Thursday, June 26, 2008

Our response to some questions about the Disabled Text (from the Intenrational Blog)

It seems we should respond to the variety of points here. First, Patrick suggests that we 'appropriate' disability here, and further suggests that we have failed to make our disability credentials-- our 'legal' disability-- legible.

On the first point: we have no interest in appropriation, but we are interested in entering into the critique of society posed by such thinkers as Lennard Davis, who writes in 'Enforcing Normalcy', "Disability is not an object-- a woman with a cane-- but a social process that intimately involves everyone who has a body and lives in the world of the senses. [...] This study aims to show that disability, as we know the concept, is really a socially driven relation to the body [...] propelled by economic and social factors and can be seen as part of a more general project to control and regulate the body. This analysis fits in with other aspects of the regulation of the body that we have come to call crime, sexuality, gender, disease, subalternity, and so on."

Davis's thinking prompts us to continue his list of scandalous bodies to include the bilingual, multilingual, immigrant, foreigner, stateless, non-fluent, and also the texts or textual bodies which are similarly stigmatized and often (literally)proscribed, as a means to controlling the employment, movement, and access to education and other services. The same instinct that prompts towns to ban the printing of legal forms in Spanish is the instinct that prompts English department to ban translated texts as major texts in the classrooms-- the presence of 'other' languages unsettles structures of power, expertise, control.

Furthermore, our purposes are political. Our manifesto proposes an alliance between the activist dimension of translation studies and those of queer feminist disability studies.

To respond to Murat Nemet-Nejat, the idea that this is just reheated Benjamin seems reductive. Certainly our argument could be seen as coming out of the same tradition as Benjamin - including German Romanticism before him and books like Berman's "The Experience of the Foreign" more recently. It just as certainly makes proposals and carries implications not present in those sources.

As for the "fiction" of translation not being marginalized - your anecdotal evidence doesn't reflect the numbers. A fraction of books published are in translation- a much much lower percentage than in other nations. A fraction of this fraction are taught or reviewed. English depts frequently proscribe or limit the classroom use of texts in translation (as if we could teach Modernism without Futurism etc). I could go on and on. See Lawrence Venuti's books etc. Chad Post has written about it as well.

Finally, we have written several articles exploring this issue further (since this appears in part where the shoe hurts). Like Patrick we have an essay in XCP's 20th anniversary issue. XCP is of course a journal that has long engaged with this issue. We look forward to being in conversation with our fellow contributors and the journal's readers.

Joyelle and Johannes


Blogger Providence said...

I want to clarify my initial response to your piece on "the Disabled Text" and then point out how your reference to Davis fails to adequately respond to my critique of the piece.

First, I don't "suggest" that you are using the term "disability" as a critical category appropriated from another discourse. I explicit state that you do. In line with this explicitness, it is a stretch to interpret my reference to my own legal status as (note it is not a "claim" to) being disabled as an implicit suggestion that you must show your credentials. The point is that such credence is, as Davis unflinchingly teaches, yet another modicum of the social construction of one's identity--and that that construction is always textual, insofar as it is "always involved" with "symbolic production" (citing a later piece of his). If you try to paint me as an essentialist identity politician, you will fail.

Davis has come the closest to doing away with the category of impairment--the lack of such a concept being the core of my critique, though absent from your response here. But he has never done so. You should look at his later work in _Bending Over Backwards)_ and on his "Project Biocultures" website. Attention to social construction does not trump materiality--just the opposite. The perniciousness of essentialism is that it leaves material social structures unexamined. You have done just this, in part, at least, by allowing the term "disability" to stand in for any old socially mediated identity (which is how you figure translated text--texts that hold the promise of infinite linguistic determination). Davis at one point claims that "disability" transcends the familiar postmodern identity categories. But that's a particular claim. To simply use the term as a vehicle without any reference back to the particularity of this vehicle is myopic. Effective, sure. But myopic. The remedy I would support (because I support your interests in the piece, though not your measures) is to devise a comparable category of impairment to describe the two poles (disability and translation). That would round out your metaphor and show us why, in some important sense, we should care about both and understand them as aspects of a related struggle.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Providence said...

P.S. I've been a subscriber to XCP since 1998, and to my knowledge they have never published an article on disability.

4:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Linh Dinh says it best in one of his poem on Harriet:

"Next, I will translate you into you.

Have you been translated lately?

How long has it been since you've been translated?

When was the last time you were translated?

How much long, length of time, since the last time you were translated by someone, a person, human being, biped, other yourself?"

10:57 AM  

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