In a chapter for the Routledge Handbook of Translation and Activism, published over the summer, Turkish journalist and translator Ayşe Düzkan offers an anecdote: At a conference in Istanbul in 2014, she was tasked with providing a consecutive Turkish interpretation for one of the speakers, a British Marxian anthropologist. His comments centered on the Gezi Park uprisings that had captured the world’s attention just a year before. Though it was only his second visit to the city, he did not seem to recognize the irony in speaking to a Turkish audience, many of whom were directly involved in the protests, about an event in which he was not himself involved, and in a language they do not speak. Would a Turkish writer with no knowledge of English be invited to comment on Occupy London, she wonders? That such a scenario seems unlikely is no coincidence. The absurd performance Düzkan observes illustrates how the politics of translation affect not only the distribution of linguistic access (so that desired information may be limited for speakers of a certain language), but also the distribution of intellectual authority (so that speakers of a certain language may be ‘taught’ their own history through an interpreter).
The year 2019 marked the centennial anniversary of the beginning of a period in Vienna’s municipal history commonly referred to as “Red Vienna.” During this brief period, from 1919 to 1934, the Social Democratic Workers’ Party dominated both the political and the cultural scene. Its initiatives—in housing, education, health and welfare, leisure and culture—laid the groundwork for an equitably and justly organized modern urban metropolis. That lasting groundwork is in part why the city of Vienna is today consistently ranked one of the “most livable” cities in the world.
But the story of Red Vienna’s emergence, its claims, successes, failures, and above all its relevance for the present is certainly neither fixed nor uncontested. The following conversation—occasioned by the publication of a new book on Viennese modernism and newly published translations about Red Vienna in Barricade’s latest issue—ended up circling and kept resituating, from multiple angles, by way of various objects, what amounts to a fundamental, albeit generative ambivalence at the heart of this peculiar modernist project. Continue reading “Janus-Faced Modernism: The Body (Politic) in Red Viennese Life & Culture”