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At the edges of translation

From inward gesture into speech

Published onAug 31, 2020
At the edges of translation

I am not a translator. Not, at least, in a professional sense. In practice, my interest in ‘translation’ —broadly understood—runs through different domains in which I am active, particularly:

  • editing scholarly articles by non-native English speakers;

  • publishing qualitative social research that tries to ‘translate’ first-person insight into questions that also speak to others;

  • sustaining conversation with the work of John Shotter—informed by the question: how is language like a ‘prosthetic stick’ to feel the contours of the world that’s beyond and before it?

  • studying the Alexander Technique. Here my inquiry could be described like this: how to respond to what is ‘actually present’ in our surroundings, by paying close attention to the ‘means whereby’ movement begins to form within us—in response to those surroundings?

To me ‘translation’ is an act of crossing different domains—and I am curious to notice again and again how those domains precede, invite, and are eventually transformed by the act of translation. Most of the time, we understand translation to occur only between one language and another. Instead, in a broader sense, translation offers an unusual way of thinking about communication more generally. For example, ‘translation’ in this second sense also captures another type of transition: that between ‘noticing an inward gesture’ and ‘being able to put words to it’.

We can look at words as though they were already an act of translation, into language, of experience that precedes word/speech. First, we are simply touched by something we cannot quite recognise, and communication is a way of exploring this stirring … to give an approximate form to what was ‘always already there’, present in our sensing. We do not just communicate already-formed ideas to one another … but neither do we simply invent our worlds through our words. My sense of a third option is that we might instead imagine speech … as a response to a prior encounter registered through the body, and which calls forth our speaking.


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