Thinking translationally/ transnationally about memory

The German historian of the everyday Alf Lüdtke has been involved in a collaboration with colleagues in RICH at Hanyang University in Seoul for the past five years, and the conclusion of this partnership was marked by an international conference on ‘Politics of Memory, Practices of Remembrance’ held in April 2013. This event gave me a chance to present some of my ongoing work on the memorialization of slavery (relating in particular to the Mémorial de l’Abolition in Nantes), but more importantly provided an opportunity to reflect on the transnational nature of memory, memory being a phenomenon that in its official form of commemoration or memorialization is more often than not reduced and confined to the national.

The programme was extremely rich, and included Carol Gluck (on ‘memory from the middle’ and on putting the ‘world’ back into memories of World Wars), Michael Schoenhals (on surveillance of the everyday in Mao’s China), Jens-Christian Wagner (on the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial), and Edhem Eldem and Halil Berktay (on the Chios Massacre and the Armenian genocide respectively). It was also enlightening to hear papers by Eunsil Kim and Seong-nae Kim on the 1948 Cheju (April Third) Massacre in Korea, an event recently lifted from international obscurity by the release (and widespread recognition) of O Muel’s film Jiseul.

What emerged from the event was a sense of memories as the multi-layered afterlives of events and phenomena—afterlives that continue to evolve after those directly involved in and with those events and phenomena have died, and after legal and monumental procedures have sought to confine or control them. As such, memory is a translational process, often literally reliant on linguistic and textual transmission, but also involving more figurative forms of cross-cultural and intergenerational ‘travelling’. A holistic view of memory work—across the various terrains (vernacular, official, individual/personal and that of meta-memory) outlined by Carol Gluck—demands attention to multiple media, to multiple directions, and to multiple forms of presence (material, oral, spectral and subliminal). At the same time, whether generated by world-historical events or, from a more localized context, granted various forms of diasporic resonance, understandings of memory benefit increasingly from awareness of its transnational dimensions—or, at the very least, of its refusal to adhere to the neatness of national frames. Such an understanding not only relativizes national emphases in memory studies (an approach that is to be welcomed as much in studies of the commemoration of slavery and abolition as it is in exploration of remembrance of the First World War); but it also underlines the different, competing memorial traditions generated by events in the past, the relationship between which often appears antagonistic but which, through memory sharing, may instead begin to exist in contrapuntal configurations.

Staging China: translation/ adaptation/ transcreation

pgcs21Staging China is an AHRC research network linked to the ‘Translating Cultures’ theme. Led by Ruru Li and Susan Daniels at the University of Leeds, it is a cross-sector partnership between a number of universities from the UK, China and elsewhere. Academic colleagues are working with theatre practitioners and others from the cultural industries in order to ask questions central to ‘Translating Cultures’: namely, how are China and Chinese culture presented in intra-cultural, intercultural and transcultural theatre productions, and how do languages and translations play a key role in stage productions to form or to alter people’s perception of cultures other than their own?

A workshop held just before Easter provided a welcome opportunity to learn more about the research emerging from this collaborative project. Two panels, open to the public and held in the University’s excellent stage@leeds facility, explored (i) contemporary Western theatrical representations of China, and (ii) the intra-cultural and cross-cultural translations of The Orphan of Zhao (a thirteenth-century classical play, based on historical events during 600-500BC).

Both sessions focused on a range of case studies, with the panel on contemporary Western representations including presentations by Stephen Pucci, the actor (and Modern Languages graduate from Leeds) who has recently starred in Chinglish, and Davey Anderson, the playwright and director who is currently working with the Scottish National Theatre to bring a season of newly commissioned short Chinese dramas to the innovative Glasgow venue, Òran Mór. Anderson described the commissioning and production process, focusing on the translation of the works from Chinese and then the transformation by a number of Scottish authors of these initial English-versions into new adaptations. His comments on this exciting new season resonated with Gregory Doran’s own observations based on the recent direction of The Orphan of Zhao at the RSC. Doran called for more literal translations of Chinese drama, allowing an expansion of the repertoire and the provision of a wider range of material on which English-language translations/adaptations/transcreations can be based. (The new version of The Orphan was written by James Fenton.) What these very different examples—Anderson’s collaboration with contemporary Chinese playwrights, Doran’s engagement with a thirteenth-century Chinese classic)—illustrate is the importance of translation in extending the field of cross-cultural reference and in ensuring the diversification of what comes to be staged.

This genuinely rich potential of a national theatre situating itself in a transnational network of performance and production was made clear by discussion of The Orphan of Zhao—for the recent RSC production was presented quite clearly as only the most recent stage in the ‘travels’ of the play. The panel and accompanying exhibition presented several other Chinese and Korean productions—the Beijing opera version premiered in 1959, the Hubei flower-drum opera version premiered in 2002, spoken drama (or huaju) versions from 2003 (by Tian Qinxin at the National Theatre company of China) and 2009, the Henan clapper theatre version from 2003, the Yue opera version from 2005, and a Western operatic style version from 2011. These examples span different theatrical genres, different moments and different (regional) sites of production; their creative translation of an ancient narrative privileges certain aspects of the story, and illustrates changing interpreations of China and ‘Chineseness’. As a body of work, they allow close interrogation of translation as a process that is at once linguistic and formal, cultural and political, intercultural and intracultural.

The network project poses a series of questions with which its participants will engage: does ‘translation’ betoken only a ‘verbal’ process, and what happens when a written text transfers through performance and travels intracultually through dialects and stage vocabulary? what modes of translation are involved when an English-language poet adapts The Orphan for the British stage? how does the process of intracultural encounter with which the play has long been associated contribute to the emergence of an intercultural work? and by extension, how can and does theatre shape the perception and reception of China and Chinese culture through the translations on which it depends?

‘Staging China’ will seek to answer these key conceptual and theoretical questions through scrutiny of skills gaps and translation practices in the theatre, and by exploring the potential application of digital technologies. Answers will usefully inform the ‘Translating Cultures’ theme as those of us linked with it aim to develop knowledge and understanding of the process and nature of translation and interpretation across different languages, cultures, historical periods, media and sectors.

Modern Languages and Translation: new partnerships and collaborations

In Is That a Fish in Your Ear?, David Bellos discusses the traditional antagonism between Modern Languages and translation—an antagonism arguably detected in the occasional questioning in language departments of the merits of ‘teaching in translation’ as well as in a (now past?) reluctance to acknowledge the ways in which translation itself may be seen to constitute ‘research’. These were issues that emerged in discussion at a workshop on ‘Translation and Reception‘ held at the French Institute in London on 12 April—but the event itself, a sequel to a 2011 workshop on ‘Constructing “Twenty-First Literature in French”‘, also co-organized by the Society for French Studies and the French Studies Library Group, provided an eloquent illustration of the ways in which these debates have moved on, and of how a new relationship is rapidly developing between those committed to Modern Languages and those with an interest in the practice and theory of translation.

The day opened with a session on the contemporary context of publishing and criticism in France today, with Patrick Kéchichian and Claire Paulhan. They explored competition between publishers, especially larger and smaller companies, presented processes of selection of what is published, and also analysed the role of the critic. This was followed by an excellent panel (with, among others, Peter Bush and Ros Schwartz) on the practices, economics and sociology of translation, exploring in particular the relationship between translators and academic critics. The speakers highlighted the problems of translation in the Anglophone world, underlining in particular the inequalities of the flow in and out of English. Ros Schwartz outlined several PEN initiatives that have responded to this situation, and stressed the importance of high quality reports to publishers on what is worth translating, as well as of innovative marketing. The afternoon began with a useful overview of the mediathèque and culturethèque in the Institut Français, foregrounding the role of literary translation in the context of soft power. The emphasis was on the impact of digital technologies in the areas of dissemination, marketing, reading and professional criticism of French literature, in the original and in translation. This was followed by a case study panel on Fred Vargas, a rare bringing together of academic expert (David Platten), translator (Sian Reynolds) and publisher (Geoffrey Mulligan of Harvill). These different perspectives on the text as a central artefact were highly suggestive of the possibilities of a multidimensional approach to literature and translation. The day ended with presentations by Rachel Van Riel of Opening the Book on audience development models and innovative ways of generating new translations, and also by Marcella Frisani (CESSP-EHESS, Paris) on the social and economic conditions that shape literary production and translation, that at times impede them, but which remain central to the selection and delivery of translated texts. Marcella concluded by discussing some innovations among smaller publishers, which are allowing translation to thrive.

In the morning session on ‘Publishing translated fiction in the UK: selection, translation, reception’, Peter Bush alluded to the traditional tensions between Modern Languages and translation mentioned above. This historical antagonism is not surprising since it has always been one of the roles of the Modern Linguist to persuade people to study texts in their original form (although it is important of course to acknowledge that no-one is sufficiently multilingual to avoid translation: as a Modern Linguist with a specialism in French whose work focuses on travel writing, postcolonial fiction and world literature, I am constantly reliant on translation to allow me access to material in a range of different languages). Modern Languages was for a long time, however, monolingual, chronically extroverted, and mimetic of the disciplinary paradigms (Germanistik, Literaturwissenschaft, lettres modernes, etc.) dominant in the countries where the languages on which they concentrated were spoken.

Despite these earlier tendencies, the ‘translation turn’ evident across the Humanities and Social Sciences has played a major role in the renewal of Modern Languages, not only in terms of teaching (allowing us to reach new students, new audiences), but also in redefining the field more generally (as David Platten suggested in the session on Vargas, translation forms a key part of many new critical approaches). Translation is part of the enhanced visibility of Modern Languages and has become increasingly central to the raised visibility of the field. Increasingly, it is the role of areas such as French studies to translate French and Francophone cultures to audiences not familiar with them, and to contribute more generally to public understanding of the importance of languages. Such a process depends on new partnerships and collaborations, on innovative conversations and dialogues. The ‘Translation and Reception’ event—bringing together some of the most important agents in the mediation of French fiction: publishers, reviewers and critics, translators, editors, academics and librarians—was exemplary of such an approach.

CFP: Intercultural business communication: Bridging the workplace and the classroom

Intercultural business communication: Bridging the workplace and the classroom

  • Date: 21 Jun 2013
  • Location/venue: Edinburgh Napier University,  Craiglockhart,  Edinburgh, Scotland 

This conference will bring together academics from business, languages, linguistics and education to discuss how intercultural skills can be developed to meet the demands of a globalised workplace.

Workplace globalisation means intercultural issues are encountered anywhere and employers and employees in local businesses, in export or in multinationals need to be ‘culturally aware’. Nevertheless, while the economic demand for intercultural skills comes from business, and a developing body of business research into these skills is emerging, much expertise is located in university language, linguistic and education departments. In practice, however, business and language, and linguistic and education areas rarely intersect and valuable opportunities for sharing findings and methodologies are missed.

This conference aims to help redress this by bringing together researchers in both areas to share findings, methodologies and insights across these disciplines.

The conference is jointly sponsored by Edinburgh Napier University Business School and the Higher Education Academy.

Call for papers

We welcome papers related, but not limited to, the following themes:

  • intercultural business negotiation;
  • conflict resolution in intercultural work;
  • cultural diversity management;
  • intercultural business communication;
  • researching interculturally;
  • issues of ‘large’ or ‘small’ cultures in business;
  • different paradigms for approaching the perception of ‘culture’;
  • the role of English as a lingua franca in global business;
  • language choice and its impact on intercultural communication;
  • the use of IT and social media in intercultural settings;
  • approaches for developing skilled intercultural business communicators;
  • intercultural communication curriculum design for business students;
  • defining and assessing intercultural communication.

Abstracts of no more than 150 words should be submitted with the names and affiliation of the author(s) to Kristen Marshall at by Monday 8th April.

‘Ungoogleable’, untranslatable

The news last week that the Language Council of Sweden has dropped the neologism ‘ogooglebar’  (a term meaning ‘ungoogleable’) from its list of official additions to the Swedish lexicon generated predictable responses. It is alleged that Google did not wish to see its trademark name diluted to refer to all web searches, and as a result requested that the term be defined instead as ‘something that cannot be found on the web using Google’. The Language Council refused. The generic use of the verb ‘to google’ seems to date back to 2001, but the controversy in this case relates to the inclusion of the ‘un-’ prefix. A company spokesperson commented: ‘While Google, like many businesses, takes routine steps to protect our trademarks, we are pleased that users connect the Google name with great search results’, the implication being that any perceived failure to yield ‘great search results’—or, at an extreme, any search results— may be seen as harmful to the brand. As with other attempts—official or commercial—to intervene in the organic evolution of language and to suggest that vocabulary can be owned, public responses have been robust and a subsequent blogquake has triggered provocative and widespread use of the term.

What interests me about the case is the extent to which the ‘ungoogleable’ may be seen to betoken a point of failure, i.e., recognition that some information may even be beyond the omniscience of a major search engine. In part, the spat may be seen to be the result of a company protecting the perceived infallibility of its brand—nothing is beyond the reach of an effective search engine; at the same time, it may be linked to a faith in progressive illumination and the fear of opacity. The ‘ungoogleable’ can in those terms be linked to the ‘untranslatable’, an aspect that I have from the outset seen as central to the ‘translating cultures’ theme. The ‘untranslatable’ reminds us that translation does not necessarily depend on the free flow of meaning between languages, but can reveal instead an enabling friction which, at its extreme, causes the creation of meaning to stall. The untranslatable is at times evidence of a lexical gap, of a lacuna which the accomplished translator will address with a battery of techniques—but moments of radical untranslatability are not to be understood in terms of success or failure, but should be analyzed in their own right as a source of insight into the forms of intercultural encounter they reveal. Victor Segalen described the ‘eternal incomprehensibility’ that divides different cultures, and Edouard Glissant built on that notion to define the ‘right to opacity’ by which colonized cultures would find the resources for resisting those who seek to control them. The ‘untranslatable’ becomes, in the light of those ideas, a positive quality, as worthy—if not more worthy—of study as the ‘translatable’ itself. Salman Rushdie notes in Shame: ‘To unlock a society, look at its untranslatable words.’

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