The Eventfulness of Translation Temporality, Difference, and Competing Universals

by Lydia H. Liu

Abstract: The article seeks to develop a new angel for translation studies by rethinking its relationship to the political. It begins with the question “Can the eventfulness of translation itself be thought?” Since neither the familiar model of communication (translatable and untranslatable) nor the biblical model of the Tower of Babel (the promise or withdrawal of meaning) can help us work out a suitable answer to that question, the author proposes an alternative method that incorporates the notions of temporality, difference, and competing universals in the reframing of translation. This method requires close attention to the multiple temporalities of translation in concrete analyses of translingual practices, or what the author calls “differentially distributed discursive practices across languages.” The author’s textual analysis focuses on a few pivotal moments of translation in global history—chosen for their world transforming influences or actual and potential global impact—to demonstrate what is meant by the “eventfulness of translation.” These include, for example, the nineteenth-century Chinese translation of Henry Wheaton’s Elements of International Law or Wanguo gongfa, the post-World War II multilingual fashioning of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a focus on P. C. Chang’s unique contribution, and the Afro-Asian writers’ translation project during the Cold War.



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