Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

Voices from the In-Between: Aporias, Reverberations, and Audiences

April 6th, 2010

16-18 April 2010
Voices from the In-Between: Aporias, Reverberations, and Audiences
Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
University of Massachusetts Amherst

The Call for Papers:

The conference seeks to foster a space to discuss, problematize, and rethink ways of approaching the elusive concept of the in-between as it relates to various modes of cultural production and global phenomena. With the aim of engaging in transdisciplinary dialogues,pParticipants question how specific objects of study resist clear-cut categorization or placement in genres or domains, reconsider definitions and theories of the in-between, and present case studies that investigate the diverse manifestations of “in-between-ness.”

Presentation proposal:

The job of simultaneous interpreting between languages for individuals who do not share a common tongue but must interact to order to accomplish a particular task is becoming understood as a practice profession.[1]As a field of professional practice, the domain has traditionally been split by venue and modality, as “conference” or “community” interpreting and involving either exclusively spoken or a combination of spoken and signed languages. The role of the interpreter in interpreted interactions is tightly constrained, ostensibly so as not to influence the communication process among direct interlocutors. The presence of the interpreter problematizes the very act of communication itself, specifically the definition of meaning. As an object of study, meaning defies constancy – it morphs and changes on every timescale, and has the potential to shift in each and every application, contingent upon the relationship constituting use. There is no guaranteed location of meaning, only the promise of meaningfulness that is predicated on a past trajectory or presumed in an imagined future.

It is common, however, for people involved in an interpreted interaction to avow that meaning is fixed within words. This attitude reflects a desire for control of the communication process, which is – by virtue of being a process – particularly difficult to obtain. In fact, communication is essentially impossible to control because there is rarely (if ever) the guarantee that reception will match delivery. Friends and lovers misunderstand, enemies take offense when none was intended, creative and scientific representations get warped out of all proportion, sometimes to the point of unrecognizability. Pressures exerted upon interpreters “to render the message faithfully”[2] are loaded with the cumulative force of industrial era thinking: that it is possible to operate in a smooth, invisible, functional manner such that your presence can be momentarily forgotten. This is what interlocutors seem to want, to be convinced (or at least be able to believe, without interference) that the method of transmission is irrelevant. In other words, people seem to seek an escape from awareness of process by immersing attention in particular content.

Simultaneous interpreters are in a unique position within interpreted interaction. Despite the constraints placed upon independent interpreter action, in fact – within these very constraints – lies a zone of permanent liminality, a way of being, of understanding a different kind of meaning that is not fixed in definitions but flows from the essential nature of all interaction: “It’s the relationship, stupid!” Interpreters thus occupy positions of potential power – not the negative microsocial concern of screwing up conversations! Rather, interpreters wield a kind of institutional leverage for bringing interlocutors, one at a time, ever so incrementally, closer to shifting their energy from seeking to exert static control over one another through fixed meanings to caring about the meaningful outcomes of their identifications with each other in the mutual timespace of in-between.


[1] Dean, R. K. & Pollard, R. Q (2005). Consumers and service effectiveness in interpreting work: A practice profession perspective. In M. Marschark, R. Peterson, & E. Winston (Eds.), Interpreting and interpreter education: Directions for research and practice (pp. 259-282). New York: Oxford University Press.

[2] Code of Professional Conduct, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. This is a common clause in statements of professional ethics.

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