Anna Aslanyan discusses her Book „Dancing on Ropes“ with Friedrich Balke

On February 15, 2022 Anna Aslanyan presented her book „Dancing on Ropes: Translators and the Balance of History“. Afterwards, historian Friedrich Balke (RUB) offers a few comments on Aslanyan’s book and lecture. The event was part of the series „Carte Blanche IV – UA Ruhr meets International Guests“.

Human communication, even in one language, always comes with the proviso that we understand and are understood much less than we hope. If language barriers make this challenge even greater, how do people the world over still manage to talk to each other? Translation, as any practitioner will attest, is as much about cultural mediation as it is about finding the right words and putting them in more or less the right order. That is one of the central ideas explored in my recent book, Dancing on Ropes: Translators and the Balance of History.

Stories of translators succeeding or failing thanks to their grasp of cultural issues, or lack thereof, are as old as multilingual communication itself. They go back to the days of the Ottoman empire, when the job of the translator involved – just as it does today – much more than conveying ready messages. When translating, we inevitably intervene, add or cut, change the meaning or reframe the source, gloss local aspects or contextualise political demands, rephrase the author’s wording or introduce their work. From the Great Game to the West’s recent withdrawal from Afghanistan, cultural awareness has always been as important as linguistic skills. My own career as a translator and interpreter is full of examples confirming that words alone are rarely enough to establish communication. In this talk, I will share several stories, past and present, to demonstrate that we have to translate not only between languages but, crucially, between cultures.

Anna Aslanyan, Author of „Dancing on Ropes“

Friedrich Balke, Ruhr University Bochum (RUB)

Danilo Scholz, Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities (KWI)

YouTube Video