Roman Jakobson’s 1959 tripartite division of translation (intralingual, interlingual, and intersemiotic) is widely considered the first application of semiotics to translation studies. Displacing the notion of “intersemiotic translation” from the field of linguistic and semiotics to a broader post-disciplinary realm (combining media studies, comparative literature and cultural studies), the project reflects on the following question: How is it possible to think the problem of intersemiotic translation (such as from book to film or from film to book) in political terms?

For Naoki Sakai the definition of translation by Jakobson results from a linguistic regime where ultimately national language serves as a schema for the naturalized origin of an ethnic community. Asking “what sort of social relation is translation in the first place?”, Sakai deconstructs the modernist entanglement of subjectivity, nationality and language. My research project further investigates the possibility of thinking the translation between different media (or semiotic systems) as a process of encounter between political subjectivities.

The writings of the young Antonio Gramsci on theater and theatrical adaptation provided the inception for the conceptualization of his political theory. Connecting the “reduction” of a literary work for the theater to the reality of the theater as a concrete form of work and human organization – which does not stand outside “capitalistic maelstrom” – Gramsci was aware of the political nature of actual translation. Later, he worked on the notion of translation and translatability to articulate his political, cultural and social theory.


Paolo Caffoni is editor of the publishing house Archive Books and co-director of exhibition and public program at Archive Kabinett, Berlin. He is a faculty member of NABA – New Academy of Fine Arts Milan, and was part of the curatorial team of the Second Yinchuan Biennale in 2018.