Minor Empires Translation, Conflict, and Postcolonial Critique
Keywords: Postcolonial, Post-imperial, Minor transnationalism, Hybridity, Empire, Former Yugoslavia, Balkans.
Translation and postcolonial critique have traditionally been articulated in terms of power relations (Niranjana 1992, Robinson 1997, Bassnett and Trivedi 1999, Tymoczko 1999, Cronin 2000). According to this view, translation played an active role in colonization, imposing a hegemonic language, controlling the subjectivity and representation of the colonized, and establishing a Western European colonial discourse – understood as a body of knowledge, terms of representation, strategies of power, etc. – as the norm. Translation was
therefore instrumental in the task of creating and maintaining asymmetrical power relations between the colonizer and the colonized, and in constructing and defining the colonial subject principally as the one who is subjected. Translation was an integral part of the technologies of domination. In the postcolonial context, this asymmetry maintains itself as English and French continue to dominate, both as source and target languages, against which minor languages struggle in the quest for recognition (Apter 2001a, Sapiro 2008). Postcolonial discourse on translation has sought, on the one hand, to interrogate and reverse this asymmetry and, on the other, to force a radical rethinking and reformulation of forms of knowledge and social identities. To do so, it has deployed analytical tools and theoretical concepts such as interventionism, hybridity and hybridization, and translational transnationalism. Interventionism in translation, in Tejaswini Niranjana’s definition, is a political and not an epistemological practice; it is not motivated by the recovery of a lost purity and a lost ‘native’ original nor by the desire to ‘un-write’ history; rather, “[t]he post-colonial desire to re-translate is linked to the desire to rewrite history” (1992:172, original emphasis). The aim of re-translation is not to rupture with the past but to remember. Hybridity has been defined as the site of resistance and negotiation, fusion and bricolage, “the construction of a political object that is new, neither the one nor the other” (Bhabha 1994:37, original emphasis). Based on the idea of biological métissage (mixing of races), translation is seen as a textual métissage, a liminal, in-between space, that performs the borderline work of cultural production, and that negotiates and politically transforms the strict delineations of homogenous national cultures and colonial representations. Finally, translational transnationalism focuses on translation occurring within the field of minor languages, unmediated by a major language (Apter 2001b:65).