The Elements already Translated (in Literatures and Cultures)
Robert Stockhammer (Zentrum für Literaturforschung, Berlin)
The metaphor of 'Cultural Translation', which has made an impressive career in the last 10 or 15 years, tends to represent the dialogue – or the non-dialogue, or even the "clash" – between cultures as an encounter of two (or more) separate entities with each other. This might be true of the 'first encounters' having taken place in the 'age of discoveries'. Yet in our present, postcolonial and global condition, one should consider instead the elements already shared by the cultures in question – an asymmetric 'sharing', to be sure, regulated by discriminative procedures (such as, e.g., the concept of 'francophone literature' which covers all literature in French except the one written by French native speakers). If one wants to stick to the terms of 'Cultural Translation', in my opinion, the already translated elements ought to be taken as a point of departure.
Theoretical inputs for the rethinking of 'Cultural Translation' along the suggested lines might be expected from the few linguists who do not hesitate to understand creolization as a process affecting all languages i.e. not only languages having directly emerged from colonial encounters. As if to demonstrate this, literature produced in the so-called ‘representative languages’, rather than consisting of elements classifiable in the subset 'national literature', is a field extraordinarily rich in experience and experiments with several types of what I have called the already translated elements. In my paper I will provisionally distinguish two types: 1. Feigned translations (e.g. 'Ossian', or a huge part of Arabian Nights, or Mignon's "Kennst Du das Land...", as related in Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre); 2. Bilingual prose or poetry, which, when it has to be translated into one of the languages already used in the original, causes a problem usually 'solved' by inserting an asterisk (*, explained as, e.g., "Deutsch im Original", in a footnote). A short outline of various uses of this asterisk in the history of philology can show that for the most part it involves inconsistencies in assigning a respective parole to a respective langue. My hypothesis would be that Cultural Translation also has to offer an explanation for all those cases in which a certain parole (or habit, gesture etc.) cannot be unambiguously assigned to a certain langue (or code, custom etc.). In their condition of having already been translated, these elements are part neither of the source language nor of the target one.