Translation Changes Everything: Theory and Practice

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As Freud points out, the verbal slips that reveal the workings of the unconscious may include omissions of key words or phrases. Omissions in a translation may also point to other, more personal motives or relate generally to the status of the translator and the translation in relation to the source author and text. He also provided some additional information that illuminates the circumstances under which he was working.

Translation Changes Everything

And Weaver remarked, interestingly, that Calvino had chosen him after rejecting another English translator as inadequate to the task. None of the Italian editions of Cosmicomiche shows any alteration of the passage in question. And the translation is endowed with a greater explicitness than the Italian text in accordance with the preference for precision and cohesiveness distinctive of English. These two relationships are not simply opposed, but often mutually undermining.

Yet they work together to guide every translation practice. Neither of them pre-exists the translating process; both are rather constructions. Although this body of knowledge is applied automatically in translating, it can be made conscious and articulated if the translator steps back from the process or product and examines either with critical detachment. These errors may be motivated by the source text, by its formal and thematic features, by the particular passage in which the errors occur.

Yet they may also be triggered by something that lies outside of the immediate context of the error but is nonetheless connected to it, the larger cultural and social situation in which the translation is produced. The errors in question are symptomatic, not cognitive, not merely mistakes or oversights, because they are made by experienced translators and when given a detailed contextualization they reveal the unconscious operation of transindividual factors cf.

Timpanaro , from whom I dissent. These factors insure that the unconscious will always work against the similarities that the translator seeks to establish and prevent the translation from ever being a simple act of communication.

In view of the centuries-old representations of authorship as male see Chamberlain , would a female translator unconsciously make an authorial challenge in translating a male writer? These questions need to be addressed; I state them in this rapid way only to suggest the extent to which a psychoanalytic approach to translation might be productive and illuminating.

Finally, a word about translation research methods. Moreover, if psychoanalytic assumptions are not accepted as working hypotheses, no amount of empirical evidence is likely to incline a translation scholar to accept an argument based on them. And we may well wonder what exactly the repression is concealing in an academic discourse, what individual or institutional interests are being served. Perhaps what most recommends the psychoanalytic tradition to translation studies is that it can help translators and translation research and practice to avoid being held hostage to such hidden agendas.

I want to discuss the circumstances surrounding my translation of a lecture by Jacques Derrida on the theme of translation. Of course, if the 58 Translating Derrida on translation hand is willing, it may still be tied by the legal factors that always constrain translation see Venuti chapter 3.

How, then, can I presume to do so? Derrida can help to answer this question. Everyone can say the same thing for themselves and of themselves. As Derrida remarks, We only ever speak one language — and, since it returns to the other, it exists asymmetrically, always for the other, from the other, kept by the other.

Coming from the other, remaining with the other, and returning to the other. Derrida 40 Translating Derrida on translation 59 We only ever speak one language, but it is never our own and never simply one language.

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Still, it is worth pursuing a bit further here for the light it can shed on the marginality of a cultural practice like translation as well as the exemplary status of my own translation of Derrida. A French organization with approximately members, ATLAS is dedicated to promoting literary translation and to protecting the status of the literary translator. Not only does he open with an elaborate apology for speaking about translation to experienced translators, but he also avoids a purely philosophical presentation of his ideas. This synthesis enabled scholars to study the language of translated texts as well as the norms that constrain translation, in particular cultural polysystems, resulting in research that at its most productive combined linguistic and systemic approaches see, for example, Hatim and Mason and Toury Cultural studies and translation studies are not necessarily opposed.

If I am inclined to take my own work as exemplary, if I dare to speak for you who share my interest in translation, the reason is that we also share a basic set of institutional conditions. The resistance can take the form of sheer exclusion, such as the refusal of publication by academic journals and presses, the rejection of applications for academic 62 Translating Derrida on translation appointments, and the denial of tenure and promotion.

The institutional fate of translation studies in the United States has involved many of these forms of disciplinary resistance.

Translation Changes Everything: Theory and Practice: Perspectives: Vol 21, No 4

Consequently, translation has been stigmatized and excluded as a method of foreign-language instruction, even though it served precisely this purpose for centuries. Translation has tended to enter the American academy by establishing institutional sites that are relatively autonomous from universities, like the Monterey Institute of International Studies, or crossdisciplinary, like the collaboration between modern foreign languages and applied linguistics that underlies the translation programs at Kent State University.

Ungar — The sheer practicality of translation — the fact that innovative research can shape practice while innovative practices can stimulate research — has played a part in preventing it from gaining wide acceptance within cultural studies. Yet this practical dimension has not always been welcomed by journals. Submissions in translation studies have been made to Critical Inquiry, but they were rejected. I was recommended to send it to Translation Review, the journal of the American Literary Translators Association edited by Rainer Schulte, who was mentioned in the letter. Those terms have come under scrutiny.

Critical Inquiry, it has been argued, has not been equally open to every variety of literary and cultural theory that has been imported into the American academy since the s see Spanos —84 and Cohen With the emergence of such areas of research as colonialism, translation has increasingly become a topic of discussion in cultural studies. Yet what I shall call the theoreticism of some research in this area, the emphasis on the construction of theoretical concepts to the exclusion of textual analysis and empirical research, has limited the attention given to translation.

And this acknowledgment occasions an exploration of colonial authority, in which he relies on a productive synthesis of such poststructuralist thinkers as Derrida and Foucault. Within colonial studies, his work has been criticized for stressing discourse at the cost of neglecting the material conditions of colonialism see, for example, Loomba 96, — The stress on discourse, however, does not include any consideration of the discursive strategies employed in translations.

This omission becomes more noticeable when Spivak reports a suggestive criticism of her work. How shall I work at the sweetshop any longer. You are god. You are feeding so many people in so many ways. I am not begging. Find me a job. How, one wonders, are such verbal choices linked to the cultural values and political agendas that Spivak so ardently espouses in the commentaries that accompany her translations?

In a survey of linguistic perspectives on translation, Mona Baker took this position in relation to my work: Apart from analysing poetic devices such as metre, rhyme, alliteration, and so on, Venuti draws on categories which a linguistically oriented researcher would consider too broad and too restricted to the traditional levels of vocabulary and syntax: archaisms, dialect, regional choice, syntactic inversions. Indeed, from this theoretical standpoint, the results of linguistically oriented approaches can seem trivial, inconsequential not only for translation research but also for translator training.

The problem is rather an empiricism that focuses narrowly on minute linguistic materials and practices to the exclusion of such decisive social considerations as the commission that the translator has received and the prospective audience for the translation. The empiricism that has long prevailed in translation studies tends to privilege analytical concepts derived from linguistics, regardless of how narrow or limited they may be in their explanatory power.

And, from the vantage point of these concepts, the essence of a translation is an abstracted notion of language. This is most evident in the many university programs that take a linguistics-oriented approach to translation research and translator training.

Translation: The Problem of Equivalence

The authors, however, go no further than this conclusion. First, because this approach devises and deploys such complex analytical concepts, it always yields much more detail than is necessary to solve a translation problem, threatening to annex translation studies to applied linguistics. In translator training, this mistake transforms translators into linguists by requiring them to learn and apply in their translating a wide range of the analytical concepts that linguists have formulated. In translation research, furthermore, these concepts tend to become standards by which translations are judged.


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I viewed the project as a means of challenging the subordinate position and reductive understanding of translation in the American academy. Translation has always functioned as a method of introducing innovative materials and practices into academic institutions, but its success has inevitably been constrained by institutionalized values. These terms include translation strategies that minimize the foreignness of foreign writing by assimilating it to linguistic and discursive structures that are more acceptable to 70 Translating Derrida on translation academic institutions.

The recognizable terms that permit the foreign to enter the academy may also include authors and texts that have already achieved canonical status, as well as issues that are currently under scholarly debate. Not only would a previously untranslated work by him be certain to attract a large academic readership, but it would also immediately interest the editors of leading journals. The lecture, furthermore, addresses the theme of translation in the context of issues such as racism and political repression, which were then central to debates in cultural studies.

Yet for American readers of Derrida the most unfamiliar move is likely to be his own recourse to translating. At the same time, he provides a remarkable demonstration that translation too can perform exactly the sort of interrogative interpretation that scholars in cultural studies have come to associate with his work.

Within translation studies, Derrida has carried considerably less weight than a linguist like Halliday or a philosopher of language like Grice. This comes as no surprise: Halliday and Grice have provided the conceptual and analytical tools that have informed the empirical orientation of much translation research, fostering ideas of Translating Derrida on translation 71 textual stability and cooperative communication that have in fact been questioned by poststructuralism see, for example, Baker and the critique in Arrojo Derrida thus shows that, when relevant translation occurs within an institution like the state, it can become the instrument of legal interdiction, economic sanction, and political repression, motivated here by racism.