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TRACES Editorial Office
350 Rockefeller Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY, USA
fax: 607.255.1345

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from the Founding Senior Editor

Many of us have been aware that the distribution of economic resources and military strength in the modern world has been long dictated by the fundamental unevenness between the industrialized and developed Euro-America and the Rest. Until recently, however, few have seriously questioned why not only the economic, military and political hierarchy of the international world but also the circulation of academic knowledge still appear to conform to the scheme of colonial difference, to the projected dichotomy of the West and the Rest with the centripetal flow of “empirical” and particularistic factual data from peripheral sites to “the West,” and the centrifugal counter-flow of “theoretical” information from the metropolitan centers to peripheries. A small number of intellectuals from diverse disciplinary, ethnic, gender, national and linguistic backgrounds gathered together in the late 1990s and began to work against or in spite of colonial difference inherent in the existing regimes of knowledge. This is how the project of Traces came into being. Consequently, from the outset, we have been concerned with how we need not conform to various academic protocols dictated by colonial difference; rather we want to produce such affirmative knowledge that ignores the configuration of global theory and local data, undermines the colonial difference of the West and the Rest, and trespasses the assumed bounded unities of nation -- in national literature and history, for instance; of ethnicity -- in identity politics; and of area -- in area studies.  It is no accident that we are seriously engaged in the problematic of translation, which carries the primary and never secondary or derivative importance in our project. Literally Traces is a project of translation, a performance of writing, speaking, seeing, reading or listening, in which the very differences of the addresser’s language and the addressee’s language, of the original language to translate from and the target language to translate into, are figured out. For those of us who are involved in Traces, translation is a process of poietic figuration, in which the collective unities such as nation, culture, ethnos, race, and the West (or the Rest) are manufactured and transformed. In the project of Traces, translation is also conceived of as a process of disfiguration, a process in which what may appear well-shaped and unified could be dissembled, dismembered, disseminated, and disfigured. In this respect, Traces is an activist project in the sense that we do not merely facilitate channels of communication among the linguistic communities of English, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and so forth, but instead actively transform the relationships among those languages, thereby opening up a social space where one’s national, cultural, ethnic, and racial identities are exposed to radical re-configuration.

By now I hope you understand why Traces is not an international journal in the ordinary sense of the word. We do not demand our members and participants of our project, including the readers of our publications, to address themselves as representatives of their nations, ethnicity, races, or civilizations. Far from willingly representing our identities -- it is important to note that we cannot evade representing our certain identities imposed upon us regardless of whether we like or not, precisely because of our histories -- we are not engaged in the promotion of communication among various nations; we are rather committed to the primordial fact of incommensurability, to which translation is an inevitable response. It follows that Traces inaugurates a community where everyone is an ordinary person and, therefore, a foreigner whose relation to neighbors must be mediated by translation.

Thus, you are welcome to Traces. You are an authentic member of our community since you are willing to accept the task of speaking and listening to our members through translation. In this community, you will never feel immediately understood or appreciated by your friends, so our relation is always the fruit of our sociality and work. You will have many friends, but they are in community with you precisely because they are foreigners whom you must work to understand and be understood by. They are your friends because you have to struggle with the problems arising from incommensurability. What binds us together is not a commonality but the fact of incommensurability, in spite of or because of which we continue to address among ourselves. Welcome to Traces.

Naoki Sakai

1st Senior Editor of Traces