Tricks of perspective
: Magic as a metaphor for translation

  • Josephine Murray

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Looking at translation through the optic of magic challenges our common conceptualisations both of what translation is, in terms of the manifold connections it may establish between the original and the translated text, and the source and target culture, and also of how the act of translation is itself performed and perceived. Magic, in this guise, is to be understood not solely as a simple practice of clever deceit involving only illusion and trickery, but more completely in and through a trans-historical perspective which takes into account both this modern understanding and its shifting history of practices believed to be invested with the power to enchant and transform. Magic is, at heart, an attempt to manipulate and transform reality, just as translation is a manipulation of the notional reality of the source text, subjecting it to transformation and re-materialisation across time and space. Key to this thesis, in that regard, is the distinction between reality and representation; the binaries we tend to fall back on to conceptualise and categorise translation techniques obscure the fact that translation can only ever offer us a representation of the Other, filtered through the interpretation of the translator, rather than any direct access to their notional reality. The drive behind this thesis is therefore to use the metaphor of magic to take a fresh look at the practice of translation, providing a way of conceptualising its processes that breaks it free from restrictive, prescriptive theories. By reimagining translation as a form of magic, the transformative nature at the heart of the practice is brought to the forefront, reminding both the translator and the audience that, regardless of the method of translation, the act itself will inevitably introduce a distinct ideological situatedness into the text during the process. The question which then arises is how far should the translator let this influence run?

Thesis embargoed until 31/12/2023
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorDavid Johnston (Supervisor) & Sarah Eardley-Weaver (Supervisor)


  • Translation
  • translation theory
  • perspective
  • magic
  • metaphor
  • metaphor theory
  • alchemy
  • Illusion
  • enchantment
  • representation
  • mutability of meaning
  • transformation

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