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Alina Mitek-Dziemba

Alina Mitek-Dziemba

Title: Reconceiving Translational Engagement in the Anthropocene

Abstract: Translation studies has long regarded itself as a discipline of research and cultural praxis deeply involved in both reflecting and effecting social change. Moreover, it has long been conscious of its potential to act, in Maria Tymoczko’s words, as a “sort of speech act that rouses, inspires, witnesses, mobilizes, incites to rebellion and so forth” (M. Tymoczko, “Translation and Political Engagement. Activism, Social Change and the Role of Translation in Geopolitical Shift,” Translator, vol. 6, 1/2000). Translators’ choices are inescapably partial and committed, starting from the very decision to select a text for translation through innumerable linguistic gestures that result in highlighting or hiding some aspects of the work in question to providing the text with metalinguistic and cultural commentary. Translating, as postcolonial scholars have been eager to point out, always means probing the existing power relations between languages for their tensions. Hence the Janus-faced character of translation: though traditionally seen as noble (and typically lauded as fostering cross-cultural understanding), it may also mean an act of merciless plunder where the source culture is not only exoticized but also deprived of its depth of meaning. The work of translators seems thus to be fraught with contradiction: do we make an activist stand in favour of a minor literature and culture when we resolve to translate the text in the minor language or do we contribute to the further entrenchment of the hegemony of a dominant language, creating a false sense of equivalence between them?

               The presentation will deal with the recent research into the question of political engagement in translation theory and practice, tracing the application of the term in ongoing critical discussions in the field of environmental humanities. The aim of the paper will be to discuss the question of what impact (if any) translation may have outside of the academia and what new challenges it needs to face at the time of human-induced climate change. Is there a way to discuss translation as an activity that is deeply implicated in the workings of global economy and currently observed undesirable changes taking its toll on the environment worldwide? On the other hand, is it possible to develop any kind of emancipatory politics powered by the decisions of highly conscious translators and translation scholars? How does the post-anthropocentric condition of the Anthropocene affect the field of translation and its self-definition? What strategies of resistance are still available to translators as they are faced with the world of dwindling (natural and cultural) resources? Can translation practices be vital to the well-being of biological and cultural ecosystems and instrumental in preventing their extinction? Finally, can translation and, especially, eco-translation, help to build alternative communal structures capable of addressing current political and environmental crises? If the task of translators is to develop novel, environmentally conscious and cross-species languages of bonding, what should be done for them to arise and thrive?

               The paper will thus make the case for a new, enlarged, politically and socially vital notion of translation at the time of climate emergency, suggesting ways of overcoming the Anthropocene’s incapacitating inertia and pointing to concrete strategies to reinvigorate multi-language practices and entanglements which seem to be currently dwindling under the pressures of global capitalism.

Bio: Alina Mitek-Dziemba, PhD, is an assistant professor at the Institute of Literary Studies, Faculty of Humanities, University of Silesia, Katowice, Poland, and a translator of academic texts into Polish. A junior lecturer in her institution, she teaches many subjects at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, including translation studies, comparative literature and philosophy. She is an author of the 2011 book Literature and Philosophy in Pursuit of the Art of Living: Nietzsche, Wilde, Shusterman (in Polish), as well as co-editor of the anthology The Tree of Knowledge. Post-Secularism in Translations and Commentary (with Piotr Bogalecki, published 2012) and of two bilingual collections of essays (in Polish and English).  In her research she explores the intersections of comparative literature, ecocriticism, environmental aesthetics, animal studies and post-secular thinking. She has long been engaged in the animal movement, organizing talks and conferences on the topic of human and animal co-existence, and is part of the editorial team of Zoophilologica. Polish Journal of Animal Studies. She is also a member of the Interdisciplinary Research Centre for the Education in the Humanities at the University of Silesia, taking part in the ongoing project “The V4 Humanities Education for the Climate”.