Translation, Space Technology and Representation

Joanna Griffin

Close up of a model of the Chandrayaan spacecraft that went to the Moon


The study of translation appears to be motivated by a similar passion against injustice and subjugation that can be broadly seen to have motivated the feminist movement and feminist studies. In the same way that feminist studies generated powerful insights that have been used to open up new thinking in non-feminist discourses, it seems that insights around translation are being transferred to bring about similar reframings.

The writings of Sundar Sarukkai, (philosopher)  Gayatri Spivak (cultural theorist) and Tejaswini Niranjana (social scientist)  are concerned both with translation and with its repurposing. They apply the ‘problematic’ of translation to other issues – science, feminism and post-colonial studies. In doing so they also make further insights into the nature of translation.

My quest in preparing this seminar is to use these insights and methodologies to ask whether one of the subjects of my research, space technology, can be thought of in terms of translation. If space technology is thought of as a translation, then what does it translate? The imagination of its makers, the known physics of the Solar System? Or can it be thought of as the materialisation of the inbetween space between languages, the languages perhaps of science and human aspiration. The possibilities of the metaphor are vast and my question in the seminar is whether a useful reframing can be produced.

Anecdotally, the texts and resources I will refer to in the seminar came to me by way of my research into the public meanings of spacecraft in Bangalore, South India, where the spacecraft I focus on are made. It is significant also to the inquiry of the seminar to be looking at texts specifically from a non-European context. Furthermore it provides the opportunity to concurrently consider the overlap in thinking between translation discourses that have emerged in this geographical area and its diaspora and the development of space technology at this location.

The following texts and references are given more as a resource than a reading list. My intention is to have pre-seminar talks with individuals about specific texts as an experiment in seminar preparation and participation.


Reading for seminar:

Video lecture by Sundar Sarukkai, “Nature of knowledge in Indian intellectual traditions” at Circulating Knowledge, East and West, Dalhousie University.
[This lecture has a very good explanation of comparative logic systems as well as being a ‘wake up call’ to arrays of knowledge systems]

Sarukkai, Sundar. ‘Translation and Science.’ Meta XLVI 4 (2001): pp. 646-63.
[Here he uses an idea of science being a translation from the ‘original’ which is the world]

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. ‘The Politics of Translation.’ Outside in the Teaching Machine. New York: Routledge, 1993.
[This is difficult reading and it helps to understand why she writes in this way through secondary sources)

Niranjana, Tejaswini. Siting Translation: History, Post-Structuralism, and the Colonial Context. Los Angeles and Oxford: California University Press, 1992.
(available at )
[Useful to read alongside Gayatri Spivak]

The iconic and controversial image of the APPLE satellite being transported.

McGirk, Tim. ‘Bullock Cart Obscures Indian Quest for Space: A Sophisticated Programme Is under Threat from the Us. Tim Mcgirk Reports from Bangalore.’ The Independent  [Online] 10 August 1992. [accessed 17 August 2011]

[Article about some of the circumstances surrounding the ‘bullock cart and satellite’ photograph]

Ganesh, Kamala, and Usha Thakkar, eds. Culture and the Making of Identity in Contemporary India. New Delhi, Thousand Oaks, London: Sage Publications, 2005.

[I bought this book for an essay it contains by the sociologist Gita Chadha on the critique of science in post-independence India and found alongside her commentary these papers on the problematics of translation together with other essays on feminism. The grouping pointed to the overlaps I am suggesting in this seminar]

A.K.Ramanujan. ‘Three Hundred Ramayanas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation.’ The Collected Essays of A.K.Ramanujan. Ed. Dharwadkar, Vinay. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999.

[A.K.Ramanujan is a hugely influential thinker for the fields of translation and Indian literature. This essay on the multiple tellings of the Ramayana gives a way in to his own multiple forms of re-thinking translation]