Coda: culture, totality, diversity

The outline offered above will have shed some light on the reasons for the recent attractiveness of translation – again, both as practice and concept – within the disciplinary landscape of the humanities and social sciences. More specifically, it will have contributed to a justification of the recurrent claim that TS is an ‘interdiscipline’, and for the central, mediatory role played in this process by notions of culture. The ability that TS has shown to assimilate arguments derived from broader debates on culture has also been a contributing factor to the discipline’s eclecticism, its capacity to draw on a flexible variety of intellectual models for the debates that have delineated the discipline; this accommodation of diversity in its enabling arguments can in fact be seen as compensating for the hubris of the totalising claims cited above (cf. Gentzler in Bassnett and Lefevere 1998: xiii).

It may therefore be fitting to bring this entry to a close by citing one final contribution by a scholar drawn by his own intellectual trajectory, as much as by developments in his disciplinary range, to extend his focus from other domains of inquiry to a reflection on translation. By the middle of the 1990s Wolfgang Iser, better known for his key contributions to reader-response criticism, entered the discussion on translation and culture. For Iser, in translation ‘the specific nature of the culture encountered can be grasped only when projected onto what is familiar. (…) a foreign culture is not simply subsumed under one’s own frame of reference; instead, the very frame is subjected to alterations in order to accommodate what does not fit.’ Iser stresses, in particular, that ‘such changes [i.e. those that result from the cultural interface highlighted by translation] run counter to the idea of one culture being superior to another, and hence translatability emerges as a counter-concept to cultural hegemony’ (Iser 1995: 30). This reflection reveals a productive critical assimilation of insights from anthropology, as also from other strands in the broad range of approaches synoptically described above: the poststructuralist concern with power dynamics, the willingness to extend the focus from the verbal to the social text; a foregrounding of the ethics and politics of difference; the perception that, by highlighting the inevitable coexistence of cultures (‘our multiple dependencies’ – Cronin 2003: 231), translation works against the essentialising pull of discourses on identity. Crucially for our purposes, Iser’s contribution thus offers an epitome and fitting demonstration of the tightly knit rapport of translation and culture, pervaded by a combination of intellectual and ethical aspiration, in the discursive environment of late modernity.

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