Keynote lecture: Michael Cronin (Nov 11)

The Call of the Wild? Translation, Earthlings and Other Creatures

Michael Cronin

Dublin City University

This lecture will examine the notion of ‘minority’ in translation from the point of view of the minoritized species that inhabit planet Earth with humans. It will  consider how translation figures in our relationship or lack of relationship with the numerous other species that inhabit the planet. Taking a critical look at human exceptionalism, the notion that humans are radically different from and immeasurably superior to other members of the animal kingdom, lecture will go on to explore the symbolic nature of communication for both organic and inorganic entities in our world. The notion of ‘tradosphere’ is advanced to capture the different forms of translation implied by the multiple connections between the organic and the inorganic. My argument will be that in order to develop any sense of solidarity with other species in a period of unprecedented mass extinction of other species by humans, inter-species relatedness demands reflection on translation, how to communicate across difference. That this is a challenging task is illustrated by the complexity of different animal communication systems. The difficulty of the task, however, does not lessen the responsibility on students and scholars of translation to consider how they might use translation to move towards a post-anthropocentric relationship to the world, vital for any notion of ecological survival. In particular, the lecture investigates the rehabilitation of the animal subject through translation drawing on historical experiences of colonialism where translation in its more enlightened mode offered the possibility of a voice for oppressed minorities. The need to engage with difference should not mean the annihilation of difference and there is due regard for the dangers of anthropomorphism. Denying difference through the projection of human fantasies is examined in the context of the relationship between translation and the problematic of incommensurability. Dealing with the indeterminacy of meaning has long been a preoccupation of those who practice and study translation and due consideration is given to how this experience might guide us in dealing with inter-species communication. What results from the challenges of the Anthropocene is not only the necessity to engage at a very profound level with the animal world around us but the need to re-examine existing disciplinary tools and ask whether they are any longer fit for purpose. Translation Studies as an interdiscipline is well placed to tackle a changing disciplinary environment once it is sufficiently self-reflexive about its own biases and assumptions. One of these assumptions relates to seeing its remit as dealing exclusively with human language. However, not only must this assumption be questioned but the lecture also asks us to consider whether entities other than life-forms need to be factored into a more comprehensive or enlarged understanding of what translation might mean or could do. Implicit in this line of thinking is the necessary humility of ‘earthlings’, the consciousness of beings who realise that they have only one planet and whose well-being is crucially dependent on the well-being and intelligibility of all the other entities for whom the earth is also home. The humility involves not only the crossing of borders in a move towards empathy and understanding but also a respect for borders in a drive towards respect and sustainability.