Burning translations

Milad Odabaei


This essay radicalizes the call for foreignizing translation in anthropology by pushing translation beyond a reference to an anthropological self. What I recognize as “burning translations” responds to the abolitionist call for “letting anthropology burn” by developing the urgency of translation amid histories of racialization. In contrast to foreignizing translation as the self-reflexive hermeneutics of the other, burning translations are speculative approximations of exigent situations that precede and exceed anthropological debates and liberal modes of public reason more generally. Burning translations are risky not because they invent new classificatory concepts and therefore confront the discipline’s intellectual and institutional resistance, but because they redirect anthropological terms and categories outside anthropological debates without attempting to add to these debates, offer a corrective, and thereby expiating what Michel-Rolph Trouillot identified as the guilty conscience of postcolonial anthropology. Burning translations test the limit of our concepts as “concepts,” and not as “ours.”

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/719659