IFK_RESEARCH FOCI

CULTURES OF TRANSLATION // DIFFERENT WORK

CULTURES OF TRANSLATION

Cultural studies/Kulturwissenschaften should truly be called cultures studies/Kulturen-Wissenschaften, since they are concerned with cultures as plural and dynamic life-forms characterized by processes of movement, exchange, delimitation, transfer, and reciprocal influence and interpenetration. The multiplicity of social, political, and religious persuasions articulated in six to seven thousand languages worldwide has a corresponding array of translation strategies: from interpretation (consecutive, simultaneous) to the translation of gestures, written or audio-visual documents. Contexts and genres are relevant, whether in diplomacy, law, religion, administration, science, and literature. Strategies of translation include, to name just a few, the search for universal languages; constructed languages, such as Esperanto; transculturally comprehensible systems of signs and visualization (pictograms); globalizing effects of the circulation of images and music (which was already characterized as a world-language in Romanticism); and, not least, the search for digital translation algorithms and computer programs.

The network of early European cultural studies/Kulturwissenschaften was not just founded on the striking multilingualism of its protagonists, but also on manifold cultures of translation. It is remarkable how little attention these cultures of translation and their histories have attracted—particularly in the context of European integration and the Bologna Process. Furthermore, translators often occupy precarious positions within the academe. This is in spite of the fact that cultures of translation make important contributions to the genesis of transnational identities and to the emergence of a shared (or at least potentially shareable) cultural memory. Thus, significant individual achievements in translation could be discussed as a linchpin of the new research focus on cultures of translation. Further topics could include debates about translation theories (e.g., the distinction between source-language and target-language translation); questions about untranslatability and the untranslatable; the historical significance of mistranslations; or attempts at self-translation, calling to mind Samuel Beckett’s lament about “the usual wilderness of self-translation” in a letter to Alan Schneider, the director of Film (1965) with Buster Keaton.1

Translation should of course be thematized not only in the strict sense of linguistic translation, but also against the backdrop of an expanded concept of translation (analogous to the expanded concept of art postulated by Joseph Beuys), which sufficiently accounts for the histories of society, media, and technology, among others. This includes, e.g., attempts to render architectural structures, landscapes, images, or musical compositions in texts, sign diagrams, and codes (and vice versa). In this context, older discussions about total works of art (Gesamtkunstwerke)—as attempts to integrate text, image, and music, e.g., in opera and film—can be revived. Cinematic reform efforts, most recently in the Dogme 95 manifesto, have frequently called for an aesthetic reductionism. In his Notes on the Cinematographer, Robert Bresson wrote: “When a sound can replace an image, cut the image or neutralize it. The ear goes more towards the within, the eye towards the outer. A sound must never come to the rescue of an image, nor an image to the rescue of a sound. If a sound is the obligatory complement of an image, give preponderance either to the sound, or to the image. If equal, they damage or kill each other, as we say of colors.”2

In the context of an expanded concept of translation, priority should also be accorded to Postcolonial Studies’ discussions about the notion of “cultural translation” (with reference to Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Task of the Translator”), to findings from Animal Studies, ethnology, education, or psychotherapy, as well as to the harmonization of law and work with refugees and traumatized individuals. In short, the new research focus is designed to explore and expand the contours of a “translational turn,” as Doris Bachmann-Medick called it a decade ago.3

 

DIFFERENT WORK

Our research focus on Cultures of Translation will continue to serve as an area of exploration, for example, via our “translators in residence.” Furthermore, we aim to establish an additional research field under the title Different Work. This topic is intended to serve as an invitation to applicants who are critically confronting current sociopolitical, technological, and economic developments in the world of work. In the future, we will most likely be required to undertake different configurations of labor, an expectation that is associated with both fears and utopian aspirations. Even the “we” here remains vague. Who belongs to this “we”? In which countries and cultures? Men or women? Children or elders? Poor or rich?

The spectrum of possible projects is wide. Different Work: The title refers to transformations in the world of work, some of which had already been  described and imagined, such as the reorganization of postindustrial societies into service societies or the increasing subjectivation of work biographies expressed in terms of “Ich-AGs” (Me PLC’s) or the “entrepreneurial self” (Ulrich Bröckling). Different Work also relates to debates concerning technological perspectives—keywords: digitization, automation, artificial intelligence. Accordingly, the German Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs opened in October of 2018 a “Denkfabrik Digitale Arbeitsgesellschaft” (Think Tank of the Digital Working Society). This begs the question of whether and how “working societies” will actually persist. Rather, will the prophecy of the economist John Maynard Keynes, who in the summer of 1930 predicted that in 2030 we would spend only fifteen hours per week on work, be fulfilled? Similar utopias have also been formulated by Benjamin Franklin, Karl Marx, and John Stuart Mill. How will alternatives to our current concept of work take shape? How will ideas of leisure, vacation, and consumption find new definitions?

What would the cultures and economic orders of an age of leisure look like? Do we need to consider a “salvation of work” (Lisa Herzog) or the introduction of unconditional basic income (Rutger Bregman)? Would such a basic income, whatever it might be called, contribute to processes of renationalization or, instead, to other forms of globalization, such as strengthening worldwide institutions? A further pertinent question for an art university concerns the interfaces arising between new forms of work—such as the much-discussed start-ups, new work organizations, and platform economies—and modes of artistic practice. What will future workplaces look like? What kinds of architecture will become predominant in this regard? Offices, factories, plantations, mines, laboratories, workshops?

 By no means is it inconsequential that the concept of creativity has flourished for decades not merely as a programmatic idea for the arts, but more acutely as an economic imperative. In contrast to the creative industries, “bullshit jobs” (David Graeber) also are also proliferating: activities that are totally useless and meaningless according to the perception of the respective actors. Are we confronted today, as we likely will be ever more in the future, with social upheavals and fault lines that no longer relate merely to the growing differences between rich and poor, but also to the meaning and value of work itself? And what kinds of work—for example, housework or care services—will be included in future calculations of gross domestic products? What significance will be given to voluntary work, which is often discussed in German under the absurd title of the “Ehrenamt” (honorary appointment)?

 Different Work: all of the themes above are entwined with the question of the cultural forms of work. Our capitalist work ethic is quite a new phenomenon: Max Weber famously associated it with the rise of a Puritan-Calvinistic morality. Which ideas will possibly take its place? And what pictures and narratives will we use in describing its alternatives? Recently, the French anthropologist Marc Augé, in his manifesto on “L'Avenir des Terriens” (The Future of Earthlings, 2016), designated the “utopia of education for all” the “only utopia that matters for the centuries to come, the foundations of which must be established and secured with utmost urgency.”[1] The demand sounds a bit like “lifelong learning”. What other forms of cultural meaning making could assert themselves and prevail after the “disappearance of religions,” which Augé also considers probable?

 

 

 

[1] Marc Augé: Die Zukunft der Erdbewohner. Ein Manifest. Translated by Daniel Fastner. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz 2019. S. 21.

 

 

 


  1. Letter from Samuel Beckett to Alan Schneider, 7 November 1962. Samuel Beckett and Alan Schneider, No Author Better Served: The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett and Alan Schneider, ed. by Maurice Harmon (Cambridge, MA, 1999), p. 131.

  2. Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematographer, trans. by Jonathan Griffin (Copenhagen, 1997), pp. 61-62.

  3. Cf. Doris Bachmann-Medick, Cultural Turns. Neuorientierungen in den Kulturwissenschaften, 3rd ed. (Reinbek bei Hamburg, 2009), p. 253.