Table of Con­tents | Arti­cle doi: 10.17742/IMAGE.VT.11.3.1 | PDF

Intro­duc­tion to Vis­i­bil­i­ty and Trans­la­tion Angela Kölling

Introduction to Visibility and Translation

Angela Kölling

A note on now:

This issue was antic­i­pat­ed to be pub­lished before Covid-19 and its trans­for­ma­tion of this plan­et. I write this on the first anniver­sary of the first record­ed case of Covid-19 and I do not know that I have some­thing impor­tant to add to the wit­ness­ing of the pan­de­mo­ni­um. Only, in rela­tion to the mak­ing of this issue, I would like to say that I feel very grate­ful. Noth­ing about now is nor­mal. Covid-19 has made vis­i­ble the fragili­ty of “normal”—and con­tin­ues to do so. It has also made vis­i­ble how reliant we are on “nor­mal” to func­tion as indi­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies and soci­ety. See­ing this issue come out now, I feel priv­i­leged that I was allowed to work on and wit­ness the mak­ing of some­thing so seem­ing­ly nor­mal. (A.K.)

This anx­i­ety, this need to defend ‘our speech’ against ‘the visu­al’ is, I want to sug­gest, a sure sign that a pic­to­r­i­al turn is tak­ing place.”
W.J.T. Mitchell, Pic­ture The­o­ry (12-13)

Inquiries into the rela­tion­ship between vis­i­bil­i­ty and trans­la­tion are gen­er­al­ly con­cerned with the social and sym­bol­ic cap­i­tal of trans­la­tion and trans­la­tors, the process­es we see (mis­trans­la­tions, neg­a­tive reviews, awards, etc.) and the ones we do not see (for­eign lan­guage expres­sions, pos­i­tive reviews, the translator’s name on the cov­er of a pub­li­ca­tion, etc.). Lay­ing the ground for this line of inquiry, Lawrence Venuti’s The Invis­i­bil­i­ty of the Trans­la­tor (1995) has become a mod­ern clas­sic. Yet, more than twen­ty years lat­er and, in spite of a grow­ing diver­si­ty of encoun­ters with visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion, includ­ing the fact that there are gen­er­al­ly more pic­tures in trans­la­tion stud­ies today, the schol­ar­ly focus remains large­ly in the domain of the verbal.

Neigh­bour­ing dis­ci­plines, such as lin­guis­tics, lit­er­ary stud­ies, metaphor stud­ies, and so on, have widened their onto­log­i­cal and prac­ti­cal scope. Yet, trans­la­tion seems to remain almost hos­tile towards a “pic­to­r­i­al turn,” includ­ing Venu­ti, who describes a con­ver­sa­tion he over­heard at the booth of an Ital­ian pub­lish­er exhibit­ing their books at the Frank­furt Book Fair as “star­tling and not a lit­tle wor­ry­ing” (158):

a British rep­re­sen­ta­tive was hand­ed a new pub­li­ca­tion and, smil­ing, said, “The cov­er looks smart.” The Ital­ian rights man­ag­er asked, “Do you mean ‘clever’?” Her prospec­tive client paused, a quizzi­cal look on his face, before respond­ing, “Sure,” as if to quash any doubt that they were on the same … page? I myself wasn’t sure they were speak­ing the same lan­guage, even though it was Eng­lish. “Smart” can mean “clever” and more, of course, but in this con­text the British speak­er was prob­a­bly refer­ring to appear­ance, not intel­li­gence. What would hap­pen, I won­dered, when these two start­ed dis­cussing the book’s actu­al con­tent? Could it be the same book in their words? In their minds? Giv­en the sub­stan­tial amounts of mon­ey that nor­mal­ly change hands in Frank­furt, you might expect a greater sense of mutu­al under­stand­ing to accom­pa­ny any finan­cial deal­ings. The con­ver­sa­tion hard­ly inspired con­fi­dence about the cur­rent state of lit­er­ary trans­la­tion. (158)

It is per­haps not sur­pris­ing, then, that “vis­i­bil­i­ty” has become a core metaphor in trans­la­tion stud­ies for gaug­ing the social and eco­nom­ic stand­ing of trans­la­tors (my own work includ­ed, see Kölling, “NZ@Frankfurt”), rather than address­ing vis­i­bil­i­ty through explo­rations of visu­al­i­ty (which I have since tried to improve on, see Kölling, “In and Out of Sight”). Writ­ing of the influ­ence Venu­ti exerts over trans­la­tion stud­ies, Dirk Delabasti­ta notes, “It is impos­si­ble to miss the poignant irony in the fact that a writer who por­trays him­self as a cham­pi­on of dis­si­dence and a crit­ic of estab­lished canons should have him­self become part of the the­o­ret­i­cal estab­lish­ment of his dis­ci­pline draw­ing his own aca­d­e­m­ic vis­i­bil­i­ty from the translator’s invis­i­bil­i­ty” (125). But isn’t that the ques­tion each trans­la­tion schol­ar needs to ask themselves—to what extent does the prac­tic­ing trans­la­tor become the (mut­ed) back­ground of some­one else’s or even their own scholarship?

Rather than get­ting hung up on “poignant ironies,” how­ev­er, this spe­cial issue wants to pick up the vis­i­bil­i­ty or visu­al gaunt­let and answer to the task of inquir­ing and reveal­ing whether and how a suc­cess­ful pitch for a trans­la­tion might depend on visu­al modes of rep­re­sen­ta­tion: what exact­ly is the val­ue of vis­i­bil­i­ty to trans­la­tion and how do we know? Or, to rephrase Venuti’s ques­tion, what would hap­pen if trans­la­tors start­ed talk­ing about vis­i­bil­i­ty in terms of appear­ances, visu­al acts, see­ing, cog­ni­tive science?

As Michael Cronin notes, the mod­ern human­i­ties are marked by a long­stand­ing crit­i­cal engage­ment with images based on “a notion of authen­tic­i­ty run­ning from Rousseau to the Roman­tics to Sartre­an exis­ten­tial­ism which views appear­ances as decep­tive and as irrel­e­vant to any prop­er or authen­tic sense of self” (25). The fact that today, due to major devel­op­ments in infor­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­o­gy, it is pos­si­ble to com­mu­ni­cate more and more infor­ma­tion through images does not make authen­tic­i­ty a less impor­tant issue, but it needs to be addressed in a con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous man­ner. Ques­tions such as how do images actu­al­ly com­mu­ni­cate infor­ma­tion and how do peo­ple actu­al­ly use these images need to be asked vis-à-vis these tech­no­log­i­cal changes, which rarely oper­ate in one mode only. Often, images are blend­ed with oth­er modes, such as text (cap­tions, copy­right infor­ma­tion), motion (images are exchanged or ani­mat­ed), sound, touch (swip­ing, drag­ging on the screen), and so on. Espe­cial­ly, since psy­choneu­ro­log­i­cal research has begun to reveal that “i-tech­nol­o­gy” is chang­ing our brains (Swingle) and our under­stand­ing of what is (a) human (Met­zinger, “Unter­wegs zu” and “Zehn Jahre Neu­roethik”), the bina­ry dis­tin­guish­ing “vir­tu­al real­i­ty” from “authen­tic­i­ty” needs to be re-evaluated.

Gen­er­a­tions of “dig­i­tal natives” no longer have to be taught that search engines and social media algo­rithms place a high­er val­ue on images. They know by doing (or being done to). And vis­i­bil­i­ty has been iden­ti­fied as the main mode in which cur­rent economies, so-called “economies of atten­tion,” oper­ate (Gold­haber, “Some Atten­tion Apothegms” and “The Atten­tion Econ­o­my”; Beck and Dav­en­port; Cit­ton; Cronin). Yves Cit­ton writes that this trend marks an onto­log­i­cal shift towards vis­i­bil­i­ty in gen­er­al and dig­i­tal vis­i­bil­i­ty specif­i­cal­ly; such regimes of vis­i­bil­i­ty mea­sure “le degré d’existence d’un être à la quan­tité et la qual­ité des per­cep­tions dont il fait l’objet de la part d’autrui [the extent to which some­one exists on the basis of the quan­ti­ty and qual­i­ty of other’s per­cep­tions of them]”. (Cit­ton 75; trans­la­tion as qtd. in Cronin 25). If Snow­den hadn’t already, Facebook’s Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal revealed just how impor­tant such mul­ti-dis­ci­pli­nary inves­ti­ga­tions into the link between vis­i­bil­i­ty and trans­la­tion are. The Ger­man doc­u­men­tary Democracy–Im Rausch der Dat­en, which trans­lates as Democracy–The Big Data Rush, fol­lows the devel­op­ment process of the EU’s Gen­er­al Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion that was imple­ment­ed on 15 April 2018. The film expos­es how the Euro­pean Union’s leg­isla­tive pro­ce­dure is shaped both in acts of image and language.

In this respect, the con­tri­bu­tions to this spe­cial issue share at least one con­cern: the extent to which vis­i­bil­i­ty and trans­la­tion can be a means of estab­lish­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing group iden­ti­ty, opin­ions, sol­i­dar­i­ty, and aes­thet­ic and social bound­aries, and, in turn, how these inflect the intel­lec­tu­al and eco­nom­ic prac­tices of trans­la­tion. This con­cern might be traced back to anthro­po­log­i­cal approach­es to the study of “image acts,” under­stood as embod­ied, human­made images includ­ing ges­tures (Bakewell 28). The schol­ars in this spe­cial issue also draw out and analyse the phys­i­cal, intel­lec­tu­al, and emo­tion­al affor­dances and respons­es of these image acts and, more impor­tant­ly, intro­duce fresh reflec­tions about the ref­er­en­tial, emo­tive, cona­tive, met­alin­gual, phat­ic, and poet­ic respons­es these might evoke in trans­la­tion prop­er and the sci­en­tif­ic discipline.

The vari­ety of top­ics and dis­ci­plines rep­re­sent­ed in this spe­cial issue are indica­tive of the sheer poten­tial of a prop­er “pic­to­r­i­al turn” in trans­la­tion stud­ies. Art cat­a­logues and online pre­sen­ta­tions, fash­ion col­lec­tions and their cura­tors, Finnish lit­er­a­ture rep­re­sent­ed at the Frank­furt Book Fair, North Amer­i­can indige­nous peo­ples art, inter­na­tion­al shifts in book cov­er designs, and human imag­i­na­tion itself are the lens­es through which the con­tri­bu­tions throw new light on trans­la­tion. Whether they all hold to the same def­i­n­i­tion of trans­la­tion is a moot point.

In the first con­tri­bu­tion, “Image as Trans­la­tion: The Ide­o­log­i­cal Impli­ca­tion of the Cam­era Obscu­ra for Media Stud­ies,” Philippe Theo­phani­dis con­sid­ers images in terms of rela­tions (as opposed to objects) which nego­ti­ate dif­fer­ence and which, in this way, are part of a cog­ni­tive field shared with trans­la­tion. In guid­ing us through a his­tor­i­cal analy­sis of how image mak­ing and trans­la­tion are intel­lec­tu­al­ly intertwined—focusing on the influ­ence of the cam­era obscu­ra on intel­lec­tu­als from the six­teenth cen­tu­ry to the present—Theophanidis breaks with the rou­tine onto­log­i­cal dichotomies between orig­i­nal and copy, in which oth­er­ness becomes vis­i­ble in translation.

Nicole Per­ry and Susan Ingram dri­ve the inves­ti­ga­tion into the con­nec­tion between vis­i­bil­i­ty as the trans­la­tion of the imag­i­na­tion fur­ther, pre­sent­ing case stud­ies of how visu­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion is used to trans­late and trans­form the per­ceived iden­ti­ty of peo­ples and places. Per­ry dis­cuss­es the provoca­tive body of work of Cree/Irish/Canadian artist Kent Monkman, reclaim­ing the “Indi­an” Image. Ingram focus­es on how gar­ments fea­tured in film, the­atre, and muse­um exhi­bi­tions can be used to trace and reveal to its view­er Vancouver’s trans­for­ma­tion after WWII from a war-based econ­o­my into a bur­geon­ing con­sumer soci­ety. Read­ing them side-by-side reveals fas­ci­nat­ing par­al­lels regard­ing the role of “the fem­i­nine” as a coun­ter­point to male-dom­i­nant nar­ra­tives of the found­ing of Cana­da (brought forth in Monkman’s art) and of soci­ety defined by war (seen through the expe­ri­ence of women who went from cop­ing with aus­ter­i­ty to flaunt­ing pros­per­i­ty). Both con­tri­bu­tions also raise fur­ther aware­ness to the impor­tance of the Inter­net as “atten­tion­scape” (Beck and Dav­en­port 49), but also its func­tion as archive to the artist, cura­tor, pub­lic, and/or researcher.

Per­ry and Ingram thus pre­pare us for the sec­ond part of the spe­cial issue, which is dri­ven more direct­ly by the ques­tion of how vis­i­bil­i­ty can be linked to the eco­nom­ic prac­tices of trans­la­tion and vice ver­sa. Respond­ing direct­ly to the issue of a “mutu­al under­stand­ing” among trans­la­tion, rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and rights man­age­ment raised by Venu­ti in his reflec­tions on the Frank­furt Book Fair, this part of the issue draws out process­es specif­i­cal­ly geared towards increas­ing vis­i­bil­i­ty in the trans­la­tion of spe­cif­ic cul­tur­al prod­ucts into for­eign con­text. The first two con­tri­bu­tions focus on spe­cif­ic image acts con­nect­ed to book cov­ers, and the third focus­es on vis­i­bil­i­ty as a pow­er-cur­ren­cy in the cul­tur­al mar­ket space of the Frank­furt Book Fair.

Anikó Sohár and Malin Podlevskikh Carl­ström inves­ti­gate the role book-cov­er designs played in the inter­na­tion­al suc­cess of Ter­ry Pratchett’s Dis­c­world Series and Vic­tor Pelevin’s Gen­er­a­tion “П”. Both take Mar­co Sonzogni’s ground-break­ing work The Re-Cov­ered Rose (2011) as their start­ing point from which they devel­op their own mate­r­i­al and the­o­ret­i­cal reflec­tions. Deliv­er­ing detailed read­ings of book cov­ers, both authors reveal that an inter­semi­otic approach alone does not afford enough ana­lyt­i­cal cur­ren­cy. Sohár address­es this by draw­ing on poly­sys­tems the­o­ry to explain the dynam­ic between glob­al­i­sa­tion and local­i­sa­tion of cov­ers, while Podlevskikh Carl­ström applies Tymoczko’s the­mat­ic and metonymi­cal approach to uncov­er deep­er con­nec­tions between nar­ra­tive and cov­er. Their blend­ed the­o­ry approach allows them to reveal how the process­es lead­ing to the final image prod­uct are as com­plex and con­testable as any oth­er trans­la­tion­al act—and points towards many more invis­i­bil­i­ties of book cov­er trans­la­tions that need explor­ing in order to ful­ly unfold vis­i­bil­i­ty in terms of its role as pow­er-cur­ren­cy in the cul­tur­al mar­ket space.

Hel­mi-Nel­li Körkkö also knows that vis­i­bil­i­ty is no super­fi­cial mat­ter but belongs to the nexus of pow­er-cum-vis­i­bil­i­ty cur­ren­cy of inter­na­tion­al mar­ket streams. The Frank­furt Book Fair as bro­ker of for­eign mar­ket vis­i­bil­i­ty is the focus of her con­tri­bu­tion, which reviews Finland’s pre­sen­ta­tion as Guest of Hon­our in Frank­furt in 2012. Fol­low­ing Fin­land from the plan­ning to exhi­bi­tion stages, Körkkö describes a series of phas­es, such as goal-set­ting, self-dis­cov­ery, and exe­cu­tion, in Finland’s project and eval­u­ates their recep­tion and con­se­quences for the Finnish lit­er­ary book mar­ket and scene. Bor­ders becomes a cen­tral theme in Körkkö’s analy­sis, reveal­ing the per­me­abil­i­ty at play in the imag­in­ing of “nation,” “lit­er­a­ture,” and “mar­ket.”

The read­er might wor­ry at this point that for the sake of think­ing about trans­la­tion visu­al­ly we have thrown out the baby with the bath­wa­ter. If the texts in this col­lec­tion have giv­en the impres­sion so far that trans­la­tion prop­er and trans­la­tion vis­i­bil­i­ty are two sep­a­rate domains, the last two con­tri­bu­tions to this spe­cial issue ought to reveal that this is indeed not our intention.

Sil­via Pired­du deliv­ers an insight­ful analy­sis of the prac­ti­cal issues of art cat­a­logue trans­la­tions, includ­ing ter­mi­nol­o­gy, con­no­ta­tive vocab­u­lary, word-for-word trans­la­tion, text-image arrange­ment, and so on. In her dis­cus­sion of these prac­ti­cal prob­lems, she reveals how aes­thet­ic guide­lines for trans­la­tion and cat­a­logue design are chang­ing under the influ­ence of tech­no­log­i­cal advances as well as the influ­ence of a cus­tomer-cen­tred approach.

Angela Kölling—in lieu of a con­ven­tion­al inter­view-pre­sen­ta­tion of the guest artist—offers a mul­ti­modal dia­logue with the art of Cia Rinne. It aspires to give the read­er an exam­ple of how one might, through con­ver­sa­tion with oth­er sec­tors of the lan­guage indus­try, refresh trans­la­tion stud­ies a lit­tle by bring­ing it into con­tact with Rinne’s take on “Konkrete Poe­sie” or con­crete poet­ry. Pireddu’s dis­cus­sion of art cat­a­logue trans­la­tion and Kölling’s engage­ment with Rinne’s word art both have in com­mon that they approach the prob­lem of the per­ceived “rift between the dis­cur­sive and the ‘vis­i­ble,’ the see­able and the sayable” (Mitchell 12) by guid­ing our view to the con­text that “cre­ates the cre­ators” (Dan­to 216).

In this con­nec­tion, we would encour­age the read­er to re-read this spe­cial issue at least twice: once for­ward, then back­ward and use the tools of cre­ativ­i­ty dis­cussed here—sequencing, direct­ing, reduc­ing, for­mat­ting, trans-media inter­fac­ing, and wordsmithing—to re-col­lect the ideas and propo­si­tions pre­sent­ed here in a way that hon­ours the dynam­ic between read­ing and cre­at­ing, see­ing and translating.

Works Cited

Bakewell, Liza. “Image Acts.” Amer­i­can Anthro­pol­o­gist, vol. 100, no. 1, 1998, pp. 22-32.

Beck, John C. and Thomas H. Dav­en­port. The Atten­tion Econ­o­my: Under­stand­ing the New Cur­ren­cy of Busi­ness. Har­vard Busi­ness P, 2001.

Cit­ton, Yves. Pour une écolo­gie de l’attention. Seuil, 2014.

Cronin, Michael. Eco-Trans­la­tion: Trans­la­tion and Ecol­o­gy in the Age of the Anthro­pocene. Rout­ledge, 2017.

Dan­to, Arthur C. “Bour­dieu on Art: Field and Indi­vid­ual.” Bour­dieu: A Crit­i­cal Read­er, edit­ed by Richard Schus­ter­man, Black­well, 1999, pp. 214-19.

Delabasti­ta, Dirk. “His­to­ries and Utopias: On Venuti’s The Translator’s Invis­i­bil­i­ty.” The Trans­la­tor, vol. 16, no.1, 2014, pp.125-34. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​8​0​/​1​3​5​5​6​5​0​9​.​2​0​1​0​.​1​0​7​9​9​296.

Democracy–Im Rausch der Dat­en. Direct­ed by David Ber­net, Indi Film, 2015, http://​www​.democ​ra​cy​-film​.de. Accessed 4 August 2020.

Gold­haber, Michael. “Some Atten­tion Apothegms.” The WELL, 1996, https://​peo​ple​.well​.com/​u​s​e​r​/​m​g​o​l​d​h​/​a​p​o​t​h​.​h​tml. Accessed 29 Octo­ber 2020.

—. “The Atten­tion Econ­o­my and the Net.” The WELL, 1997, http://​well​.com/​u​s​e​r​/​m​g​o​l​d​h​/​A​t​E​c​a​n​d​N​e​t​.​h​tml. Accessed 4 August 2020.

Kölling, Angela. “NZ@Frankfurt: Imag­in­ing New Zealand’s Guest of Hon­our Pre­sen­ta­tion at the 2012 Frank­furt Book Fair from the Point of View of Lit­er­ary Trans­la­tion.” Imag­i­na­tions, vol. 5, no. 1, 2014, pp. 81-99.

—. “‘In and Out of Sight’ Trans­la­tors, Vis­i­bil­i­ty and the Net­works of the Lit­er­ary Trans­la­tion Field: The Case of the Lit­er­ary Trans­la­tion Prize at the Leipzig Book Fair.” Trans­fer, vol. 14, 2018, pp. 24-48. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​3​4​4​/​t​r​a​n​s​f​e​r​.​2​0​1​9​.​1​4​.​2​4​-48.

Met­zinger, Thomas. “Unter­wegs zu einem neuen Men­schen­bild.” Gehirn&Geist, vol. 11, 2005, pp. 50-54, https://​www​.spek​trum​.de/​m​a​g​a​z​i​n​/​u​n​t​e​r​w​e​g​s​-​z​u​-​e​i​n​e​m​-​n​e​u​e​n​-​m​e​n​s​c​h​e​n​b​i​l​d​/​8​3​6​879.

—. “Zehn Jahre Neu­roethik der phar­mazeutis­chen kog­ni­tiv­en Enhance­ments – Aktuelle Prob­leme und Hand­lungsrichtlin­ien für die Praxis/10 Years of Neu­roethics in Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Cog­ni­tive Enhance­ment – Cur­rent Prob­lems and Guide­lines for the Prax­is.” Fortschr Neu­rol Psy­chi­a­tr, vol. 80, no. 1, 2012, pp. 36-43. DOI: 10.1055/s-0031-1282051.

Mitchell, W.J.T. Pic­ture The­o­ry. U of Chica­go P, 1995.

Swingle, Mari K. i-Minds: How Cell Phones, Com­put­ers, Gam­ing, and Social Media Are Chang­ing Our Brains, Our Behav­iour, and the Evo­lu­tion of Our Species. New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers, 2016.

Venu­ti, Lawrence. Trans­la­tion Changes Every­thing: The­o­ry and Prac­tice. Rout­ledge, 2013.