Theorising (un)performability and (un)translatability

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20–32
Number of pages13
Journal / PublicationPerspectives: Studies in Translation Theory and Practice
Issue number1
Online published21 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


In recent years, ‘translatability’, or rather, ‘untranslatability’ has been a much-discussed topic in translation studies. However, the state of its theorisation has remained relatively rudimentary, focusing in large part on assertions that specific texts, or textual features cannot be translated on the basis of certain cultural, ideological, or linguistic idiosyncrasies. In theatre and performance studies, the closely comparable notion of ‘unperformability’ exists, which describes texts, passages, or elements of plays which cannot be performed for one technical, ideological, practical reason or another. Yet, unperformability has not been extensively theorised and the treatment of these closely related notions differs radically in each respective research field. The aim of this article is to ask whether, by comparing, and ultimately synthesising the two notions, theoretical definition can be added. Such definition, it is argued, would allow thinking about ‘translatability’ and ‘performability’ as complementary notions that acknowledge the creative workarounds employed as a matter of course in translations and performances.

Research Area(s)

  • Untranslatability, unperformability, ideology, practice, performance studies