Translation, irritation and resonance

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I seek to work from a textual approach to a view of translation as a social system. I start by positing a strong notion of equivalence and show that translations cannot be equivalent to their originals unless they are recognized as authenticated versions, at which point they have ceased to be translations. Because translations, unlike originals or equivalent authentic versions, are repeatable, they have a translator’s subject position inscribed in them. Reading translations for what they say about translation, i.e. for their translation-specific intertextuality, opens up an historical and social dimension, a social system in Niklas Luhmann’s sense. As a system, translation has its autonomy, in the form of operational closure, autopoiesis and self-reference, and its heteronomy, in that it caters for other systems and adapts to their topics and discursive forms as its other-reference. Its function is meta-representational, the production of representations of representations, and typically verbal re-enactments of pre-existing discourses. In that sense it contributes to society’s construction of reality.


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