TAPROOTING TRANSLATION: REFLECTIONS ON THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF TRANSLATION

  • P.P Giridhar

Abstract

The paper constitutes a prolegomena, a framework, or a scaffolding for a theoretical understructure of the phenomenon of translation, seeking to articulate what it is and what  it is not, what it could be and what it could not possibly be.  In its internal weave, translation is a complex, rich, and varied phenomenon, and in its external function, it is a life-giving, life-affirming, life-nourishing, bridge-building, bridge-repairing, barrier-breaching, breach-filling globalising, synergizing humanising exercise. Much like language itself, which, in its internal architectonics, is such a rigorously elegantly rule-governed, complex, rich, varied, thought-facilitating and mental-world creating enterprise and in its external function, is such a life-giving, life-creating, light-creating, light-giving, knowledge-building and - giving, civilization-building, evolutionary nlightenment-targeting, Self-building socially synergising exercise.  I am not sure if translation is best seen as a cluster concept, or that the definitional thrust of translation should be an open one. One needs to do some sorting, taxonomising and modularising, in case and after it is accepted as an open-ended cluster. The present exposition will claim that it is necessary to pin down things in any credible academic discipline before it endeavours to elucidate the place translation has in the history of ideas. There is doubtless some epistemic muck attached to translation at present in regard to how it relates to language, bearing on questions of translatability and untranslatability, and equally importantly, on how it is conceived as an academic discipline. One characterisation of this muck in relation to literary translation is ‘prescriptive anti-essentialism’. Except for a few people like the redoubtable Wittgenstein who made sublime sense while taking about  language, quite a few other non-linguists (e.g Derrida, Tejaswini Niranjana, Quine, Steiner, Eco and some others ) have been remarkably off-target in what they think about language. They have either overshot the target or missed it by nearly a mile. It is necessary in the interest of the pursuit of truth to outlast, and move beyond, them. Some hint of the untenability of such naive and theoretically uninformed postures about the nature of language and the nature of the phenomenon of translation is beginning to be available in the literature in the form of Clifford (1997), Giridhar (2005) and Singh (2004) inter alia. One such miscued shot (by Quine) has been successfully caught, among others, by Dasgupta (1989). On the positive side, of course, one needs to talk of how and why the place of translation is secure in the history of ideas, how it is such a powerful, life-giving, life-nourishing act and to explore how -- while it creates conditions for globalisation -- it pulls the lid off, sustains and fosters the important differences that mask the essential equally important grounding sameness of us as human beings. Without assuming an air of completeness or finality, the present paper will attempt to accomplish this, in terms of examining the sites of literary translation and expository knowledge-translation.  If poetry is untranslatable, we need to see why. We need to elucidate the dynamics, mechanics and the source of the element of ‘unself-identicality’ that inheres in the transcendent original. One reason why poetry is untranslatable is that while being transcendental, the original is arguably not self-identical (Sarukkai 2001). As we argue, it is difficult however to see how discursive texts are not self-identical. An automobile manual, for instance.  If, as we argue, all intelligibility is necessarily subject to translation, then whatever is intelligible including poetry must be translatable. Is it the case that intelligibility works at cross purposes with a text being not self-identical, with the nonself-identicality of these texts?  In any case we need a theory of semantic competence/performance, a theory that is diacritical of a principled dichotomy between grammatically determined meaning and extragrammatically determined meaning, something that Chomsky failed to do with any success (Cf Katz 1980). To deny the existence of extragrammatically determined meaning may be presumptuous. We are nowhere near a theory or explanation of such extragrammatically designed worlds in literary cosmoses despite a long hoary bequest in poetics that man has been heir to. One needs such a theory partly to explain the fact that (literary) originals are not absolutely self-identical, an insight first noticed by Benjamin (1923).

Abstract

The paper constitutes a prolegomena, a framework, or a scaffolding for a theoretical understructure of the phenomenon of translation, seeking to articulate what it is and what  it is not, what it could be and what it could not possibly be.  In its internal weave, translation is a complex, rich, and varied phenomenon, and in its external function, it is a life-giving, life-affirming, life-nourishing, bridge-building, bridge-repairing, barrier-breaching, breach-filling globalising, synergizing humanising exercise. Much like language itself, which, in its internal architectonics, is such a rigorously elegantly rule-governed, complex, rich, varied, thought-facilitating and mental-world creating enterprise and in its external function, is such a life-giving, life-creating, light-creating, light-giving, knowledge-building and - giving, civilization-building, evolutionary nlightenment-targeting, Self-building socially synergising exercise.  I am not sure if translation is best seen as a cluster concept, or that the definitional thrust of translation should be an open one. One needs to do some sorting, taxonomising and modularising, in case and after it is accepted as an open-ended cluster. The present exposition will claim that it is necessary to pin down things in any credible academic discipline before it endeavours to elucidate the place translation has in the history of ideas. There is doubtless some epistemic muck attached to translation at present in regard to how it relates to language, bearing on questions of translatability and untranslatability, and equally importantly, on how it is conceived as an academic discipline. One characterisation of this muck in relation to literary translation is ‘prescriptive anti-essentialism’. Except for a few people like the redoubtable Wittgenstein who made sublime sense while taking about  language, quite a few other non-linguists (e.g Derrida, Tejaswini Niranjana, Quine, Steiner, Eco and some others ) have been remarkably off-target in what they think about language. They have either overshot the target or missed it by nearly a mile. It is necessary in the interest of the pursuit of truth to outlast, and move beyond, them. Some hint of the untenability of such naive and theoretically uninformed postures about the nature of language and the nature of the phenomenon of translation is beginning to be available in the literature in the form of Clifford (1997), Giridhar (2005) and Singh (2004) inter alia. One such miscued shot (by Quine) has been successfully caught, among others, by Dasgupta (1989). On the positive side, of course, one needs to talk of how and why the place of translation is secure in the history of ideas, how it is such a powerful, life-giving, life-nourishing act and to explore how -- while it creates conditions for globalisation -- it pulls the lid off, sustains and fosters the important differences that mask the essential equally important grounding sameness of us as human beings. Without assuming an air of completeness or finality, the present paper will attempt to accomplish this, in terms of examining the sites of literary translation and expository knowledge-translation.  If poetry is untranslatable, we need to see why. We need to elucidate the dynamics, mechanics and the source of the element of ‘unself-identicality’ that inheres in the transcendent original. One reason why poetry is untranslatable is that while being transcendental, the original is arguably not self-identical (Sarukkai 2001). As we argue, it is difficult however to see how discursive texts are not self-identical. An automobile manual, for instance.  If, as we argue, all intelligibility is necessarily subject to translation, then whatever is intelligible including poetry must be translatable. Is it the case that intelligibility works at cross purposes with a text being not self-identical, with the nonself-identicality of these texts?  In any case we need a theory of semantic competence/performance, a theory that is diacritical of a principled dichotomy between grammatically determined meaning and extragrammatically determined meaning, something that Chomsky failed to do with any success (Cf Katz 1980). To deny the existence of extragrammatically determined meaning may be presumptuous. We are nowhere near a theory or explanation of such extragrammatically designed worlds in literary cosmoses despite a long hoary bequest in poetics that man has been heir to. One needs such a theory partly to explain the fact that (literary) originals are not absolutely self-identical, an insight first noticed by Benjamin (1923).

Published
2018-05-13
How to Cite
GIRIDHAR, P.P. TAPROOTING TRANSLATION: REFLECTIONS ON THE EPISTEMOLOGY OF TRANSLATION. GSTF Journal on Education (JEd), [S.l.], v. 3, n. 2, may 2018. ISSN 2345-7171. Available at: <http://dl6.globalstf.org/index.php/jed/article/view/1595>. Date accessed: 19 dec. 2018.