Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 17-18 (June 1989) p. 109.


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Representation, History and the Case of Translation

^Tejaswini Niranjana

In our post-colonial context, translation becomes a site where questions of representation and history converge as we attempt to account for the practices of subjectifi-cation implicit in the colonial enterprise. By subjectification I mean the construction of a 'subject' through technologies or practices of power/knowledge/ which are supported by a teleological concept of history that employs an idiom of progress and development. These technologies, I suggest, necessarily involve some notion of translation, a notion underpinned by the classical western concepts of representation, reality and knowledge. In what follows, I shall attempt to pose some of the theoretical questions we need to address in order to critique the complicity between the classical notion of representation and the durable nature of colonialist discourses. I contend that exploring the question of 'translation' can be one of the ways in which we can interrogate the concept of representation.

Traditional translation studies, caught in the vocabulary of fidelity and betrayal, in an unproblematic notion of representation, fail to consider the historicity of translation. A rethinking of translation, therefore, ought to address the many registers—political, philosophical, linguistic—in which translation 'works'. Elsewhere, I have done close readings of selected colonial texts/translations to show how 'translation' has usually implied a writing of 'history'.2 In the works of William Jones, for example, there emerges a construction of the 'Hindu' that enables and is enabled by a teleological notion of history. This kind of construction informs also the texts of philosophers such as G.W.P. Hegel and historians such as James Mill, whose work produces the 'Indian' or the 'Hindu' subject.3 My argument is that translations of Indian texts into English employ modes of representation that are mobilized by and feed into a model of history structured around the oppositions traditional-modem, spiritual-pragmatic or underdeveloped-developed. The teleological model of history and the idea of a representation being 'adequate' to a 'realit/ ensures the fixing of colonized cultures, the objective knowledge of which presents their 'reality' as static and unchanging rather than as constructed in history. Undoing the oppositions authorized by colonialism will lead to a subversion of traditional historiography as well as the classical model of representation. A questioning of 'histor/ and 'representation', involving a questioning of the tech-


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