Double Bind 8: Nationalist vs. Migrant
(1) Be a citizen and product of a single
(a) Live in the land of your birth and
childhood. Identify with it and its culture.
(b) Learn foreign languages, customs,
and so on in the classroom, or from books.
(c) Learn them as an abstract linguistic
or cultural system. Semantics, syntax, pragmatics. Politics, economy,
social mores, art, education. Etc.
(d) Think of them as "enriching"
your native subjectivity (and, on a larger scale,the
national culture) but not transforming it in radical ways.
(e) Remain an outsider to what you learn.
Never conceive the desire to "go native." If you do picture
such a possibility, freeze with disapproval. Find it impossible, difficult,
or profoundly disturbing to imagine such a life.
(f) Always speak foreign languages with
the accent of your native country. Signal with your "inability"
to learn a foreign language really well your solidarity with your national
(g) Don't make silly "interference"
mistakes in your native language as a result of learning foreign languages
well. Never let foreign languages or cultures have that kind of power
to transform your native-speaker status.
(h) If you occasionally do make such
mistakes, don't reflect on their implications. Don't let yourself ponder
the possibility that the domestic/foreign hierarchy is in jeopardy.
(i) Travel abroad rarely and briefly,
or not at all. Always travel as a tourist. Do not attempt to learn the
local language. Speak English or some other "international"
language. Tell yourself that the locals all speak English/Spanish/French
anyway and need the practice. Also, of course, a knowledge of the local
language will never prove useful to you once you've left.
(j) Avoid the conflicting loyalties that
may arise through identifying with people from other cultures, seeing
the world through their eyes.
(k) When you travel, master cultural
difference with "nomadic objects" (Jacques Attali 1991) like
credit cards, bank bards, phone cards; laptop, fax/modem, mobile phone;
electronic dictionaries, tourist guides on the Web or CD-ROM, and hand-held
translators. Stay in five-star hotels; eat "international" food.
Don't drink the water.
(l) Tie translator-training, in theory
and in practice, to departments of modern language or comparative literature,
translation skills to a knowledge of foreign-language grammar, vocabulary,
(m) Think of the translator as someone
who has learned enough of a foreign culture to translate its products
into the terms of the native culture either assimilating them in
the pretense that the foreign was already implicitly domesticated, or
foreignizing them in the desire to mark the text as clearly foreign. Allow
no slippages in between.
(n) Train translators to become (and
remain) nationalist subjects who obtain minimal foreign-language competency
in order to do a job in the service of their native land.
(o) Make translation pedagogically, institutionally,
a taste of the exotic in the midst of the familiar.
(p) Bind translation to institutional
categories in the service of your national culture: Should a translation
count in promotion and tenure decisions as the equivalent of original
scholarly production? Should it count more in some departments (modern
languages, classics, comparative literature) than in others (English,
philosophy, political science)?
(q) Link translation and scholarship
closely as rationalist explanations of the foreign, as the light of (national)
reason shone into the (alien) darkness.
(r) Be rational(ist), logical, premodern.
Maintain all logical dualisms domestic and foreign, informed and
ignorant, rational and mystical, clear and vague, orderly and chaotic
in the service of the main one: self and other, me and not-me.
(2) Be a migrant.
(a) Live in the borderlands, in bilingual
communities, or always on the move.
(b) Feel uncomfortable when asked questions
implying unitary cultural identities: "Where ya from?" "What
language do you speak?"
(c) Live abroad for years. Move from
country to country, learning the languages as you go. Love both the feeling
of strangeness in a new culture and the feeling of linguistic and cultural
familiarity in a foreign country that you know well.
(d) Learn languages on the run, while
living with the people who speak them not just national and regional
languages, but jargons, dialects, idiolects, registers, styles. Don't
worry about sorting them out into pure or distinct entities. Mix them
freely, so that people always feel that you speak their language(s) and
(e) Always try to speak whatever language
the people around you are speaking, with something like their accent and
dialect. If your attempts to speak their language are tainted with interference
from another language, do not let that other language be your "native"
one. Speak Italian with a Spanish or Portuguese or Galician accent. Speak
Mandarin Chinese with a Cantonese accent. Speak American English with
a Mexican or Scots or Australian accent.
(f) Collect fluencies: the more the better;
the more exotic the better.
(g) Feel deprived, cut off, if you do
not use at least one foreign language every day preferably with
native speakers of that language, or with people for whom it is a stronger
language than your native one. Feel empowered with every foreign language
you are able to use in a short period.
(h) Think of speaking your native language
with people for whom it is not a native language as the last refuge of
(i) Let the felt distinction between
a single "native" language and one or more "foreign"
languages blur. No longer feel that the language you spoke (most) as a
child is stronger or more powerful or more intense than your other language(s).
Recognize that all your languages have strengths and weaknesses.
(j) Fail to notice what language you're
speaking at any given time. Switch easily and unconsciously into whatever
language the people around you are speaking. Be surprised when someone
doesn't understand you because you were speaking language X. "Was
I really? I didn't notice."
(k) Find yourself starting a sentence
in a contextually inappropriate language one that no one currently
present speaks because you were daydreaming in that language, or
your reveries were drifting nonverbally into the cultural realm where
that language is spoken.
(l) Tie translator-training to intercultural
communities: community interpreter programs that draw on and expand translation
and intercultural communication skills already in place; border programs
such as the one at San Diego State University, drawing students from north
and south of the border; the special situation of translators and translation
in Quebec, both francophones and anglophones learning to translate each
other and to deal with shared and divergent linguistic/cultural hybrids.
(m) Strive to open yourself to the chaotic
flow and complexity of the moment, the situation, the event, rather than
distancing yourself from it in order to control, to name and explain.
(n) Recognize a slight shock of recognition
when people identify you or your lifestyle
or your culture as postmodern, postcolonial, creolized, hybridized, migrant,
(o) But feel uncomfortable about being
trapped within such narrow categories. Long to migrate across logical
as well as geopolitical boundaries.
(3) Internalize the command to do both
(1) and (2) and expect censure for failure at either.
(a) Understand without being told that
what is at stake here is not just your professional integrity as a translator,
but your worth as a human being. If you can successfully be both grounded
in both a single culture and float freely between and among several, you
are not only a good translator, but a good person.
(b) Understand without being told that
you can't do both, and thus will never be either a good translator or
a good person.
(c) Expect to have your nose rubbed fiercely
in your failures: expect to be called, and think of yourself as, limited
and insular and parochial if you obey(1),
and ungrounded, a wo/man without a country, a drifter, a displaced person,
a refugee, if you obey (2).
(d) Long nostalgically for home, especially
for an idealized home in which everything is stable and happy in a single
place. Imagine it as paradise lost, and try to regain it either
in reality or in your mind. Know simultaneously that there is no such
place, and if there were, you couldn't go to it, and if you could visit
it, you couldn't stay there, and if you could stay, it wouldn't be paradise.
Always sense uneasily, but long for it no less for this realization, that
this dream of paradise is a powerful source of fascism and other virulently
ethnocentric and xenophobic ideologies.
(e) Long for the open road; romanticize
the nomad, the sailor, the vagrant. Imagine migrancy as adventure, freedom,
fluid movement through cultural diversity and change. Know simultaneously
that, while millions of people in the world today do live something like
that life refugees the reality is a far cry from the romanticized
dream. Always sense uneasily, but long for it no less for this realization,
that the dream of the open road can only become a pleasant experience
when you know that you can end it and return home at any time; and that
even then the "pleasantness" of the experience is mixed with
great quantities of loneliness, physical and mental and emotional exhaustion,
and an often insatiable desire to stabilize some small part of a changing
(f) Despise tourism and tourists, and
long to be a tourist yourself. When you travel, resist sightseeing
commodifying a foreign place with the imperial gaze and/of the camera
lens and give in to it, using a variety of excuses (the kids need
to see it, I'll just take a quick glance to see what all the fuss is about
and then I'll never have to do it again, it's on our way anyhow), and
feeling guilty and nostalgic about it later.
(g) Feel stultified in the town where
you currently live, and dream of travel; when you travel, feel inordinately
glad to get home again.
(h) Dream of your current spouse or partner
dying or divorcing you, and someone new coming along, from some culture
that you know absolutely nothing about; you follow him or her to that
culture, learn the language, learn to feel at home in it and ultimately
stultified in it, and aching to move on. Imagine yourself, after a series
of such changes, old and alone, embittered, alcoholic, more than a little
crazy and so come to yearn for the home and the marriage that you
currently have. Let that imaginative cycle revitalize your groundedness
in and satisfaction with that situation for a while.
(i) As you accumulate linguistic and
cultural fluencies, keep the domestic/foreign dichotomy clear. Always
bear in mind which is your native language, which are the foreign ones.
Repress emergent awareness of crossover phenomena, such as interference
from "the" foreign language to "the" native one
especially when your own speech is infiltrated by such phenomena.
(j) Whenever you refer casually to languages
as native or foreign, or A or B, or L1 and L2, or to people as natives
or foreigners, or to translations as domesticated or foreignized, let
the postmodern sexiness of migrancy and hybridity fill you with anxiety
about still being locked into the old nationalist paradigm. Police your
speech more carefully to make sure that it more effectively reflects the
attitudes that you aspire to hold.
(k) Always bear in mind, or at least
have a vague but strong intuition, that people locked into single cultures
are narrow-minded and ethnocentric and that migrancy is emotionally destructive
and economically disastrous. Nationalists are bigots and simpletons and
migrants are tormented exiles.
(l) Whenever you seek a happy medium
between these extremes, do so in terms of one or the other especially
the socially and politically dominant nationalist one. Learn foreign languages,
become familiar with foreign cultures, travel widely but remain
grounded in a single national culture, the one you were born into, or
the one in which you currently live. Feel uneasy about your relative neglect
of other cultures, and try to keep up by reading widely and traveling
occasionally, but reassure yourself in the end that practical realities
make true migrancy impossible, or at least impractical. Or at least, well
(m) If you are an expatriate living in
a "foreign" country, and feel more grounded culturally in that
national culture than in your "native" one, resolve the tensions
and complexities that nationalism generates in that situation by (i) transferring
your political and cultural loyalties entirely or almost entirely to your
new home, pouring contempt on your "native" land for its foreign
policy or social and economic inequities or cultural poverty or whatever,
and/or (ii) feeling more of a national of the "foreign" country
when your original compatriots criticize it, and more of a national of
the "native" country when your new compatriots criticize it,
and/or (iii) attempting, through a precarious balancing act, to retain
a cultural loyalty to and groundedness in both cultures, by devouring
books and films and music and other cultural artifacts from your "native"
country, traveling there at least once a year for a least a few weeks,
seeking out compatriots who live there and are only traveling abroad and
frantically projecting yourself into their mental and emotional "set,"
maintaining an intensive e-mail correspondence with people from back home,
(n) Convince yourself that, while all
of these solutions are more or less inadequate and unsatisfactory, they
work well enough for practical purposes, and certainly make for a more
interesting and satisfying life than the extremes of ethnocentric nationalism
or the migrancy of refugees.
(o) Long only vaguely and inchoately
for third, fourth, and fifth cultures, or for an idealized state of intercultural
groundedness that requires no national base.
(4) Repress all this, and despise anyone
who reminds you of it.
(a) Believe that while the translator's
conflicting cultural loyalties may occasionally be awkward, they are nevertheless
far from intolerable certainly nothing to imagine in terms of a
vicious circle from which there is no escape. It is only tenured radicals,
entranced by postmodern celebrations of migrancy and hybridity, who insist
on slinging mud at various compromised or modified nationalisms. Show
some scorn for these nay-sayers, but ignore them as best you can and go
on doing what you do best.
(b) Believe that the distinctions between
the native and the alien, the domestic and the foreign, are natural, universally
human, and obvious to anyone who looks. Believe, and above all act as
if you believe, that it is easy to distinguish a "domesticated"
translation from a "foreignized" one (everyone knows this),
and to evaluate their relative cultural worth, which is, after all (everyone
knows this too) based in human universals like "communicability"
(c) If you favor domesticated translations,
assume that all humans fundamentally want to communicate their ideas clearly
with other people, and want others to communicate clearly with them. Try
not to show your irritation with scholars who insist that translations
should sound like translations (written in translationese!), or that various
creoles and pidgins should be used in translation. They have a right to
their opinions, even if they are stupid.
(d) If you favor foreignized translations,
assume that all humans are naturally curious about other people and other
cultures and would love, if it weren't for the pernicious corrupting influence
of nationalistic capitalism, to expand their cultural horizons and know
more about foreign cultures. Express your contempt for the domesticators
among your colleagues in generalized theoretical terms, pointing no fingers,
simply making it clear that anyone who continues to harbor such outdated
ideas is a stooge and a dupe complicit with all the worst and most destructive
forces in the world today.
(e) Don't articulate any of these assumptions.
Above all, don't articulate any doubts you might occasionally have about
them, even to yourself.
(5) Idealize the command-giver.
(a) Believe that there is no command-giver;
there is simply a factual state of affairs. Don't even deny the existence
of a command-giver; just never let the possibility arise. If it is difficult
(or impossible) to be simultaneously grounded in a single national culture
and to move freely among a variety of cultures, that is not because you
have been commanded (or trained, or programmed) to do both, and to conceive
translation as doing both. That's just what translation is not
what someone told you it is, not some artificial restrictive definition
of translation, but the facts.
(b) To the extent that you identify the
command-giver as a single national culture, convince yourself that it
is only "natural" or "human" to be more fully grounded
in the country and culture where you spent your childhood than in any
other. Agree with Noam Chomsky and his followers that there is a difference
in kind between first-language acquisition and second-language learning.
Your "native" language will always be stronger, deeper, more
intensely felt, than any other language you learn in your life, not because
you want it that way, not because you're a patriot, but because that is
how the human animal was designed (with a "language acquisition device"
or LAD buried deep in its brain).
(c) To the extent that you identify the
command-giver as the modern ideology of nationalism, convince yourself
that the nation is the most viable political grouping in the world today,
because it is at once (i) grounded in the "natural" unity of
a single speech community and culture, (ii) immune to the squabblings
of larger conglomerations like treaty organizations, unions, leagues,
and empires, and (iii) powerful enough to combat military and/or economic
invasion from without.
(d) To the extent that you identify the
command-giver as a single foreign culture, convince yourself that thorough
groundedness in and loyalty to a foreign culture is what makes a person
a translator. If you live in that culture and translate its texts into
your native (or another) language, think of yourself as the "foreign"
culture's ambassador to the world beyond its borders. If you live in your
native land and translate the foreign culture's texts into the local language,
think of yourself as the local culture's educator, representative of a
superior or ancient or exotic or different culture whose texts would do
the local culture a world of good. When you translate into the "foreign"
language, think of yourself as enriching that culture with exciting expressive
and informational imports from abroad.
(e) To the extent that you identify the
command-giver as the border or ethnic or international or other bi/multilingual
community in which you grew up, shake your head in wonder at all these
people who insist on talking of "native" and "foreign"
languages and cultures; who believe that everyone has (or should have)
a single "native" language that is strong and intense and then
zero or one or more "foreign" languages that are weak and fragile;
who want to keep languages pure and distinct (no hybrids, no creoles).
Where do these people come from? Why do they think the way they do? Isn't
it natural to speak several languages, and to mix them up when you speak?
(f) To the extent that you identify the command-giver as an ideology or practice of migrancy, wonder idly what that might be, where and how it might have originated, how it might be channeled to specific individuals like yourself but don't give it all that much thought. Relish it and celebrate it in postmodern/postcolonial terms without really pretending, or even possibly desiring, to understand it.
Other double binds: