Lost in translation

Short read


Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

I have been thinking and reading about the politics of translation lately, by which I mean both Gayatri Spivak’s article and the concept of translation as serving a greater agenda. I love translating, because it is halfway between interpretation and creativity, something that I find in my academic work. Being part of Artraker I have been looking into what research had been carried out regarding peacemaking and translation, or translating as peacemaking and conflict prevention. I have not found much – but if you do know sources please send them my way!

Nevertheless if translating has a creative scope, which I am sure it has, and creativity should be part of peace processes, which is what we are trying to work on here at Artraker, then translating is perhaps more than a simple tool for negotiations. In other words, translation is not simply a technology.

We know how mistranslations can put even more pressure on diplomatic processes. We also know how some spectators were angry at Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, claiming it is a racist film. While I do not deny anyone the legitimacy to see racism in the reproduction of stereotypes by the film, I think it is a bit unfair, for in my mind what the film is about is how the characters see Japan and Japanese people – not how they are. Bob is cynical and Charlotte is naïve. Japanese people appear to them as exuberant aliens. Even though the main protagonists are endearing, I also saw there a criticism of Americans showing up and not making any effort to understand a foreign culture. Charlotte, who sees herself as an intellectual type, cannot communicate with the American actress who introduces herself as “arexic”. Bob cannot communicate with his wife who only speaks of carpet colours. These are stereotypes as well.

There is that moment, quite memorable, where Bob is shooting an ad for a brand of whisky. The director gives instructions for 15min and the interpreter translate it into a minuscule sentence. It sums up, in my view, Bob and Charlotte’s experience of Japan: they are surrounded by an extremely rich, ancient but also highly modern – from the point of view of technology – culture, and all they get from it, is screaming tv shows and karaoke. We should be careful about where the stereotypes lie: in the intent of the film or in Bob and Charlotte’s minds?

Nevertheless, spectators are also interpretors – Lost in Translation‘s final scene is one of the biggest mysteries of 21st century’s cinema! – and so are translators. Translation is a fascinating work in which the text has to speak by/for itself. I think there might be something really relevant for peacemaking processes and I will try to write more about it.



Artraker mentioned in a report on Early warning and response to violent conflict

Long read

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

David Nyheim, Chief Executive of ECAS and Managing Partner and Chairman of INCAS Consulting Ltd. (Malta), has mentioned the name of Artraker in a report he wrote for a project on conflict prevention. This project  “aims to stimulate debate on this topic and to provide the international community with food for thought about the future of early warning systems”.

As part of a project designed to facilitate dialogue on conflict prevention between China and the UK, Saferworld’s Conflict Prevention Working Group (CPWG) have been examining different approaches to conflict prevention, including upstream conflict prevention, crisis response and early warning.

Within China, experience and knowledge relating to early warning is comparatively undeveloped, yet it is an emerging area in which China is expressing increasing interest. For this reason, the CPWG has begun to explore whether and how early warning systems might act as an entry through which China-UK dialogue and cooperation on conflict prevention could focus.

The author suggests why we need to question the effectiveness of current early warning and response systems, and proposes recommendations for how these vital instruments and mechanisms can be strengthened.

The Afterword, by Dr Xue Lei, addresses the prospect for China-UK cooperation in early warning, and conflict prevention more broadly, and outlines some of the different levels at which China-UK cooperation could take place. It acknowledges that whilst this form of partnership would not be without obstacles, the two countries would benefit from working together towards shared goals for peace and stability.

Click here to read the report.