The Regime of Translation and the Figure of Politics

by Gavin Walker

Abstract: What is a “politics” of translation? How does translation—a general theoretical term that indicates a social process of articulation or disarticulation through which some phenomena in a given social field appear as a “two”—relate to politics as such, that is the practice of politics? Frequently, a phrase such as “the politics of translation” presupposes that “translation” is a complex and multivalent term to be unpacked, but “politics” is, in this style of composition, often treated as if it were self-evident, as if it were possible to simply affix the term “politics” to various concepts in order to politicize them. But I want to disrupt this easy notion of politics and politicization by suggesting that we must seek another means of entry into the relationship of politics and translation than simply a facile imbrication of two presuppositions. What I will be primarily concerned with here is the clarification of the question of the two—duality, two “sides,” complementarity, comparison, division, scission, antagonism, perhaps even the figure of the “dialectic.” The question of translation, and particularly the status of the two in translation, has important consequences for the thinking of politics, even the politics of politics, a metapolitics or archipolitics. I will attempt to elaborate these consequences at length in order to disrupt two complementary misunderstandings: the notion of politics as ubiquitous or constant, and the notion of translation as a simple transposition or transference between two already established positions or fields.

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