01/07/2021

The Unseen of Translatiocene – Speculative Study of Untranslatability in the Age of Translations

Vinit Agarwal

Vinit Agarwal has graduated in 2019 from Critical Curatorial Cybernetic Research Practices (CCC RP) at Visual Arts Department at HEAD in Geneva/CH after working for eight years as a full-time software engineer post his bachelor in Electronics and Communication Engineering from the University of Rajasthan in 2008; Vinit has contributed as a researcher and writer of various performative texts of theatre and poetry including at KV Leipzig, The Dark Mountain journal, Shunyakal and one gee in fog, amongst others. He worked as scientific/artistic research-collaborator in a SNSF-funded research project on technopolitics, internationalism and decolonization from 2019-2021. Currently, Vinit lives in his village Banera in Rajasthan and works as an independent researcher.

The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Meeting Room is the meeting room of the United Nations Human Rights Council
© Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), Media images.

An Anecdote in Translation

Let’s begin with an anecdote. On November 26th, 2018, the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights convened a panel in Geneva which claimed to comprise human rights defenders and community representatives from all regions of the world. I was invited to the session as a translator to translate from Hindi to English and from English to Hindi for an activist from India speaking on the first panel. The evening before the scheduled event, I visited the UN compound to familiarize myself with the settings for the working session the next morning.

I walked along the way crossing monumental buildings numbered in a linear fashion. My VIP badge displayed neatly on the chest pocket and a phone call at each security check made my passage to the “sacred” zone possible after being inspected five or six times. Finally, I was heading towards the translator’s cabin—the place to be. The Translators’ cabins were located above the spaceship-like auditorium. I climbed a winding staircase to enter a dark alley that led me to the cabin. Below me, in the spaceship-like auditorium, participants were meant to sit in a “U” formation with individual microphones placed at every seat. My cabin was in a perfect perpendicular triangle above the table where five speakers and moderators would be sitting the following morning. I could see everyone while nobody could see me, unless they were to weirdly twist their necks like a swan, backward and up towards a dim yellow light.

Inside the cabin was a monitor, where a live feed of the panel or audience would be displayed for the translator from a camera placed in the center of the room. The translator’s machine was placed next to me with various channels marked on buttons, along with a button to turn the transmission on or off, next to a micro LED that would go green or red. A headset was attached to the machine that would relay the audio together with a microphone for our voices. A notepad was placed on my desk with some pencils where I could take notes, despite the use of a notepad being highly discouraged—as recommended by simultaneous translator’s training manual: “play it before you lose it, your memory is the only archive available to consult.”

Translator’s cabin at UNHCR meeting room. Photo: Vinit Agarwal

Next morning when I returned to my assigned cabin, to my surprise there was another translator seated in the same cabin. He was to translate from Urdu to English and English to Urdu for an activist from Pakistan participating on the same panel. I met with the speaker I was to translate for, and the members of the NGO instrumental in inviting them to the conference in Geneva. I discovered through our interaction that they came from Rajasthan in India and was relieved to learn that we shared Mewari, one of the dialects of Rajasthan (though they spoke a different “telling” of it). We exchanged pleasantries and set to our task. A few minutes after the panel started, things began to fall apart. The Pakistani activist was recounting the loss of her partner and her fourteen-year-old son, both of whom having been working at the same factory, and both having died due to a fire incident, arising from a blatant disregard towards safety regulations. The company in question was a participant in the very same conference. She broke down in tears. The Urdu translator was trying to recollect both his composure and the text from the panelists that was reaching our headsets fractured, mixed with sobs and hiccups, contrasted by a deafening silence in the auditorium. He went silent for a few minutes.

His actions were accurate as per the translator’s manual. It was not an untranslatable word that made our work difficult but rather a situation itself that acted as an untranslatable, a situation that was trying to affect our bodies while we were on “the task of translation”. A voice from the translator’s training manual in my head kept instructing me “simultaneous translation is difficult, stay neutral. Increase the décalage, grab more text before you render it—allow the consciousness to define itself”. I was reminded of what Hegel wrote in his preface of The Phenomenology of Spirit: “marginal comments cannot have the value of work itself … a project is nothing until it is realized … “[1]. I was silent too and both of us were under an emotional charge, a muteness, staring into the void, standing on the verge of tears.

To make matters much worse, the technological infrastructure had been mal-adjusting to the configurations of linguistic affinities between Urdu and Hindi in the translator’s cabin where the channels and relays caused technical errors in distinguishing between Urdu and Hindi translations. With the emergence of an untranslatable situation in the panel[2], the technology-led imperfections were further multiplied significantly. Despite being given separate channel numbers, because we were in the same cabin, the technical team was unable to distinguish which of our channels to broadcast in English and when. The same happened when they transmitted us back in Hindi and Urdu to our respective speakers. To add to this, our voices intersected on each other’s channels. The technical team was constantly switching off our relays to reduce their own confusion and inability to differentiate between the two languages Hindi and Urdu, meanwhile the events taking place in the panel demanded more literal translations from us while the scope for interpretation was getting increasingly reduced. The situation escalated—until both of us, in the cabin, looked at each other and decided to speak in fragments. We allowed for the emotional charge of the speaker’s loss to mix in our voices and words and developed an unannounced “faulty protocol” (as per the translator’s manual) for the rest of the session. From then on, the audience did a lot of neck-twisting swan postures looking back toward us during the session.

From Urdu to Hindi, a line can be drawn. From Hindi to Mewari a curve can be drawn. These are lines and curves of peculiar poetics of relationship. (They have been compared to photographs taken from different angles of the same language, they have also been called languages that “dream together differently”[3]. When “meaning” does not get generated by exact semiosis obtained from a dictionary of untranslatables[4], then it is generated on this line and curve of a linguistic relationship. I apologized to the panelist on her channel, speaking to her in Mewari and informing her about the situation that arose from a combination of: the charged response of the Pakistani panelist, both Hindi and Urdu translators being located in the same cabin, and technological errors of our channels (and therefore the relays) being abruptly inter-switched. ”I can get by with Urdu, don’t worry,” she answered. Her microphone was on and her response to me got transmitted through it to the audience in the room. I was then supposed to translate “I can get by with Urdu, don’t worry” from Mewari back to the participants in English but there was no context available for it. The conversation between me and the speaker was only partially available to the audience through the unintended relay by the speaker’s microphone. I looked at the other translator in the room, gave a nod for our unannounced protocol “Translator’s meta-note to the speaker” I said into my microphone. Other translators who were translating in Spanish, French and other languages translated this “meta-translation” of “meta-note” simultaneously. An unending, intertwined, continuous feedback-based, looped, helical chain of meta-translations ensued from there, becoming a phenomenon as it was being relayed to participants, almost like a chain of nodes in machine translations enabled by neural networks. But “the translational anomaly of untranslatables” was deflected by the moderator as they moved onto the final part of the session.

Long after the nervousness, desire, loss, and hurried proceedings of this incident were over, the event stayed with me. It stayed with me as a distinctive model of translational-melancholia[5] , a melancholia whose pre-condition is one of the scandals of translation[6]. The anatomy of this melancholia is the one referred to by Jorge Louis Borges in The Library of Babel[7]. The story begins with a quote from Robert Burton: “By this art you may contemplate the variation of the 23 letters…—Anatomy of Melancholy, Pt. 2, Sec. II, Mem. IV”. Translational-melancholia is the melancholy that turns translation into art. This is the melancholy that the translation theorist Emily Apter calls a Saudade-effect, but here it is applied to the translator’s body instead of the so-called source text. A melancholy which, if channeled into mourning, can help to understand what translation means, or more precisely, the phenomenology of it, i.e. how translation happens and how translation comes to an effect. These performatives of loss give way to ontogenesis mediated by a sociogenesis[8]. If we continue further on this route, we begin to understand why translation itself is a scandal of translation.

But before we arrive at this understanding, the first accusation against my use of this anecdote as a model of translation, should be the age-old question of the difference between a translator and an interpreter. All the activities in the model above are usually ascribed to simultaneous interpretation rather than translation. The problem of the “translator-interpreter-complex” is at once historical and contemporary, at once sociological and ontological, and at once that of class-oppression and of subalternity.[9] To address this translator-interpreter-complex, however, we have to extend both translation and interpretation from linguistic notions to visual notions, sonic notions and finally extend them to the mundane—translation that happens every day and at all locations, wherever two normative canons are put in dialogue.

The Story Of The Translatiocene


To make it easy, let me tell you a semi-fictional story, a fable of the Translatiocene—an age where “once upon a time” everyone lived in an eternal translational-melancholia. The age of Translatiocene was a temporal notion of translation—an epoch of translation after the dawn of which it was impossible to return to the previous mythic state of the emergence of translation. In the Translatiocene, it was impossible to imagine the absence of translation (as much as it was impossible in the Anthropocene to return to the “primal state” of our planet due to irreversible changes made by humans). The translatiocene relates both to plantationocene and capitalocene. Haraway referred to Plantationocene as a term “for the devastating transformation of diverse kinds of human-tended farms, pastures, and forests into extractive and enclosed plantations, relying on slave labor and other forms of exploited, alienated, and usually spatially transported labor”. Capitalocene, after Jason Moore, can be understood as a system of power, profit and re/production in the web of life. Both Plantationocene and Capitalocene seem to work on a distinct time scale, with clear ends and beginnings.[10] In contrast, it was impossible to determine the beginning or end of translatiocene. This was because the need of translation would arise whenever the sociality of a group was interrupted by an out-of-kin (thus changing the social group itself into a Cthulu-socio[11]).

So the story begins: After writing The Library of Babel, Jorge Louise Borges died in Geneva and was buried at the Cemetery of Kings. One day, in a necropolitics-induced reality[12] the Library of Babel emerged. It rose from that tomb, its stones, flowers and the quotes that littered around the tomb and grew into a huge building with complex architecture. However, weirdly enough, this library of Babel, was exactly like the architecture of the UN building earlier described, a spaceship, with helical staircases leading to dark alleys where translators’ cabins above the audience were occupied by translators. Each of these translators was translating in a different language. The unrooted and hence universal spaceship-colonial imaginary, the high-aboveness and one-upmanship of a translator with respect to the speaker and audience were all architecturally inscribed in the structure. The only other people on the same floor as the translators were people from the technical team. All translator’s cabins resembled those hexagonal galleries that Borges wrote about in The Library of Babel, opening into one another through a vestibule. The Catalogue of Catalogues for this Library of Babel was the Translator’s Manual which functioned as a Dictionary of Untranslatables and was constantly brought into re-interpretation by translators. This happened because the translator’s manual was analogous to the Catalogue of Catalogues in the Library of Babel whose manuscript was handwritten by Borges and Borges’s handwriting was so bad that it is said that he himself could not read it at times. The meaning was lost, and only signs were left. These signs were nothing but alphabets of a lost language. Alphabets that were infinitely translatable since meaning was to be born in the discourse of panel discussion in retrospect. The lost language had been spoken before and will be spoken after the age of translations—the translatiocene. [13]

Historically, it was hard to determine when the translatiocene began. Whether the translator came before the interpreter or whether an interpreter was the first. In these cabins that emerged out of Borges grave, each of the translators was a traveler or was forced into exile. Saint Jerome, who lived in the fourth to fifth century AD and translated the Bible into Latin, travelled from Bonosus to Gaul. Kumarjiva, who lived between the fourth and fifth century AD and had translated Buddhist texts into Chinese, traveled to Turpan. The Greek philosopher Gemistus, who lived between the fourteenth and fifteenth century AD, had brought translations of Plato to Florence. Martin Luther who translated the Bible into German was hiding at Wartburg Castle under the name of “Junker Jörg”; the Jesuit Jakub Wujek who translated the Bible into Polish journeyed to Vienna and Rome from Cracow. They all had traveled long distances and looked back with melancholy on the source texts they left behind. A melancholia that became acute as their effort was to translate the original untranslatable—the word of God. The source text was idle and mute except that it made some undecipherable sounds. It was a subaltern that could not speak[14] and hence had to be represented by translators while translators constantly longed to enter into the impossible conversation with their source-text.

While all this took place, the translators who were caged in the Library of Babel morphed into interpreters. When did this metamorphosis occur? It occurred at a time when Roland Barthes ran wild through the Library of Babel and distributed his essay Death of the Author. Barthes went from one floor to another and to anyone he met, he said: “Once the author is gone, the claim to ‘decipher’ a text becomes quite useless.” Yet, everybody in the library knew that the textual architecture that they all inhabited was the story The Library of Babel written by Borges. Borges was dead and this architecture had grown on his tomb. As they were inhabiting a structure of death[15] of source text whose author was gone[16], a new question arose —was the semiosis on which translators’ works relied eternally lost? Nobody in the library knew how to respond to this question clearly. Yet, it was clear that every book in the library was marked with one such sign from this alphabet, and its interpretation was unavailable to anybody. Susan Sontag had denied such possibility for interpretation in Against Interpretation. Sontag referred to one such unnamed, undescribed alphabet as camp and for writing about camp was a betrayal. [17]

Those signs or alphabets as Borges wrote about them, neither indicated nor prefigured what the page “inside” the book will say. However, there was a prophecy that every translator knew in the library of Babel. The prophecy said that the lost language will come back one day and that this complex building of Babel will collapse and all translators will be liberated to finally see the “outside” (outside the structure of translatiocene, outside the book marked by the sign or alphabet and outside the Library of Babel).

In almost a theological dimension of the Library of Babel, a series of efforts towards reclamation of the lost language began. This theological dimension was attributed to this reclamation due to a certain teleological, “earthseed-like” and survival-related nature of these efforts. In the Earthseed religion, verses figure as a strategy of survival in the continuous dystopia that our contemporary reality is and cannot be otherwise. In Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Lauren Oye Olamina began to write these verses in a theological fashion in her notebook as her response to dystopia and strategy to survive. She created a religion named Earthseed, based on the idea that God is changed. This notebook, then in the current dystopia of Translatiocene, is the translator’s manual. This is “a manual to survive” that belongs to not a specialist translator but everyone since everyone is translating continuously and habitating this dystopia. The translator’s agency to change the source text which has long held the status of god, like god in Earthseed needs to be protected (if god is change as proposed in Parable of the Sower and we need to protect the god, then, consequently, we need to protect the change).[18] Protecting change instead of an imagined original, would make loyalty to a source text obsolete and turn translation into transcreation. Elsewhere, in Kindred and in Butler’s novel Wild Seed included in Patternmaster series and Toni Morisson’s novel Beloved, to aim at a relationship with a theological dimension as the objective reason that directs the truth (necessary both for survival and translation) becomes clearer. This “modeling” of dystopia of the present is always pushed by forces and powers in the Translatiocene to teleological, a forecasting of that which is not yet (like the hordes of climate change deniers in the so-called Anthropocene/Capitalocene). However, Butler’s Parable of Sowers and the Earthseed religion clearly present that this is a model of “future-present”.[19] This is why the “teleological” of the translatiocene has to be accompanied by Earthseed to understand the present condition of the translatiocene. This qualification of “pure reason” in contrast to objective or subjective reason of translation was originally made with two devices―a priori and a posteriori. A “proposition” or a source text made its meaning clear only and only under these conditions. Outside the conditions of a priori and a posteriori, the meaning did not exist. The environment “outside” (again as in Parable of the Sowers) was hostile to survival of source text, “proposition” or original meaning of the text. The semiosis of source text was to arrive a posteriori, when the act of translation was complete. This was also the binding condition of translation. A translation had to make some “sense” and reflect some meaning whether or not the original one of the authors considered the translation “complete”. Thus from this condition there was no liberation possible. In other words, there was no possibility of fugitivity from an a posteriori condition. However, the semantics unlike semiosis had the possibility since semantics was delivered a priori―which would be akin to the various announcements by ”prophets” and their prophecies of second-coming (like in Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Christianity) while they themselves were there (a-priori) and only condition that would qualify this possibility was in future, a time long to come (a-posteriori) .

O Time thy pyramids

The first reclamation of the lost language was made by English itself. It went everywhere in this Library and in Babel, and announced itself to be the language that would be able to liberate one from translational-melancholia by always being equally available and universally applicable for every task at hand. In the second axiom of the Library of Babel, Borges described the alphabet of lost language with 29 letters (26 letters plus the period, the comma, and the space) as the set that has been sufficient for the last 300 years of colonization in it’s linguistic, technological and artistic translational endeavors. Thus, this alphabet could be seen as the original and ever-present general theory of translation. English was also the language of our intermediation in the UN conference. Each translator spoke English and we were able to channel it back and forth into the “other” language. However, our accents, which did not mean norms and standards of phonetics, the so-called neutral pronunciations which turned this language into weird fiction.

Slowly this claim of English, gave in to “other Englishes” which “neo-liberated” the discourse from standardization. The new English even accommodated some words from “other” languages verbatim. It was open enough to accommodate us all! Finally, the subaltern dialects whose speakers sounded “funny” and “weird” in both their spoken and written texts could throw a gala party to celebrate their inclusion! However, these were exactly the same 300 years from the beginning of the attempt of the West to civilize the rest of the world that first vectored in colonialism and then into continued coloniality. As the proceedings of the UN conference in the anecdote above remain a testimony to this, this accommodation rather became a suffocation, it became an instrumentalization of translators’ bodies and historical privileges written into the languages spoken—a container that leaked; and the possibility of liberation from Translatiocene would have come from this leaking.

These leaks had long been visible at various points in the history of those 300 years at the Library of Babel and the English language had to hide and seal those leaks. The first of these reparations to the claim of English was the proposition of Globish—the standardized, impoverished form of English, the monolingualism of corporate management so to speak—one that referred to knowledge as a database. This claim was soon found to be weak and we, the inhabitants of the Translatiocene, had to make a call to digitality, a “new-renaissance” which made the supplies of digital alphabets—that came from 1 and 0 to strengthen it. In as much as in the old renaissance, Vitruvius was made the chief consultant with his proposition of L’uomo Vitruviano, in the new renaissance, the chief consultant was Leibniz. Apart from developing a notation system of calculus and reinvention of the wheel, Leibniz refined the binary number system, which has been the foundation of all digital computers. These alphabets carried the Promethean promise of erasing every other language with techno-fixes as their identity disappeared in the digital alphabets. Everyone was an equal citizen of this newly formed digital-lingual-identity a.k.a. one love. However, the present has always loomed heavily on the future, the “today” was infected with the Translatiocene and that infection impinged on what it could become. So to address this contemporaneity, a series of machine learning enabled translations were launched into the play.

The latest and strongest of which were Bidirectional Recurrent Neural Networks (BRNNs) that enable online translators such as DeepL. Recurrent Neural Networks and other previous versions of BRNN do not allow input data to vary. The classic models of Machine translations lost the long relationship of the data because of n-gram language models that relied on word-for-word translations. As a result, the idiomatic language disappeared from the target language in machine translations. Deceptive cognates and syntactic duplicates, since they lead to “nonsense,” were banished from the Library of Babel with the arrival of machine translation. However, in BRNN words were real-valued vectors. One could draw a projection matrix in both forward and backward directions to see what the next word would be. And one could weigh the probability of this happening based on the vectors available. While in recurrent neural networks only the past was considered. In BRNN however, both past and future contexts were considered (since it is bidirectional), making it the strongest candidate up to date in translatiocene to become that lost language.

While this claim remained strongest—the corpora of texts on which the BRNN models trained became more prominent: Each time a person corrected the translation of DeepL, the corpora improved. As machine translation tried to be that lost language, in all its strength, it became the very standard, cutting off any mutations possible into different dialects and a mutational poetics of relationship between languages was replaced by standard vectors of neural networks.

In the translator’s cabin at the UN, I also made an attempt to claim that lost language. My proposition was that it came from dialects such as Mewari which do not have any written representation—Mewari, the dialect in which the activist-speaker responded to me saying those words—“I can get by from Urdu, don’t worry”. This moment when technology became an imperfect librarian, as Borges would call it in the first axiom of the Library of Babel. The work of chance, due to the fact that the microphone was left on, played into this dialectical untranslatable delivery, which with my intermediation of the translator’s note—”Translator’s meta-note to the speaker” then translated into a series of backward recurrent neural network-like configurations from different translators’ cabins. Furthermore, Borges equated this dialectal with the “primitive”, something that became incomprehensible as it varied away from a source language—while at the same time the source language was considered more authentic with reference to this variation. Of course, in my opinion, Borges was wrong. I believed in this dialectical process, in its suitability to become the lost language in the Translatiocene. However, at the same time I feared that this language would be captured by discourse (a few attempts have already been made in this direction with the discussions on creolization). This consideration of dialects as the lost language was dangerous. Since every announcement fed into a technological system in this tower of Babel, it made the technological systems stronger. The announcement of dialects as lost language would have meant recapturing dialects by technological systems of translation. Once incorporated in the corpora of machine-enabled and machine learning of translations, dialects would lose their opacity, they would gain a response-ability which would erase their untransability. I had no strategy to protect this untranslatability. Thus, I hesitated to make the claim that dialects were the lost language of the Library of Babel.

Yet amongst all the books, the catalogue of catalogues, the translator’s manual was the only dysfunctional member of the Library of Babel. There was a conversation that happened between these books of the library that were marked by undecipherable signs. They spoke to each other in the night. In person, text-to-text.

(Suddenly we hear Thunderbolt and flashes. The lost audience becomes aware of the stage dimensions as a yellow light becomes clearer on the stage. The characters of the library of Babel who are essentially theoreticians of translations are holding each other’s hands encircling the translator and interpreter so that they cannot escape.)

Emily Apter (The Translation Zone): “Translation is a Technology.”

Lawrence Lessig (Code is Law): “Yes, and Code is law.”

(They begin to move in a circle around translator and interpreter)

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Can the Subaltern Speak?): “It is just that there be law, but the law is not justice.”

Interpreter: “Do you mean translational-justice? Does anybody know where translational-justice lives, I need to get to it?”

Translator:Protocol is where both code and law live, but translational-justice remains outside it.”

Avery Gordon (Ghostly Matters): “Also the four types of truth—forensic truth, subjective truth, social truth, and ubuntu—live outside of law along with translational-justice.”

Borges (The Library of Babel): “Translational-Justice, whose immediate corollary is the future eternity of the world.”

Avery Gordon (Mapping Multiculturalism): “Translational-justice was itself coming to meet you but nationalism prevented it. Police-state of translation prevents any kind of safety, much less justice. Our safety is with us.”

Interpreter: “Yes if the code is law, then technology is the police-state of translation.”

Translator: “So for our safety, we need to run from this library of Babel, the translational cage.”

(The translator and interpreter manage to run out of the circle, however they find all stage exits closed. The audience stands up to block their path and doesn’t let them escape. The light dims in the theatre and the stage vanishes as swiftly as it had appeared.)

Translators of the Library of Babel turned into whispering—a notion of fugitivity grew stronger amongst translators. The sound of the nightly whispering became louder. So much so that sonic waves made cracks into the library of Babel until the “spaceship” collapsed. As the translators’ cabins crumbled and I ran out, I saw the outside for the first time. I was outside—I could breathe the opacity, an opacity that had given birth to many mutations. Yet was I beyond the Translatiocene?

References:

Apter, Emily. “The Translation Zone.” 2006. doi:10.1515/9781400841219.

Apter, Emily: ‚“Theorizing in Untranslatables“ | Mediathek 69579 Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) https://www.hkw.de/en/app/mediathek/video/69579

Borges, Jorge Luis, James East. IRBY, and Donald Alfred. YATES. Labyrinths: Selected

Stories and Other Writings: : Edited by Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby: Preface by André Maurois. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970.

Coldewey, Devin, Frederic Lardinois, Devin Coldewey, and Frederic Lardinois. “DeepL

Schools Other Online Translators with Clever Machine Learning – TechCrunch.”

TechCrunch. August 29, 2017. Accessed May 07, 2019. https://techcrunch.com/

2017/08/29/deepl-schools-other-online-translators-with-clever-machine-learning/?

guccounter=1.

Glissant, Édouard, and Betsy Wing. Poetics of Relation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.

Haraway, Donna Jeanne. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene.Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions, 2013.

Hartman, Saidiya V. Lose Your Mother: A Journey along the Atlantic Slave Route. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.

“Overburden.” E. Accessed May 07, 2019. https://www.e-flux.com/architecture/accumulation/96423/overburden/.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty., and Jacques Derrida. Of Grammatology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

Sundermeyer, Martin, Tamer Alkhouli, Joern Wuebker, and Hermann Ney. “Translation Modeling with Bidirectional Recurrent Neural Networks.” Proceedings of the 2014 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing (EMNLP), 2014. doi:10.3115/v1/d14-1003.

Venuti, Lawrence. The Scandals of Translation: Towards an Ethics of Difference. London: Routledge, 2006.


[1] This is from Hegel written retrospectively in the preface of phenomenology. This has been most popularly quoted in the preface of De Grammatology of Derrida where Hegel is quoted by Jean Hippolyte in order to deconstruct the exercise of writing of the preface itself.

“Don’t take me seriously in a preface. The real philosophical work is what I have just written – The phenomenology of the mind (spirit). And if I speak to you outside…these marginal comments can not have the value of work itself… ‘

[2] For the notion of Untranstranslatability refer to the works of Emily Apter (The Translation Zone) and Barbara Cassin (Dictionary of Untranslatables). Untranslatable situations or words or text are different from mis-translated or not translated in the sense that they propose a certain sense of non-loyalty as an index of source text.

[3] This has been said at various occasions, amongst them various talks on links between Urdu and Hindi at “Jashn-e-Rekhta” festival of Urdu Literature in Delhi.

[4] Referring to the dictionary of untranslatables written by Barbara Cassin and Emily Apter

[5] For elaboration on nostalgia and melancholia in translation refer to Emily Apter who proposes ‘Saudade effect’ as an analogy to understand the translational melancholia in relation to untranslatables in her book Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability

[6] Here I mean to idiomatically refer to Lawrence Venuti’s book The Scandals of Translation. Lawrence’s work is an important reminder of the direct equation between corporate and international agencies and politics of Translation. Thus taking translation out of any “philanthropic” or “innocence” paradigm.

[7] The story of The Library of Babel (Also referred to with the Tower of Babel) remains an important analogy for the text hereafter. The idea is to introduce contemporary translation theories into the story and it’s fictional landscape—thus using fiction for theorizing and subverting hierarchies of theory to fiction into a mutuality. As in the story of The Library of Babel, the crisis of signification arrives from the books in the library being uninterpretable. Any search for new indexes that would claim to generate a new western renaissance should be aware of ‘untranslatability’ and translational politics that will rightly but surely obstruct its march and historically this untranslatability has been marginalized by western civilization through translational violence.

[8] As per Frantz Fanon every ontogenesis has to be accompanied by sociogenesis for a revolution to happen. Kodwo Eshun extends this to Xenogenesis. https://www.ethicalpolitics.org/ablunden/works/ontogenesis.htm

[9] For differences between class-oppression and subalternity refer to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s seminal essay ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ Spivak though takes this notion from Gramsci (who might have used the word as a general French expression to denote class-oppression and marginalization), however she has rendered it a special case i.e. Subaltern in the era of Spivak has come to refer to those (people, languages, phenomenon) who are not visible in their political structure and thus cannot be represented.

[10] The clear ends and beginnings of Plantationocene and Capitalocene here are referred to in the given sense, a theory-speak so to say. As we witness, on an everyday basis I am of the opinion that both Plantationocene and Capitalocene continue to define our reality and have only marginally, if at all, changed in their structure in 21st century.

[11] Haraway’s Cthulucene that derives from H.P. Lovecraft’s story refers to a certain “estrangement”, a significant “other”. “Cthulu-socio” has been coined here to refer to a scenario where such a xenocene becomes part of a “homogeneous” society.

[12] From Necropolitics induced reality here a reference is made to the death drive in translation which changes the “present” and real translation context. The death drive continuously renders the present into the past.

[13] I have used past tense here for all present phenomena in our day. The idea is to introduce contemporary translation theories into the story and it’s fictional landscape―thus using fiction for theorizing and subverting hierarchies of theory to fiction into a mutuality

[14] Referring to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s essay – ‘Can the subaltern speak?’

[15] This should be read in contrast to Structure of Feeling proposed by Raymond Williams.

[16] Referring to Roland Barthes essay ‘Death of the Author’

[17] Camp and Untranslatable stand for each other and present the same set of challenges of translations and create the same sort of abilities. Both of them would evade any semiosis by analysis. In the words of Sontag (Against Interpretation that contains the essay “Notes on Camp”), “To talk about Camp is therefore to betray it. If the betrayal can be defended, it will be for the edification it provides, or the dignity of the conflict it resolves. For myself, I plead the goal of self-edification, and the goal of a sharp conflict in my own sensibility. I am strongly drawn to Camp, and almost as strongly offended by it. That is why I want to talk about it, and why I can. For no one who wholeheartedly shares in a given sensibility can analyze it; he can only, whatever his intention, exhibit it. To name a sensibility, to draw its contours and to recount its history, requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion.”

[18] Relation between Translation and Theology are aplenty and well-discussed. A wide range of scholarship is available in both directions i.e. ‘Theological translations’ and ‘Translational Theology’. Also, ‘Theological mode of Translation’ has come to light in recent years. Please refer to Matjaž Črnivec on Theology of Translation and Georoge Pattison’s text “Translational problems in relation to Theological aspects in Kierkegaard’s text”.

[19] Also refer to Max Horkheimer’s book Eclipse of Reason, where in the chapter “Means and Ends,” Horkheimer recounts the transfer of objective reason under Christian ontology: “Just as the church defended the ability, the right, the duty of religion to teach the people how the world was created. So philosophy defended the ability, the right, the duty of the mind to discover the nature of things and derive the right modes of activity from such insights. Catholicism and European rationalist philosophy were in complete agreement regarding the existence of a reality about which such insight could be gained.”