When in Doubt, Contextualize...

Daniel Simeoni
York University (Toronto)
Table of contents

I will not address the initial formulation of the issue—objective, meaningstable essentialism versus radical non-essentialism of the indeterminacy-ofmeaning school of thinking. To state the obvious: A good many approaches to cultural diffusion and translation are at the same time empirical, descriptive, and very much aware of the dynamics of culture and language. Meaning is certainly not taken by all descriptivists to be stable, neither substantially nor even formally. Nor does every researcher who considers him/herself a postmodern culturalist reject empirical work. Rather, I wish to sketch out a context for the issue, enlarging the focus to the human sciences where similar questions have arisen in the past few years. What may be happening here is that established translation studies, both of the postmodern persuasion and of the traditional descriptive-empirical type, are faced with a questioning (some would call it a crisis) that has affected not only literary criticism and comparative literature but anthropology, history, legal studies, to a lesser extent linguistics, pragmatics and the language sciences, as well as the very notion of what makes good, “proper” science. The commotion in those areas of knowledge has been circumstantial but no less far-reaching. It probably accounts, at [ p. 338 ]least in part, for the growth of two new branches within the social-science and humanities polysystem: some researchers have been erasing the borders between knowledge development and fiction, turning themselves into writers and artists, while others have forsaken the social-science circle to move closer to the hard core of neurological cognitive science.

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