Between 10 and 14 December 2018, the LSE Review of Books blog is running a Translation and Multilingualism Week. In this editorial, LSE RB editor Rosemary Deller introduces the inspiration behind the series as well as the upcoming content that we will be featuring across the week. 

If you are interested in this topic, all posts published as part of the week can be accessed here. If you would like to contribute on this topic in the future, please contact us at Lsereviewofbooks@lse.ac.uk

Editorial: Introducing the LSE Review of Books Translation and Multilingualism Week

Image Credit: (Cropped image from Eyesplash… CC BY SA 2.0)

This summer, following the publication of a review of Gore Capitalism on the LSE RB blog, a reader praised the book on Twitter, mentioning the author’s name (Sayak Valencia), the publisher (Semiotext(e)/MIT Press) and the translator, John Pluecker. With embarrassment, I realised I had missed Pluecker’s name from the information provided in the review. Editorial mishaps occur, but I was left ruminating on why, despite being well aware the book had been translated, I had forgotten to include Pluecker’s name: a situation that would – to be frank – never have happened with the name of the author of the book.

This seemingly momentary oversight caused me to question the possibility of an uncomfortable underlying editorial attitude on my part: that in some sense, without having hitherto realised it, I was operating under the principle that ‘sure, including the translator is great, but No Big Deal if the information is missed out’. As though the acknowledgement of the work of a translator is an act of benevolent generosity rather than a necessity; as though this approach is accidental rather than indicative of the wider value afforded to – or more pertinently, often withheld from – translation, including within academic publishing.

That I had failed to acknowledge the labour of translation sat particularly uneasily given that many of the books reviewed on the LSE RB blog can be featured precisely (and, in some cases, only) because they have been translated; as well as the fact that many of our contributors read books and write reviews (as well as undertake research, delve into archives, make awkward conversation at academic conferences…) across a number of languages. It also runs counter to one of the aims of the blog since 2016 – to better engage with the social sciences as inherently international in their scope – as well as a project instigated in part to enable this: Reviews in Translation, a collaboration with LSE Language Centre.

In 2016, an LSE RB reader survey underscored the extent to which the reader and writer communities of the blog are global, prompting a necessary question: how could we better reflect this in our content and coverage? And how might this be hindered by exclusively publishing in English, perpetuating the tendency for it to be assumed the ‘lingua franca’ of the publishing (and wider) world? One collaboration forged in response was Reviews in Translation, co-run with Catherine Xiang, whereby students at the LSE Language Centre translated existing book reviews into two – now three – target languages as part of their studies: Mandarin, German and, more latterly, Spanish. Through the time and dedication of LSE students and language teachers (Lijing Shi, Peter Skrandies, Hongyi Xin and Esteban Lozano), the project has so far enabled 24 reviews to exist as multilingual content, with this set to expand as the project continues. This modest shift runs in parallel with sustained efforts at constructing multilingual platforms within the LSE blog community, such as the LSE Latin America and Caribbean blog, which regularly publishes in Spanish and Portuguese, alongside English.

As Reviews in Translation continues into its third year, it seems a timely moment to reflect on the integral role that translation and multilingualism play in academic writing and research. Such attention follows in the wake of wider initiatives and shifts. Small and independent publishers have frequently led the way in publishing material in translation; concurrently, academic publishers have been discussing the increased importance of securing translation rights for academic research. There are also notable discussions seeking to address internal exclusions and hierarchies within translation and translation studies, such as the statistical inequality when it comes to women translators (see, for instance, the Women Writing Women Translating Women project) or the emphasis typically placed upon European over other ‘majority’ languages, alongside the marginalisation of ‘minority’ and Indigenous languages. To think critically about translation is not only to think about our debt to those who make conversations and communication, the spread of ideas, possible, but also to consider the structures through which dialogue is both amplified and shut down. This week is therefore aimed at opening up a new space on the LSE RB blog to engage with these wider debates surrounding translation and multilingualism, and how these connect not only to publishing and academic research but also broader political and social currents.

Image Credit: (Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash)

The week begins with an extract from the recent MIT Press book, Sympathy for the Traitor: A Translation Manifesto, in which author Mark Polizzotti reflects on some of the key debates that have historically shaped perceptions of translation as either an traitorous act that inevitably betrays the original text or ‘the royal road to cross-cultural understanding and literary enrichment’. Polizzotti delves into translation’s tensions and contradictions, exploring it as simultaneously ‘impossible, necessary, and important’. In the extract, he examines the argument that translation inherently implies loss, showing it to be a dynamic, relational act of creation with the ‘zone of energy’ that is the text under translation (8).

Towards the end of Sympathy for the Traitor, Polizzotti reflects on the role that translation can play in overcoming some of the violent instances of bordering that are being particularly reinforced in the current political climate. On Tuesday, a feature essay by long-time LSE RB contributor Sarah Burton, Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow in Sociology at City, University of London, explores Brexit and linguaphobia. Burton argues that the heightened expression of antipathy towards languages other than English in the post-Brexit context denotes a form of ‘othering’ that is intertwined with concurrent anxieties regarding expertise, cosmopolitanism and intellectualism in the contemporary moment.

Similarly attentive to the present European context, on Tuesday Isabel Wall, assistant editor at Viking, also introduces the recently launched ‘Penguin European Writers’ series, which features forgotten twentieth-century classics by authors of different European nationalities published in translation. Taking readers through the books so far released, Wall reflects on the inspiration behind the series and its particular relevance today. Having observed that only three per cent of books published in English are in translation, and less than a third of literary translations published in the UK are written by women, Wall also discusses the series’ aim to encourage readers to seek out more works in translation written by authors from diverse countries and backgrounds.

Thinking critically about the intersecting hierarchies and exclusions that can be fostered and addressed through translation, Olga Castro and Emek Ergun introduce us to their recent Routledge collection, Feminist Translation Studies, on Wednesday. The volume explores feminist approaches to translation across different geographical and historical locations as resistant transnational practices that can challenge multiple forms of domination. In the interview, they introduce feminist translation studies, discuss the role that translation plays in the transnational and examine the relationship between feminist praxis, translation and activism.

Resonating with Castro and Ergun’s claim that ‘the transnational is made through translation’, on Wednesday three of the editors and contributors to the volume Translating Frantz Fanon Across Languages and Cultures (Routledge) delve into the complex translation history behind Fanon’s iconic work, Les Damnés de la terre (The Wretched of the Earth), written during the height of the Algerian war of independence and exploring the psychological devastation of colonialism as well as advocating the use of violence as a tool of anti-colonial struggle. Kathryn Batchelor, Sue-Ann Harding and Christina Kullberg offer three snapshots of the histories of the book’s translation into English, Swedish and Arabic, showing how careful, painstaking research into translation histories can deepen our understanding of book reception and the spread of ideas.

Contributing to this discussion of the role that translation can play in forging international activist networks, on Thursday Michela Baldo, Jonathan Evans and Ting Guo discuss the interconnections between LGBTQ+ issues and translation. Ahead of their special issue of Translation and Interpreting Studies on the theme of ‘Translation and LGBT+/Queer Activism’ – Call for Papers available here –  they reflect on the translation of queer vernaculars, the relationship between queer theory and international LGBTQ+ cultures and the future directions of the study of translation and LGBTQ+ activism.

On Thursday, Mithilesh Kumar Jha explores the role of language in the spread of ideas as well as the value of the vernacular in an essay that draws upon the research published in his recent book, Language Politics and Public Sphere in North India (Oxford UP India). In his feature essay, he argues that capturing the real and continuing tensions and challenges of democratic practices in India requires attention to how they are performed and understood within its numerous vernacular spheres, drawing particularly on the linguistic movements that have asserted the importance of ‘minority’ or ‘non-scheduled’ languages in the nation.

On Friday, despite being the subject of the initial oversight referred to in the beginning of this editorial, John Pluecker generously participates in a Q&A on his language work, discussing his experience of working with and translating different literary forms, translation as a ‘productive failure’ and the notion of language justice, linked to his own role as the co-founder of language justice and literary experimentation collaborative, Antena. Following this, we end the week by celebrating some of the books reviewed on the LSE RB blog that have been published in translation, showing the integral role that translation plays in communicating and sharing academic research.

As part of our commitment to better acknowledging our debt to the work of translators, over the coming months we will be undertaking an audit of our previously published content to ensure that we have properly recognised the translators of all relevant books on the LSE RB blog. If you spot something that we have overlooked, please do let us know. Having begun a conversation on the blog about some of the key issues, challenges and questions regarding translation and multilingualism today, we also welcome further contributions on these topics in the future.


Rosemary Deller is the Managing Editor of the LSE Review of Books blog. She received a PhD in English and American Studies from the University of Manchester in 2015 for her thesis looking at co-constructions of gender and animality through representations of meat in contemporary culture. Prior to this, she studied Politics at undergraduate level at Newcastle University and has an MA in Gender Studies from Central European University, Budapest.

This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the London School of Economics.

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