Article: Anthony Pym, On empiricism and bad philosophy in translation studies

On empiricism and bad philosophy in translation studies
Anthony Pym

Translation can be known through direct engagement with the practice or profession, through theoretical propositions, or through empirical applications of theoretical propositions. Here we make the argument that the repetition of theoretical propositions without empirical application leads to some unhelpful pieces of philosophy. This particularly concerns the following general postulates 1) “translation is difference”, tested on Walter Benjamin’s reference to the untranslatability of words for bread; 2) “translation is survival”, tested on Homi Bhabha’s use of Benjamin and Derrida (who do not survive the use); 3) “translators are authors”, tested on the “alien I”, pseudotranslations and process studies; and 4) “translation is cultural translation”, tested on the subject positions created by a piece of current Germanic theoretical discourse. On all four counts, the case is made that the practice of translation exceeds its theory, thus requiring an ongoing empirical attitude.