EVENT Nov 07
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(An)economies of Translation: Repression, Untranslation, and the Drive for Translation (PAMLA)

Palm Springs
Organization: PAMLA
Event: PAMLA
Categories: Comparative, Literary Theory, Aesthetics, Philosophy
Event Date: 2024-11-07 to 2024-11-10 Abstract Due: 2024-04-30

Today, in theory of translation, two general tendencies prevail: the first tendency imagines universals passing from language to language, according to different models of foundation; and the second tendency, a post-foundational one, understands anarchy (an-arché) of language as inherent to the enunciator and the contexts of enunciation and reception of enunciations—which makes the potentiality of language something of common use and non-appropriable, and the act of translating a contingent, experimental and infinite act, ultimately undecidable, always defective (Benjamin, Lezra, Hamacher). Against the economies of translatability based on processes of (in)familiarization (imperial, creolizing and philological translation) and by contrast with the modern bipolarity between the fetishistic untranslatability of the singular (“idiomaticity”) and universal translatability (“general equivalence”), we propose the possibility of an experimental art of translation that would assume in advance the anarché of language or (un)translatability of what cannot be translated as singularity (“impossibility” of translation, in the bourgeois sense) and which, therefore, cannot not be translated (infinite translatability).

Seeking to establish commonalities between singular experiences while respecting and acknowledging the unique and untranslatable aspects of each account still remains a challenge for translation theory, and psychoanalytic theory. The impossibility of a “sufficient” translation, due to the dependency of translation on contextual accuracy, and due to the irreducible singularity of traumatic experiences and their relation to form and language, raises critical questions about the place of the untranslatable within trauma theory. This inquiry is especially pertinent as we attempt to decolonize trauma theory from their continental inception, following the studies by Caruth, Felman, Laub, Acosta, and others.

Sigmund Freud’s conceptualization of repression as a “failure of translation” provides a pivotal starting point for this discussion. In his correspondence with Fliess, Freud describes repression as a disruption in the process of translating psychic material into conscious forms, leaving certain traumas in a “primitive” (drive-like) and anachronistic state. Thus, highlighting the significance of “untranslated” material within the psychic economy, and for psychoanalysis. Moreover, Freud's insights into the mechanisms of repression and the type of repression associated with trauma underscore the complexity of representing and mapping trauma within the psychic apparatus, pointing toward the limitations of narrative and linguistic mediation in trauma therapy and understanding, acknowledging the theoretical difficulties entailed in the representation and translation of trauma, all the while reinstating a need for it.


Paula Cucurella