Research & Resources, Researcher Series
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Communication across cultures

Dr Alain Wolf, who lectures in language and translation studies at the University of East Anglia, reflects on the individual threads of his research, what unifies them and academia’s limiting ‘Queer’ agenda.

When I reflect on the many individual threads of my research, I realise that what unifies them is the need to describe how individuals communicate with one another when the interaction between people is mediated by translators and interpreters. Therefore the central focus of my work is how communication, what is said and what goes beyond the said, what is read between the lines, is guided by people’s intentions as well as by something (call it what you will, spiritual, religious, divine) other than themselves.

Recently, I published an article in the Journal of Translation exploring the role of religious ethics in all forms of translated discourse. It argued that, relying on secular professional codes of ethics is not enough to motivate translators to behave morally. And referencing contemporary examples, explored the potential value in reclaiming the spiritual dimension of moral action, thus reconceptualising notions of the ‘Other’, power and ideology. Finally, I proposed in what may be a counter-cultural way that spiritual resources motivate translators and interpreters to realise ‘ideal’ forms of translated communication, which business-like and professional codes of ethics manifestly fail to do.

Also counter-cultural is my current research on communication between gay men when they come from different cultural backgrounds. Cultural background for me goes far beyond simplistic comparisons between nationalities, and involves looking at representations of religious, psychological, sexual, familial, historical, and philosophical differences.

The research is counter-cultural in particular because I am trying to demonstrate that the current ‘Queer’ agenda in academia, with its focus on varieties of sexual configurations and the discourse of rights and equality that goes with them, is limiting. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but gay relationships tend to be reduced to a contemporary understanding of sex rather than a philosophical/historical understanding of love.

We may refer here, for example, to the notion of heavenly love as outlined for us by Socrates in Plato’s Symposium. Socrates, himself drawing on the prophecies of a woman named Diotema, tells of lovers of men who ‘must for the sake of [the] highest beauty be ever climbing aloft, from one to two, and from two to all beautiful bodies; from personal beauty he proceeds to beautiful observances, from observance to beautiful learning, and from learning at last to that particular study which is concerned with the beautiful itself and that alone’ (Plato, 1925:207). In that ascent, in that search for the good, the lover of men, whose function is not to beget other men, passes through the inferior stages of earthly worship of male beauty to beget true virtue, that is to educate boys and eventually ‘to win the friendship of heaven’ (Plato, 1925:209).

Such a vision, also elaborated on by medieval monks (see, for example, St Aelred of Rievaulx), enriches our understanding of same sex relationships. And while a great deal of previous research focuses on negative aspects of cross-cultural sexual encounters, my work will hopefully make a complementary contribution to existing modes of inquiry by offering to explore what constitutes rich, positive and moral dialogue in gay intercultural relationships.

Dr Alain Wolf  is a lecturer in language and translation studies at the University of East Anglia. He specialises in intercultural pragmatics and translation studies, and his most recent work has focused on the recovery of inferences in translated literary texts, film adaptations and religious discourse. Prior to coming to the University of East Anglia in 2009, he taught translation studies and pragmatics at the University of Sheffield.

 

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