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Translation and Global Spaces of Power edited by Stefan Baumgarten and Jordi Cornellà-Detrell

Reviewed by Joseph Hankinson, University of Oxford

Translation and Global Spaces of Power, edited by Stefan Baumgarten & Jordi Cornellà-Detrell. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, 2018. £34.95. ISBN: 9781788921800.

 

Stefan Baumgarten and Jordi Cornellà-Detrell’s edited volume, Translation and Global Spaces of Power (2018), gathers together thirteen essays united by the conceptualisation of translation as ‘a socially situated and decision-making activity embedded in fluctuating and often conflict-ridden networks of power’ (2). The analysis of these ‘networks’ should, the editors argue, hinge upon attention to what they term the ‘libidinal, digital and political economies of translation’ (14). As such, they propose ‘an integrated cultural-economic focus’ capable of combining the approaches associated with ‘the cultural turn’ with a more materialist sensitivity to the ‘underlying structural and institutional conditions which allow elites to reproduce their privileges and dominant positions in society’ (11).

            The structure of the book itself is intended to reflect these various ‘economies of translation’. Separated into four parts (‘Translation and the Spaces of Power’, ‘Domination and Hegemony in History’, ‘Media Translation in the Global Digital Economy’, and ‘Commercial Hegemonies in the Global Political Economy’), it organises essays in order to emphasise and encourage points of intersectionality between the ‘classical’, ‘postmodern’, and ‘structuralist’ perspectives – all to some degree popular within translation studies – and between seemingly very different specific historical events (14). For example, Cristina Gómez Castro’s essay on bestselling fiction in Franco’s Spain is profitably positioned alongside essays such as Karen Bennett’s study of ‘Radical Bible Translation’ from Luther and Tyndale to contemporary feminists, and Maria Sidiropoulou and Özlem Berk Albachten’s essay on ‘The Greek-Turkish Population Exchange’ of 1923. This positioning foregrounds the ways in which the figure of the translator is implicated in negotiating complex power dynamics, and ‘reshaping the most controversial aspects of historical experience’ (106).

          Castro’s essay, in many ways, exemplifies what is best about the volume. She foregrounds the manner in which literary ‘translation fields curtailed by censorship can be described as sites of struggle’ (110); and joins historical attention to detail (such as the widespread use of specific translation strategies – ‘modification’ and ‘elision’) to a broader analysis of the ‘interaction of authoritarian control with the subjective intuitions of self-censorship’ in Franco’s Spain (116). Indeed, her instrumentalisation of ‘the Bourdieusian prerogative to situate the fortunes of translation within sociological parameters, within fields of conflict’, amply satisfies the editors’ call for an ‘integrated cultural-economic focus’ (120). By interweaving various levels of analysis (historical, discursive, sociological, economic), she is able to reflect the complexity of power networks in action, and provide case-studies which serve to discourage any conceptualisation of these levels as non-overlapping. 

            Pei Meng’s essay on ‘Translated Chinese Autobiographies’ also convincingly exercises a Bourdieusian approach. Emphasising the ‘ideological and market-driven nature’ of many translational decisions, the essay explores translations of autobiographical writings from Communist China with particular focus on the figure of the literary agent (220). Bourdieu’s concept of ‘habitus’ informs this exploration, demonstrating its impact ‘on the selection and translation of Chinese autobiographical writings’ (220).

            Other contributions include an updated, and newly translated version of José Lambert’s 1989 essay ‘La traduction, les langues et la communication de masse’, Roger Baines’s exploration of the workings of translation and interpreting within the English Premier League, and M. Cristina Caimotto’s analysis of Italian translations of official political discourse regarding Osama bin Laden’s death – all of which continue to accentuate ‘links between translation and the globalised world’, and demonstrate, in Baines’s words, that translating and interpreting ‘processes are just as interwoven into […] market-driven power dynamics as other kinds of communication’ (127, 191). Indeed, Lambert’s characterisation of translation as ‘both an active agent in and symptom of linguistic and cultural exchanges’ is representative of the volume’s approach in general (133).

            Certain essays, however, attest to a tendency to lean upon the authority of theorists (Baudrillard and Derrida most obviously) associated with post-structuralist understandings of power and language, without explicitly endorsing the sort of ‘integrated cultural-economic focus’ heralded by the editors. Agnieszka Pantuchowicz’s essay, ‘Bloodless Academicians and the Power of Translation Studies’, for example, rightly stresses the ways in which translation studies can serve to challenge ideas such as the ‘transparency of the text’, or any claim for the ‘translator’s invisibility’ (30). Yet, by tethering these arguments to the writings of Derrida and to Lacanian understandings of desire, the essay might be seen to overinvest in post-structuralist readings at the expense of the volume’s stated aim.

            Similarly, Maria Sidiropoulou and Özlem Berk Albachten’s essay on ‘The Greek-Turkish Population Exchange’ demonstrates to great effect the ‘ways in which translation shifts reflect and refract the narratives that mediate and construct reality’ (91), but has to pause to establish the efficacy of applying Baudrillard’s idea of ‘simulation’ to their material (92). While this interweaving of theory and textual analysis does raise interesting questions about the extent to which viewing translation as simulation can provide ‘opportunities for reprocessing experiences and consolidating narratives about the self and the other in fast-moving globalised societies’, it encounters difficulties in finding a clear balance between materialist and post-structuralist readings (106).

            While the volume’s essays are in places marked by a hesitation to explicitly seek out points of intersectionality between ‘classical’, ‘postmodern’, and ‘structuralist’ perspectives, it succeeds in demonstrating incontrovertibly the importance, in Christina Schäffner’s words, of ‘shed[ding] light on the multidimensional way in which power is manifested’ in translation and translational writing (159). In exploring the ways in which translation is always embedded in uneven and globalised power dynamics, Translation and Global Spaces of Power represents an essential contribution to the field, and a vital reminder of the ways in which the figure of the translator is implicated in the discursive struggles that characterise twenty-first century existence.