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Translation and Subjectivity

On Japan and cultural nationalism

1997
Authors:

Naoki Sakai and Meaghan Morris

Translation and Subjectivity

Explores the cultural politics of translation in the context of Japan.

In analyses of translational transactions and with a focus on the ethnic, cultural, and national identities of modern Japan, Sakai explores the cultural politics inherent in translation. Topics include post-WWII writings on the emperor system, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s dictée, and Watsuji Tetsuro’s anthropology.

Translation and Subjectivity is important, lucid, and assiduously argued. Sakai's work goes far beyond the presumed de-essentializing moves of much current cultural studies, which often reground the differences they would attempt to set free. Translation and Subjectivity is historically specific in its focus on particular discourses in Japan: postwar writings on the emperor system, the formation of indigenous social sciences, theories of culture in the postwar period. Yet it is also deconstructive in that the specificities of time and place are constantly put into play with general logics of language and technologies of the subject. These two modes of thinking are difficult to sustain in tandem, and Translation and Subjectivity succeeds admirably, providing us with new ways of thinking about representation, colonialism, and comparative cultural critique.

Marilyn Ivy, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University

Translation and Subjectivity

Tags

An excursion across the boundaries of language and culture, this provocative book suggests that national identity and cultural politics are, in fact, “all in the translation.” Translation, we tend to think, represents another language in all its integrity and unity. Naoki Sakai turns this thinking on its head, and shows how this unity of language really only exists in our manner of representing translation. In analyses of translational transactions and with a focus on the ethnic, cultural, and national identities of modern Japan, he explores the cultural politics inherent in translation.

Through the schematic representation of translation, one language is rendered in contrast to another as if the two languages are clearly different and distinct. And yet, Sakai contends, such differences and distinctions between ethnic or national languages (or cultures) are only defined once translation has already rendered them commensurate. His essays thus address translation as a means of figuring (or configuring) difference. They do so by looking at discourses in various historical contexts: post-WWII writings on the emperor system; Japanese social sciences, intellectual history and philosophy; Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s dictée; and Watsuji Tetsuro’s anthropology.

Working to undo the unquestioned premises on which any knowledge of Japan might be based, these essays call into question our methods of understanding and characterizing any modern nation-state or national culture. Throughout, Sakai demonstrates that even the character of modern subjectivity is closely related to the way we think about translation.

Itself a critique of the definition and limits of academic disciplines, Translation and Subjectivity will appeal to readers who, whatever their “field,” take an interest in cultural theory, the problems of cultural nationalism, the philosophy of language, and national poetics.

Naoki Sakai is associate professor of Japanese literature and history at Cornell University.

Translation and Subjectivity

Translation and Subjectivity is important, lucid, and assiduously argued. Sakai's work goes far beyond the presumed de-essentializing moves of much current cultural studies, which often reground the differences they would attempt to set free. Translation and Subjectivity is historically specific in its focus on particular discourses in Japan: postwar writings on the emperor system, the formation of indigenous social sciences, theories of culture in the postwar period. Yet it is also deconstructive in that the specificities of time and place are constantly put into play with general logics of language and technologies of the subject. These two modes of thinking are difficult to sustain in tandem, and Translation and Subjectivity succeeds admirably, providing us with new ways of thinking about representation, colonialism, and comparative cultural critique.

Marilyn Ivy, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University

This study is extremely important, and it should be read by anyone with an interest in modern intellectual history. This work constitutes the most serious, coherent, and resonating statement in English about the ways in which imperialism and nationalism continue to shape our intellectual worlds.

Journal of Asian Studies

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