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Monday, November 24, 2008


translate is a (relatively) new and very intense academic project on translation organised by the European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, with a website bursting with resources (often, fittingly, translated into multiple languages). They describe the entity as a
transnational multi-year research project translate aims at exploring the political articulation of the notion of cultural translation in artistic practices as well as in political social movements through a number of arts and exhibition projects, discursive events and networking practices from 2005 to 2008.

They've picked up on a resonant fact: "translation" has developed currency -- and cachet -- as a metaphor for intercultural conversation, as well as the process of thinking between languages. (It's worth noting, and thinking about, the cool translation fact that the word translation, from the Latin trans-fero, to carry across, is an exact translation for metaphor, from the Greek metapherein).

What exactly is being ferried back and forth between cultures when translation occurs? That's what the project explores, through
four thematic strands: critique of culturalisation, processes of social recomposition, beyond postcolonialism: the production of the global common, practices of multilinguality vs. national language-policies.
It may all sound a bit academic, but these are burning questions, in light of -- for example -- UK Immigration minister Phil Woolas' comments
about translation services in Oldham. "We had been spending thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money translating into foreign languages in the belief that we were helping migrants. It was not helping them; in fact it was ghettoising them and it was perpetuating racism against them." He accepts legal and health translation services are essential but gives the example of a school with a notice saying "welcome" in 20 languages. "The intention is to be welcoming and inclusive. The impact of it is first of all to ghettoise people and secondly to perpetuate racialism. In this country we've got things the wrong way round."

Is Woolas right or wrong? That's at the heart of _translate_: the ways in which both cultural and verbal translation (and the ways that they are inextricably entwined) affect all of us in basic and immediate (as well as complex and abstract) ways.

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