The Task of the Translator: Cultural Translation or Cultural Transformation?

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Faisal Nazir


This paper critiques the concept of cultural translation as theorized and used in postcolonial studies. Taking contemporary Pakistani anglophone fiction as an example, the paper considers the use of the concept of cultural translation in postcolonial theory as a strategy for legitimizing and valorizing a specific kind of sensibility and literature, the ‘migrant’ and/or cosmopolitan sensibility and literature, produced almost exclusively in/for metropolitan locations and in European languages by postcolonial migrant writers. This literature, the paper argues, overturns and subverts the concept and practice of linguistic and textual translation proper as theorized in the discipline of translation studies in which the source culture of the translated text exercises a certain priority over the target or receiving culture and the key concern is about what transformations the target language and the receiving culture undergo in the practice and process of translation. In postcolonial literature, the paper contends, it is the source culture and text that are transformed to suit the expectations and literary taste of the readers in the target language and culture. In this sense then, postcolonial cultural translation actually signifies a transformation of the native culture of the postcolonial writer, a transformation that is manifested in the specific migrant and cosmopolitan sensibility represented in his or her work. To construct the theoretical framework for this discussion, the paper establishes two positions on the concept of cultural translation, one from Homi Bhabha and Robert Young, the other from Gayatri Spivak and Edward Said. In light of the contrasting views of these theorists and critics, the paper discusses the work of four Pakistani anglophone writers, two from the first generation, namely Ahmed Ali and Bapsi Sidhwa, and two from the second generation, namely Musharraf Ali Farooqi and Mohsin Hamid. The paper sees their work in relation to the concept of cultural translation and highlights their distinct position with regard to this concept.

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Cluster on Pakistani Anglophone Writing