not too difficult to detect a culturalism at the heart of most of the discussions that bandy about terms like the “reception” of foreign cultures or the “transcultural.”
[10]It is a widely-accepted argument that, as a biological species, humans are endowed with universal linguistic ability, which is actualized through their ability in a specific language. Human infants have the capacity to learn any language in the world as their language of birth, and therefore a native language is always a language secondary to the universal linguistic capacity of man. The typical example of this argument is expressed in Chomsky’s linguistics. See Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought (New York: Harper & Row, 1966). However, in the case of adults who have lost their general capacity for language acquisition, can culturalist arguments on subjectivity prevail?
[11]The classical explication of mediation is given by Hegel. The following is well-known: “It is possible to define being as I = I, as Absolute Indifference or Identity, and so on. Where it is felt necessary to begin either with what is absolutely certain, i.e. certainty of oneself, or with a definition or intuition of the absolute truth, these and other forms of the kind may be looked on as if they must be the first. But each of these forms contains a mediation, and hence cannot be the real first: for all mediation implies advance made from a first on to a second, and proceeding from something different.” §86 in the Encyclopaedia Logic, trans. T.F. Geraets et al (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1991); Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaft im Grundrisse, Erster Teil: Der Wissenschaft der Logik in Werke in 20 Bänden, bd. 8 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1971).
[12]Translator’s note: The term ‘honyaku’ for translation consists of two Chinese characters hon (fan in Chinese) and yaku (yi). Hon indicates a movement of turning in general, and hence the turning of a page, leaf, a sheet of paper, or palm, while yaku means interpreting in the sense of re-telling, explaining, and interpreting from one language into another.
[13]Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994).
[14]The world is first of all a schema. It is in the world that our encounters with things, events, and people are meaningful. I would like to elucidate questions as to how to understand the relation between the schematism of co-figuration and the schema of the world in the forthcoming publication Dislocation of the West since space is limited here.
[15]Jakobson, op. cit., 261.
[16]Watsuji Tetsurō constructed Ethics as the Study of the Human Being (Ningen no gaku toshiteno rinrigaku), based on a certain etymology of ‘wakaru’ (to comprehend, to be comprehensible, to articulate, and so forth) and ‘wakeru’ (to classify, to differentiate, to articulate, and so forth) What is characteristic of Watsuji’s ethics is that he refused to examine ‘wakaranai’ (not to comprehend, incomprehensibility, inarticulate, and so on). ‘Wakaranai’ is a simply negation of ‘wakaru,’ and hence the absence of sociality. The foreigner is one who does not comprehend and one whom ‘we’ do not comprehend. Therefore, there is no social relation between a foreigner and ‘us.’ Accordingly, the topic of foreigners does not exist in his ethics..” For Watsuji, “I do not comprehend” simply means that sociality is absent – it is obvious that his anthropology wholeheartedly endorsed national humanism. On Watsuji’s ethics, see Watsuji Tetsurō zenshū, vols. 10 & 11 (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1962). Watasuji Tetsuro’s Rinrigaku, Yamamoto Seisaku & Robert Carter trans. Albany, State University of New York Press, 1996; A Climate, a philosophical study, Geoffrey Bownas trans. Hokueseido Press, 1971
[17]What Watsuji Tetsurô wanted to pursue is an anthropology (ningen gaku) for this continuous world, where incomprehensibility is totally excluded. In this the ability to cut is guaranteed in advance, so that every relation is comprehensible within the given set of categories. Therefore, the sort of ethics he constructed is an anthropology without translation.
[18]In Watsuji’s ethics, ‘wakaru (to comprehend)’ is linked to ‘wakeru (to divide)’ and ‘wakerareru (to be able to classify)’, in a sort of Heideggarian etymology. The topics of comprehension and articulation are thus synthesized in his anthropology.
[19]However, can the relationship that I have to the “I” of the statement “I speak” or “I write” evade the structure of citation? What is at issue here is a transitional immediacy. As has often been questioned in psychoanalysis, is the split between the subject of the enunciation and the subject of the enunciated of a decisive importance precisely because all enunciations could have the structure of citation? Of course, this problem of citation turns us back to the question of subjectivity first outlined by Kant: on the relation of the “I” to myself. Of course, citation is also a question of the frame or framing.
[20]Translator’s note: the author argues in terms of the etymological network of ‘wakaru,’ ‘wakaranai’, ‘wakatteiru’ ‘wake’ and so forth, to show how hard it is to conceptually sustain the stances of Watsuji Tetsurô and the communication model in general. The author’s reliance upon philosophical etymology is parodist from the outset. I try to reconstruct this pseudo etymology in terms of the ‘comprehension,’ ‘comprehensibility,’ ‘incomprehensibility,’ ‘articulation,’ and so forth.
[21]See the “Introduction” to Translation and Subjectivity, op. cit.
[22]Although one might argue that it privileges the situation of Europe, Étienne Balibar’s “Europe: Vanishing Mediator?” in We, the People of Europe?: Reflections on Transnational Citizenship, trans. James Swenson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 203-235, is an extremely important work for thinking about the political meaning of translation.
[23]It is no accident that proto-typical culturalism can be found in the American anthropology of the early 20th century. American anthropologists and linguists talked about ‘culture’ in order to rescue the ethnic and tribal authenticity of the native American communities. It goes without saying that the dichotomy of the traditional and the modern worked effectively in their usages of culture. Understandably they depicted those ‘cultures’ of the native Americans as ‘traditional’ formations without any prospect of the future. The poietic aspect of culture was deliberately removed from the outset. The work of Ruth Benedict is illuminating in this respect.
[24]The formation of the modern Japanese language following the 1868 Meiji Restoration is imbricated with the formation of Japan as a modern state, and it is misleading to trace it back to the Sorai school and National Learning (kokugaku). It would be an uncritical application of national history. On the formation of Japanese language, the consideration of the new humanism of 18th century Germany is crucial. As the most famous example of this new humanism, see Wilhelm von Humboldt, Bildung und Sprache, ed. Clemens Menze (Paderborn: Schöningh Verlag, 1997).
[25]Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989); Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).
[26]For a more detailed argument regarding this point, see Naoki Sakai and Jon Solomon, “Introduction: Addressing the Multitude of Foreigners, Echoing Foucault” in Traces (4): Translation, Biopolitics, Colonial Difference, eds. Naoki Sakai & Jon Solomon (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 2006), 1-35.


Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, sehr geehrter Herr Sakai,

ich werde in der folgenden halben Stunde Herrn Sakais Paper „Übersetzung und der Schematismus der Grenzziehung“ in einer Art Kommentarform vorstellen.

Das beinhaltet eine dreifache Übersetzungsleistung:

1. Erstens handelt es sich um eine disziplinäre und thematische Übersetzung:

Naoki Sakai ist Professor für Asian Studies und vergleichende Literaturwissenschaften an der Cornell University. Er hat sich in seinen Arbeiten insbesondere mit den Problemkreisen des Nationalismus, Rassismus und Kolonialismus, der Intellektuellengeschichte, den „translation studies“ sowie den vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaften auseinander gesetzt.

Zu seinen zahlreichen monographischen Veröffentlichungen gehören insbesondere „*Translation and Subjektivity* “ sowie „*Voices of the Past*“.

Er ist Mitbegründer des Traces -Projekts und Mitglied im redaktionellen Beirat zahlreicher Zeitschriften wie etwa Postcolonial studies oder Multitudes , um nur einige Beispiele zu nennen.

Sein aus den Kultur- und Literaturwissenschaften stammender Ansatz zur Frage der Übersetzung, der sich im Rahmen sowohl des „translational turns“ sowie der „translational studies“ bewegt, werde ich also im folgenden in mein eigenes soziologisches Vokabular übersetzen. Zudem übertrage ich das Paper in ein thematisch anders geprägtes Vokabular, da ich von der Raumtheorie her komme - was man im Folgenden auch sicherlich merken wird.

2. Die zweite Übersetzungsleistung betrifft die Sprache. Es handelt sich bei Sakais Paper um einen zu großen Teilen ursprünglich im Japanischen verfassten, schriftlichen Aufsatz, der ins Englische übersetzt wurde und den ich in einen mündlichen, deutschsprachigen Kommentar übertragen werde.

3. Und die dritte Übersetzungsleistung besteht darin, dass ich den Aufsatz, der als Teil eines umfassenden Buchprojektes – nämlich „Dislocating the West“ – konzipiert ist, in einen Kommentar übertragen werde, also die rund 40 Seiten Text in den folgenden Minuten darstellen und kommentieren werde.

Das beinhaltet natürlich zunächst eine Reduktion im Hinblick auf die Länge. Ich werde nur eine Auswahl der Argumente und Beispiele präsentieren – man könnte auch sagen: Ich filtere subjektiv nach Wichtigkeit.

Und zugleich werde ich den Text derart aufbereiten, dass ich darüber was sagen kann, etwas kommentieren kann. Ich behaupte also im Kommentar, dass ich über Ausschnitte, Umdeutungen, Interpretationen und Zusätze etwas über den Text aussagen kann, was implizit schon vorhanden war oder in dessen Kontext er sich bewegt. Ich gehe sozusagen in dieser Übersetzungleistung auch über den Text hinaus, um Anschlusskommunikationen zu konstruieren.

Indem ich mein weiteres Vorgehen als multiplen Übersetzungsakt kennzeichne, befinde ich mich schon mitten im Text von Naoki Sakai : Übersetzen bedeutet für ihn keineswegs nur den Akt der Übertragung eines geschrieben Textes in einen anderssprachigen geschriebene Text, es also eine Kopplung von Übersetzung und Sprache gebe. Er legt seiner Arbeit einen erweiterten Übersetzungsbegriff zugrunde.

Allerdings steht Für Naoki Sakai fest, dass man trotz alledem in der Frage nach der Übersetzung dazu tendiert, ihre zentrale Aufgabe genau in der sprachlichen Textübertragung zu sehen. Genau deswegen nimmt er diese Annahme bzgl. der zentralen Aufgabe der Übersetzung als Ausgangpunkt.

Ein solcher Ausgangspunkt ist für ihn nötig, da das Problem darin besteht, dass es sich beim Begriff der Übersetzung eher um einen vagen und ausladenden, viele diskontinuierliche Bereiche verbindenden Begriff handelt. Es ist schwierig, klare konzeptionelle Linien zu ziehen, und zudem wird er meist metaphorisch gebraucht – insbesondere, wenn man einen erweiterten Übersetzungsbegriff zugrunde legt.

Gerade der Bezug zur Metapher führt dabei zu einem selbstreflexiven Zirkel: Übersetzung wird dann nämlich als das Metaphorische der Metapher angesehen, sozusagen als „Metapher der Metapher“. Und zudem trägt der Begriff der Übersetzung eine Dopplung in sich: er bezeichnet den Akt der Übersetzung sowie das Produkt, etwa Tausend Plateaus als Übersetzung von Milles Plateaus .

Auch wenn es sich also um einen eher vagen Begriff handelt, nimmt Sakai allerdings eine gewichtige Eingrenzung vor: Zum einen distanziert er sich von der hermeneutischen Annahme, dass in der Übersetzung die korrekte Bedeutung des Originals durch Interpretation aufgedeckt wird, die sodann übertragen wird. = keinerlei veränderndes Potential

Zum anderen grenzt er das Übersetzen vom literarischen Schaffensakt ab, da Übersetzung immer im Bezug zu einem Original steht. Sie hat den Charakter von Imitation, zitiert das Original, wobei sie dabei wie jedes Zitat das Zitierte aus seinem Kontext herauslöst. In diesem Sinne ist Übersetzung eine Art der Wiederholung bzw. Reproduktion des zitierten Originals. Da aber auch in der Wiederholung kreative Momente sind, steht Übersetzung im Spannungsfeld von „Wiederholung und Differenz“

– ein Punkt, der mir sehr zusagt, landet man mit diesem Ansatz doch nicht bei jenen Modellen, die den Zwischenräumen zwischen den verschiedenen Texten eine derart große Aufmerksamkeit schenken, dass die anderen, historisch gewachsenen Räume gelegentlich sogar aus dem Blick zu geraten scheinen.

In einem gewissen Sinne – so verstehe ich Sakais Vorgehen – brauchen wir also Metaphern, um uns über den schwierig zugänglichen und weiten Begriff der Übersetzung zu unterhalten. Sein Vorgehen besteht nun darin, der Metaphorik, wie sie traditionellerweise im Bezug auf die Übersetzung verwendet wird, zu folgen, hierbei die impliziten zentralen Schemata dieses doch eher schwammigen Konzepts herauszuarbeiten, diese Schemata zu historisieren, und von da aus durch Rekombinationen eine neue Metaphorik für die Übersetzung zu entwickeln, die nicht in die Fallen des traditionellen Blicks auf die Übersetzung in ihrer Kopplung an die Sprache gerät.

Ansatzpunkt ist hierbei die Metapher bzw. die Trope von „**Übersetzung als Filter** “, die insbesondere zwei Schemata des traditionellen, sprach- und kommunikationsbezogenen Blicks auf Übersetzung zu bündeln vermag.

a) Zum einen ist es das Schema, das durch den Filter, wie er etwa als Kaffee- oder Schadstofffilter fungiert, aufgerufen wird. Etwas Bestimmtes bzw. genau Bestimmbares passiert den Filter. Dieser ist hierbei nicht das Medium, sondern vielmehr ein semi-permeables Membran: Gewisse Dinge lässt der Filter durch, andere hält er zurück. Er blockiert sozusagen einen Fluss, der in eine bestimmte Richtung läuft. Der Filter geht hierbei von zwei Seiten aus, wobei er gegenüber der einen Seite als Hindernis fungiert; er selektiert und klassifiziert, letztlich diskriminiert er. Und das, was er aus dem Fluss aussortiert, der Rest, wird statisch gehalten, wie der Kaffeesatz, der übrig bleibt.

Der Filter klassifiziert nicht nur, sondern er wirkt auch räumlich: Er teilt einen Raum in zwei distinkte Bereiche bzw. Räume, oder wie Sakai sagt: „It splits one continguous space into two.“ Der Filter fungiert also als Grenze, in meinem Vokabular würde ich sagen: als Binnengrenze, da innerhalb eines Raumes eine Grenze gezogen wird, die dann zwei benachbarte Gebiete voneinander trennt, zugleich aber aneinandergrenzen lässt. Eine Einheit wird also aufgeteilt.

Mit diesem Bezug zur Grenze wird nun für Sakai eine weitere Metaphorik evoziert: die der nationalen Grenze. Denn auch an der nationalen Grenze wird in Bezug auf Personen und Waren gefiltert, wer bzw. was passieren darf und wer/was nicht. Gleichzeitig markiert die nationale Grenze im Bezug zum Eigentum und zur eigenen Souveränität eine Außengrenze bzw. – mit Plessner gesprochen – eine Aspektgrenze. Diese kann nicht überschritten werden: Die Souveränität des Nationalstaates endet an der Grenze, sie kann sozusagen nicht aus ihrer Haut.

Von der Grenze her betrachtet kann nun die Metapher des Filters erweitert werden: Sie trennt und diskriminiert nicht nur, sondern markiert auch eine Grenze zwischen Innen und Außen. Dies führt zu den Problemkreisen von Eigentum und Souveränität.

Der herkömmliche Blick auf sprachliche Übersetzung funktioniert zu großen Teilen in diesem Schema des Filters: Bei der Übersetzung von einer Sprache in eine andere wird das herausgefiltert, was nicht übersetzt werden kann. Im herkömmlichen Blick handelt es sich hierbei dann um diejenigen sprachlichen Elemente, die durch die Trennung von Form und Inhalt aufgerufen werden. Im Filter hängen bleiben der Code der Sprache, d.h. die grammatikalischen Regeln, Phonetik, Syntax etc., und passieren darf nur der Inhalt. In der Folge wird dann die Grammatik etc. als spezifisches Charakteristikum der jeweiligen Sprache angesehen – letztlich der nationalen Sprache, die ein Innen und ein Außen hat.

b) Das zweite Schema des Filters im Bezug zur Sprache und Übersetzung zeigt sich, wenn man den Filter in seiner optischen Bedeutung, etwa als Linse des Auges oder der Kamera versteht. Dieses offenbart sich insbesondere dann, wenn man auf die Ebene der Konstitution des nationalen Subjekts bzw. der kulturalistischen Annahme der nationalen Kulturen geht. Ein Subjekt wird demzufolge in eine Sprache hineingeboren, und diese Sprache mit ihren Regeln liefert fortan die einzige mögliche Struktur für den Weltbezug. Man kann quasi nur das erkennen, was durch die nationale Sprache bereits vorgeformt ist – so auch eine nicht unbekannte strukturalistische These. Die verschiedenen Sprachen zeugen dann von radikal differenten Formen des Weltbezugs. Wird im ersten Fall also ein Raum aufgeteilt, so handelt es sich nun um radikal differente Räume der Sprache, die kein gemeinsames Bezugsystem mehr haben.

Der Filter, der in seiner ersten Bedeutung zwischen den verschiedenen Räumen liegt, also in der Mitte, verschwindet in der zweiten Bedeutung. Die Mitte ist leer, eine scheidende Kluft, es wird von einer radikalen Differenz der Sprachen und damit der Subjekte und Weltbezüge ausgegangen. Bezogen auf die Mitte ist der Filter einmal anwesend, das andere mal abwesend – in dieser gegensätzlichen Doppelung von Anwesenheit und Abwesenheit sieht Naoki Sakai die Co-Figuration der beiden Schemata der Metapher des Filters, die aber für Sakai komplementär sind. Sie betreffen ihm zufolge dasselbe räumliche Gefüge der Sprache.

Naoki Sakai zeigt also, wir die Trope der Übersetzung als Metapher funktioniert.

In beiden Schemas wird deutlich, dass die Metapher „Übersetzung als Filter“ auf der Vorannahme beruht, dass eine Sprache ein Innen und ein Außen hat, dass eine Sprache gerade als räumliches Gefüge außerhalb und distinkt zu einer anderen Sprache angesehen wird. Das nennt Sakai die „homolinguale Adresse“ bzw. „Adressierbarkeit“, die in der Anrufung des nationalen Subjekts mit seiner jeweiligen als Einheit imaginierten nationalen Sprache funktioniert.

Deutlich wird, dass Sakai hierbei eine Verräumlichung der Analyse vornimmt in dem Sinne, dass die Schemata, die er extrahiert, die jeweilige synchrone Ordnung des Nebeneinanders zum Gegenstand haben.

Beide Schemata sind hierbei komplementär – das eine, auf der vorgängigen Einheit beruhende und das andere, das von einer radikalen Differenz und damit einem Partikularismus ausgeht, bilden für Sakai die beiden Seiten einer einzigen Medaille: die der Naturalisierung der nationalen Sprache und mit ihr des nationalen Subjekts. Dies ist die unterschwellige Annahme des herkömmlichen Übersetzungsbegriffs.

Kommentar: Allerdings stellt sich gerade diese Annahme der Komplementarität für mich ein gewisses Verständnisproblem dar. Wenn ich seine Schema auf die Raumtheorie übertrage, dann handelt es sich – wie auch gerade durch die Kopplung an die Frage nach dem Nationalstaat deutlich wird – bei ersterem Modell um das eines euklidischen Raums, der als alleinig möglicher Raum zählt und in dem immer nur Binnengrenzen gezogen werden können. Gerade durch seine Metrik ermöglicht er Verortbarkeit. Demgegenüber würde ich das zweite Schema als ein mathematisch inspiriertes topologisches Modell beschreiben, in dem die einzelnen Räume autonom sind und nicht wie in der Euklidik einen gemeinsamen Einbettungsraum voraussetzen. Die mathematische Entwicklung des 19. Jahrhunderts weg von der Euklidik hin zur Topologie allerdings als eine komplementäre Bewegung zu kennzeichnen, fällt mir schwer, handelte es sich doch um einen axiomatischen Wandel, der eine Grundlagenkrise der Mathematik hervorrief

– soviel sei hierzu nur angemerkt, aber zurück zum Text:

Warum will Naoki Sakai die Übersetzung aus der Kopplung an die Sprache befreien, den herkömmlichen Blick auf die Übersetzung genau herausarbeiten, um die Fallen aufzeigen zu können?

Dies liegt in Sakais Bewegung der radikalen Selbstverortung der Frage nach der Übersetzung im Bezug zu der gegenwärtigen Bewegung der weltweiten Globalisierung begründet.

Die Globalisierung basiert auf der historischen Entwicklung der Nationalstaaten mit ihrer Produktion der nationalen Subjekte. Indem Sakai die Metapher der „Übersetzung als Filter“ in diesem Kontext situiert, historisiert er zugleich ihren Einsatzort und ihre Funktion im ökonomischen und politischen Geschehen.

Hierbei zeigt sich, dass diese Schemata der Übersetzung zugleich zur Vorstellung einer nationalen Sprache beitragen bzw. hierdurch zuallererst die nationalen Subjekte konstituieren werden. Somit schreibt sich diese Konzeption der „Übersetzung als Filter“ quasi umstandslos in die Schemata ein, die Voraussetzung und Folge des Nationalstaates sowie heute der Globalisierung sind.

Insofern gilt:

„The movement of capital accumulation and the movement of the classification of global humanity into nation-states operate together and are complicitous. Therefore, in order to confront globalization, we must first confront the structure of the nation-state’s manufacture of subjectivity. The question of translation cannot be evaded, precisely because a critical analysis of capitalism cannot be carried out on the presumption of the national subject.”

Das Besondere, sich in der Kritik an der Globalisierung gerade dem Übersetzungsbegriff zuzuwenden, liegt aber nicht nur darin begründet, dass quasi der Reproduktion der Nationalsprache entgangen werden soll. Vielmehr sieht Sakai im Übersetzungsbegriff das eigentliche Potential zu Entwicklung eines neuen Verständnisses des Sozialen angelegt.

Denn bei der Übersetzung handelt es sich – insbesondere, wenn man es als Akt der Verbindung heterogener Dinge betrachtet, das immer auf dem Moment des Unverständlichen beruht – um ein Konzept, das uns die Möglichkeit eröffnet, soziale Handlungen und Beziehungen generell neu zu betrachten. Denn jenseits der Trope „Übersetzung als Filter“ steht für Sakai nicht die Grenze, die Diskriminierung und der Schnitt im Vordergrund, sondern die Verbindung. Übersetzung als Verbindung, als das Herstellen von Beziehungen, ist für ihn ein idealer Einstiegsort in das Soziale. Derart verstanden kann es uns bei der Suche nach einer neuen Sozialität helfen, die nicht auf Rassismus, Nationalismus etc. basiert. Und in diesem Sinne entwickelt Sakai das Übersetzungs-Konzept der „heterolingualen Adresse“ – eine Form der Demokratie, die nicht auf Naturalisierten und Fixierten und dadurch homogenisierten Einheiten beruht, sondern auf – wie Sakai schreibt – dem Fremden in uns.

Diese Selbstverortung der Arbeit am Begriff bzw. an der Metaphorik der Übersetzung in den gegenwärtigen Entwicklungen ist ein Punkt, der mir in dem Aufsatz sehr zusagt, und das aus zwei Gründen:

1) zum einen: Anspruch der Selbstverortung als ständiges Projekt, vollzieht eine bestimmte Bewegung im Text - keine Allgemeinlösung, keine allgemeingültige Antwort auf die Frage nach der Übersetzung

2) methodisch: An sich ist die Selbstverortung ein gängiges Geschäft der wissenschaftlichen Arbeit, sei es etwa, dass man von einem stabilen, transzendenten oder aber auch transzendentalen Standpunkt ausgeht, der eine sicheren und fixierbaren Ort liefert, von dem aus man aufgrund der Qualität dieses Standpunktes universale Aussagen fällen kann.

Allerdings spiegelt sich diese an sich selbstverständliche Tätigkeit bei Naoki Sakai in der methodischen Fokussierung wider: Indem er nämlich den Fokus auf die Fragen der Grenzziehung, den Raum und der Lokalisierung und Verortbarkeit legt, wird sozusagen das „Geschäft der Selbstverortung“ selbstreflexiv wieder eingeholt. Die Frage nach dem Ort kann nicht beantwortet werden ohne eine Konzeption des Ortes – und genau darin liegt für mich ein besonderes selbstreflexives Potential für die eigene wissenschaftliche Arbeit, das sich Sakai in seiner Arbeit a, Begriff der Übersetzung zunutze macht.

Zum Abschluss möchte ich noch kurz auf zwei Fragestellung eingehen:

1. Denn in gewisser Weise bin ich mir erstens auf der methodischen Ebene nicht sicher, wie ich den Aufsatz einzuordnen habe.

Dies betrifft zunächst die Frage, wie Naoki Sakai ausgehend vom Bild des Filters die Übergänge zwischen den verschiedenen Bereichen schafft.

Auf der einen Seite werden die Metaphern und Themenfelder über ihre Begriffskomponenten in Verbindung gesetzt: So errichtet etwa – um ein Beispiel zu nennen – der Filter in seiner einen Bedeutung eine Binnen-Grenze; diese wird sodann zur Begriffskomponente; über den Begriff der Grenze gelangt Sakai dann zur nationalen Grenze, die ebenso den Waren- und Personenverkehr filtert, um in der Analyse der nationalen Grenze zu erkennen, dass sich diese hinsichtlich der Frage des Eigentums und der Souveränität als eine Außen- bzw. Aspektgrenze darstellt; dies erscheint nun wiederum in die Metapher der Filtergrenze eingeschrieben.

Auf der anderen Seite verwendet Sakai Elemente aus dem Bereich des Strukturalismus: Er arbeitet mit Vergleichen, strukturellen Analogien und Isomorphien.

Gleichsam wird diese methodische Vervielfältigung noch erweitert. Denn Naoki Sakai verwendet zudem noch ein Begriffsarsenal, das in meinen Augen aus der Tradition der kritischen Theorie stammt: Sein Anliegen besteht darin, eine radikale Kritik zu üben, die an die Wurzeln geht, d.h. er sucht einen Punkt zu bestimmen, an dem man in der radikalen Kritik der Globalisierung ansetzen muss. Dieser ist für Sakai, wenn ich das richtig verstanden habe, die Produktion des nationalen Subjekts durch die Konzeption der Nationalsprache mit ihrer räumlichen Scheidung in Innen und Außen. Hierbei geht es zudem darum, Widersprüche zu erkennen und aufzudecken – ebenso wie in der Ideologiekritik ja das falsche Bewusstsein aufgedeckt wurde.

Mein Frage bezieht sich nun darauf – und das mag meiner nicht-literaturwissenschaftlichen Herkunft geschuldet sein - wie diese drei methodischen Ansätze zusammengebracht werden können, bewegen sich die beiden ersten Theorietraditionen zum Teil gerade jenseits der Annahme einer Wurzel oder eines Zentrums, an dem man ansetzen könnte. Überspitzt formuliert lautet meine Frage: Wie funktioniert eine marxistisch-strukturalistische Metaphernanalyse?

2. Die zweite Frage betrifft die kritische Potentialität der Kategorie des Raums und der Grenze: Bei Naoki Skai erscheint dieses kritische Potential in der Analogisierung und Ineinanderführung der nationalen Grenze und der Sprachgrenze.

Man könnte sich aber fragen, ob damit das kritische Potential ausgeschöpft ist. Um eine Anmerkung hierzu formulieren zu können, erlauben sie mir einen kurzen Ausflug:

Aus der Perspektive des Ansatzes von Michel Serres, französischer Philosoph, Mathematiker und Epistemologe, der die Frage der Übersetzung ebenfalls ins Zentrum seiner Überlegungen stellt (insbesondere im gleichnamigen Hermes -Band III: Übersetzung ) – würde man sagen: Der Sprachzentrismus unseres Weltbezugs ist das eigentliche Problem heute – unser Weltbezug wie überhaupt unser Wirklichkeitsbezug stellt sich nicht allein durch Sprache her. Auch Serres wendet sich dem Raum zu, bei ihm im Wesentlichen in Form der Idee der topologischen Struktur im Sinne eines radikalen mathematischen Strukturalismus. Allerdings führt Serres dies zu einer weiteren Aspektgrenze – nämlich der der Sprache selbst. Übersetzung, wie er es in seinen berühmten Nordwest-Passagen betreibt, stellt sich dementsprechend als Versuch dar, zwischen dem Materiellen und dem Sprachlichen, zwischen Natur- und Humanwissenschaften und letztlich zwischen Natur und Kultur eine Verbindungslinie herzustellen und aufzuzeigen. Das verräumlichte Verständnis der Sprache führt ihn zu den Grenzen der Sprache selbst – nicht nur einer bestimmten Sprache – und darüber zu einen – wie er angesichts des Geschichtszeichen Hiroshimas proklamiert – bitter nötigen Materialismus. Genau hierin liegt ein Grund der Verräumlichung des Sprachverständnisses – und meine abschließende Frage wäre dementsprechend, ob es sich dabei um ein Kritikpotential der Verräumlichung des Sprachverständnisse handelt, dass im weiteren Verlauf des Buchprojektes eine Rolle spielt, da es auch Naoki Sakai um eine materialistische Perspektive geht.