Interpreting Authenticity

Translation and Its Others

by Agnieszka Pantuchowicz (Volume editor) Anna Warso (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 202 Pages
Series: Cultures in Translation, Volume 2


This book offers an interdisciplinary rethinking of the role of translation in the perception and reception of cultural texts. It also discusses human everyday discursive practices at the time of fluctuation of meanings and the decline of the authentic. The authors focus critically on the phenomenon of imitative replacement by all sorts of simulacra. The essays are addressed to literary and translation scholars as well as to all those interested in finding keys to understating the complex relationship between languages and cultures.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Genuine Objects and Imitations: What Do Translators Imitate? And Do They?
  • Delusions of Authenticity in Translating Linguistically Heterogeneous Texts
  • “An Ethics of Translation” versus Illusionist Translation
  • Authenticity and Linguistic Difference: Parody, Polyphony and Translation in Bakhtin and Beyond
  • The Volatile and the Chimeric. A Hermeneutics of Inter-authenticity
  • Translating the Human Terrain: Human Terrain Systems, Culture, and Colonial Discourse
  • Talking Rome: Authenticity of Film Dialogue in Translation
  • The Possibilities of Inauthenticity: Tom McCarthy’s Remainder
  • Playing for Real: Reconstructing Authenticity in Remainder by Tom McCarthy
  • Authenticity and Multistable Perception: On Powstanie Warszawskie and Seeing the Past in Color
  • Trompe L’oeil in Performance and Visual Arts
  • In Search of Authenticity: The Theatre of John McGrath
  • “I don’t appropriate much” – the Art of Sarah Lucas
  • Translating Words, Appropriating Images. On the Works of Zbigniew Libera and Darek Foks
  • The Smell of Dulcinea. On Anosmic Aspects of Epistemophilic Phobias
  • Contributors’ Notes

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As words that are sacred without sacred content, as frozen emanations, the terms of the jargon of authenticity are products of the disintegration of the aura. The latter pairs itself with an attitude of not being bound and thus becomes available in the midst of the demystified world; or, as it might be put in paramilitary modern German, it becomes einsatzbereit, mobilized. (Theodor W. Adorno, The Jargon of Authenticity)

For Theodor Adorno authenticity is an auratic matter which casts shadow upon the solid grounds of the rational through the changeable and transitory nature of things which, in turn, somehow irrationally, refuse to follow the alleged order of things. “The bourgeois form of rationality,” he writes, “always needed irrational supplements, in order to maintain itself as what it is, continuing injustice through justice. Such irrationality in the midst of the rational is the working atmosphere of authenticity” (47). The jargon of authenticity, which generally may be ascribed to most patterns of thinking about the present, is a defensive jargon, “the jargon which must defend, so as not to be lost” (47) all the transitory forms, and endow them with the positivity of a permanent and authentic “predecession” which ratifies their existence. This defence takes place not only in philosophy to which Adorno addresses his book, but also in the practices of everyday life in which the nostalgia for the authentic may be seen as the governing principle of the choices we make, of the attraction of what we choose.

In his The Tourist Dean MacCannell claims that individual acts of sightseeing are probably less important than “the ceremonial ratification of authentic attractions as objects of ultimate value” (14). The authenticity of attractions thus ratified builds up, and in Adorno’s sense mobilizes, a spiritual rather than material space, in fact an invisible one, which testifies to things’ transcendence, and it is the transcendental rather than the observable, or the “sightable”, which is the carrier of the authentic. What is “sightseen” is not a mimetic imitation, however imperfect and secondary, of the authentic but rather an element of the ritual of sightseeing which is

performed to the differentiations of society. Sightseeing is a kind of collective striving for a transcendence of the modern totality, a way of attempting to overcome the disconti←7 | 8→nuity of modernity, of incorporating its fragments into unified experience. Of course, it is doomed to eventual failure: even as it tries to construct totalities, it celebrates differentiation. (13)

This celebration of differentiations is seen by MacCannell as revolutionary, as a trait of modern culture’s being “more revolutionary in-itself than the most revolutionary consciousness so far devised”, as during “this revolution, every book is completely rewritten and, at the same time, every book, in fact, thought itself, is translated into a new kind of language” (12). Yet what remains after the rewriting and translation – two kinds of cultural activity clearly productive of differentiation – is the spirit of what has been lost and can no longer be seen, the status of “sight” having been passed on to the sphere, or the scene, of writing. Such a “staged authenticity” is not only the work of tourist industry, but also the work of what Derrida called the metaphysics of presence, the trust, or belief in there being a backstage original to the linguistic theatricality of the world, a back stage which is not seen as a stage. Plato’s repugnance of mimesis, his certainty that in fact all sights and signs are susceptible to inauthenticity, was also dictated by the fear of untranslatability of ideas, of translation being a carrier of the possibility of broadly understood idolatry in the face of the Authentic. For Plato imitation was an unwelcome way of bringing falsity to the world, and what is still connoted by the word “imitation” is first of all a kind of copying, repetition and/ or substitution of that which, otherwise, may be modified by the adjective “authentic”, applicable to nouns ranging from “life” and “feeling” to “signature”, “document” and, of course, “text”. Miles Orvell’s categories of “culture of imitation” and “culture of authenticity” which he uses to illustrate the passage from the nineteenth-century celebration of replicas to the modernist aesthetic of the authentic may well serve as a point of departure for looking at a range of possible configurations and ways of positioning of authenticity and imitation in contemporary culture. Since culture, and especially Western culture, may be read as a kind of discourse which “is born of translation and in translation”, as Henri Meschonnic phrased it, the triad of authenticity, imitation and translation offers an array of issues into which the authors of papers published in this volume found to be worth an insight and a discussion offering ways of rethinking the role of translation in the perception of culture and everyday practices at the time of fluctuation of meanings, an almost omnipresent absence of authenticity and its imitative replacement by all sorts of simulacra.

For John Dryden, quite a long time ago, imitation was a way of authenticating the translator at the cost of the authentic memory of the author. As he put it in his Preface to Ovid’s Epistles (1680), “imitation of an author is the most advantageous ←8 | 9→way for a translator to shew himself, but the greatest wrong which can be done to the memory and reputation of the dead.” This wronged memory of the dead and its spectral survival became, almost two hundred years later in the hands of Emerson, a sign of death of the authentic individual: “Imitation is suicide”, as he wrote in “Self-Reliance”. What reverberates in the two statements is not only the old question of constructing graven images and their worship, but also much more recently posited questions of the death of the author and the birth of the reader, of loss and gain in translation, of the invisibility of the translator, of estrangement and defamiliarization, of domesticity and foreignness, of, more generally, a certain politics and poetics of imitation in which authenticity looms large as a constitutive outside to which we inevitably, though sometimes highly critically, relate.

The volume opens with an essay by Elżbieta Tabakowska who, in her investigation of “genuine objects and imitations”, addresses some of the key issues discussed and analyzed in the subsequent texts. Is imitation (and has it ever been) a useful term to describe the practice of the translator or the results of her work? And if so, what is it exactly that is “imitated”? Tabakowska’s methodical examination of what lies on the two sides of the process, illustrated with examples from Ian McEwan’s The Comfort of Strangers, provides a point of departure for the attempts to outline the scope of the complex phenomena the present volume wishes to revisit.

Discussing the challenges of translating linguistically heterogeneous material, Ewa Kujawska-Lis introduces the concept of polyphony, elucidating its several, often divergent, critical uses, and interrogates popular strategies employed to render texts such as Joseph Conrad’s The Nigger of the “Narcissus”, where the diversity of carefully crafted idiolects presents the translator with an impossible task (even if none of the language varieties used by the writer corresponds to an actual geographical variety). “Any idea that such a reconstruction is attainable is a delusion”, observes Kujawska-Lis, noting, however, that it is “viable to create in the target text a number of idiolects for the characters to stress their individuality.”

Krzysztof Hejwowski’s essay included in this volume argues astutely for a rethinking of the (alleged) proposals to abandon the striving for any kind of equivalence and the idea that translation may indeed convey meaning. Hejwowski’s ardent disclaimer of Lawrence Venuti’s postulates presented in Translation Changes Everything (2013) offers an interesting commentary on the tradition of placing the processes of reading and interpretation within the field of in fact economic calculations of losses and gains. Many a practicing translator will nod their heads reading Hejwowski’s keen discourse, and equally many may ready their pens to refute it.

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Central to Przemysław Uściński’s argument presented in his essay is Bakhtin’s concept of polyphony. Uściński begins his exploration of the issues of authenticity and linguistic difference by drawing a connection between the Russian thinker and Jacques Lacan, whose frequently quoted dictum: “do not compromise your desire” seems to call for a rejection of all potentially compromising mediatory practices. A large part of Uściński’s analysis is devoted to the uses of parody and the ways both parody and polyphony feed on the “dialogic contradiction”, rejecting the “mythological” unity of meaning and language. Mindful of the challenges of the process, Uściński suggests the possibility of the translator of parody being a “second parodist, so to speak, who necessarily parodies the presented language, that is, the translating ‘target’ language” which is capable – by choosing to produce a foreignizing translation – of attending to the non-conformity of the source-text.

Positing his own hermeneutics of inter-authenticity, rooted in an interpretation of terms radically alternative to the ones traditionally offered by the Western philosophy, Marek Wojtaszek proposes a bold conceptual intervention aiming at a construction of “an adequate, affirmative, and apt tool of analysis” of contemporary events. Wojtaszek focuses his critical effort on the elements of the volatile and the chimeric and their textual incarnations as exemplary in his exploration the sense-generating potential of interpretation as inter-authentication. Equally stimulating for a truly interdisciplinary reflection on translation is Matthew Chambers’s following essay on the Human Terrain Systems (a government funded effort to increase cultural awareness among the US soldiers operating in combat areas) and the discussions surrounding HTS, revealing the latter as a yet another form of colonialist discourse in which foreign space and its inhabitants are translated “into textual forms to be digested and managed.”

Agata Hołobut investigates the problem of authenticity in relation to culture-specific codes used in TV productions to create the impression of realism, focusing on translation strategies employed in rendering of television dialogues while preserving the sway of its spontaneous authenticity. Drawing on several examples from HBO’s Rome, Hołobut analyzes the notion of historical presentation in general, and looks closely at the translators’ attempts to convey those linguistic codes and verbal characteristics of the genre which contribute to the sense of credibility with regard to the portrayal of past events. The complex relationship between the authentic and the artistic along with various creative attempts to re-enact the former and the possibilities offered by the opposite are also the subject of essays by Jarosław Hetman and Olga Szmidt, who revisit Tom McCarthy’s Remainder – a novel originally released as a work of conceptual art and centered on the notion whose very nature, many will claim, excludes the possibility of representation.

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Commenting on the problematic uses of the concept of authenticity in order to distinguish, among others, between documentary and artistic visual productions, Małgorzata Szubartowska looks at the practice of adding color to “originally” black and white archival images, and proposes a category of sense of authenticity, “understood as momentary identification experienced by the perceiving subject in contact with an object.” In her analysis of Powstanie Warszawskie, a documentary about Warsaw Uprising, Szubartowska interrogates the notions of authorship, appropriation and representation of a historical event, negotiating the challenges of defining authenticity as an analytical category.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (May)
Originality Simulation Deconstruction Authorship Literature Textuality
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 202 pp., 8 b/w tables.

Biographical notes

Agnieszka Pantuchowicz (Volume editor) Anna Warso (Volume editor)

Agnieszka Pantuchowicz and Anna Warso are assistant professors at the Department of Anglophone Literatures and Cultures, SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw, Poland, where they teach literature and translation.


Title: Interpreting Authenticity