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Doris Bachmann-Medick: Cultural Translation (Sommerkurs)

43rd International Wolfenbüttel Summer Course

Cultural Translation

(Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, 14-26 July 2019)

Doris Bachmann-Medick (University of Giessen)

Application deadline: 15 March 2019


In the wake of the current “translational turn,” the category of translation has developed far beyond its traditional linguistic and textual dimension. As a cultural practice it has become a “modus operandi of our times” (Robert Young). As an analytical category it has become a “vital meeting point” (Lawrence Venuti) of the humanities and social sciences. But “translation” also has strong historical potential – for viewing historical events, processes, scenarios, and periods through a new lens and for questioning assumptions about stable cultural “identities.” Conceived from this perspective translation does not only explore a new problem field, but unfolds into an analytical category or methodological concept that has a wide, transdisciplinary range of application: it becomes effective as a valuable tool for investigating scenarios and situations that contain shifts between different contexts or passages from one level to another – indeed from one culture into another – that are more complex than those of hermeneutic understanding or mere transfers and mediations. Translation brings the production of meanings in microscopic scenarios to the fore, by acknowledging breaks, ruptures, asymmetries, misunderstandings, and transformations. Cultural Translation, thus, is not a transmission between holistic cultures, nor a mere bridge-building operation. It has to be seen as a negotiating force in in-between-zones. As such, translation must also be seen as a revealing cultural and social practice, at work in historical situations of passages, in context changes and upheavals in such various fields as conversion, mission, diplomacy, peace negotiations, status changes, etc.

This summer course aims at more than just riding the fashionable wave of the recent expansion of the translation category into an inflationary metaphor. To the contrary, it aims to return to a more concrete understanding of cultural translation, especially by referring to historical, anthropological, and other empirical case studies. This orientation includes a microscopic view of specific translational situations, interactions, and negotiations and a refocusing on mediators and cultural brokers – concrete persons who are involved in an intercultural or political encounter but are all too often suppressed.

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