‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Emily Apter's Twenty Theses on Translation

Emily Apter's The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature (Princeton Univ. Press 2011) opens with her 'twenty theses on translation':
Nothing is translatable.

Global translation is another name for comparative literature.

Humanist translation is another name for comparative literature.

The translation zone is a war zone.

Contrary to what U.S. military strategy would suggest, Arabic is translatable.

Translation is a petit metier, translators the literary proletariat.

Mixed tongues contest the imperium of global English.

Translation is an oedipal assault on the mother tongue.

Translation is the traumatic loss of native language.

Translation is plurilingual and postmedial expressionism.

Translation is Babel, a universal language that is universally unintelligible.

Translation is the language of planets and monsters.

Translation is a technology

Translationese is the generic language of global markets

Translation is the universal language of techne.

Translation is a feedback loop.

Translation can transpose nature into data.

Translation is the interface between language and genes.

Translation is the system-subject

Everything is translatable.
Lovely, stimulating stuff. I don’t ‘agree’ with all of it, mind (I’m not supposed to agree with it, I suppose; any more than I am supposed blithely to 'agree' with Nietzsche’s more pared-down apothegms). But they are getting at something important by refusing to map meaning from grid to grid the way the ‘transparent’ paradigm for translation tacitly presumes. (To be a little more specific: I think ‘translation is a war zone’ is a hyperbole that muddies something true about the way texts are in conflict with other texts; the point about Arabic being translatable ‘contrary to what U.S. military strategy would suggest’ rather squanders its point—which I take to be about the sometimes murderous condescension of cultural imperialism—in cheap agit prop: the US military knows perfectly well that Arabic is translatable, after all, and sends its troops into battle with kitted-up Arabic translators alongside them. Also, I don’t see that translation is always the loss of native language, or always inevitably traumatic. But maybe that’s my Anglophone privilege showing. And the other theses touch on something really important: especially the Beckettian nothing and everything being translatable point, the feedback loop and ‘techne’ points, and translators as ‘the literary proletariat’.)

There’s an interesting review of Apter's latest book, Against World Literature, by Joshua Mostafa over at The Sydney Review of Books.


  1. Thanks for the link! 'Against World Literature' is a rich and rewarding book - especially the stuff about the translator as proletariat of the literary world. In hindsight I wish I'd mentioned that in the review. But there's so much in there to talk about!

    BTW - I'm pretty sure that the list of theses is from the beginning of 'The Translation Zone', rather than 'Against World Literature'. Unless my memory is failing me - which is quite possible!

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  3. Joshua: thank you. You're quite right -- the original version of this post attributed the twenty these to the wrong book. I've corrected it now, and am grateful to you for pointing that out!

  4. The early Canaanites had a limited ship building technology, sailing only flat-bottomed barges that hugged the shore Professional translation. The invading Sea People, some of whom stayed on, introduced among other things, a much more sophisticated maritime technology.

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