Cyrus Translation Cornucopia

Friday, April 29, 2005

Negotiating the Frontier: Translators and Intercultures in Hispanic History

by Anthony Pym (© Anthony Pym 1999)

Anthony Pym is author of Translation and Text Transfer (1992), Epistemological Problems in Translation and its Teaching (1993), Pour une éthique du traducteur (1997), and Method in Translation History (1998). He also edits the series Translation Theories Explained and Translation Practices Explained, published by St. Jerome.


Translators, Intercultures, and Hispanic Frontier Society

Clashes and overlaps of cultures have produced many strange and wonderful things in the Hispanic world. Our stories here will include a Latin Qur’an addressed to readers with no Latin, a defence of Aristotle translations by a critic who knew no Greek, the use of children to bring down an entire civilization, speculation on why Columbus’s statue in Barcelona is pointing straight to Israel, as well as sundry observations on the gold, paper, hides, coins, coffee beans, conquering armies, priests, and poets that moved from culture to culture. Our case studies will go from the twelfth-century Christian, Islamic, and Jewish exchanges right through to the not unrelated complexity of training today’s translators in Spain, mining a history rich in both anecdote and lesson. One could probably just tell the stories and trust their entertainment value to carry all else. Yet amusement is not our only purpose here. These studies also seek to address issues of a more general nature, beyond the concerns of diversion or even of historical representativity.

At its loftiest level, our motivating question is how cultures should interrelate. It is no doubt a pretentious question; it certainly asks about rather more than the past of Hispanic cultures. In fact, the question more directly concerns our own age of moving geographical and professional borders, the ones that are fought over not particularly due to economic imbalances but because of the conflicting ways people seek to belong together. The question strictly concerns cultures as cultures; it is wider than the politics of states or nations. And it is undoubtedly ethical in ambition, requiring a speculative mode of thought and at least two cultures to think about. Further, any applicable or liveable answer to that question must work through models of how cultures have actually interrelated; any substantial ethical answer requires at least some historical knowledge. This means entering the decidedly imperfect world of complex social interactions and generally asymmetric power relations; we must leave behind the platitudinous ideals of non-intervention, necessary progress, or retribution. If we are doing history, it is because we do not yet know how to answer our fundamental question.

What is perhaps most surprising about our question is how little can really be said to answer it. The accumulated methodologies and findings of anthropology, sociology, and comparative cultural studies offer remarkably little consent about the ways cultures can interrelate, about the ways they have historically interrelated, about the ethics of such processes, nor even about what cultures are in the first place. There is no ready framework. In the absence of established guidelines, the purpose of this book must be to reflect on these problems as directly as possible, close to the material, to see how history might help answer our question.

How this will be attempted, and the basic terms and concepts involved, may warrant brief explanation.

Why Translators?

Although frequently sidelined as a technical problem of interest only to linguists, the activity of translators should be a privileged field for the problem of how cultures interrelate. The simple fact of translation presupposes contact between at least two cultures, and does so in relation to language, the social activity that perhaps most effectively and insidiously weaves complex relations of cultural identity. To look at translation is immediately to be engaged in issues of how cultures interrelate. Yet idealized translation, minimally understood as a mapping problem involving two texts, is an inadequate and even deceptive object of study. Its blinding-spot lies in the way, in presupposing relations between at least two cultures, it surreptitiously excludes the space where the contacts are made and manipulated. Paradoxically, translation eclipses or at best misrepresents the place of the translator, and thereby all mediation.

This exclusion is discursively operative in utterances such as ‘I am translating,’ where the first person cannot possibly belong to a translating translator. Even when taken as an ideal relation between texts and thus perhaps between cultures, translation actively covers over the subjective conditions of its own production. Of course, this is by no means true of all actual translations, nor of all ways of reading translations. Yet a narrow focus on idealized translation nevertheless incurs the constant risk of simplifying the space in which our ethics and history might be elaborated. The conceptual task of our research, in this regard, must thus be to go from translation to something slightly more human, something a little more active. We must seek the place of translators and their kind.

Although the conceptual shift from translation to translators may seem rather trivial, it changes almost everything. If we force ourselves to think, from the outset, that relations are not directly between one culture and another, and that translators, as intermediaries, also have a space to live in and an active role to play, we are obliged to ask questions that reconfigure the terms of reference.

First, where are these intermediaries? Since no abstract argument can happily situate them in one culture or the other, we must admit the working hypothesis that translators operate from the intersections or overlaps of cultures, in what we shall call ‘intercultural’ space. This space is to be distinguished from relations or transfers that go from one monoculture to another, which are better labeled ‘cross-cultural.’

Second, we might ask across what translators actually translate. The answer is deceptively simple: translators work across the boundaries between languages or between cultures (the difference is not yet germane to our concerns). If there were no such boundaries, there would be no translators. Yet history complicates the matter. For one thing, we have just hypothesized the existence of intercultural space, which must somehow be sitting on or inside the borders. What conceptual geometry can comfortably configure that space or populate it with intermediaries? For another, the borders, lines of reference, are in constant movement themselves. For instance, the exact limits of ‘Spain’ or the adjective ‘Spanish’ depend very much on the period in question and the inclinations of the historian. The lines move, and many of those movements are partly due to whatever happens in intercultural space, where the cultural status of borders may be both created and displaced. In fact, since close inspection shows gradations blending the frontier regions of almost all languages and cultures, it may well be that there are no lines of cultural demarcation except as defined in intercultural space. If there were no translations, would there be definable boundaries between languages?

Our third question is also deceptively simple: How do translators live, beyond the fact of having their names associated with translations? Here even the most superficial historical scratching shows that translators frequently do far more than translate. They are also people, with multiple aims, loyalties, and activities that may include anything from gazing at the stars to investing in the international wool trade (we will be meeting cases of both). When one considers the range of those related activities, often associated with specific professional networks or ethnic groups, it becomes reasonable to ask to what extent the associated social relations weave a sense of intercultural identity, be it real or imagined. That is, in each historical context there is conceivably a range of professions associated with the role of the mediating person; there are networks not only connecting culture with culture but also interlinking the various intermediaries themselves. Translators need not be central figures in such groups; the problematic of translators may still allow us to investigate the general features of all intermediaries. We might thus find specific groups or communities where most members are aware of being cultural intermediaries and interrelate on the basis of that understanding. Such groups might be very small, as was the case of the translators, technical writers, and astronomers working for Alfonso X in the thirteenth century. The groups could be diffusely extensive, as might be presumed for the intellectual and mercantile sectors of Hispanic Jewish communities, both before and after expulsion. Whatever the dimensions, the identities of such groups may provide ballast for recognizable patterns of activity, for something like a small highly professionalized ‘culture’ in itself, or better, for something that might even become a culture were it not necessarily based on cross-cultural transfers. The things that such intermediaries have in common would then make up what we shall call an ‘interculture,’ about which there is more to be said.

What is an Interculture?

These lines of questioning quickly create problems for any immediate response to our ethical problem. Indeed, there is a very real danger of carrying the questions too far. For the kind of theory that does no more than theorize, it would be facile to conclude that since there are no ontological boundaries, all linguistic work is translational and all cultures are actually intercultures. The argument is possible, even plausible. In historical terms, we might freely concede that all languages are formed from translation, and that all cultures come from intercultures, loosely defined. Yet if translation and intercultures were thus always everywhere, we could no longer formulate our fundamental question about relations between cultures in anything like radical terms. If we do want to ask that question, and if we do not presume to already know the answer, we are obliged to insist on a few operative restrictions on our notions of cultures and intercultures. This is perhaps best explained through an example.

The first half of this book was written in a village called Calaceite in Spanish, Calaceit in the Catalan spoken there. Movements between Calaceite and Calaceit are performed in the village all the time, from one street corner to another, one social class to another, one side of a secretly remembered Civil War to another, and on periodically defaced and refaced roadsigns, since the village is in a part of the franja or ‘fringe’ of Aragon settled by speakers of Catalan. This is a diglossic border community, located within any line that would separate Catalan from Castilian (the name we shall be using for what others term the Spanish language). Within that line there is even a sense of identity expressed in the non-names for the local language, which is syntactically a variety of Catalan but is depreciatively referred to as xaporiao (‘patois’ or even ‘slapped together’) or ‘what we speak’ (‘Ja parles com nosaltres’, they say. ‘So you now speak like us.’). The variety within the border has no name; it might be a candidate for intercultural status.

This village certainly has a border status, mixed languages, and a corresponding sense of unnamed identity. It is certainly quaint. But does it have any professional intermediaries? Does its livlihood actually depend on cross-cultural transfers? Could it usefully be called an interculture simply because of the border?

Those three questions must be answered in the negative. Although people in this village are certainly moving between languages on a daily basis, everyone understands both languages well enough to obviate any developed need for remunerated intermediaries. There are no professional intermediaries as such. No one is engaged to produce a discourse where the first person of ‘I am from here’ does not refer to the producer of the utterance. Nor is there any evidence that the village produces translators, no matter how metaphorically we take the term, simply because of its border status. It is an agricultural community; its olives, almonds and wine are sold in whatever language the buyer wants. To be sure, it has its separatists, who believe that authentic language and culture is on the Catalan side of the border; it has its regionalists, who identify more with the traditions of Aragon; and it has its nationalists, who call themselves Spanish. Yet there is nothing in this mix that particularly needs the name ‘interculture.’ More to the point, if the village were an interculture, most of the villages, towns and cities of Spain would have to be called intercultural as well, with various weightings of the same picturesque hybridity. True, this might usefully remind English-language readers that the world’s societies are generally multilingual and subject to cultural overlapping. But the scope of our term ‘interculture’ would quickly become too powerful to answer our specific question.

If interculturality is to be used in a usefully restrictive way, it requires at least two definitional constraints. First, it must be related to some professional status. It must refer to groups of people who, for reasons of institutionalized livelihood, are somehow engaged in the transfer of cultural products across borders. At this most general level, interculturality would thus be found underlying a vast array of professionals, from what our now called relocation and multilingual text managers through to the language workers associated with multinational scientific research, perhaps with various mercenary armies, spies, most obviously the social paraphernalia of direct and indirect diplomacy. Interculturality would be what is common to the people who transfer knowledge, entertainment, security, and their opposites, across what are recognized as lines between cultures. Further, these people are minimally professional in that they exchange their services for material or social value, be it gold, prestige, or the saving of souls.

Our second restrictive criterion is that this interculturality should be derivative or dependent on some apparently more primary cultural division. An interculture must have what Peirce might have called ‘secondness.’ The work of our professionals is thus only intercultural because it assumes there is a line to be crossed, and that something is to go from one culture to another. As soon as the line between cultures becomes non-operative, as soon as there is no functional barrier to overcome, interculturality loses its derivative status and becomes indistinguishable from general cultural practice.

Let this suffice the purposes of bare definition: for us, interculturality requires professionalism and secondness. Beyond that, there remain many hypotheses to be tested, particularly as concerns the paradoxical ways the diversity of individual provenance reinforces the professional identity of the intercultural group, or the way agent-principal relations loosen as the group develops its own networks, or even the way specialized communication technology accrues effective power to the interculture. But for the moment, our two loose criteria should be enough to save the term ‘intercultural’ from hapless dispersion. It should also help steer our thoughts away from any universalist common base shared by different cultures, such as one occasionally finds in descriptions of the three coexisting religions of medieval Hispania. Interculturality describes the quality of intersectional spaces in which professionals work on transfers between cultures. It is neither a universalist nor a relativist notion. The rest remains to be unearthed.

Intercultures and Frontier Society

Let us return to our village. The name of the place is actually neither Catalan nor Castilian; it derives from the Arabic Kalat-Zeyd, ‘the castle of Saïd.’ Not that much is known about Saïd. Translations to and from Arabic belonged to the Christian conquest and colonization in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when things went backward and forward for a century or so. The area around the village was part of the long border between the Christian and Islamic worlds. It was very much a frontier region, with a sense and a set of consequences that have since been lost. This means that, even though the area is not now intercultural in any sense that particularly interests us, it might once have been. In fact, it could have been an intercultural space of a rather engaging kind.

How might the specificity of a frontier society change the way we think about translators? Consider, briefly, some of the sociological features of the frontier between Islam and Christendom in twelfth-century Hispania (cf. Ruiz de la Peña 1983, García de Cortázar 1983, Bartlett 1989, Ledesma 1993).

Once the battles had been won, the land had to be settled. Christians were given incentives to move into the new spaces, effectively as colonizers. Criminals often chose the path of colonization because they could officially have all their crimes absolved; no questions were asked about the marital status of women; a new life was offered to all settlers, especially those who were tough and presumably belligerent enough to keep fighting for the lands they were granted. Settlement thus gave rise to frontier towns that were relatively unstructured in terms of feudal relationships between lord and vassal, since the settlers were given the right to raise livestock and cultivate land more or less for themselves. Frontier society was also militarized, effectively dominated by the warrior on horseback, then by the warrior ‘monks’ of the military orders. Economic activity in the frontier town was based on agriculture and incursions into Muslim territory. Yet there was an acute shortage of agricultural labour, requiring serious efforts to have Muslims stay in Christian lands. This brought about prolonged contact with the ‘half-way’ social groups known as Mudejars (Muslims living under Christian rule) and Moriscos (Muslims who had adopted Christianity). For similar reasons, there were few highly developed trading or artisan activities among the settlers. Yet trade across borders could be a major source of wealth, so measures were also taken to encourage the presence and continuity of Jewish communities, many of which moved into Christian lands to escape the less tolerant society of the Almohades. The result was a multicultural and multi-ethnic urban structure within a militarized society. That kind of society, more than the calm hybridity of contemporary Calaceit(e), was eminently suited to the development of intercultures.

The intercultural activity associated with trade did not necessarily involve any cultural mixing. The laws of all of the main cultural or ethnic groups—Christians, Muslims and Jews—were kept separate to at least some degree. Even within Christian communities, the regulations and punishments for settler Christians were significantly more liberal than those applied to foreign Christians. The function of the monarchy was not so much to impose a common law as it was to protect the rights of each individual group. Power was thus significantly fragmented. Within the Christian structure, there were constant trade-offs between the monarch, a few lay nobles, and the church, particularly the Clunaic order, which played a significant role in the organization of the conquest. Toward the end of the twelfth century the colonization process was more actively controlled by religious militia including the Knights Templar and the order of Calatrava, the latter becoming the masters of Calaceit(e) and much else as well.

This, then, was the kind of fragmented social structure that could house intercultural activities of a professionalized and secondary status. The transfers it propitiated were not only those associated with the Toledan translators of the twelfth century but also those of the many other translators working in other parts of Hispania, at least through to the sixteenth century, when we shall find a Jewish rabbi translating the bible for the order of Calatrava. This was also the remarkably open and rough social structure that welcomed the many foreigners who actually carried out translations. Hispanic frontier society was not an interculture in itself; it was a loose social structure that facilitated intercultural activity.

Considering all these factors, the surprising thing is perhaps that such a frontier society apparently generally held together for so long. Admittedly, numerous local variants must be allowed for. Toledo was very exceptional in that it had a substantial community of Mozarabs (Christians who had lived under Islamic rule). Yet there was general coexistence for over a century. And the reason is fairly clear. Multicultural and as fragmentary as you like, all the diverse social elements were united in their common opposition to the space, be it experienced or imagined, on the Islamic side of the frontier. Only when the border moved further away, when the region was no longer properly defined by the border, did the bonds between the groups unravel, tensions were unleashed, and some kind of monoculture ensued form the various struggles. The Spain of the great expulsions and the Inquisition could only be triumphant once the frontier had moved outward.

What does this have to do with cultural intermediaries, or with their variants regulated as translators? Just think of all the box-and-arrow diagrams that assume the existence of ‘culture A’ and ‘culture B,’ or ‘source language’ and ‘target language,’ all conveniently represented as separate entities in their own spaces, usually with a translator located one side or the other, in a nice homogeneous space. If we believed the diagrams, translation would logically be a fact of sedentary cultures, of situations where borders are stable and things stay in place for a long time. The translator, it seems, is mostly seated at some kind of table, looking at two or several texts separated on an empty and meaningless desktop, engaged in an activity defined by the symmetry of two separate sides. Translation also appears to require time, calm, stable knowledge, and patrons who have the resources and foresight to ensure such conditions. Translation might be expected to belong to periods of peace and political stability. It should have little to do with frontier society.

But what happens when translation does take place in frontier society? Where are the separate spaces? What side is the translator on? How should a diagram represent a translation project that brings together two or three or four redactors, all from different cultural groups? More important, what should we say if translative activity was richer and more intense in Hispanic frontier situations than in any relatively homogeneous Spanish culture? One might imagine there was something wrong in the way we currently think about translation.

Our case studies here will show that many cultural intermediaries were indeed active in frontier societies, in situations of great turbulence and political unrest. After all, why should translators not be stimulated by a mix of cultures, by intense trade, rapid transfers of wealth, the proximity of war, of conflict, of the languages of action? A frontier town, be it Toledo or Calaceit(e), could benefit greatly from its position of apparent peril, from the fluidity of its social relationships, from the relative freedom allowed by fragmentary power structures. Part of the benefit could be properly cultural.

The studies in this book generally see the context for intercultural activity as being a frontier society of one kind or another. This involves not just the opposition between Islam and Christianity, where the model is fairly clear, but also the more abstract borders of the history that followed. Our general model can thus offer a perspective on translative relations between such things as medieval scholasticism and Italian humanism, between church and empire at the beginning of Hispanic colonialism, or between Castilian nationalism and international modernism. The frontier model can be taken well beyond its initial historical location. It no doubt gains a certain metaphorical status in the process, yet this need not diminish its explanatory power. Even in our own day, when the borders have moved to the multicultural city and to the links and non-links of the internet, the fluidity of frontier society remains a stimulating model for thought about how cultures should interrelate.

Negotiating Frontiers

We are gradually building up a model where translation takes place alongside related modes of professional mediation. These are all potentially parts of intercultures, which in turn may be framed by the loose structures of frontier society. This is the broad scheme that structures what we shall be looking for in our case studies. Yet that model in itself does little to answer our fundamental question about how cultures interrelate.

The notion of the frontier society limits the kinds of relations we shall be looking at. Most of our translators are far from the ideal of the ‘mediating person,’ understood as someone who would suffer derision and self-sacrifice in order helpfully to build bridges between cultures (cf. Bochner 1981). Our selected intermediaries have remarkably few of the nurturing virtues implied by such a vision; they are rarely motivated by altruism; or better, there is no reason to assume such motivation on a systematic basis. Frontier society was moved by converging and conflicting self-interests. Perhaps significantly, there are virtually no women among our translators, although the significance of the fact may belong not just to subjective limitations (we have not set out to counter gender bias) but also to historical practices of exclusion associated with the tasks we are considering. For better or for worse, our intermediaries are men; they mostly belong to male-dominated professional groups; they tend to mediate in the interests of themselves or their groups.

As we have noted, intermediaries exchange their services for material or social value. We can actually trace the gold or the favours with which intercultures were rewarded. Such exchange means that most intermediaries act to some degree as agents for power groups whose location is not necessarily intercultural. They are thus technically in a relation between agent and principal; intermediaries work for non-intermediaries. When the abbot of Cluny ordered a Latin Qur’an, or Alfonso X ordered his Jewish advisers to translate astrological treatises, they did so as effective non-intermediaries, without knowledge of Arabic, and thus with only indirect means of controlling the services they received. Intermediary agents who appear to be ‘acting on behalf of’ may thus in fact be ‘acting in dialogue with,’ or even, if the adages about translators are to be believed, ‘betraying.’ In theory, the more specialized the interculture, the greater the effective decision-making power that may be shifted to the intermediary.

However, this neo-functionalist view is of more importance for the intercultures of our own age than it was for Hispanic frontier society. In the specific fields that concern us here, effective power is more consistently directed by the better defined social groups—mostly patrons and classes of readers—that impinge on frontier society. Translation must thus be seen as a process highly conditioned by the way these quite particular principles interact. And it is those interactions that then define the borders at the centre of the intercultural groups.

The neo-classical view adopted here will be that these power groups work together to attain some kind of mutual benefit. This may involve interaction with institutions like church and crown, with particular grandees who commission translations, or indeed with intercultural groups located in other countries, as shall be envisaged for the transfer of fifteenth-century humanism. These major players, the social groups with interests in cross-cultural transfers, are presumed to be able to reach understandings about what translation is and how it should be carried out. They have many differences, but they also have benefits to gain from cooperation and exchange. They thus negotiate—in some cases working through translators as negotiators—to organize those differences. They agree on some things, disagree on others, and may agree to disagree on still further points.

For example, in the twelfth century there was disagreement between religious and protoscientific thinkers about the truth held in non-Christian texts. However, this discord was considered less important than the overriding agreement that Christendom would benefit from translations of those texts, either so that Muslims could learn the error of their ways (for church ideologues like Petrus Venerabilis) or so that Europeans could recover the practical science of the classical past (for empiricists like Adelardus de Bada). So there was agreement on the most important principle (practical benefit to the target culture), some kind of agreement to disagree on a fundamental background principle (the authoritative value of pagan texts), and repressed disagreement on what were considered minor points such as the value of eloquent Latin. The translators worked accordingly, with the church actually financing protoscientific translations with which it could not have fully subscribed.

The strategies of mediation can thus be seen as the outcome of negotiations. Without going into details (for which see Pym 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998), we are borrowing the general cooperation model of neo-classical negotiation theory and using it to organize data in quite a different field. The central idea is simple and well known: mutual benefits can ensue from situations where all actors operate out of self-interest. This does not imply that mutual benefits are always attained, nor that the social iniquities and material causes of history can be overlooked. Yet it does assume that the main power players were rational in their own terms, an assumption that in our case is partly supported by the fact that the groups tend to be within Hispanic culture or at least in touch with similar value systems.

The negotiation model might well turn out to carry so many presuppositions as to be non-enlightening in many cases. Yet here it is used as a convenient way of thinking through the problems of cross-cultural relations without accepting any timeless separation of cultures. The idea of negotiation certainly should not be taken as a rigid schema with slots that have to be filled in the same way with each application; it cannot give us fixed locations for the groups with conflicting interests in translation processes. Sometimes they are rivals with in the same geopolitical space, as is the case of church and crown; sometimes they are in different but interrelated spaces, as might be the situation with the movement of Renaissance humanism from the Italian peninsula to Hispania. Further, the negotiation model cannot happily locate ‘the’ intermediary in one exclusive slot. Sometimes we find intermediaries actually doing the negotiating, coming up with solutions acceptable to conflicting interests (this might be the case of Rabbi Mose Arragel translating the Hebrew Bible for Christians, in chapter five); sometimes the intermediaries belong to active social groups with interests beyond those of intercultural space (as would be the case of the twelfth-century translators of Islamic science, who were also the people most directly interested in using that science). It is thus with a certain amount of play and leeway that the negotiation model is applied to specific translation situations.

A few words are probably necessary on the principles listed as summaries at the end of some of the chapters. These principles are given in the form of ‘regimes,’ broadly understood here as hierarchical sets of understandings that allow negotiations to proceed. If two social groups agree on some aspects of cross-cultural exchange but disagree on others, their shared regime will ideally have the agreed-upon points at the top, potentially outweighing the points of greater discord down at the bottom. In this way, dialogue can proceed without abolishing difference; major understandings can be attained without homogenizing knowledge.

There must always be doubt as to the historical existence of the principles as they are presented here. No one is suggesting that when people met to talk about translation they first sat down and elaborated lists of things they agreed and disagreed on. Yet historians should seriously consider that, since intercultural history is a long dialogue across and between many cultural groups, some such mode of understanding must have been involved at certain points. Indeed, negotiated understanding may be the kind of model needed in our cross-cultural relations in the present. Regimes would then be little less than one of the ways the past can help answer our fundamental question.

There is nothing simple or automatic about the regimes presented in the following pages. In all cases they have been derived bottom-up, from interaction with the historical material itself. They are the result of repeated questions about what the actors would they have agreed on, what would have been non-negotiable, what concessions were possible, and what mutual benefits were to be gained. In some instances these questions allow the hierarchies of principles to be arranged with relative confidence; in most contexts, however, we find examples and situations that suggest alternative arrangements of principles. This means none of the regimes are stable blocks; all incorporate contradictions; and any regime, falsely isolated by the historian, must be expected to evolve into another. There is always something very artificial about the way historiography has to find summaries for its chapters. Yet it might be hoped that, in peeping in on Hispanic translation history at a series of key points, the principles drawn from the material will fall into regimes with a certain historical continuity. Of little consequence that the summaries fail to match up neatly; they do not really allow any kind of all-embracing overview. In fact, the main lesson they teach may be that the core problems of translation, the areas of significant disagreement, never find lasting solutions. The problems may sink down to the lower levels of regimes in one period (target-language eloquence, for example, was a subject of very limited dispute in the twelfth century) and then reappear as major points of contention in another (target-language eloquence was one of the things that Cartagena and Bruni were arguing about in the fifteenth century). Rather than definitively solve such problems, each age selectively forgets or sidelines whatever is necessary, overlooking some points in order to facilitate agreement on others.

That said, not all the studies undertaken here strictly concern negotiation theory as such. There is also a general interest in the social forces that help configure intercultural space, forces such as the transfer of wealth (gold, in the case of chapter one), changes in communication technologies (paper, in chapter four), the movement of education practices (chapters six and twelve) and migrations of people (missionary priests and intellectual exiles, in chapters seven and eight, and almost throughout). Few of these more material concerns can really be modeled in terms of negotiation, yet all of them share the same basic geometry. In all cases, these studies configure a world where people move, where virtually everything is being displaced, and where the passages of wealth, people, technologies, and prestige not only take place through the overlaps of cultures but also contribute to the fluctuating substance of intercultures. This is indeed the geometry of frontier society. In a sense, the studies of things moving should help set the social scenes where negotiations can then take place.

Our fundamental question, perhaps like all our questions, can be seen as a problem formulated in our own age of globalization then projected back onto the past. The focus on intercultures certainly ensues from the priority of our present, where mobility is inescapable. For this, no apologies are offered. The purpose of doing history is to help address the problems of the present. Indeed, this general aim, to question the past in terms of the present, may explain why the studies here range from the twelfth to the twentieth centuries, with huge gaps in between. Only an amateur could allow their interests to become so dispersed. As an amateur, I claim no expertise in any particular domain. I am certainly not interested in presenting exhaustive descriptions of particular themes or periods; the lists of names and dates can be found elsewhere. Here I seek merely to delve into particular cases and to follow the leads, taking some broad ideas and seeing how far they can be developed, what modifications they require, and ultimately, what the past might say about the cultural relations of our present.


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