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In a wilderness of mirrors: the ethics of translation in Cold-War espionage

Tyulenev, Sergey (2021) 'In a wilderness of mirrors: the ethics of translation in Cold-War espionage.', The Translator, 27 (4). pp. 368-383.


The article looks at translation in the context of (counter)intelligence. Here translation finds itself in a situation in which scarcity of information turns originals into fragments rather than proper texts. This changes the way the translator works: s/he has to constantly justify his/her decisions, acting in several capacities or with different experts and foregrounding his/her presence in the text. This presence also points to the most difficult of ethical choices to be made. Translation mediates between conflicting or rivalling parties. To mediate, the translator must learn about and identify with an/the other, yet this other is an enemy.The translator must remember that s/he works not against but for the party to which s/he has pledged allegiance. The allegiance may be towards the party for which the translator works, or for the country in which s/he lives, and where s/he acts as a patriot. But the allegiance may be towards the ‘enemy’ – the absolute other – and here the translator’s loyalty is perceived simultaneously as treachery. The ethical ‘wilderness of mirrors’ to be navigated by translators within the (counter)espionage setting reveals a complex layering of multiple acts of fidelity and betrayal, agency and double agency.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 25 April 2023.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 4.0.
File format - PDF
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Publisher statement:This is an Accepted Manuscript version of the following article, accepted for publication in The Translator. Tyulenev, Sergey (2021). In a wilderness of mirrors: the ethics of translation in Cold-War espionage. The Translator 27(4): 368-383. It is deposited under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:13 January 2022
Date of first online publication:25 October 2021
Date first made open access:25 April 2023

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