Boris Buden: In your book Cultural Turns the concept of translation basically comes up in two forms. One constitutes a turn in the humanities: the “translational turn.” The other denotes a methodological meta-level of cultural studies, the way it propagates itself as a science or becomes differentiated through its many turns, namely through transdisciplinary translation processes between theory, methodological stances, and research approaches. Translation also denotes the way theory is constructed within cultural studies with a strong link to the real world, or “the translation of theory” as a translation of cultural studies theories into global social contexts and the intercultural adoption of these theories. (20) To which of these qualities does the notion of translation owe its high standing in cultural studies knowledge production?
Yet, even this expansion of the horizon can and should, to a certain extent, reinforce the traditional “virtues” of an extremely precise language and text-related (philological-linguistic) work of translation – at least as a leverage for methodically keeping in check an understanding of translation that would otherwise easily get out of hand. So far at least, the increasing attempts made to appropriate “translation” as a new category of analysis for diverse disciplines of the cultural and social sciences have remained far too vague – they too often continue to overstretch the textual notion of translation into simplistic metaphors of transmission, such as “culture as translation.” There is still no convincing empirical work that does more than just hint at the perspectives of translational mediation and those issues of alienation and difference that arise in situations of cultural translation, as there is still no elaborated cultural or social science research field that investigates these concrete points of interconnection. For instance, the insight regarding the reinvention (rather than mere representation) of the original through translation is certainly another important feature of a cultural studies-based understanding of translation: originals are not simply givens or precursors; they too are created through translation in the first place. This destabilizes all notions of origin as well as concepts based on authenticity. This point of view would be worth developing, from a postcolonial perspective – beyond Walter Benjamin’s essay on translation – in relation to possible concrete examples. In this regard, for instance, Latin America is conceived not as a translation of the Spanish “original,” but as a place of active transition and of cultural production of creolization – whether through ironic mimesis of the dominant rhetoric, the translational parodic adaptation of Spanish culture, or its critical “cannibalistic” assimilations. This is one of several contexts in which additional qualities of the translation category come to light: the insight of making use of the leeway of transformation, which can also be applied within contexts of political mediation or appropriation – and the concept of translation as transformation, not least in terms of analyzing social transformation processes which bear the signatures of social and political translation processes. Yet, where and how exactly within this process is the agency of the crucial actors and mediating figures expressed? Which concrete interactive situations are of special relevance here?
Even in such empirically concrete fields of inquiry, the decisive dimension is not that of direct transfer. For, it is precisely the complexity of the transfer that draws our attention to yet another translational quality: the indispensability of indirectness, of mediating functions, which includes the acknowledgement of disruptions, rejections, misunderstandings, and conflicts that can occur – and, most importantly, the ideological (and perilous) role of the translator himself. Precisely such qualities of unwieldiness, of obstacles, of resistance are – as sociologist John Tomlinson asserts – all too easily obscured from view nowadays. For, in the global processes of networks and the effortless channels of communication (such as those enabled by mobile phones) the foremost aim is to create immediacy to the point of becoming a fetish: all forms of disturbances are concealed and, particularly in the global arena, there is a strong tendency to make translation processes invisible. Herein lies one of the most significant achievements of a critically applied, cultural studies-based category of translation: in recognizing, reclaiming, and applying these processes of mediation and these interstices to issues of communication and agency. Reclaiming those mediation processes implies creating space for zones of transfer and interruptions.
This perspective is valuable for cultural studies, not least because it analyzes the multilayered interactions and inconsistencies that emerge in cultural contacts, but also because it epistemologically traverses still predominant dichotomous approaches to perception. An approach aiming at a translational multipolarity is able to cast off binary constraints on perception and thought. It also breaks up clustered and blanket conceptions of interculturality into singular steps of translation through which – based on the real world – acts of understanding and mediation can be revealed and misunderstandings and communication blockades become acknowledged rather than obscured. But also other general notions such as modernization, identity, society, culture, etc., can be grasped in much more concrete and differentiated ways when translational processes are taken into consideration. Indeed, the mode of thinking itself also benefits from translational qualities, which stress the value of liminal and interstitial thought while reflecting on processes of mediation.
Reclaiming mediation processes (that are not necessarily always smooth, always successful, or capable of “bridging gaps”) that are sensitive to translational qualities and differentiation thus enriches much more than the analysis of cultural contacts. Furthermore, the decisive qualities of translation actually also embody the basic elements for a self-reflection of interdisciplinarity. Only by exceeding the current limits of explorations at the margins and borders of the disciplines will it be possible to clearly understand the zones of overlap between different disciplines as perhaps conflictual yet productive and readily negotiable zones of translation. This is where the points of interconnection between subjects, problem fields, and cultures – in the sense of readily translatable “contact zones” – become accessible. It is because of this, among other reasons, that cultural studies/Kulturwissenschaften itself can be seen as translation studies. With its almost programmatic pluralization and transgression of borders, this translational approach to cultural studies demands broadening its horizon to include cultural reflections beyond Western Europe. It is because of this orientation, among other reasons, that cultural studies is equipped to lay bare or even conceptualize translation(al) horizons. These would certainly be more globally accessible than the more culture-specific approaches rooted in the universalistic horizons of the humanities/Geisteswissenschaften and its outmoded role as an orientational and integrative science.
As regards these “theories” and their quasi-spatial point of departure, it is further reinforced by the configuration of the orientations of cultural studies research. This gives rise to a specific research practice that uncovers thus far obscured or suppressed dimensions of culture through forming unusual and transdisciplinary alliances and challenging connections, of which the following examples come to mind: spatially located acts of memory, the establishing of a relationship between intellectual world views and iconic-visual “images” of the world, and even the linking of tribal ritual cults to cultish/fetish-like elements such as those found in modern soccer (Hartmut Böhme). Attempts at transferring ritual-type, performative forms of transition to the analysis of threshold and initiation rituals of youth in urban clubs are further examples of how research in cultural studies derives much of its knowledge from this illustrative practice of linking concepts. What is this other than a specific form of translation?
Coming back to your question: one of the first steps toward a “translational turn” has already been taken, as “translation” has already proven to be a quasi-organizational principle within cultural studies discourse itself. Knowledge is thus seen to be gained by means of translation (qua turns) rather than by means of progression (qua paradigms) – if not only for the fact that cultural studies always comes back again and again to its own critique and to question its own culturally specific positions, analytical concepts, and theoretical assumptions. And ultimately, cultural studies returns to a reflection of the concept of culture itself: this concept, as we know, has constantly changed around “turns” throughout the development of cultural theory – from a text-oriented understanding of culture to a performative understanding, from holistic to hybrid, from contexts of meaning and discourses to practice and the dynamics of agency, from “culture as text” to “culture as translation.” The understanding of culture is therefore the result of an ongoing process within which its point of reference or quasi “original” is situated within the complex field of the cultural itself: we can no longer simply assume cultures are holistic and self-contained, because today we know that cultures are indeed “fragmented” (Clifford Geertz) and that there are no given common grounds in terms of their contexts of meaning. Instead, the cultural, but also cultural studies research, has turned out to be an ongoing translation endeavor: due to the production of relationships and possibilities of connections between different social realms, groups, fields of agency, institutions, symbolic self-assertions, claims to power, etc. This brings to mind Habermas’s most recent claim that, in order for the concerns of religious communities in post-secular societies to be heard, they must “translate” their religious language into a secular language. Another insight that provides a further impetus in the development of a “translational turn” – a process that has also been advanced by the dynamics of the other turns – is that “culture” itself is a product of “translation conditions.”
Here is an example. The perspectivizations brought about by the “turns” allow for the complex mega-event that took place on 11 September 2001 to be deconstructed into its multiple layers: in terms of the medial effects, of its consequences for a world-wide politics of symbols and – through the lens of the spatial turn – of the wide-reaching changes in the global spatial order. Through the lens of the iconic turn one can see how the power of the image culminated in the picture of the collapsing Twin Towers and how quickly the event was instated as a “mental image”, indeed as a “historical sign” (H.D. Kittsteiner). Such performative power calls for a performative analysis. It is not only the combustion point that this remarkable event signifies, which clearly demonstrates the fact that the cultural studies turns multiply the possibilities for analyzing and the perspectives for interpreting political realities, too. In doing so, they simultaneously undermine one-dimensional claims that clearly privilege interpretations from the social realm. Indeed, their implications clearly surpass the explanatory realm—and are far from the sweeping claims of a generalized Cultural turn—through expanding the field of the “cultural” itself and sounding out its points of interconnection with the political, economic, and material.
At the latest, this is the point where the sphere of multilayered cultural phenomena comprehensively comes into play. This social, or socio-cultural, sphere has more recently been considered in terms of its translation conditions. Herein lies the most notable impetus for a “translational turn”—which refers to your question about the reasons for the translational turn. If, however—as is often the case—the Cultural turn within translation studies is taken as an explanation here, I could only agree with this if it were understood in a more fundamental way: as a turn toward a translational cultural analysis in touch with the real world. This would imply that translation could be employed as a decisive strategy for addressing cultural complexity, which is precisely what makes it so valuable as a category of analysis within cultural studies.
Yet, what would a translational analysis of cultural complexity imply? To exemplify this point, let’s take another look at the mega-event of 9/11: translation studies scholar Susan Bassnett used this case as an opportunity to vastly expand the horizon of translation studies. She linked the broad range of effects from the terrorist act itself to its subtexts from a translator’s perspective. This translational endeavor is only one example from an entire field of discourse in the U.S., in which the language of history is currently functionalized to present an overdetermined and ideological translation for the “war on terror” – a translation that is, above all, typical in times of national crisis when the past is employed as a strategic foil for manipulation. I am referring to the current discourse of neo-medievalism here. Bruce Holsinger, for instance, demonstrates this phenomenon in terms of the common practice of translating enemy concepts coined to designate the al-Quaida or Taliban into a medieval frame of reference. Apocalyptic topoi and crusade rhetoric are employed to draw a line between civilization and barbarism, which is further reinforced through the practice of translation as a strategy of relating the contemporary back to past, quasi “primitive” times. This also diverts the attention from the current constellations that led to the conflicts in the first place. Here, instead of engaging in an analysis of the complex explanatory contexts in contemporary global society, a politically less challenging path has consciously been chosen, which has resulted in patent explanations including evocations of medieval imagery.
Allocating these issues to a specific timeline and axis of development and taking recourse to dichotomizations are highly questionable ways of shifting the problem’s focus. In such cases translation is conceived as a one-way process, as a strategy of simplification, as a means of diminishing the issue’s complexity. This pointedly conveys a dichotomist way of dealing with cultural differences, the epitome of which can be for instance found in Samuel Huntington’s notion of a “clash of civilizations.” In countering this claim, Homi Bhabha asserted the now widely known concept of dealing with the complexity of differences – of not only establishing differences, but also considering their scope of negotiation. What, then, would a political and cultural studies-based strategy of translation look like – one that explicitly aims to maintain cultural complexities? As I mentioned in the beginning, a constellation based on simultaneity and contemporaneity seems to provide the best basis for establishing the conditions for relating and negotiating, and they also create the possibility for reciprocity and multipolarity in cultural translation processes. Is it really necessary that there be a “complicity” between the translator’s perspective and cultural studies as part of the spectrum of “cultural turns”? Traditional categories of analysis (in the humanities/Geisteswissenschaften) such as mind/intellect, identity, tradition, etc., which presuppose a more closed set of associations, certainly seem less appropriate for analyzing the complex conditions of networks and blending within transnational power and conflict relations. What we need more than ever today are concepts that negotiate borders, translations, and relationships in order to gain insight into the logical progressions of, for instance, intercultural and interreligious translation processes. Meanwhile, situations of cultural encounter have become so complex that the multilayered interactions of such contacts must be specified and literally broken down into steps of translation in order to reveal their tacit cultural assumptions, prejudices, and (power) advantages. Gaining insight into the concrete conditions for enabling cultural interactions in terms of concrete steps of translation is indispensable, as it allows the still idealistic assumptions of intercultural dialogue or even of the reciprocity of translation processes in our global society today to be scrutinized and revised in terms of their concrete chances of realization. Does this field then contain the key questions in cultural studies that the concept of translation – which you originally asked about – can answer?
Let me summarize briefly: instead of pushing to find answers, the way the category of translation is used in cultural studies actually strives to establish radically new perspectives on the complex phenomena within cultural studies itself, i.e. for a totally different way of addressing complexity. Rather than making complexity easier to deal with by using holistic and essentialist notions, it can now be differentiated and broken down into translation steps. Rather than pressing these complexities into binary grids, the translational approach seeks to uncover multilayered relationships of translation and their points of interconnection at which interventions can take place. This also benefits the social sciences and integration studies, as for instance Joachim Renn’s new sociological approach demonstrates by exploring society in terms of its “translational conditions.” A “translational turn” also targets the problematic holistic notions of so-called identity politics and aims to recover translation as being capable of functioning within a global, transnational context—for instance through reversing the thus far unilaterally-orientated direction of translation, which is from European to non-European contexts. All of these facets, which have recently rendered the category of translation a productive area, have one thing in common: the complexity of cultural phenomena now, more than ever, becomes intelligible in terms of their blending, mediation, and translation. Uwe Wirth recently characterized the logic of cultural studies as a “transitional logic,” asserting that cultural studies “works on points of transition,” on nexuses, on relations, and on exchange. I would even take this position a step further and say that the logic of cultural studies is definitively oriented toward active translation processes – not least toward the capacity of the “turns” themselves to translate. After all, as I learned from Andrew Chesterman, “to turn” – at least in Latin, Old English, and Finnish. – literally means “to translate.”
In the end regardless of this traffic, this does not prevent translation asymmetries. For instance, in the field of Kulturwissenschaften in German-speaking countries “indigenous” approaches are too easily set aside, even the intriguing ones by the historical pioneers of Kulturwissenschaften around 1900, whose work is certainly worth to be considered anew today.. One reason they are so often omitted is the politics of science and scholarship. A too narrow focus on the German precursors on the other hand may tempt one or another scholar in the field of Kulturwissenschaften to bypass its recent and present internationalization altogether, thus closing the eyes to this specific possibility of forging intercultural connections with other knowledge systems.
The most controversial dimension of your question, however, relates to “global communication” as a translational challenge. What about “translating” into global, non-European contexts of knowledge? The category of “translation” could be a way to critically reassess the notion of global communication altogether. At least up until now, however, this communication has seemed one-directional – from the West – despite postcolonial attempts to alter the direction of communication, for instance, through the practice of “writing back.” Does this mean that we constantly will have to work on new translations, as you suggested in your question? First, cultural studies should try to make itself translatable, to be open to new connections, and should search for points of interconnection. This will certainly not work if cultural studies is understood as a form of mere “traffic studies,” as is often proclaimed, while there is still a lack of focus on (not only on the possible but also indispensable) non-European “counter-traffic,” as the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk has asserted. Not until cultural studies comes to a self-understanding as translation studies will it stop blindly paying homage to the mobility of (usually European-informed) “traveling concepts” or one-dimensional paths of knowledge transfer under the auspices of mobility, dissemination, and connection. In fact, as translation studies, cultural studies explicitly directs its attention toward the unwieldiness, ruptures, and shifts in the translation process, toward transformational appropriations and localizations – and uses them to lay the foundation for a process of reciprocal “negotiation.”
Part of such a task of translation entails not least a realistic view of the power hierarchies and asymmetries that are also evident in knowledge cultures. It is important to first become aware of the global hierarchies; recall, for example, the blindness toward significant work in Latin American cultural studies that persisted for years and is only now being addressed. It provides substantial and inspiring ideas for concepts (in particular of hybridity, transculturality, and translation), which are easily lost if one does not veer from the path of the Anglo-American syntheses of these concepts. Yet, it’s not enough to simply keep an eye out for approaches from other knowledge and scientific cultures. Ultimately, it’s about developing a common language. All the talk about global conversation, etc., won’t amount to anything – which also applies to the implicitly universalizing Western concepts here (such as human rights, democracy, freedom, etc.) – if other concepts continue to be smuggled in as “traveling concepts” within a unilateral process of “cross-cultural translation.”
By contrast, Dipesh Chakrabarty asserts that “cross-categorical translation” could be a way of opening up this mechanism in a critical manner. But does this differ at all from the attempt to examine the most common cultural studies categories and analytical concepts in terms of their translatability, to open them up and create a transgressive “global language” for cultural studies research? There are some first signs of this development. An example that comes to my mind is Traces, a synchronic multilingual (Chinese, English, Japanese, and Korean) project by Naoki Sakai and Jon Solomon. Taking its cue from a critique of the “global regime of translation” and the neo-colonialist spread of theories, it explicitly employs approaches developed in disparate places in this world. Another example is the intercultural art exhibition’s Documenta 12 magazine project (http://magazines.documenta.de/frontend/) where cultural and theory journals and magazines from all over the world were invited to comment on the same topics (modernity, life, and education). These are, however, only some of the first impulses toward strengthening the perspective of local knowledge cultures for the purpose of globally re-conceptualizing cultural studies as translation studies.
 Doris Bachmann-Medick, Cultural Turns. Neuorientierungen in den Kulturwissenschaften, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 2006 (2nd edition, 2007), ch. 5. Translational Turn, pp. 238-283.
 Cf. John Tomlinson, “Kultur, Moderne und Unmittelbarkeit,” in Ulrich Beck, Natan Szaider and Rainer Winter (eds.) Globales Amerika? Die kulturellen Folgen der Globalisierung. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2003, pp. 69-90, p. 79 quoted here.
 For more on the “translational turn” in the humanities see the Special Issue of the new journal Translation Studies (Routledge) (http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/journal.asp?issn=1478-1700&linktype=1), edited by Doris Bachmann-Medick, January 2009 (forthcoming).
 Jürgen Habermas, “Religion in the Public Sphere, in European Journal of Philosophy 14,1 (2006), pp. 1-25.
 Cf. Susan Bassnett, “Translating Terror”, in Third World Quarterly 26, 3 (2005), pp. 393-403.
 Cf. Bruce Holsinger, Neomedievalism, Neoconservatism, and the War on Terror, Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2007.
 Cf. Joachim Renn, Übersetzungsverhältnisse. Perspektiven einer pragmatistischen Gesellschaftstheorie, Weilerswist: Velbrück, 2006.
 Cf. Uwe Wirth, „Vorüberlegungen zu einer Logik der Kulturforschung“, in: ibid. (ed.), Kulturwissenschaft. Eine Auswahl grundlegender Texte, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 2008, pp. 9-67, quoted here p. 20 ff.
 Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe. Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000, p. 83 ff.
 From this multilingual publication series, see, for example, the most recent volume by Naoki Sakai, Jon Solomon (eds.), Translation, Biopolitics, Colonial Difference, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2006.