Date: Wed, 05 Mar 1997 11:50:59 -0600
From: Doug Robinson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: disaggregated agency
>What seems clear however is that the potential connections implied between hermeneutics, social science (of which I take translation studies to be a component), cognitive research and beyond that perhaps, neurological studies, suggest the need for a repartitioning of the disciplines.
I’m always ready to repartition disciplines! For me translation studies has tended for a long time to be a component more of hermeneutics than of social science, mostly I suppose because I was trained in the former and am very much an interloper in the latter. But we obviously need a strong social-science component in translation studies (to run that the other way, making TS the planet rather than the satellite), and it seems to me that we need more cognitive and neurological research in TS as well. At some level cognitive scientist and hermeneutics overlap, even converge (they differ mostly in the names they drop–or, less cynically, in terms of the research paradigms they operate from and within). I’m currently in the middle of bound page-proofs for a forthcoming book by the cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter about translation, called Le Ton beau de Marot (New York: Basic Books, late spring), that strikes me as being VERY close to some of the hermeneutical stuff I’ve done. He explores analogical acts of translation between languages, between different “versions” of the same joke or joke structure, different logics, etc. In all kinds of ways Hofstadter is working in the territory marked out by Roman Jakobson in 1959, the connections between intralingual and interlingual translation–which TS scholars have almost entirely neglected.
>I mention this in passing, only to hint that the form taken by the present debate – much to the credit of Doug Robinson – makes it worthy of interest far beyond the confines of translation scholarship. I could not help noticing also how the exchanges cross over with a number of ongoing debates, for example around the theme of cultural “identity”.
Definitely. And I agree with Daniel, below, that Pym’s work on the translator’s “intercultural identity” is both very important and problematic, due to the enormous amount of complexity that the prefix inter- is made to bear. This I think is one of Pym’s most crucial contributions to TS–and also, with any luck, through TS to debates on cultural identity, identity politics, postcolonialism, etc.
>The notion of disaggregated agency, whether applied to a “single human being”, an “ephemeral conglomeration” of agents, or even a “nation”, is indeed a productive metaphor. Its scope reaches far beyond the task of the translator, to encompass the destiny of all social agents. Although Doug Robinson assigns the genealogy of the expression to a need to “deal with the new complexities” he saw after writing his professional “declaration of independence”, it can just as well be read as a generalized reaction against the (to some, debilitating) ideas of social disaggregation, fragmentation, chaos deprived of agency. A sign of the times perhaps, as much as a personal stance.
Yes. In my application of the idea of disaggregated agency to nations I’m thinking primarily of Benedict Anderson’s work, which also sees nations as artificial (ideological, and in all kinds of ways practical/political/economic as well) aggregations of disaggregate agencies. And clearly one of the social mandates that we’re trying to address here, it seems to me, is the gradual collapse or debilitation of the nation in the modern world, and the survival of nationalism beyond its time of maximum usefulness. We need ways to talk about nations, which do go on existing, and about the nationalist ideologies that would go on treating nations as ideally unified wholes governed by unitary forces (Humboldt’s innere Sprachform, say) despite the overwhelming evidence of diversity and overlap–ways of talking that don’t just expand the coherent framework of “nation” to “globe” and see internationalism as just a really big form of nationalism.
>Ideas float at certain times to be seized upon by different people, unaware that others are working along the same lines. We have all had this strange feeling of being part of an invisible cohort (again the spirit-channeling metaphor may be useful here, if we are not afraid of admitting that theoretical constructs themselves, including the most rational-looking, are just that: constructs elaborated by the scholar’s imagination on the basis of other imaginative constructs).
And this is really most of what I want the spirit-channeling metaphor to do: to help us talk about this sense we have that something “inside” us is coming or has come to us from the “outside,” that the force it wields over our behavior and thought is somehow inside and outside at once, self and other at once, our own and collective at once.
>It so happens that my personal history
>and positionings have made me particularly responsive over the years to the work of Pierre Bourdieu. “Disaggregated agency” could not fail to remind me of the concept of “habitus”, a stenograph for a reality that is both structured (being the result of multiple determinations) and structuring (i.e. agentive). [Should anyone be unfamiliar with Bourdieu’s work on this and related matters, see e.g. The Logic of Practice, in particular Part 1, tr. by Richard Nice. 1990, Stanford: Stanford U. P. The publisher for Europe is Polity Press, Cambridge. The original in French – Le sens pratique. 1981. Paris: Editions de Minuit – is not bad either…]. I believe Bourdieu also refers somewhere to the notion of “habitus clivé” (split habitus). Habituses are incorporated, “embodied” to the point of being instantly recognizable in the course of social relations. The notion as such is hardly new (Aristotle, St-Augustine, Elias and Panovsky among other old-hat? figures have used it productively) but it was promoted to pivotal theoretical status as part of a rich network of concepts by Bourdieu. Like Robinson’s disaggregated agency, the habitus applies differentially to the individual agent and his/her life story, Lebenslauf, etc., to groups of interest, and most notably to nation-states (or “state-societies” in Elias’s wording). Habituses are highly specific. The concept translates nicely in the different ways in which language is used, in daily life as in more restricted fields.
>I am currently working on the very same notion of habitus as applies to the translator (conceived as a “single human being”). Just as Doug Robinson refers to disaggregated agency, I came out recently with the notion of a “mosaic habitus”.
Wonderful term. Has the article been published? Or is it the one Michael Cronin mentioned, in Meta?
>I found the term useful to express:
>(i) the particular brand of habitus required of the human being a.k.a. translator. All social agents have more or less “mosaic” habituses but the translator must cultivate this pluri-identity and modulated submissiveness, or at least make do with it willingly. This feature may provide a bridge for Anthony Pym’s notion of an intercultural space or “interculture” defining the peculiar position of the translator, although it is still not clear to me how an interculture could stand off in a balanced way between regular cultures. The prefix does not quite evoke the astounding complexity of the domain;
I agree, but it’s a start. And I’m not sure Pym ever wanted it to signal a BALANCE between national cultures. As I understand it, and Pym will correct me if I’m wrong, once he gets done with his work week in Tarragona, the idea is that translators, wherever they live, are caught in some sort of complex attitudinal (habitudinal?) riptide between cultures, pulled both or several ways, having loyalty to both “the” source culture and “the” target culture, often more than just two. Not just an existing interculture, necessarily (though those exist too, especially in borderlands between national or linguistically more-or-less-unified regional cultures), but an intercultural identity or agency. Interculturality as split–as disaggregated, in fact. And I think the idea of a mosaic habitus to describe the “place” or virtual/behavioral topos of that “intercultural being” is excellent. My guess, too, is that Pym, who has quoted Bourdieu’s habitus to me in admiring tones, will agree.
>(ii) the tension felt while translating (not only intellectual but physical); (iii) the faculty of adaptation which is a distinguishing trait of the profession.
Yes to both. What I’m interested in beyond that, however, is the bundle of ways in which the “world” (for lack of a better term) invades or impinges upon that translatorial mosaic habitus. The “faculty of adaptation” implies impulses coming from without to adapt TO–and what are they? And how do those impulses work in a larger, systemic focus?
For example: I get a call from an agency asking me to translate a series of medical questionnaires from Finnish to English. I agree, and start working. I’m only a page or two into the job, though, when I get this strong feeling that I’m doing a backtranslation. The phrasings are occasionally awkward in Finnish in ways that remind me of translations I’ve done into Finnish before. Semantic one-to-many and many-to-one problems abound. I call the agency and ask, but they won’t confirm or deny that what I’m doing is backtranslating–which to me is ludicrous, because a backtranslation, it seems to me, should be done differently than a straight (forward?) translation–more literally, to show the client more or less what the first translation said.
In any case, I’m kind of rushed with this job because I’m leaving for the American Translators Association conference in a day or two, but I email a couple of Finnish translator friends with term questions, get two of the questionnaires done, modem them to the agency, ring them up to say that I’ll have to finish the job after the conference, they say fine. At the conference I’m introduced to a Finnish translator whom I’ve never met; he was a doctor in Finland, moved to the US a year or two ago, can’t practice medicine here so he’s been translating medical texts. We start talking, we have mutual friends in Finland, and soon he laughs a little and says, “So you’ve been backtranslating my work, huh?” Turns out he was the original translator; he found out about me doing the backtranslation from one of my Finnish translator friends, who went to him with one of my term queries. He and I sit down and compare notes on the job; I remember some problem areas and ask him about them, he remembers the original English and the problems he had getting it into Finnish, etc. A very fruitful discussion. After the conference I return home and finish the job, which is now much easier.
A few days later I get a call from the agency, wanting to discuss my translations, which I have done AS backtranslations, despite the lack of confirmation from the agency. I did the first ones that way, before the conference, and I certainly did the last ones that way too, after finding out that they really were. The agency editor has no problem with the way I did the translations; she wants to check on some of my comments, which were designed to help the editor do the best possible job with what I sent her. We discuss some of the problems, she is satisfied, and hangs up to finish the job. I never see the end result, or have any idea what “my” translation ended up looking like.
Now I have no habitus for most of this stuff. I had only done one backtranslation before, and that was 15 years ago, in Finland. The situation is very different here. Most of my “habitual” assumptions about backtranslation come from books (which are, of course, part of my habitus). Above all, it is bizarre in the extreme (for my habitus, anyway, since I don’t live in Quebec or some similar place where all the authors and translators seem to know each other and constantly meet socially) for me to meet the original translator in the MIDDLE of my backtranslation work. I have no idea whether the agency people I talked to had any experience of this before either; when I called to ask whether this was a backtranslation, was my call part of a familiar routine to them, do they have a company policy or other well-worn habit(us) not to discuss this sort of thing with freelancers? Or did the person have to invent a policy on the spot? And so on.
What I’m getting at is that the “ephemerality” of the conglomerations of translators, editors, project managers, etc. that get individual translations done seems to me to militate against, or at least to problematize in very interesting ways, Daniel’s notion of the mosaic habitus. Things happen; new people pop into the picture; the situation changes dramatically. Some of these changes are part of the mosaic habitus; others force its members (which are in some sense of the phrase membra disjecta) to transform their habitus, adapt it. How does that work?
>In this no doubt biased and partial and summary reading, the two constructs – disaggregated agency and mosaic habitus – strike me as fairly compatible. Perhaps the former is less affirmative than the latter, due to the deprivative morpheme dis-. But again, what matters is the way they can (and ought to) be made to function in case studies, to enlighten descriptions of intercultural transfer from the point of view of the agent.
Hear hear! Let’s see some case studies. Those of us who write about translation do tend to invoke cases, of course–I just did, at some length–but what would constitute, I wonder, a case-study approach to this question? Would we need to study OTHER people’s cases? I’ve been sneered at for using my own experience as illustrative material–as case studies. Too subjective. Impressionistic. Unscholarly. Blah blah blah. What do you all think?
>A quick footnote to explain why I think it is important to rehabilitate the status of the translator in translation studies and why I view Doug’s and others’ efforts as positive for the discipline as a whole. In the field as I see it sedimenting these days, I can identify three main branches which I label, for convenience, “hermeneutic”, “culturalist”, and “empirical-mentalist”.
Who would the empirical-mentalists be? Linguists? And are you including the socioeconomic people like Pym and (less interestingly, to me) the skopos/Handlung people in the culturalist approach?
>If the distinction makes sense, then it is plausible that one common pole around which productive exchanges may develop and the (inter?)discipline preserve some coherence, is precisely, the persona of the translator. This does not mean that other approaches focussing on e.g. the larger structures bearing on the task, processes, products of translation, etc. are mistaken or should not be pursued. In fact, I take Gideon Toury’s recent DTS and beyond to be the most formidable effort to date, and a highly successful one at that, to deal with the notion of intercultural translation systemically. I see also his model as flexible enough to allow for a reprioritizing of the translator’s disaggregating agency (or mosaic habitus, whatever we choose to call this passive-agentive complex), by mere topological ‘translation’ of its structure.
Interesting. I know that Gideon dreams of bringing some such coherence to the (inter)discipline through a systemic approach; but just how would you transform or “translate” his system or structure to put the translator-as-agent/subject at its center? I would think the whole system would implode. What I’m trying to do with the idea of disaggregated agencies is to map out the middle ground between (a) the systemic structures that inform everything we do, that structure what we do in normative ways, and (b) the translator-as-agent, as a person trying to get by in a big complex world. I’m trying to explore the leakage or slippage between those two agent-poles: the translator as agent, the culture as agent.
>While recognizing indeed the risk that an objectivist angle entails, to fragment the field into reductive specialities and therefore, to fall short of providing the conditions for a truly integrative theory of translation (such an angle would exclude, presumably, the hermeneutic branch as merely “speculative”),
Say bye-bye, Doug.
>I am also wary of discarding all structural-systemic attempts as distant echoes of the 60s and 70s, as might be (wrongly?) deduced from Michael Cronin’s Response.
I like systemic thought as much as anybody. I just think that the only way to avoid the dangers of intellectual imperialism that haunt systemic thought is to insist on the systematizer’s positionality, to put it jargonistically. In other words: “This isn’t REALITY–it’s ME SYSTEMATIZING. I’m a theorist making stuff up. And I think that the stuff I make up is true, pretty much, and fits what I can see of the evidence, and has enormous explanatory power for me and I hope for others as well … but it’s still the invention of a single theoretical agent, and a pretty damned disaggregated one at that.”
>As a matter of fact, and even
>though this may have no other value than a personal anecdote, I can vouch that reading closely Bourdieu’s systemic case studies helped me better understand where my location was and why, in the particular context of the French society where I come from. I see the effect on me to have been that of a true “socioanalysis”. Far from being disempowering, the model – because it was flexible and refined enough to precipitate the variety of forces moulding society, through a process of internalization, into the single concept of habitus – helped me gain confidence in proposing my own imaginary take on issues I view as important.
That “imaginary” in Daniel’s self-description redeems this approach, it seems to me. As long as the theorist can remember, and affirm publicly, that his or her “take” is something s/he made up, a construct, systemic analyses are extraordinarily powerful and useful. It’s only when they start getting treated as reality, as “the field,” and people start getting excluded (banish all hermeneutical speculators, they’re like poets, no room for them in the DTS Republic), that I start feeling the chill.
PS I think Bourdieu’s great too, but I can’t help wishing he had plotted himself onto those really cool graphs of French academia in Homo academicus. What is the perspective from which the map was drawn? Or do we have to imagine it as 3D, and Pierre somewhere up off the 2D plain that he charts?
Date: Wed, 05 Mar 1997 20:12:07 +0000
From: email@example.com (Sean Golden)
Subject: Re: interlanguage
I’m going to try to outline some theoretical considerations related to intercultural transfer that depend on graphics–on visual representations of the theoretical models–without using graphics.
Model One: an adaptation of Karl Popper’s Three World model–three mutually interlocking circles (forming a triangle, like three-fifths of the symbol of the Olympic Games). One represents the material world (physical world, Nature), another represents the social world (Culture), the third represents the world of the individual.
In this model the material world overlaps partly with the social world and also with the individual world; the social world overlaps partly with the material world and also with the individual world; the individual world overlaps partly with the material world and also with the social world.
There is a zone in the centre of the image where all three worlds meet, and there is a part of each of the three worlds that does not overlap anywhere.
Let us read “to overlap” as “to condition” or “to overdetermine”.
To some extent the material world conditions (overdetermines) the social world and the individual; to some extent the social world intervenes in (modifies the conditions of) the material world and conditions (overdetermines) the individual; to some extent the individual can intervene in (modify the conditions of) the material world and the social world.
Now let’s adapt the model further.
For social world read “language” and “language usage” (including rhetoric, registers, literary traditions, text types, styles, etc.–the poststructuralist notion of “ecriture”/writing); for individual world read “writer”.
Repeat the model, so that there are now two models side by side. In the second model replace “writer” with “reader” (and “ecriture” with “lecture”/reading).
Now we could ask ourselves to what extent these two models MUST overlap in order for “understanding” to occur. To what extent must the reader and the writer share the same material and social worlds, including the same language and its usages? To what extent is each individual too isolated to “really” understand the experience of another?
(I won’t answer that question here, but I think that the answer lies somewhere in the realm of “imagination” or “empathy”–the ability to create a real experience through an imaginary one; the “hermeneutic circle” also comes to bear on this.)
Enter Model Two: an adaptation of Hans Georg Gadamer’s notion of a cultural “horizon” of understanding shared by the members of the same cultural group at the same point in space and time.
Let it be a new circle which englobes the two Three Worlds models–to that extent there is intersubjectivity and some guarantee of mutual understanding between reader and writer.
Let this new circle, that englobes my two Three Worlds models of reader and writer, be the left-hand circle of Anthony Pym’s diagram of three interlocked circles that represent two different cultures with the translator situated in an interlanguage space between them (his are arranged horizontally, mine have formed a triangle).
Repeat this process to produce the right-hand circle of Pym’s model.
For the moment, leave out Pym’s middle circle.
We now have two independent worlds, each with its own cultural horizon, each separated from the other, no overlap.
Now let us add in Pym’s thrid circle–the translator or the intercultural mediator.
Enter Model Three, “No-Man’s Land”: the translator or intercultural mediator has gone through a process of “enculturation”, of socialisation in his or her own native culture, through which he or she has acquired his or her “native” cultural horizon. He or she “belongs to” one of the two worlds.
To achieve the status of intercultural mediator, he or she must go through (have gone through) a process of “acculturation”, of assimilation, through contact, of the cultural horizon of the second culture, or of as much of that cultural horizon as may be possible for a non-native to assimilate (and depending on the amount of time and effort involved).
This person resides, for me, in a “no-man’s land” between the two cultures.
For me, if not for him, Pym’s middle circle includes that no-man’s land.
The intercultural mediator shares some things with Culture One and some things with Culture Two, but neither the writer (or communicator or negotiator or agent) from Culture One, nor the reader (or communicator or negotiator or agent) from Culture Two share these things.
In terms of Pym’s diagram, part of the translator’s circle overlaps with Culture One, and part overlaps with Culture Two, but there is a zone of the translator’s circle that does not overlap with either–it does not belong to either of the two cultural horizons, it is outside of the cultural “ken” of either of the two worlds, it is a horizon shared only by the intercultural mediator.
I think that, for Pym, this does not matter, because the circle is, for him, I think, a continuum that carries elements of one culture over into the other and viceversa.
From my point of view it does matter.
There is an aspect of intercultural mediation that cannot be shared between the two worlds–exactly that part which corresponds to the process of acculturation that the intercultural mediator has undergone, and that neither the reader from Culture Two nor the writer from Culture One has undergone.
That reader is looking for the writer, not for the translator.
The translator understands much more than he or she can communicate to the reader of the translation, because the translator shares the horizon of the author, but the reader does not.
(Of course the translator also shares the horizon of the reader, which helps the translator to find ways of communicating some understanding of the other horizon.)
Perhaps this is another reason for advocating a long-term policy of “acculturation” rather than a short-term policy of translation? Perhaps this is the short-term status of the translator–perhaps prolonged intercultural transactions would bring about this acculturation to some extent.
In this context, the contrast between Pym’s and Michael Cronin’s priorities could become more clear. My description of the translator in no-man’sland might corresond much more to the role of the purveyor of culture, someone who is trying to further the acculturation of the reader of a translation, trying to broaden the reader’s culturalhorizon, whereas Pym’s description might correspond to the purveyor of commodities, someone who is trying to facilitate socio-economic transactions, which might not require such a broadening of cultural horizons. (Of course the question of what “cultural” means here has gone begging–let’s say it refers to Pym’s row of Schleirmachers…) Perhaps the introduction of new terms, such as “intercultural mediator” might avoid unnecessary misunderstandings. “Purveyor” is not the nicest of terms, I suppose, but it does imply a marketplace somewhere in the process. Otherwise my description of the translator trying to broaden cultural horizons comes dangerously close to the role of a “missionary”, which is no neutral term either.
I am happy to see that, so far, the colloquium has created a space where some carefully thought out questions and responses can be “aired”.
Date: Wed, 05 Mar 1997 20:18:10 +0000
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Tania M. Hering)
Subject: Re: Plain text 1 of 7
Dear Dr. Golden:
My name is Tania M. Hering and I am a Brazilian Portuguese translator in the United States. After an extended maternal leave, I am now back to the world of translation.
I have a BA in law from the Miltom Campos Law School in Belo Horizonte, MG, and a MA in Romance Languages (Major: Portuguese; Minor: Spanish) from the University of Georgia at Athens, GA.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to participate in this wonderful on-line colloquium concerning Translation and its implications. I think the topics being discussed are of high relevance and I hope (in spite of my very busy schedule)that I can learn a lot from the discussions.
In Dr. Robinson’s text, I agree with him that:
“(a) … the source author has the power to initiate communication with the target audience through the translator […].” It’s obvious that without the author’s text and the need/desire to have it reach an audience of a different language, the translator’s role would not be required. If I understood correctly what he is saying, I must disagree with him, however, in his assertion that “[…](the author is active, the translator is passive, or at the very most active only in the act of surrendering his/her activity to that of the author).”
As proposed in one of my research projects, the main argument of the Reception Theory is that as readers, when interpreting a literary work, we reflect, in general, our very own experiences to the text. The literary work does not exist alone, but it is shaped by our own identity or by aspects of our personality to which the text have touched in a special way. The text becomes reality as it is read and the reader then “[…] transforms unconscious fantasies toward significance” (Holland 139) and he becomes active creator of meaning. These meanings are based on the source work, but they are restructured by the reader’s own life experiences, cultural background, etc.
Norman Holland, in speaking about the interaction author/text/reader,argues that as readers, we experience a literary work through an introjection process, i.e. we unconsciously incorporate the author’s meanings to our own–we experience the author’s fantasies as if they were ours and to them we incorporate our own meanings: “We experience the work by introjecting it, taking it into ourselves, feeling the nucleus of fantasy and the formal management of that fantasy as though they were our own […] the central fantasy and its formal organization are not only supplied by the text but also shared by the reader.” (90)
Please allow me to challenge your Portuguese a little more by quoting this wonderful Brazilian writer from the XIX century, Machado de Assis. In his work “Dom Casmurro”, Assis, throughout his entire text, invites the reader to participate in the creation of his work: “Eh que tudo se acha fora de um livro falho, leitor amigo. Assim preencho as lacunas alheias; assim podes tambem preencher as minhas” (109). In several instances, Machado de Assis, invokes the participation of the reader by talking directly to him/her: “…leitora minha devota” (43); “…porque eu jah fazia esforcos, leitor amigo” (78); “Sim, leitora castissima” (106), and so on. .
Certainly the “[…] art will reveal the personal threads that the artist, intentionally or unintentionally, has woven into his work” (Jung 68); however, any literary work is updated and expanded through the readers’ *active* participation. Therefore, as translators, we cannot deny our role as that of a reader when interpreting the text under the light of our own experiences, fact that allows us to be active participants in a text.
I hope I have understood Dr. Robinson’s text and that my comments are pertinent to his arguments. Please also forgive me for any misspelling or inability to convey my message clearly in the English language; besides the obvious obstacles, my 4-year-old son is in the room being wonderfully loud and active.
Tania M. Hering
Assis, Joaquim M. “Dom Casmurro”. 5a. ed. Sao Paulo: Editora Cultrix Ltda. 1966.
Holland, Norman N. “The Dynamics of Literary Response”. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1975.
Jung, Carl G. “The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature.” from the “Collected Work of C.G. Jung. Trans. R. F. Hull. Ed. Sir Hebert Read et al. Vol. 15. New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1966.
PS – I wish I could underline the book titles in Eudora.
Date: Wed, 05 Mar 1997 13:48:49 -0600
From: Doug Robinson <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Plain text 1 of 7
>In Dr. Robinson’s text, I agree with him that:
Call me Doug. I’m only Dr. Robinson to really deferential students who’ve never met me, usually over the phone, and never for very long. And Douglas, fwiw, only to people who loathe nicknames. And on the covers of my books.
>”(a) … the source author has the power to initiate communication with the target audience through the translator […].” It’s obvious that without the author’s text and the need/desire to have it reach an audience of a different language, the translator’s role would not be required.
Well, uh … the point there was that in one traditional conception of translation (I’m arguing), the source author has the POWER to initiate communication through the translator, even, say, when dead. People frequently deplore this or that translation on the basis that it somehow “damages” the source author, that the source author would be “rolling in his grave.” This is a bit stronger than the author simply hoping, while still alive, that people in a far distant country might read what s/he wrote.
And I guess I didn’t make it clear enough in the materials I prepared for the website, but this isn’t me talking. I’m summarizing what I take to be a fairly common traditional view of translation.
>understood correctly what he is saying, I must disagree with him, however, in his assertion that “[…](the author is active, the translator is passive, or at the very most active only in the act of surrendering his/her activity to that of the author).”
Ain’t my assertion.
>As proposed in one of my research projects, the main argument of the Reception Theory is that as readers, when interpreting a literary work, we reflect, in general, our very own experiences to the text.
If you have a web browser, point it at the colloquium website (http://cc.uab.es/~iuts0/colloquium.html) and go to the link that says “here” right after the mention of Kant’s Ding-an-sich. I have a whole long discussion of reader-response theory there, including some stuff on Holland. I sort of backgrounded this part of my argument for the colloquium, but I’m suggesting on those other screens that there is a serious discrepancy between the traditional conception of translation as directed or governed by the source author/text/culture and post-Kantian philosophy, especially, in our day, reader-response or reception theory.
>Please allow me to challenge your Portuguese a little more
Rather than challenging my virtually nonexistent Portuguese, you could do me a big favor by editing my ghastly (mis)translation of Haroldo’s post! You would thus become one of the invisible hands contributing to the completion of the translation, which as it now stands is most deplorably incomplete and in desperate need of two invisible hands attached to a brain that knows Portuguese!
>I hope I have understood Dr. Robinson’s text and that my comments are pertinent to his arguments. Please also forgive me for any misspelling or inability to convey my message clearly in the English language; besides the obvious obstacles, my 4-year-old son is in the room being wonderfully loud and active.
And if you do join the “disaggregated agency” that creates a working English translation of Haroldo’s post (Pym and Robinson are the first two membra disjecta of that agency), will your 4-year-old son be part of it too? I’m inclined to think so.
>PS – I wish I could underline the book titles in Eudora.
Eudora Pro 3.01 will underline, italicize, bold, colorize (not old movies, though), and generally do other cool things too.
PS Am I getting that disjected members thing wrong in Latin? I think trying to translate Haroldo’s Portuguese has scrambled my brain, and I’m thinking Latin through Spanish. Isn’t it really disjecta membra? Am I the only one whose translatorial agency is this disaggregated?
Date: Wed, 05 Mar 1997 17:18:29 -0500
From: Jonathan Hine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Surviving the Excellence
A short note to help my colleagues who may be drowning in the incredible amount of high-quality discussion during this Colloquium:
You can save the messages from the list-serve unread in a special folder for reading in order at the end of the day. Different e-mail programs do it differently, but I have never seen one that did not. It is faster and more convenient than stopping work during the day. Although Sean Golden mounts the messages on the Web site, that can be a slow process for some of us. You can also save the html files from the Web site (e.g., the papers and the response from Cronin). Most browsers allow a “Save As” option under the “File” menu on the top tool bar. Put the files in a directory you can remember than use “File Open” with your browser to read them later. You can save the linked files in Robinson’s paper the same way, but you have to open them individually later. However, opening files from your hard drive is MUCH faster than waiting for Sean Golden’s overworked server to answer each click.
My apologies to those computer whizzes that already know this stuff. But if just one colleague is better off for this, I am happy.
Thanks and keep talking. I love being able to hear everyone in the room, completely, clearly and without interruptions!
Jonathan T. Hine Jr., CRA
Date: Wed, 05 Mar 1997 17:00:29 -0600
From: Doug Robinson <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Listening to Portuguese
Joao Pijnappel has kindly translated Haroldo’s post for me, and given me permission to forward it to the list:
>Doug, that’s what Haroldo wrote:
>3.Transfere non semper necesse est
>I didn’t came to know if there was an official language in the colloquium. As it is a virtual reunion of translators, related and simpathizers, I’ll use A.Pym’s argument, included in <<Transferre>> in order to express myself in Brazilian Portuguese, with accents and all. I agree with him: it is not always necessary to translate. And I use Brazilian Portuguese purely to demonstrate this thesis. But I would like to report an episode I lived, as a member of an UN Peace Force: there, even if it were ideal that all the members in that Babel could speak, besides the work language (English), at least Arab and Hebrew, even then it would be indispensable that official translators/interpreters were present, owning the responsibility of translating and/or interpreting the most important texts and talks.
>4. The Invisible Hands
>The metaphor is very good, but it’s impossible for me to let this pass by: the author has not the power to initiate the communication with the target public, it’s the translator that does it, by own initiative of by an editor’s. Particularly when the author is already dead, which is often the case. Even if it goes about spirits, they speak only when evoked or conjured, and there are only two exceptions that come to my mind: one fron the Bible, Pentecostes, and the other from the modern movie fiction, Poltergeist. The metaphor, by the way, is excellent, and I use it always, to indicate the reasons that make one translation different in speed and easyness from another less fluent one: “The spirit of the author came down to me and things started to flow…” The aspect in this work that mostly called my attention, however, was the reference to the ideological perspective, which comes together with the text that is translated in the target language, precisely because we are NOT cyborgs/translators, but because we do translate, together with the text, the author’s spirit.
>4. Translation as a Transaction Cost
>By the density and size of the text, we can see how important the so-called technical translation in Europe is, with the linguistical problems following the unification. Talking about literary translation, I see in this activity an effort of dedication, excluding any quick reading, the omission of sentences and paragraphs being prohibited, and that, with all the risk involved, is also a work of love, that feeds the ego of the obstinated ones (without filling their pockets) who face the challenge of ” recreating a work in his own language without misforming its contents”, as once masterly expressed by the Brazilian writer/translator Ms. Lya Luft.
>This was a pleasant attempt of talking to you all.
>Haroldo Netto, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
>I hope this 10-min. translation can be of some help 🙂
>João C. Pijnappel
>Sworn translator Dutch-Portuguese
>Portuguese/Spanish/English/French/Dutch translator Certified member of the Dutch Association of translators firstname.lastname@example.org
>Tel&fax: +31 (0) 31- 2510229
>Utrecht, The Netherlands
Date: Wed, 05 Mar 1997 17:01:11 -0600
From: Doug Robinson <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Listening to Portuguese
In reference to Joao’s 10-minute translation of Haroldo–with Joao’s permission, I’d like to spin a few riffs on the part dealing with me:
>The metaphor is very good, but it’s impossible for me to let this pass by: the author has not the power to initiate the communication with the target public, it’s the translator that does it, by own initiative of by an editor’s. Particularly when the author
My invisible hands–invisible to Haroldo, the author, Joao, the main translator, but not to me, a secondary (mis)translator–want me to become the editor of which Haroldo (or some voice in the disaggregated agency that is generating this text in English) speaks, and pick at “by own initiative,” which in English needs a third-person possessive pronoun, but what? His? Her? His or her? Her or his? Their? I’m editing Joao’s translation with my native command of English; but my choice of possessive pronoun to add in there is clearly going to be guided invisibly by the hands of ideology, of gender politics.
As for the actual claim Haroldo is making, surely that broad generalization isn’t always true. What about when the author and the translator are the same person? Beckett translating En attendant Godot as Waiting for Godot, for example, or Christiane Nord (to recur to a text mentioned earlier on this list) translating Textanalyse und Übersetzung as Text Analysis in Translation. What about those cases where the author is married to his (more rarely her) translator, and can say, “Here, translate this”? And, more to the point, what about those cases where a translator feels that the source author is “calling” out to him/her/them/it, calling from inside the translator’s head? Haroldo himself gives an example of this, which I want to get back to below; but here’s another example, a passage I’ve added to the opening pages of the book since I converted it to html for the colloquium:
“Or read this passage from Eva Wong’s introduction to her translation of the Lieh-tzu and try to determine just what kind of claim she is making about her ‘channeling’ of the original author. Is she claiming to be serving as a psychic medium for Lieh-tzu to speak through? Or is she merely using the psychic terminology metaphorically to express her sense that her translation, while not ‘psychic’ or ‘mystical,’ is nonetheless ‘true’ to the ‘spirit’ of her author?
“‘Lieh-tzu is the first Taoist text to have spoken to me. Since it is a Chinese text, and Chinese is one of my first languages, my dialogue with it was in that language. “Opening” a text and presenting it in its original language is relatively straightforward. It is not necessary to deal with the semantics of two languages. Opening and presenting a text in a language other than its original one is much more interesting. One approach would be to translate it first in the conventional way and then open the translated text by listening to its intention or voice. My friends who work with Greek and Hebrew texts advised me to use this method. However, when I tried it, the method did not feel natural, so I decided to experiment with a different approach.
“‘To me, wisdom is timeless and transcends language. At the same time, language can be used to open the meaning of a text. What if I could be freed from linguistic constraints, eliminate the process of translating from one language to another, an go directly from the teachings of the Lieh-tzu to its voice in the English language? This would require being in the state of mind that Lieh-tzu must have been in, or at least being a kindred spirit to Lieh-tzu. Since I had been listening to the text for some time, this approach seemed promising.
“‘With time, as I developed a kinship with Lieh-tzu, I began to feel what it was like to think the way he did. His teachings were no longer tied to a language. Sometimes he would speak in Chinese, sometimes in English, and sometimes not in any language in particular.
“‘My next task was to find a voice for him in the English language. How would Lieh-tzu speak if he lived in an English-speaking country in our times? The voice would be natural, as if he were speaking in a first language and not a translated language. In this aspect, I am fortunate, because as a bilingual person with two first langauges (English and Chinese), I am used to switching back and forth between the two languages when I think. Sometimes I would even forget which language I was thinking in. To give Lieh-tzu a voice in English, I had only to become a channel and let the Lieh-tzu come out naturally in the English language after I had totally immersed myself in his teachings. The emptier my mind, the clearer would be the voice of the text. Thus, opening a text and revealing its meaning require stillness of mind, quite the opposite of the analytical state of mind demanded in translation work. (16-17)
“Does she mean spirit-channeling? Or is this a hermeneutical projection like Pierre Menard’s into the ‘mind’ of Cervantes, or like Friedrich Schleiermacher’s into the minds of the original authors of the Bible (the original idea behind romantic or ‘liberal’ biblical hermeneutics)? It seems on the one hand as if Wong is simply reading deeply, ‘immersing’ herself in Lieh-tzu’s writings, not contacting the spirit of the dead Lieh-tzu; but she also gives us a very strong sense that she believes Lieh-tzu is in some manner speaking through her. Just what degree of metaphoricity should we assign to claims like “Lieh-tzu is the first Taoist text to have spoken to me” or ‘Sometimes he would speak in Chinese, sometimes in English, and sometimes not in any language in particular’? Did the text speak? Did its author speak? Or did they only ‘speak’÷did they ‘open’ to Wong through deeply intuitive study and so finally come to seem as if they were speaking? Just what sort of mental state is that ‘stillness of mind’ of which she speaks? Is it a mystical trance, a creative intuitivity, or even, perhaps, unbeknownst to Wong, simply an internalized (‘somatized’) version of that ‘analytical state of mind’ that, as she says, is traditionally ‘demanded in translation work’?”
Now back to Haroldo:
>is already dead, which is often the case. Even if it goes about spirits,
That “goes about” was one of the phrases that was puzzling me in the Portuguese. What does it mean? Es händelt sich? It deals with? Spirits, of course, at least in the stories, do “go about.” And the depersonalized subject “it” in that sentence does work syntactically as a kind of spirit-subject that “goes about” or haunts the sentence’s grammar, so that I find it very difficult to edit Joao’s translation. Even if it deals with spirits? What IT? Boogly boogly! So in English we try to get rid of that IT, rationalize it, restructure the spirit-subject so that it’s a naturalized human (not of any particular nation-state, perhaps an intercultural human or group of humans, perhaps a disaggregated agency): “Even if we’re talking about spirits …” But that isn’t what Joao seemed to be saying … and it is (there’s that IT again!) even harder for me to speak for Haroldo …
>they speak only when evoked or conjured, and there are only two exceptions that come to my mind: one fron the Bible, Pentecostes,
Do you mean Pentacost, or Pentacostals? Since it’s from the Bible, I suppose Pentacost.
>and the other from the modern movie fiction, Poltergeist. The metaphor, by the way, is excellent, and I use it always, to indicate the reasons that make one translation different in speed and easyness from another less fluent one: “The spirit of the author came down to me and things started to flow…”
So in saying that the author has no power to initiate communication with the target audience, Haroldo didn’t really mean he doesn’t BELIEVE in this whole business; just that he only believes in it metaphorically. There are no spirits, dead authors can’t talk to us, but sometimes it FEELS (what does? IT!!!) as if they can. Then, either (a) spirits really do exist and Haroldo’s whistling in the dark, pretending not to believe in them, or (b) the metaphor ITself has become the ghost or the spirit that haunts his translating, making it flow …
>The aspect in this work that mostly
>called my attention, however, was the reference to the ideological perspective, which comes together with the text that is translated in the target language, precisely because we are NOT cyborgs/translators, but because we do translate, together with the text, the author’s spirit.
Do we translate the author’s spirit literally, spiritualistically? Presumably not, given Haroldo’s resistance to the idea that the spirits of dead authors might initiate communication with the target audience. So that would mean we translate the author’s metaphorical spirit. And what would that be, exactly? The author’s intention? As Tania points out, the notion that a reader can ever gain access to an author’s intention has been discredited for quite some time. So does this metaphorical insistence that we translate the author’s spirit come down to wanting to have your cake and eat it too–which is to say, wanting to believe AND not to believe in spirits? We want to secularize the notion of spirit-channeling so that spirits don’t exist and can’t communicate through us; but we still want to hold onto a corollary of that supposedly discarded belief, that we have some sort of reliable access to whatever was “originally” in the author’s head while alive.
Science fiction novels often utilize machine translation to overcome the obvious problems of landing on some far-distant planet and immediately being able to communicate with the lifeforms that live there; as I read these novels, they are replying on a fantasized/technologized version of spirit-channeling: someone speaks, and a voice in your ear instantly and flawlessly interprets the speech into your language. You speak, and a voice in the other lifeform’s ear (or whatever ear-equivalent he/she/they/it has) hears an instantaneous interepretation. The voice is generated by an implant or a hearing-aid device or whatever, but it acts very much in the same way as the voice of a discarnate spirit channeled through the speaker/hearer’s body is supposed to act. So that, insofar as we do translate, together with the text, the author’s spirit, maybe we are imagining ourselves as spiritualist cyborgs.
Or maybe not. Interesting idea to play with, anyway.
Date: Thu, 06 Mar 1997 09:08:53 +1000 (GMT+1000)
From: E.Valverde@mailbox.uq.oz.au (Estela Valverde)
Doug, You said:
Yeah, and arguing something very much like that is pretty much the horse I rode in on back in 1991, in a book called The Translator’s Turn. As I said in one of my responses, I think to Pym (stored on the website), I used to hate this channeling/instrumentalizing/neutralizing stuff with a passion, and have attacked it for years. This new book is for me primarily an exploration of the black beast.
Is it an “exploration” or a rationalization that wants to put distance from your previous work? I see parallels like Lisa between T and feminist (but not exclusively so) exploration of spirituality.While we can acknowledge the interpellation of the state apparatuses we should not close ourselves to the exploration of the unconscious. Are you proposing now a modernist model? We are in the full swing of post-modernism! May be your old horse can still kick back.
Dr. Estela Valverde
Assoc. Prof. in Spanish
Dept of Romance Languages
The University of Queensland
Qld 4072, AUSTRALIA
Phone: 61 7 3365 2277
Fax: 61 7 3365 2798
E-mail: E.Valverde@mailbox.uq.oz.au (Estela Valverde)
Date: Thu, 06 Mar 1997 09:14:34 +1000 (GMT+1000)
From: E.Valverde@mailbox.uq.oz.au (Estela Valverde)
Subject: Listening to Portuguese
Pym says: I *love* listening to Brazilian Portuguese. But I think Seán mentioned that the colloquium language would be English.
And I question: Perhaps because our Portuguese interligua is not enough to understand the subtleties of the argument?
Perhaps Netto -through his UN experience- can comment on Pym’s suggestion that translators (I guess he really is talking more about interpreters) should act and be trained as mediators.
Dr. Estela Valverde
E-mail: E.Valverde@mailbox.uq.oz.au (Estela Valverde)
Date: Thu, 06 Mar 1997 09:33:29 +1000 (GMT+1000)
From: E.Valverde@mailbox.uq.oz.au (Estela Valverde)
Subject: Robinson’s paper
Thank you all for a very interesting discussion. I guess you guys in the Northern hemisphere are winding down at the moment while we are here just starting the first week of semester! Despite of that here are some more thoughts on your papers:
While Pym is urging the Ts to politize themselves, question their function and take sides, Robinson is reminding us of the pressures of the market forces through a very sophisticated and well articulated argument that goes from “spirit-chanelling” to “invisible hands”, both metaphors finding the T as a passive object, his body inscribed by these external forces. The truth however must, like always, fall somehow in the middle.
While Robinson seems to sport a passive attitude of acceptance of the status quo, Pym is inciting us to dissidence. But T schools and the general ethics of the profession teach us quite the opposite. They teach us invisibility. We are the “invisible hands” of negotiations! If we follow Pym’s advise we could even become some day the “invisible hands” of peace…
However, I do not seriously believe that dissidence can in the long term be part of the T’s ideological framework (unless we just do it as an academic exercise). Derrida would not agree here, but surely anybody in the T business who uses T to expand and enrich the original would soon encounter the “invisible hand” on his way to the press or the police in the way out of court.
Another point on Robinson’s paper: I am not convinced on his interpretation of Smith’s “invisible hand” as market forces. Agnostics have sometimes a rather weird metaphysical outlook…
Dr. Estela Valverde
E-mail: E.Valverde@mailbox.uq.oz.au (Estela Valverde)
Date: Wed, 05 Mar 1997 21:47:04 -0600
From: Doug Robinson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: chanelling
>>This new book is for me primarily an exploration of the black beast.
>Is it an “exploration” or a rationalization that wants to put distance from your previous work?l
I’m not sure what you mean by “rationalization.” And certainly if you mean by “putting distance” renouncing or recanting my previous work, no. I’ve grown in the ten years since I wrote The Translator’s Turn, learned a lot about translation from other translation theorists, from the practice of translation in a new country and a new age (when I left Finland in 1989 fax machines were just beginning to spread and e-mail was very much in its infancy; like most translators I received and delivered all my jobs by mail), so that I keep finding this or that point in The Translator’s Turn that I now disagree with. But I have no desire to “put distance” between it and me. I’m still very much the constructivist reader-response theorist that I was in that book, and have read or written very little that has changed my thinking in any basic or substantial way about issues like the translator’s creative construction of meaning. (About issues of social and political power I’ve learned enormously in the decade since I wrote that, especially from postcolonial theorists, and I now find the book a bit naive on those issues.) I’m exploring in this question of spirit-channeling a conception of translation that I still find more or less repugnant: the notion that the translator simply surrenders his or her will to the speaking of another person, alive or dead. I’m forcing myself to explore this stuff mainly because it seems to endemic to traditional conceptions of the field, and I seem driven to try to figure out what fuels those conceptions (medieval theology or theocracy in The Translator’s Turn, the ancient mystery cults in Translation and Taboo). And I’ve actually found it exciting, partly because I found an historical “source” or “origin” or “precedent” or whatever for it (maybe just a myth of origins) that is bizarre enough to be enjoyable–if I had tried to force myself to study, say, the translator’s surrender to authorial intention, I would have been tearing my hair out by now–and partly because I made the connection with market forces, something that I’d been involved with in a practical way for two decades but had never really studied. And since Anthony Pym, one of the translation theorists that I admire most in the world today, was very involved in studying the socioeconomics of translation, that too made the topic more fascinating to me.
>I see parallels like Lisa between T and feminist (but not exclusively so) exploration of spirituality.While we can acknowledge the interpellation of the state apparatuses we should not close ourselves to the exploration of the unconscious.
As long as we see it as the speaking of the unconscious, I have no problem with spiritualism. The Translator’s Turn in fact was all about the importance of the “somatics” of language and translation, which was my attempt to ground the “unconscious” in something material, in the body, in the operation of the autonomic nervous system. As for the notion that the spirits of dead people survive and exist on some “higher plane” and talk to us through channels, well … what I like most about that whole realm is its total over-the-top weirdness.
Feminism? I ended up cutting a lot of explicit gender-studies connections out of The Translator’s Turn, because everybody who read it insisted that it was irrelevant to translation studies. Ironic, huh? I do still think, though, that that book is close (“in spirit”!) to gender liberation movements of various shapes, and I was very happy when Kristine Anderson articulated the links between my theory there and the explicitly feminist theories and practice of Lotbiniere-Harwood and Brossard (in “Revealing the Body Bilingual: Quebec Feminists and Recent Translation Theory,” Studies in the Humanities 22.1/2 (December 1995): 65-75).
>Are you proposing now a modernist
>model? We are in the full swing of post-modernism! May be your old horse can still kick back.
I’m not sure what any of this this means. My impression was that postmodernism is in “full swing” in the sense that most of the major media are utterly imbued with it, advertising is now almost entirely postmodern, MTV is basically a series of postmodern commercials for rock music, movies are postmodern, the internet is postmodern, etc. It’s sort of the water we swim in these days. What it would mean to write postmodern translation theory, then, I really have no idea–even less what it would mean to “propose a modernist model.” These terms seemed useful to me about twenty years ago; they don’t any more.
Is “May be your old horse can still kick back” a Spanish idiom? I keep trying to figure out what it might mean, and all I can think of is getting a rear hoof in the face …
Date: Wed, 05 Mar 1997 23:44:05 -0500
From: Robert Bononno <email@example.com>
Subject: Remarks on Chaos
From: Robert Bononno (March 5)
I’m afraid I’m having trouble keeping up with the flow of messages and ideas transiting cyberspace at present so I’ll have to keep my remarks brief. I hope no one interprets this as a lack of interest in the material or tacit disagreement with what’s being said. With respect to Doug Robinson’s remarks in “Making Sense of Chaos,” I’d like to ask Doug why the transition from the _liberation theology_ of The Translator’s Turn to your current feeling that “submission to external forces is a more important and irreducible part of translation than I then could admit….” One of the things I liked about Translator’s Turn was that it gave translators not simply a fresh way of looking at the world, a few new models (right or wrong, viable or not), but a renewed sense of hope in their “relevance” to the process. It as an opportunity to turn away from the vision of translation and translator as necessary evils, something/someone to be put up with, dealt with, managed, suffered through, and basically gotten out of the way as quickly as possible in order to get on with the *real* task at hand: the book, text, manual, etc., the object of translation.
I can certainly understand Doug’s new recognition of external forces and have in fact argued before that I felt such an awareness was missing from Translator’s Turn. Although, now that he’s acknowledged it, I’m beginning to feel a bit despondent about the whole thing. As if the alternative vision of a Translator’s Turn were nothing more than a dream, a metaphor, a useful bit of fiction with a moral tale, a Quixotic challenge, a carefully reasoned hypothesis, but, alas, nothing more.
One thing that is important I think, with respect to this shift and Doug’s belief in external forces, is that they still leave room for individual intention. “Ideology and economic agencies” are quite obviously present at all levels of society and transcend the translators immediate situation. They are forces that govern not only the translator but the recipient of those services, the client, the reader, etc., the original author, publisher, an extended and often unknown chain of participants. One think I would ask then is whether such forces (hidden, unknown, guiding, or otherwise) are specific to translation or systemic. Clearly there are economic factors that have a direct influence on the translation market and Anthony Pym addresses such factors in his article with respect to the EU (although I’m not sure I agree with his solution). But there are obviously larger economic factors at play here, those affecting the nation and industry, global factors, the movement of imports and exports, etc. Ideology would appear to be another systemic element with ramifications that largely overflow translation’s cracked and leaking cup (empty vessel or sinking ship?).
It seems to me that the fact that translators speak of their work as “externally guided” can be taken as either an acknowledgement of the realities of the marketplace (pragmatic rationalism?) or a sign of passivity and defeat. One of the questions worth asking might be the following: does the awareness of such outside forces promote self-empowerment or is it simply another form of cynicism, the recognition of our inability to change what we are incapable of changing? What would it take to turn that information into useful data, capable of countering this well-known passivity. For example, unlike Anthony Pym, I’d like to know how translators might use economic data to promote certain types of translation when possible, promote themselves in fact. Can one create a “demand” for translation the way one creates a demand for say cigarettes or heroin or pet rocks? The counter-example to the translator as channel, conduit, vessel, etc., is the translator as high-priest, mage, keeper of secrets, gatekeeper of information, and high pontiff of unknown runes. I suppose. But is the model all that useful in an age of “disaggregated agency?” Do we want to bottle up information and knowledge? Can we? It’s difficult in a world that is built on seemingly clear-cut dichotomies–winners and losers, haves and have-nots, good and bad, rich and poor–to conceptualize a middle ground at all. Another issue I think that needs to be sorted out is whether or not we (Doug, Anthony, et al.) feel, in discussions about the role of the translator, that such distinctions are characteristic of the inherent nature of translation or the role of the translator?
My gut feeling is that the notions of passivity (channels, conduits, go-betweens, what have you) attributed to *translation* are a function of the debased role of the translator in intercultural life. Once again she is a necessary evil, an unwanted expense, a cost to be cut. There is no doubt that translation itself, the process, inhabits a kind of nebulous space between two realities that it can never quite bring together. Arguments about creativity, originality, etc., are valid, useful, and fruitful, but fail to make the connection between the position of the translator and the position of translation.
Doug said something I strongly agree with in “Chaos” and that is the usefulness of theory as a tool that provides translators with the ability to “justify a translation when challenged.” Amen, Brother. It does more than this as well, for it also enables us to place translation within a larger framework of intellectual thought, it expands the scope of our action considerably, and in so doing helps us overcome (though we don’t succeed) in part the narrow confines of the box we’ve been squeezed in to and our role as “forgers” (a wonderfully rich simile). I think Doug underestimates the importance of theory in his response, however. I think translators *do* need theorists for these very reasons and because of the ensuing sense of empowerment it can provide. It may not have a direct effect on the marketplace, but by providing translators with a deeper understanding of what they do and how they do it, it may lead to a renewed sense of belief in their own utility.
I would like to write more about this and the other participants’ remarks but I’m getting tired.
Robert Bononno firstname.lastname@example.org CIS: 73670,1570
Date: Thu, 06 Mar 1997 08:50:20 -0600
From: Doug Robinson <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: Remarks on Chaos
>With respect to
>Doug Robinson’s remarks in “Making Sense of Chaos,” I’d like to ask Doug why the transition from the _liberation theology_ of The Translator’s Turn to your current feeling that “submission to external forces is a more important and irreducible part of translation than I then could admit….”
I think that I had to get the liberatory, emancipatory, in-your-face resistance to power-holders and ideology and the rest of it OUT, out into the world, articulated, as a kind of platform to work on and from. Those external forces felt too strong to me then for me even to envision a rapprochement–or, in the metaphor I used with Estela, an exploration of the black beast (in the French sense, of course). The overwhelming normativity of TS as I first began to read about it in the late 70s and early 80s felt so incredibly oppressive to me that I felt like I had to gather my most rebellious and transformative impulses into a fist to throw at it–not only to refuse to be caught up in those external forces, but to convert them into energy that we could use productively, to feed our creativity. Hence the importance of the body, of dialogue, of the turn or swerve: expected to generate equivalence, we use tropes to create the IMPRESSION of equivalence while in fact swerving creatively from the source text in new directions.
I also had the impression then, in 1987-88, that I was the only one doing this kind of work on translation. Some of it was already out there, but I missed it–Carol Maier’s essays on translation and gender, for example, or Myriam Diaz-Diocaretz’s book Translating Poetic Discourse. (The polysystems/manipulation/DTS and skopos/Handlung stuff never much appealed to me. I was exposed to it pretty strongly in Finland, where Justa Holz-Mänttäri was my closest colleague; and important as it clearly was, it wasn’t for me.) But by the time my book came out in late 1990 the floodgates were beginning to open, and suddenly it seemed EVERYBODY was doing the kind of work I dreamed of. Gradually I began to feel a sense of community: there were a lot of us doing similar work, fighting similar battles, which gave me the, uh, courage (not to melodramatize this or anything) to wander a little farther into the belly of the beast and shine my pitiful little flashlight around at all the scary stuff. So I edited the anthology of translation theory readings, which is just coming out now, this spring, after being turned down by a long succession of publishers. And I wrote a series of celebrations (and critiques) of the exciting new books and articles, which Kent State is bringing out this year. And I wrote Translation and Taboo, which felt incredibly pessimistic to me: as I was writing I kept feeling that the theme song of the whole book was “look how trapped we are.” I kept looking for ways to transform the external/internal forces that trapped and controlled us into creative energy, and found a few, I suppose; but mostly I was driven by my sense that The Translator’s Turn was in the end too happy, too much of the smiley-face sticker plastered all over the entrance to the cave, and forced myself to explore the things that make Robert (and me) despondent.
This new book, otoh, which I’m tentatively calling Translation in the Spirit: Translators, Channels, Crypts, and the Invisible Hand, doesn’t seem pessimistic to me at all. On the contrary. It feels like the most balanced thing I’ve written on translation to date. Yes, there are all these external forces that we channel, and yes, that takes away a good deal of our freedom, but they never control us perfectly, and we can always transform them in creative and personal ways–even if we quite often end up concealing the traces of those transformations for the people who pay us for the work. Dare I say it? It feels, uh … mature.
>One of the things I liked about Translator’s Turn was that it gave translators not simply a fresh way of looking at the world, a few new models (right or wrong, viable or not), but a renewed sense of hope in their “relevance” to the process. It as an opportunity to turn away from the vision of translation and translator as necessary evils, something/someone to be put up with, dealt with, managed, suffered through, and basically gotten out of the way as quickly as possible in order to get on with the *real* task at hand: the book, text, manual, etc., the object of translation.
Yes, exactly. And I hope that that same spirit infuses this new book too. What people’s responses to the spirit-channeling stuff here on transfer-l have made me realize (I hadn’t had to work through it before) is that my attitude toward it–toward all the external forces I’m finding translators channeling, from dead spirits to ideology to economic forces–is one of untrammeled GLEE. It’s strange, I know. One of the main differences, I think, is that since I wrote Translation and Taboo I’ve been hanging out on lantra, translat, and other places where translators talk about their work, and I’m feeling the professional strength of translators much more than I ever did before. A lot of the other lantrans say the same thing: before they got active on lantra they felt isolated, small, puny; lantra gives them a sense of the massive professional body that we belong to, its competence in solving problems, its incredible knowledge base, etc. So that even though I still don’t believe that translators can or should save the world, or that translation theory needs to work to transform the translation marketplace, we are still strong enough to do our thing, make a difference in our own spheres, without the kind of cast-off-your-shackles rhetoric of The Translator’s Turn.
>I can certainly understand Doug’s new recognition of external forces and have in fact argued before that I felt such an awareness was missing from Translator’s Turn. Although, now that he’s acknowledged it, I’m beginning to feel a bit despondent about the whole thing. As if the alternative vision of a Translator’s Turn were nothing more than a dream, a metaphor, a useful bit of fiction with a moral tale, a Quixotic challenge, a carefully reasoned hypothesis, but, alas, nothing more.
I hope not. I hope I’ve just internalized it, made it so much a part of me that I don’t need to trumpet it any more.
Whether other translators need me or other people to GO ON trumpeting it, I don’t know. The book’s still in print.
>One thing that is important I think, with respect to this shift and Doug’s belief in external forces, is that they still leave room for individual intention. “Ideology and economic agencies” are quite obviously present at all levels of society and transcend the translators immediate situation. They are forces that govern not only the translator but the recipient of those services, the client, the reader, etc., the original author, publisher, an extended and often unknown chain of participants. One think I would ask then is whether such forces (hidden, unknown, guiding, or otherwise) are specific to translation or systemic.
Systemic, clearly, though the specific forms they take in the translation marketplace are more or less unique. Otoh, unlike Robert, I feel it is very important to do the kind of work Pym is doing, exploring crossovers between translation and other related professional fields. Certainly the translation marketplace itself forces us to cross those boundaries all the time–to become editors, DTPers, agencies, writers, language teachers, etc.
>Clearly there are economic factors that have a direct influence on the translation market and Anthony Pym addresses such factors in his article with respect to the EU (although I’m not sure I agree with his solution). But there are obviously larger economic factors at play here, those affecting the nation and industry, global factors, the movement of imports and exports, etc. Ideology would appear to be another systemic element with ramifications that largely overflow translation’s cracked and leaking cup (empty vessel or sinking ship?).
Or just professional ship. It’s sailing pretty well, it seems to me. And one of the signs of its seaworthiness, as I read things, is that an experienced translator and respected translation theorist like Anthony Pym can argue AGAINST the expansion of translation services. That kind of argument requires a very strong professional base. You don’t make that kind of argument from a position of weakness.
>It seems to me that the fact that translators speak of their work as “externally guided” can be taken as either an acknowledgement of the realities of the marketplace (pragmatic rationalism?) or a sign of passivity and defeat.
And which of these we choose will depend, it seems to me, on just how strong we feel professionally. The weaker we feel, the more we will be inclined to the latter. At least that’s what my own personal history of thinking on these matters suggests to me.
>One of the questions worth asking might be the following: does the awareness of such outside forces promote self-empowerment or is it simply another form of cynicism, the recognition of our inability to change what we are incapable of changing? What would it take to turn that information into useful data, capable of countering this well-known passivity.
I guess I’d say, again, that lantra is a very powerful channel for that “turn.” Go spend an hour in the lantra archives some time. Sometimes I’ll go call up a thread that I remember fondly, like our arguments over agencies vs. freelancers, and just read straight through it. Talk about empowerment! Through all the wrangling there’s a very strong sense that we already HAVE the professional community base/support that we need.
>For example, unlike Anthony Pym,
>I’d like to know how translators might use economic data to promote certain types of translation when possible, promote themselves in fact. Can one create a “demand” for translation the way one creates a demand for say cigarettes or heroin or pet rocks?
I’m very interested in and committed to the project of working to expand the demand for translation, raise the cost of translation (in the sense of higher rates), elevate the professional esteem translators are held in, etc. I read stories of Marshall McLuhan in his heyday, who got himself an agent to handle speaking contracts; huge multinational corporations wanted him to come speak about the future, the media, everything under the sun. So McLuhan’s on the phone with Shell Oil or whatever, and they are begging him to come speak to them and asking how much he would charge; McLuhan covers the receiver with his hand and asks the agent how much to ask for, and the agent says $100,000. McLuhan smiles and shakes his head disbelievingly, but says $100,000 on the phone. The Shell Oil person gulps and says, uh, that was a little more than we were expecting. “Fine,” McLuhan says, “then $50,000.” The Shell Oil person agrees with a huge sigh of relief. (And this was back in the late 1960s.)
The point is, the money is there. But it’s only spent in substantial quantities on things that are considered incredibly important–even on apparent flakes like McLuhan! To my mind the way to solve the problem of corporations nickel-and-diming us to death is not to teach them an economic rationalism that will in many cases encourage them to bypass us entirely; nor is it to legislate translation, as the EU has done. It’s to continue to grow as a profession, so that each member of the profession feels stronger and better able to laugh in the face of people who ask us to do too much work too fast for too little money. If enough translators become STRONG channelers of ideological and economic forces, instead of timid mice swallowing whatever shit flows downstream, that will gradually transform ALL the disaggregate agencies in which we work.
>The counter-example to the
>translator as channel, conduit, vessel, etc., is the translator as high-priest, mage, keeper of secrets, gatekeeper of information, and high pontiff of unknown runes. I suppose.
I’m not so sure it’s a counterexample. Translator-channels have been high-priests–look at Joseph Smith, for instance, nowadays called The Prophet in the Mormon church. The idea of translation as spirit-channeling is historically one of great spiritual power–not one of weakness or passivity. The translator-channel is thought of as chosen by God or the spirits, a person of great worth; and even today in spiritualist circles channels are regarded VERY highly. They undergo long training to learn how to channel, and the most respected channels are very much like high priests, mages, etc.
>But is the model all that useful in an age of “disaggregated agency?”
Well, that’s what I’m trying to work out. I’m arguing in fact that the isomorphisms between spirit-channeling and working in the translation marketplace (as disaggregated agency) may help us transform the way we think about what we do in empowering ways. And the more empowered our thinking, the more power our actions will bring us.
>Do we want to bottle up information and knowledge? Can we? It’s difficult in a world that is built on seemingly clear-cut dichotomies–winners and losers, haves and have-nots, good and bad, rich and poor–to conceptualize a middle ground at all.
“Seemingly” is the key word there. The world I live in has a big middle; I live in it. It’s the middle class, as the name implies. Or it’s translators as middle(wo)men, intercultural mediators. There are a lot of middles. It’s only when you get in the habit of dualizing that the world looks that polarized.
>issue I think that needs to be sorted out is whether or not we (Doug, Anthony, et al.) feel, in discussions about the role of the translator, that such distinctions are characteristic of the inherent nature of translation or the role of the translator?
I don’t believe in such things as “inherent natures.”
>My gut feeling is that the notions of passivity (channels, conduits, go-betweens, what have you) attributed to *translation* are a function of the debased role of the translator in intercultural life. Once again she is a necessary evil, an unwanted expense, a cost to be cut.
And yet you hear stories of high-powered legal translators between Japanese and English getting paid $.80 a word for rush jobs on tenders. The money is there, and companies are willing to pay it for things that matter to them, so long as they believe that the service they are getting for the money is professional–and, of course, so long as it’s the accepted thing to pay a lot for it.
>There is no
>doubt that translation itself, the process, inhabits a kind of nebulous space between two realities that it can never quite bring together. Arguments about creativity, originality, etc., are valid, useful, and fruitful, but fail to make the connection between the position of the translator and the position of translation.
Really? It mostly seems like a PR problem to me.
>Doug said something I strongly agree with in “Chaos” and that is the usefulness of theory as a tool that provides translators with the ability to “justify a translation when challenged.” Amen, Brother. It does more than this as well, for it also enables us to place translation within a larger framework of intellectual thought, it expands the scope of our action considerably, and in so doing helps us overcome (though we don’t succeed) in part the narrow confines of the box we’ve been squeezed in to and our role as “forgers” (a wonderfully rich simile). I think Doug underestimates the importance of theory in his response, however. I think translators *do* need theorists for these very reasons and because of the ensuing sense of empowerment it can provide. It may not have a direct effect on the marketplace, but by providing translators with a deeper understanding of what they do and how they do it, it may lead to a renewed sense of belief in their own utility.
Maybe so. I hope so. I guess I’m just leery of claiming too much for theory as a remedy for practice. The most thoughtful people on lantra ARE theorists–not in the academic sense, but in the pragmatic sense of thinking complexly and self-reflexively about what they do. That not all translators are like that doesn’t necessarily mean, to my mind, that a hefty dose of MY theory or anybody else’s would do them a heap of good. They need to be encouraged, maybe, to become theorists themselves.
>I would like to write more about this and the other participants’ remarks but I’m getting tired.
Me too! But this was a very productive series of comments and questions.