What we call translation is long overshadowed by a theory of meaning that privileges words and elides script or medium. Whenever writing is present, one translates words and even syllables (transcription) but never the letters that are used to write those words. Alphabetical letters remain almost as opaque and as unthought as any of the non-words found in Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky verse.
The problem of translatability (or untranslatability) is as much about the whereabouts of meaning in foreign words and in one’s own language as it is about the resolution of meaning between them. In her talk, Lydia H. Liu explores the disjuncture between word and letter, the relationship between letter and number, and the boundary of sense and nonsense in general, all of which have been brought into sharp focus by the conceptual and technological revolution in digital media. She addresses the question of whether logocentrism will continue to dominate translation in digital media.
Lydia H. Liu is the Wun Tsun Tam Professor in the Humanities and Director of the Institute for Comparative Literature & Society at Columbia University. Her research has focused on cross-cultural exchange in global history; the movement of words, theories, and artifacts across national boundaries; and the evolution of writing, textuality, and technology. Liu is the author of The Freudian Robot: Digital Media and the Future of the Unconscious (2010), The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern World Making (2004); Tokens of Exchange: The Problem of Translation in Global Circulations (editor, 1999); Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity (1995); and Writing and Materiality in China (co-edited with Judith Zeitlin, 2003). She is the founding Director of the Tsinghua-Columbia Center for Translingual and Transcultural Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing, which promotes international collaboration and interdisciplinary research.
Part of the Troubling Translations speaker series at the Simpson Center for the Humanities.