Lau Kin-chi, Hui Po-keung, Chan Shun-hing



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From the point of view of logic, meaning is stable and definite: an identity. From the point of view of rhetoric, meaning is only the effect of rhetorical force in a specific context. For rhetoric to be effective it cannot have meaning as identity. Its life is in the production of effects in linguistic performance rather than the transfer of meaning. Thus, contradictions and juxtapositions of apparently unrelated items not admissible to logic can have rhetorical force in specific situations. On the one hand, language must be more or less stable and definite (“iterable” in Derrida’s words), for it to be in circulation among people addressing one another. On the other hand, we have rhetoric, which makes itself felt in the disruption of the “logical systematicity” of language. As Derrida and Wittgenstein teach us, though it is, even if minimally, a condition of language’s performativity, logic can only be the effects of language’s rhetorical nature. Discursively speaking, the tension between the force of control of logic and the disruption of this force constitutes the life of language:

The jagged relationship between rhetoric and logic, condition and effect of knowing, is a relationship by which a world is made for the agent, so that the agent can act inan ethical way, a political way, a day-to-day way; so that the agent can be alive, in a human way, in the world.40

Thus, rather than seeking to instrumentally control the text to be translated, the practice of translation is first of all a reading, a close and intimate reading that is attentive to the disruption harboured in the text. At the same time, it is also an engagement with one’s present, translating the disruptive force into a destabilising potential against the domination of the standard.Certainly, no fast-food approach to language can enable one to familiarize oneself with a language to such an extent. However, even this degree of familiarization is still on the level of the meaningful effects of the becoming of language. For Spivak, the politics of translation in relation to the other requires us to go further; for the level of the meaningful effects remains within the efforts to contain the simple possibility that something might not be meaningful, that is, it remains within the discursivity of language, where individual identities are constituted. The rhetorical force cannot be autogenous: “Rhetoric must work in the silence between and around words in order to see what works and how much.”41 The silence, the magma of life or being, or “the subindividual force-fields of being,”42 is the field where absolute contingency rules over the production of the effects of identities. The silence as magma is concretely material, specific and multiple. It is the difference naming the limits of language, whichis very much active, working together with logic and rhetoric, in the production of the text.

Spivak calls logic, rhetoric and silence the three-tiered notion of the performativity of language. For a translation to be responsible, that is, responsive even to silence, to the other as absolute alterity, the translator must be able to court the language so intimately that translation is realized as the most intimate act of reading. For it is in such a relation of surrendering to the text, the other, that one can earn the right to surrender one’s identity and the stake of the claim to identity in controlling the other. It is only by being attentive to “the three-part staging of (agency in) language,”43 that we can take note of the minor use of a major language in the negotiation with the authority of the standard. And as Spivak also says, the dominant group’s “way of handling the three-part ontology of language has to be learned as well -- if the subordinate ways of rusing with rhetoric are to be disclosed.”44

This nuanced attention to language, rather than parroting empty words that both confirm and conceal relations of domination, is a recognition that translation is an intellectual activity within a context structured by domination and hegemonic practices. Itis also a critique of, borrowing Paul Bové’s words,

the intellectual and pedagogical inertia and irresponsibility of those very common professorial figures who not only fearfully mock serious intellectual practice as “theory” but retire into the semiemployment of their “teaching,”“scholarship,”and above all “administration,” safely away from hard work, the public-intellectual sphere, and the intransigent political and cultural issues facing our society.45

Against the pretension to innocence of parroting that barely conceals its crude imposition of authority, being attentive to language is also a response to the increasingly urgent task confronting intellectuals today. Borrowing again from Bové, this is the recognition that we are living “in an age that increasingly exercises both hegemony and domination in and through sign-based structures,”46 that is,

In an information-based society that relies increasingly on the manipulation of symbols, signs, and testing data to control and exploit political and economic opportunities -- often to the detriment of less powerfully placed people at home and abroad.47

Thus, it is all the more important for translation to be seen as a multiple attentive reading by intellectuals who would confront themselves in committing to painstakingly mapping out the resistance of minor uses in the process of uncovering the dominant’s ways of deploying language and by so doing effecting a disarming of its framing power.




1 The department’s guidelines of 1999 say, “You should also note that your work might be subject to second assessment. The practice of last year was that all projects graded B or above by the supervisor were assigned a second assessor.”

2 Traditional elite universities such as the University of Hong Kong, which introduced a bachelor’s degree in translation in 1974, emphasized literary studies in a curriculum including minimal technical translation. “Practical translation,” meaning translation in practice, was mostly limited to literary translation and appreciation of translations of classical texts. The polytechnics and colleges offered diploma programmes in translation, with emphasis on the translation of government, media and business documents. With their upgrading into universities in the early nineties, more undergraduate degree programmes in translation have been introduced. This, however, coincided with a trend toward vocational courses in university curricula. It may be interesting to note that the generation of government translators (those with the title of Chinese Language Officers under the colonial government, and even after the 1997 transition; Chinese having been made an official language in 1974) and police and court interpreters recruited before the late seventies were mostly secondary school graduates, with neither university education nor any formal training in translation and interpreting.

3 Gayatri Chakrabarty Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine (New York and London: Routledge Press, 1993), 179.

4 Specific accounts of other similar episodes of procedural violence or suppression of difference are not quoted here, but these likewise constitute the material forces enabling the crude settling of intellectual differences.

5 The words in parenthesis are revisions added to the guidelines when they were reissued in 1999-2000.

6 It is tempting here to cite one other episode, also a story recounted by a fresh graduate working as a court interpreter. In a case in which a woman was charged with illegal hawking, on hearing thewoman describe her background and how she had suffered the harassment of the hawker-control squad, the graduate could not stop sobbing and hence could not perform her duties as an interpreter. Could this be read as a “high degree of fidelity to the source text” in that she had already faithfully performed her interpreting for the hawker woman?

7 A related episode also illustrates the dominant group’s evasion of any responsibility to explain their actions. To exert further control over the grades, there was the rushed “election” of the assessment panel with final say. Soon afterwards, the same supervisor awarded another student’s project a B, a grade which the assessment panel lowered to a B-. When the supervisor appealed, the panel responded by further downgrading the project to C+. No explanation was given to the supervisor, nor was his opinion about the student’s performance or his grading criteria ever sought. When the supervisor asked for an explanation from the panel convenor, the latter said he was not responsible and recommended that the complainant write to the department head, which the supervisor did. Despite repeated enquiries, there was never any written or verbal response, and he was not given an opportunity to argue the case. In yet another instance, despite the university’s rule that students’appeals on examinations results receive the subject teacher’s signature on the appeal form, the translation department decided to uphold the same grades in several appeal cases, without consulting the subject teachers concerned or even requesting their signatures. Such changes in procedures had never been formally adopted at any department board meeting, nor had staff or students been notified of a procedural change.

8 Marcia Moraes Bilingual Education: A Dialogue with the Bakhtin Circle (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), 8-9.

9 Simon Dentith Bakhtinian Thought: An Introductory Reader (New York and London: Routledge, 1995), 35.

10 These views were presented in different occasions and meetings.

11 University Grants Committee Secretariat University Grants Committee of Hong Kong: Facts and Figures, 1998, 2. The figures for 1998-99 are: 14,488 first-year intake of first-degree students, which was 18.6% of the relevant age group; research postgraduates were 3,607.

12 Tejaswini Niranjana Siting Translation: History, Post-structuralism, and the Colonial Context (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 72.

13 Alex Lo “Exam-based school system ‘fails everyone’,” South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), 23 September 1999, 6.

14 Alastair Pennycook, English and the Discourses of Colonialism, (London: Routledge, 1998), 125.

15 Cynthia Wan “Reforms to widen pupils’ learning,” South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), 23 September 1999, 6.

16 This survey was conducted by the YWCA in May 1999, and reported in Apple Daily (Hong Kong), 21 May 1999.

17 Wong Honghung “Principals’ support for mother-tongue teaching dropped,” Sing Tao Daily (Hong Kong), 5 June 1999, 12.

18 “Acceding to students, lecturers teach with a mix of Chinese and English,” Ming Pao (Hong Kong), 5 May 1999, 7.

19 According to the 1996 census, 88.7% of the population spoke Cantonese, 1.1% Putonghua, and 3.1% English. Dialects such as Fukien (1.9%), Hakka (1.2%) or Chiuchow (1.1%) were spoken as much as, if not more than, Putonghua. A survey conduced in the early nineties of the tongues spoken among over 300 middle-management personnel in industrial and commercial firms indicated that Cantonese was used for daily communication, with about 30% speaking English frequently and 5.3% speaking Putonghua frequently. The use of English and Putonghua in external relations was higher, but still reached only 39.3% and 21.7% respectively. Daniel W. C. So, “One Country, Two Cultures and Three Languages: Sociolinguistic Conditions and Language Education in Hong Kong,” (1997), 10.

20 Alastair Pennycook English and the Discourses of Colonialism (New York: Routledge, 1998), 95-128.

21 R.H. Kotewall, quoted in ibid., 123.

22 bell hooks, “’this is the oppressor’s language/yet I need it to talk to you’: Language, a place of struggle,” in Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross Cultural Texts, eds. Anuradha Dingwaney and Carol Maier, (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburg Press, 1995), 295.

23 Alastair Pennycook The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language (New York: Longman, 1994), 107-144.

24 Yiu-cheong So, “Review and Critique of the Controversies over Europeanization of Vernacular Chinese” (in Chinese), M.Phil. diss., Lingnan University, Hong Kong, 1997, 16.

25 V. N. Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973, 66.

26 When Other is used with capital O, it refers to the self/Other relation in which identity is constituted discursively in the discrimination of the self against an Other. For other with a small o, two things are designated at the same time: one is relation to another person in general in which the question of identity is not of immediate concern, the other is the absolute alterity that cannot be contained by any articulation of identity.

27 P. Patton, “Michel Foucault: The Ethics of an Intellectual,” in Michiel Foucaul: Critical Assessments, ed. Barry Smart, vol. 3, (NewYork: Routledge, 1994) 162-169. (First published in Thesis Eleven, 10-11: 71-80, 1984-1985.)

28 Ibid.

29 Henry Giroux, “Is There a Place for Cultural Studies in Colleges of Eduction?,” eds. Giroux, Lankshear, McLaren, and Peters, (New York: Routledge, 1996), 46.

30 The words of Joe Murphy,former CUNY chancellor, quoted in ibid., 47-48.

31 Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, tr. Caryl Emerson, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1981), 293.

32 Ibid., 291-292.

33 Daniel Smith, “Introduction; ‘A Life of Pure Immanence’: Deleuze’s ‘Critique et Clinique’ Project” in Gilles Deleuze, Essasys Critical and Clinical, tr. Daniel Smith and Michael A. Greco (London and New York: Verso, 1998), xlii.

34 Ibid., xliii.

35 Gayatri Chakrabarty Spivak, Outside in the Teaching Machine (New York: Routledge, 1993), 191.

36 Ibid., 189.

37 Ibid., 187.

38 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, tr. Dana Polan, Theory and History of Literature, vol. 30, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 18.

39 Spivak Outside in the Teaching Machine, 191.

40 Ibid., 181.

41 Ibid.

42 Ibid., 179.

43 Ibid.,183.

44 Ibid.,186-7.

45 Paul Bové In the Wake of Theory (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1992), 25.

46 Ibid., 26.

47 Ibid., 29.


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