The Relocation of Culture: Translations, Migrations, Borders

By | June 7, 2021

Guest post by Simona Bertacco and Nicoletta Vallorani

This volume springs from reasons that are both personal and collective and that relate to the issues of relocation and translation in a way that combines language, culture and experience. The first idea for the book was generated in Milan in June 2016, just a few days after the Brexit Referendum that declared the UK’s intention to exit the European Union. It was a watershed moment calling for an interdisciplinary approach able to produce different ways of reading the phenomena of translation and migration —and their intersection. As educators and researchers, we felt a strong need to go back texts that taught the current generation of educators and social activists in what is called the West to begin their work as intellectuals by locating themselves on the world map and evolve possible new path.

Right from the beginning, Adrienne Rich’s “Notes Towards a Politics of Location” (1984) and Homi Bhabha’s The Location of Culture (1994) – works that are both implied in the title we chose for our volume – provided a shared vocabulary to talk about culture, identity, and agency through a concrete engagement with the politics of the body, decolonization, gender, and translation. One of the new terms in Bhabha’s cultural lexicon—the third space of cultural translation—tied together translation, decolonization, and space in a way that made it possible to interpret twentieth-century culture from the vantage point of decolonization. In the 1990s and after, “cultural translation” became a buzz word, and it marked an important attempt to bring translation into a politically informed discussion about cultural relations and humanistic knowledge in the context of a world heavily marked by the aftermath of colonialism.

Reading translation through a broad and diverse bibliography (including names such as as Homi Bhabha, Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, Lawrence Venuti, Vicente Rafael, Doris Sommer, Gayatri Spivak, Emily Apter, Sherry Simon, Rebecca Walkowitz, Sandro Mezzadra, and Naoki Sakai) we argue that by using translation as a lens on the contemporary global condition and as a mode of thinking and seeing the world, we are engaging in the global humanities, that is to say, in a humanities scholarship that is—in its intentions—not just Eurocentric, or Western, and not just theoretical. The overall project locates itself firmly in translation studies and in literary and cultural studies, that is in two disciplinary macro-areas that have known alternate phases of fortune and visibility within the intellectual debate at the turn of the millennium.

The questions raised at the beginning of our work together concerned some texts that were familiar to us, that belong to different genres and media, but that share a common interest and relation to translation and migration. In practice, what do the lost children of Luiselli archive share with the shipwrecked migrants portrayed in Lustgarten’s Lampedusa? Can we create some analogy between the shadow of Jesus’s journey to death as represented in Jacir’s Via Crucis and the ghost of the dead migrant leading the journey through Europe in Knibbe’s Those who feel the fire burning? Is it still possible to locate cultures that are constantly relocated and reshaped since we’ve “gone global”? And how is translation as a process that is importantly linguistic but by no means merely linguistic become a template and a tool to make sense of a complex world? The book approaches these and other questions articulating the analysis into two separate parts, each one putting our specific areas of expertise to the service of the overall project. We thought that this book could only be written in a collaborative mode since the subject matter covers too many and complex fields to be mastered by one scholar alone.

The chapters in Part I, which is entitled Translation as Migration, focus on the view of knowledge, literature, and culture that we can extract from the practice of translation that surrounds us in our everyday lives. The chapters articulate a critical literacy—a translation literacy— that can be established by seeing translation as an experiential and epistemological condition of human life.

Part II is entitled Migration as Translation and is authored Nicoletta Vallorani. The key concept in this part is that of the border, and the basic assumption is that migration is a kind of translation, symbolically implying the total revision of one’s own identity, pragmatically requiring a new language, and in fact producing translated people. The introduction and the conclusion are co-authored, because they map our points of departure and of arrival, each part of the book has a single author.

At the end of the work, which is not the end of our research, we realized that the questions we had started from were still there, blazing. At the same time, however, the simple fact of working on a new vision of translation – more grounded in the political and social cogent issues of today, has raised in us a feeling of pedagogical and human hope. Its substance resides in the possibility we had to tie some loose ends of critical theories and creative representations in the wide research field where translation and migration meet. We feel that, at least for us, this may be a good starting point to understand more.

Simona Bertacco is Associate Professor of Postcolonial Studies and Director of Graduate Studies in Humanities at the University of Louisville, USA. Her publications include Language and Translation in Postcolonial Literatures (2014) and the special issue of The New Centennial ReviewTranslation and the Global Humanities (2016), co-edited with Pamela Beattie and Tatjana Soldat-Jaffe.

Nicoletta Vallorani is Associate Professor of English Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Milan, Italy. She is the co-editor of the online journal Other Modernities, and of the book series DeGenere (Mimesis) and Series Editor of Squaderni (Libraccio editore) and MediAzioni (EditPress). She is project leader for CODES. Crime and the Other: Decoding the European Scene. Popular Fiction and the New Narratives of Migration, twice selected as the UNIMI European Project for Creative Europe – Smaller Scale Projects. She is the head of the Research Centre Criminal hero.

The Relocation of Culture is part of the Literatures, Cultures, Translation series.

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