Book Review: A Companion to Translation Studies
Companion to Translation Studies
As early as 1972, when James S. Holmes presented his seminal lecture "The Name and Nature of Translation Studies" (see Venuti 2004), drawing a map for the then new discipline of Translation Studies, he called for the beginning of a "meta-discussion" (ibid.: 191) in Translation Studies. The map (see Toury 1995; Hermans1999) has served as a starting point for researchers with its binary division of Translation Studies into two branches: "pure" and "applied." This, as Pym (1998:1) suggests, "put forward a conceptual scheme that identified and interrelated many of the things that can be done in translation studies," on the one hand, and as the discipline found its place as something on its own by an unprecedented upsurge of publications, it started "evolving dynamically" (1) on the other, to incorporate the inherent interdisciplinary that is associated with translation studies. A Companion to Translation Studies can be seen as a contribution to the growing field of translation studies by showing how far Holmes' call for the "meta-discussion" in Translation Studies has been answered. As the editors mention in their introduction, they have asked "distinguished experts in the field to give their account of what has been achieved in the most important areas of translation studies, and where the discipline may go in future" (Kuhiwczak and Littau 2007:7). In doing so, the main focus has been "to look at those areas where translation interacts with other disciplines, and consider the outcomes of this interaction" (7).
This interdisciplinarity is one of the most observable features of the articles in this volume. Although the authors have been successful in presenting a "short and schematic account of the institutional trajectory of translation studies" some of them fail in giving postgraduate students of Translation Studies a clear idea of the possible areas of research that may arise in the near future.
The book consists of nine chapters, an introduction by the editors, a bibliography and an index. The book is number 34 in the Topic in Translation series that already contains such important titles as Contemporary Translation Studies (Gentzler 1993/2001) and Literary Translation: A Practical Guide (Landers 2001). These chapters are as follows: "Culture and Translation," "Philosophy and Translation," "Linguistics and Translation," "History and Translation," "Literary Translation," "Gender and Translation," "Theatre and Opera translation," "Screen Translation," and "Politics and Translation." In this review, I look at chapters one, two, four, five and nine closely.
Susan Bassnet, whose name, along with Andre Lefevere, is associated with what has been called the cultural turn in Translation Studies, recalls in her article "culture and translation" a time when, in her co edited work Translation, History and Culture (Bassnett & Lefevere 1990), she called for a move from the dominant linguistic discourse in Translation Studies toward a more cultural movement. The rapid development of Translation Studies and its interaction with cultural studies has occurred so rapidly that she sees her "special pleading" somehow "naïve and simplistic" (Kuhiwczak and Littau 2007:14). In her account of the relationship between culture and translation she looks at polysystem theory, feminist criticism and then relates them to the concept of norms. As she goes on with the discussion of cultural capital and textual grid, she asks two interesting questions. First, as regards the resistance of English literature to new forms and genres in the 19th century, she wonders how a work like the Persian translation of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam entered the mainstream of canonical English literature. In the same line, she invites us to find a way to explain why English-language readers today leave "translations of excellent contemporary Indian writers languishing on the shelves?" ( 21). Her answer to these two questions leads us to a better understanding of "how taste is constructed in a culture, how publishers market their authors in accordance with those changing patterns of preference and how one culture invents its myth of another" ( 21). She concludes her essay by suggesting the ways that cultural turn in Translation Studies can enrich the research in future. If it were not for this concluding paragraph, I could have said that Bassnet's paper did not have something new for a postgraduate student of Translation Studies.
Anthony Pym's paper, "Philosophy and Translation," which I and my fellow students in the Ph.D. program of Translation and Intercultural studies at Universitat Rovira i Virgili had a chance to see an earlier and larger version of (the present version is twenty pages and the longest of the articles) goes beyond Translation Studies and, as the editors of the volume pinpoint, "[t]his systematic analysis uncovers a number of issues that previously have not been discussed in translation studies" (8). He relates translation to philosophy in three ways: translation as an example for philosophy, philosophy as authority for the theorization of translation, and finally translating philosophy, followed by future orientations: the limits of philosophy. Pym's account of all these three ways shows to a large extent the impact of western philosophy on translation and overlooks any contribution made by non-western philosophy and philosophers. Pym criticizes Venuti's much cited theory of foreignizing of translation (see for example among others, Pym 1996; Tymoczko 2000) by arguing that his activity as a translator is affected by his position as a translation theorist, which in turn pushes him toward manipulation "of the foreign" (Kuhiwczak and Littau 2007:34). Pym is of the opinion that Venuti's stance as a theorist is flawed as he has simplified "their [French and German philosophers] contribution and become their privileged interpreter, challenging their authority" (34). Pym does not give us further explanation as to why he sees the works of Venuti, both as a translator and translation theorist as such, however, he makes a clever observation when he notices a "fluent translating" in his work as a translator. This point once again reflects the bitter reality existing between the realm of theory and practice in Translation Studies. However, we should be aware that Pym has been working as a professional translator as well. Reading his long and philosophical article one hopes to find a solid solution to the philosophical problems facing translation researchers. Rather, Pym invites us to a "dialectic attention to what translators do and say" (emphasis in original, 44). This might be his answer to my concerns as a postgraduate student of Translation Studies.
Chapter 4 of A Companion to Translation Studies by Lynne Long takes up the discussion of "History and Translation." Personally I would have liked to see this chapter also written by Pym, whose credentials in Translation Studies were established long ago by writing Method in Translation History (1998), which is a key text for anyone who is interested in undertaking research in history in Translation Studies. Nevertheless, Long's article is well-written and encompasses a wide area of topics related to history and translation. He argues that "placing translated texts into their historical contexts helps define and account for the policies employed by past translators and so gives at least a point of departure for developing strategies" (Kuhiwczak and Littau 2007:64). One of the advantages of his article is the methodologies he offers for students of Translation Studies to initiate research. These are language issues, literary studies, religious and philosophical issues. In the latter case, he argues that "those who come to sacred text translation often do so through intensive religious conviction" (73). It is not clear what Long's evidence for this claim is, and how universal it might be. His last part of the article, "endnote," has the most useful points for those who want to start research in the field of translation and history. Two of these points are defining "the area of study" (75) and the need to "dip into a number of related disciplines and study parallel situations in other contexts" (76).
In chapter 5, "Literary Translation," Theo Hermans starts his account by asking his readers "what is distinctive about literary translation?" (77). Hermans, whose reputation as a hard critic in translation studies is reflected in his Translating in Systems: Descriptive and System-oriented Approaches Explained (1999), reviews the past reference works on literary translation, showing their shortcomings. As he shows, there is surprisingly no entry for "literary translation" in the Dictionary of Translation Studies (Shuttleworth & Cowie, 1997), and that Peter Bush's contribution to Routledge Encyclopaedia of Translation Studies, "Literary Translation: Practices," " sidesteps the issue by declaring: 'literary translation is the work of literary translation.'" (Kuhiwczak and Littau 2007:81). He further stresses the fact that "the search for a definition of literary translation leads nowhere" (78) and he elaborates his argument by drawing our attention to Culler (1997) and Eagleton's (1983) definition of literature. He does all these in order to call us to "approach to translation as a phenomenon worthy of attention in its own right" (Kuhiwczak and Littau 2007:81). Moreover, Hermans divides the main development in the study of literary translation under the three categories of linguistics, functionalism and interventionism, discussing under each category the ways literary translation is dealt with. Hermans shows how post-structuralism, with its doubts about the instability of meaning and its critique of representation, paved the way for the introduction of gender and post-colonial theory into the mainstream of Translation Studies. Unfortunately, the author does not provide the possible areas of research in literary translation, though a careful reading of the article yields some cues.
The last chapter of the book, "Politics and Translation," proves to be one of the most interesting parts of the book and it clearly demonstrates to what extent politics is present in our life, let alone translation. Christina Schäffner starts her account by giving some interesting examples of recent political events such as "the shortage of Arabic translators working for the FBI" and Bulgaria and Romania's accession to the EU (134). Reflecting on the fact that translation is present in all political communication, she looks at the issue of translation and politics from three perspectives: the politics of translation, the translation of political texts, and the politicization of translation (studies). In the "Politics of translation," which affects all aspects of translation from the moment a translator adopts a work for translation until it is published and read by the readers, the author draws on the concept of patronage (Lefevere 1992) and how it can provide a given translation with a political tinge or direction. This is one of the areas that bring to our attention the issue of censorship and direction in translation. She gives us very good coverage of the available literature on studies done on censorship in totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany, Spain under Franco and Fascist Italy. Her engaging discussion takes the issue further into how postmodern translation theories are related to power in such works by Alvarez and Vida (1996), Tymoczko and Genzler (1996) and von Flotow (1997). She criticizes these works on the grounds that the examples they have provided "rarely belong to the domain of political discourse" (Kuhiwczak and Littau 2007:140). For the author, the intention of post-modern theories is "rather to show that power hierarchies are inherent in any translation event, independent of topics, genres, culture and time" (140). Schäffner later presents some examples of political texts and the challenges that they pose for Translation Studies researchers and translators. Her examples are representative of real worldwide situations. In the last part of the paper, she tries to illustrate how translations, as products, are used "as tools for political action" (146). Except for an example given on translations of the comic strip Asterix into Croatian, the discussion here fails to address the point sufficiently.
After reading all the articles in this volume, it is quite interesting to find out how Schäffner talks of Venuti's idea of foreignizing of translation as a way to "respect and represent the 'otherness' of the foreign text, language and culture"(146). It is the very word of "otherness" that she sees as a key term to relate her discussion to the politicization of politics. A common tendency among the scholars of Translation Studies, at least in this volume, is to take stock of other translation studies scholars' theories for their own purposes while blaming them elsewhere of falling short of taking the issues under study thoroughly. Perhaps one of the urgent needs for us is to open up a dialog among ourselves by learning how not to politicize the notion of learning from each other. The final word goes back to the editors' introduction where they tell us that the aim of this book "is precisely to provide a map to help a keen researcher to navigate within this multi-faceted discipline" (7). Though navigating such an amazing discipline like Translation Studies is both wonderful and promising, it can be daunting and dreary if a bright horizon of the road is not sketched.
Hermans, Theo. 1999. Translation in Systems. Descriptive and System-oriendted Approaches Explained. Manchester: St. Jerome
Pym, Anthony. 1998. Method in Translation History. Manchester: St. Jerome
Pym, Anthony. 1996. "Venuti's Visibility." Target 8 (1): 165-77.
Toury, Gideon. 1995. Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: Benjamins.
Tymoczko, Maria. 2000. "Translation and Political Engagement: Activitism, social change and the Role of Translation in Geopolitical Shifts." The Translator 6 (1), 23-47.
Venuti, Lawrence. 2004. The Translation Studies Reader. 2nd ed. New York and London: Routledge.
Published - September 2008
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