In fact, the cultural turn might best be highlighted by imagining two scenarios:
In the first scenario, God created heaven and earth and everything on it, including
translation. To everything He gave a stable form, appearance, and name. To the act
of restating in a second language what someone has expressed in a first He gave the
name translation; its appearance was to be lowly, humble, subservient; its form
fidelity or equivalence, as exact a correspondence as possible between the meaning
of the source and target texts. These properties He decreed for all times and all
places. This and only this was translation. Anyone who deviated from the form and
appearance of translation did not deserve the name of "translator," and the product
of such deviation could certainly not be named a "translation."
In the second scenario, translation arose organically out of attempts to communi-
cate with people who spoke another language; its origins lay in commerce and trade,
politics and war. Translators and interpreters were trained and hired by people with
money and power who wanted to make sure that their messages were conveyed
faithfully to the other side of a negotiation, and that they understood exactly what
the other side was saying to them. Eventually, when these people grew powerful
enough to control huge geographical segments of the world (the Catholic Church,
the West), these power affiliations were dressed up in the vestments of universality
— whence the first scenario. But translation remained a contested ground, fought
over by conflicting power interests: you bring your translator, I'll bring mine, and
we'll see who imposes what interpretation on the events that transpire. Today
as well, professional translators must in most cases conform to the expectations of
the people who pay them to translate. If a client says edit, the translator edits; if the
client says don't edit, the translator doesn't edit. If the client says do a literal
translation, and then a literal back-translation to prove you've followed my orders,
that is exactly what the translator does. Translators can refuse to do a job that they
find morally repugnant, or professionally unethical, or practically impossible;
they can also resist and attempt to reshape the orders they get from the people with
the money. But the whats and the hows and the whys of translation are by and large
controlled by publishers, clients, and agencies — not by universal norms.
And in this second scenario, which is obviously the one advanced by the cultural
turn in translation studies, the "propagandistic" nature of much feminist translating
is nothing to be shocked about. A feminist editor at a feminist press hires a feminist
translator to translate a book for a feminist readership; the otherwise admirably
feminist book has a disturbingly sexist chapter in it. Should the translator ignore
the mandate of the editor, the press, and the readership to produce a feminist text,
in order to adhere to some translator-ideal conceived a thousand years ago by a
blatantly patriarchal church whose other tenets are not accepted blindly by any of
the principals in the process? What possible motivation would the translator have to
render the sexist portions of the book "faithfully" or to display it? The only motiva-
tion to keep sexism sexist would be an imagined fidelity not to the press (which was
paying her fee), nor to the readers (whose book purchases keep the press afloat),
but to some other authority, medieval, ecclesiastical, long-dead, with only vestigial
ideological power over contemporary translators — and a most suspect ideology and
power at that!
Surely, many readers will say, something valuable is lost in this. Translation is no
longer handmaiden to genius, to the motions of the muse; it is a petty mercantile
operation, subject to the whims of the marketplace. What a low, sordid affair, to
translate for the highest bidder, and to do the job any way that bidder bids! How
crass! How far has translation fallen!
Perhaps. For the advocates of the cultural turn, however, it has been a fortunate
fall. The "exalted" state of the translator in more traditional ideologies was not only
extremely narrow and confining — indeed anything but exalted — it was also utterly
unrealistic. It had nothing to do with the real world of translation. The picture
painted of professional translation by the new scholars in the field may not be as
glorious as the old humanistic myths; but it has the advantage of leaving the
translator's feet more firmly on the ground.
1 How attached are you to the notion that anything that can be thought can be
said, and anything that can be said can be understood, and anything that can
be thought and said in one culture or language can be said and understood in
another? How important is it for you to believe this? Can you imagine being a
translator without believing it? If so, how do you think translation is possible?
If not, how does talk of radical cultural relativism make you feel?
2 "A first-world translator should never assume his or her intuitions are right about
the meaning of a third-world text" — or a male translator about a text written
by a women, etc. What is your "take" on this statement? How far do you agree,
how far do you disagree? How easy or hard is it not to assume your intuitions
are right about a text? How much does it depend on the text?
3 Political correctness: serious social reform or liberal silliness?
4 Of the two scenarios on p. 199, which do you find more attractive? Why?
1 Study the following passage from Andre Lefevere, Translation, Rewriting,
and the Manipulation of Literary Fame (1992: 44—5):
Since Aristophanic comedy is rather radical in attacking certain
ideologies and defending others, most of the translators whose
"Lysistratas" have been published over the past century and a half
have felt the need to state their own ideology. Most of the the
translators whose work was published during the first half of that
century and a half would agree with A. S. Way's statement: "the
indecency of Attic comedy, which is all-pervading, which crops up
in every play, and in the most unexpected places, is a sad stumbling-
block to the reader, and a grievous embarrassment to the translator"
(xix). While most of these translators fervently disagreed with
an ideology that condoned this indecency, few went as far as the
first translator of Aristophanes during the past century and a half,
C. A. Wheelwright, who stated in his introduction that "The Lysistrata
bears so evil a character that we must make but fugitive mention of
it, like persons passing over hot embers" (62). In his translation he
simply omits the very crux of the play: the oath the women take at
the formal start of their sex strike. Furthermore, he simply ends
his translation at line 827 of the original, refusing to translate lines
828 to 1215, one quarter of the play, not because he had suddenly
forgotten all his Greek, but because his ideology was incompatible
with the one expressed in Greek by Aristophanes.
Most other translators have tried to make Lysistrata fit their
ideology by using all kinds of manipulative techniques. All of
their strategies have been adequately described by Jack Lindsay in
the introduction to his translation. Their "effort," he points out,
"is always to show that the parts considered offensive are not the
actual expression of the poet, that they are dictated externally" (15).
Thus J. P. Maine states in his 1909 introduction that "Athens was
now under an oligarchy, and no references to politics was [sic]
possible, so Aristophanes tries to make up indecency [sic]" (1: x—xi).
In his introduction written in 1820 and reprinted in 1909, in the
second volume edited by Maine, John Hookham Frere states that
"Aristophanes, it must be recollected, was often under the necessity
of addressing himself exclusively to the lower class" (2: xxvi). Both
Maine and Hookham Frere blame patronage for Aristophanes' woes,
but each blames a completely different type of patronage. Two years
later Benjamin Bickley Rogers writes that "in truth this very coarse-
ness, so repulsive to ourselves, so amusing to an Athenian audience,
was introduced, it is impossible to doubt, for the express purpose
of counterbalancing the extreme gravity and earnestness of the play"
(x). In this case Aristophanes is portrayed not as the sovereign
author, but as the conscientious craftsman who has no other choice
than to bow to the demands of his craft, and nothing will prevent
(some) readers from wanting to feel that Aristophanes the man
would not have done what Aristophanes the craftsman had to do.
It was left to A. S. Way, twenty-three years later, to express the
translator's dilemma in the most delicately wordy manner:
The traduttore, then, who would not willingly be a traditore, may
not exscind or alter, but he may well so translate, where
possible, that, while the (incorruptible) scholar has the stern
satisfaction of finding that nothing has been shirked, the reader
who does not know the Greek may pass unsuspectingly over not
a few unsavoury spots — not that his utmost endeavours can
make his author suitable for reading (aloud) in a ladies' school.
The translator is caught between his adherence to an ideology that
is not that of Aristophanes, indeed views sexual matters in a quite
different manner, and his status as a professional who most be able
to convince other professionals that he is worthy of that title, while
at the same time not producing a text that runs counter to his
(a) Discuss the ideology prevailing in your culture with regard to overt
references to sexual acts in literature and especially on stage, and
consider how that might affect Aristophanes translations into your
(b) Go to the library and find as many Aristophanes translations into
that target language as you can, and compare them both with each
other and with your own assumptions about the ideology controlling
them, as formulated in (a). How do the actual translations confirm
or complicate your expectations?
(c) Do variations on the translations you found. Pick a scene describing
overt sexuality and experiment with different versions: do one
that uses the most vulgar terms you know; another that uses more
clinical, scientific terms; a more euphemistic one; a moralizing one
that shows open disapproval of the acts being described. As you do
each variation, pay special attention to how you feel about each:
where your own ideological resistances are, to vulgarity, to clinical
distance, to euphemism, to moralism, or to several or all of them
in different ways. Discuss these ideological resistances with others
in the class; alone or in groups, write brief descriptions of them.
(d) Now study the Lefevere passage for the author's resistances to what
he is describing. He is working hard to appear neutral and non-
judgmental; does he succeed? Does he favor some of the translators
(say, Jack Lindsay) over others? Does he disapprove of the radically
altered translations of Aristophanes: Wheelwright "simply omits
the very crux of the play," other translators have used "all kinds of
manipulative techniques," etc.?
(e) Reread the last paragraph, about translators being caught between
their own ideology and that of the author, while being judged by
readers on how well they extricate themselves from that trap. Is that
a fair assessment of the translator's dilemma? Does it seem to apply
to your professional situation, or the situation into which you imagine
yourself entering in a very short time? Is it true of all translated
texts, or only some? If the latter, which texts? Are there ways out
of or around the problem?
2 Study the following passage from Lori Chamberlain, "Gender and the
Metaphorics of Translation" (1988: 455-6):
The sexualization of translation appears perhaps most familiarly in
the tag les belles infideles — like women, the adage goes, translations
should be either beautiful or faithful. The tag is made possible both
by the rhyme in French and by the fact that the word traduction is a
feminine one, thus making les beaux infideles impossible. This tag owes
its longevity — it was coined in the seventeenth century — to more
than phonetic similarity: what gives it the appearance of truth is that
it has captured a cultural complicity between the issues of fidelity
in translation and in marriage. For les belles infideles, fidelity is defined
by an implicit contract between translation (as woman) and original
(as husband, father, or author). However, the infamous "double
standard" operates here as it might have in traditional marriages: the
"unfaithful" wife/translation is publicly tried for crimes the husband/
original is by law incapable of committing. This contract, in short,
makes it impossible for the original to be guilty of infidelity. Such
an attitude betrays real anxiety about the problem of paternity and
translation; it mimics the patrilineal kinship system where paternity
— not maternity — legitimizes an offspring.
Another way of expanding the famous Gilles Menage adage about les belles
infideles is not that translations should be either beautiful or faithful but
rather that the more beautiful they are, the less likely they are to be faithful,
and the more faithful they are, the less likely they are to be beautiful.
(a) How true do you believe this is about women? Are beautiful women
really more likely to cheat on their partners than less beautiful ones?
Whether you say yes or no, does your experience bear your opinion
out, or is mainly something you agree with because people generally
believe it? What other stereotypes do you (or your culture) have
about beautiful women? Are they respected, scorned, worshipped,
loved, feared, hated? What other qualities in a woman will contribute
to her being either faithful or unfaithful?
(b) Does the adage work the same way when applied to men? Are good-
looking men more or less likely to be faithful to their partners than
less-good-looking men? Or do looks have nothing to do with it?
What other stereotypes do you (or your culture) have about hand-
some men? Are they ambitious, narcissistic, superficial, controlling,
passive, gay, successful, rich? What other qualities in a man will
contribute to his being either faithful or unfaithful?
(c) Put yourself in the position of someone who is worried about his or
her partner (husband or wife or lover) being unfaithful. How do you
react? Are you jealous? What emotions fuel your jealousy? Are you
possessive? Do you want to control the other person? Do you try to
be openminded and tolerant? How does that feel?
(d) Now shift all this to translation. Does it make sense to think of
translation along similar lines? Which parts of the emotional reactions
to (in)fidelity in relationships work when applied to translation,
which don't? How do cultural stereotypes of women fit "fidelity"
theories of translation? What happens if you think of a translation as
a faithful or unfaithful man, or as a handsome or ugly man? What
roles do emotions like jealousy and possessiveness or openminded
tolerance play in cultural thinking about translation?
(e) Chamberlain's reading of the gender metaphorics of translation is
based on the notion that the translation theorist comparing a
translation to a woman — beautiful and unfaithful or faithful and ugly
sides with the source author or "father/husband." This would be
an "external" perspective on translation (see Chapter 1). How would
an "internal" or translator-oriented perspective see these gender
metaphorics? Does the translator have to identify with the trans-
lation? If so, does a female translator have to accept the negative
image of women and translation implied by the adage? Does a male
translator have to submerge his patriarchal desire to control in order
to identify with a woman, become a woman, accept subordina-
tion and disapproval? Is the only alternative to this the scenario
Chamberlain traces, in which the translator identifies with the father/
husband /original and so becomes a prescriptive theorist? Are these
gender metaphors purely harmful for translators, or is it possible to
transform the gender politics in ways that create new possibilities
for translators' practical work and professional self-image (open
Suggestions for further reading
Anderson (1995), Baker and Malmkjaer (1998), Bassnett (1991), Bennett (1993), Calzada
Perez (2002), Chamberlain (1988), Chesterman (1997), Cheyfitz (1991), Copeland
(1991), Cronin (2000), Davis (2001), Delabastita and d'Hulst (1993), Diaz-Diocaretz
(1985), Ellis (1989, 1991, 1996), Ellis and Evans (1994), Esselink (2000), Even-Zohar
(1979), Gambier and Gottlieb (2001), Gentzler (1993), Godard (1989), Gudykunst and
Kim (1992), Hardwick (2000), Hermans (1985), Holmes (1975), Hoopes (1981),
Jacquemond (1992), Krontiris (1992), Lefevere (1992), Leppihalme (1997), Levine
(1992), Lotbiniere-Harwood (1991), Maier (1980, 1984, 1989), Munday (2001),
Niranjana (1992), O'Hagan and Ashworth (2002), Padilla (1980), Pym (1992a), Rafael
(1988/1993), Riccardi (2002), Robinson (1995, 1997a), Schaffner (1999), Simon
(1995), Snell-Hornby (1995), Snell-Hornby, Jettmarova, and Kaindl (1997), Sprung
(2000), Toury (1995), Trinh (1994), Tymoczko and Gentzler (2002), Venuti (1998),
von Flotow (1997), Williams and Chesterman (2002)
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested