On Franco Moretti’s Atlas…

“In this book … the method is all.” (Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel, p. 5)  Last night I was asked the question, what is untranslatable about Moretti?  Is it the intersemiotic action that he engages in?  Is his a false, or hyper, or infinite act of translation?  Can we map, translate, transfer, the internal logic of the European novel onto cartographic space?

Moretti gives us a clear and overly modest answer: “It is a beginning.”  Perhaps like the Ngrams produced yesterday to illuminate our discussions of untranslatables, this is a starting point, based in quantitative methods that allows complex and new qualitative discussions.  Moretto asks us to look at the maps he produces of where action happens in a plot (plotting the plot?) and then invites the reader to step back and think.  “How is it, ” he asks “that geography shapes the narrative structure of the European novel?”  Of course this not yet Moretti’s distant reading.  It is actually a very close reading, but one that translates fictional space into a physical/isometrically measured place.

Why does this sort of translation matter?  How is it related to our discussions this week of the Untranslatable and World Literature?  I would argue, because of its method.  Mapping the action of novels, known and less known texts, is a heuristic that reveals patterns that Moretti supports through a kind of New Historicism (Marxist mapping?) that then allows him to refute some of the more dearly held readings of, for example, Jane Austen’s novels.  After Said’s claim that the British upper classes would be unthinkable without the colonies, many historians and critics have built careers and much scholarship on investigating the connection between the stately homes and estates of England (and Ireland) and the slave trade (see, for example, Madge Dresser’s Slavery and the British Country House (2013) and her earlier Slavery Obscured (2001)).  Moretti casts doubts on Said’s claim (although I would love to put Madge and Franco in a room together) through his close, spatial reading of Austen and translates what Said argues is an economic necessity into a plot device.  The colonies have to exist as a plot mechanism that allows Austen to dispose of difficult characters.  But why the colonies?  why not the Continent?

The existence of the colonies, argues Moretti, permits a “strictly symbolic function” to occur in that they belong for Austen and her readers to a mythic geography, and allow for unexplained wealth to suddenly appear in a plot (pecunia ex machina?).  Do we agree with him when he claims that “it is not economic history that explains it, but ideology that projects, literally, an uncomfortable reality away from Britain.”  (p. 29)  What do we think of a geography of ideas?  Is, for example, the very “other placeness” of Russia in the 19th century the “fulcrum” that moves the plot/sujet of Dostoevsky’s novels along?  Moretti thinks so: “geography may, if not exactly determine, at least encourage morphological change.” (p. 32)  What is the causal connection here?  Do we accept the privileging of geography as a morphological device? Space can produce its own genre?

We return to the borderlands again that for Apter is a place of linguistic slippage and policed exchange, needing to be “untranslated” and destabilized as a checkpoint of nation/state/security.  Moretti’s borderlands are places that intensify figurality. (p. 45)  Maybe echoing Joseph Campbell, but clearly articulating Lotman and Propp, good morphologists of narrative, Moretti correlates plot to space, metaphor becoming the spatial container of plot.  Can morphology become topography?

Mapping Samuel Coleridge's tour of the Lake District

Maybe.  The work of Ian Gregory and David Cooper (both at Lancaster University) relates to this  in their development of a literary GIS.  As the co-authors state in the paper from which this figure is taken,  “the paper focuses on the ways in which GIS can be used to explore the spatial relationships
between two textual accounts of tours of the English Lake District: the proto-Picturesque journey undertaken by the poet, Thomas Gray, in the autumn of 1769; and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s self-consciously post-Picturesque ‘circumcursion’ of August 1802. Alongside this text-specific focus, the paper also draws on recent spatial literary criticism to reflect, more generally, on the critical possibilities and problems associated with the digital mapping of space and place in literature. Ultimately, the paper seeks to open up methodological and critical space for the ongoing development of literary GIS.”  See Mapping the English Lake District

About Katie Faull

Dr. Katherine Faull is Professor of German and Humanities at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA. She is currently Director of the Program in Comparative Humanities. Trained as a philologist at King’s College, London, and Princeton University, she has published extensively on the Moravian Church in North America in the colonial period. Her current book projects are both the result of NEH grants she has received. Both are translations of manuscripts from the Moravian Archives, Bethlehem, PA where she is also a member of the Archives Board of Directors. Katie is becoming increasingly interested in digital ways of practicing philology! For more, go to http://www.katiefaull.com

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Against World Literature

If translation, as Apter claims, is the central moment of the Enlightenment’s project to create a discursive space of mutual recognition, democratic freedom, mutually agreed upon rules, structures and  a disinterested program of civil rights (Apter 2013, p. 129) then the elevation of Untranslatability might seem to counter all those hopes.  How can we live in a world of mutual misprision?  Isn’t it incomprehension and unintelligibility that cause conflict, war, hatred?  In her brief chapter on the keyword “Peace” Apter articulates the goals of the field of Comparative Literature in terms that would gladden any Dean of Arts and Sciences’ heart.  Uncannily echoing the goals of the program to inculcate Enlightenment values of mutual respect and community building circulated just yesterday by our director of new student orientation (see email “Being Bucknellians” inviting faculty to facilitate discussions of new student comprehension of our university mission statement), and also our our program goals in Comparative Humanities, Apter summarizes the field’s educational mission as “dedicated to producing complexly cultured, linguistically proficient citizens of the world who foster global understanding and the pragmatic conviction that universal consensus … is achievable through an enhanced linguistic commons.” (Apter 2013, p. 129)  The problem with this vision of ethical and linguistic transparency is, however, its maintenance.  Indirectly invoking the figure of Edward Snowden as the great “Untranslator” of Babel before its fall, the reader is warned of the spectre of state security.  Translating into terms closer to home: yes, it is an excellent model for student behavior for all to agree to create a community of mutual respect and care, but this must be maintained, monitored, surveilled.   The Enlightenment must also be policed.  Those of us who lived through the years of the “socialist garden” will recognize those arguments: “Vertrauen ist gut, Kontrolle ist besser” (Markus Wolf)

What might this policing look like?  Apter, calling on Hamilton, turns to the old fashioned discipline of philology as a tool to examine critically the spread of “globish” and to monitor the discourse of the post 9-11 world.  For example, how has the discourse of security overtaken and bled into the talk of peace?  Resorting to the distant reading of HUGE AMOUNTS OF BOOKS through the Google Ngram tool and entering the terms “peace” and “security” in English language published (and scanned) texts from 1600 to the present day we see the graphs of occurrence.

peace and security

If we change the corpus to only “English fiction” we see a different graphic:

"peace" and "security" in English fiction

Does this mean that fiction is more concerned with the Enlightenment project of perpetual peace, or, sorry, eternal peace as Kant probably meant (drawing on the semantic fields and lexica of theological discourse) than non-fiction?  Maybe the distant reading leads us to a closer reading, a more careful reading that relies on the etymology of words, a translational act that can become an infinite inquiry?  Maybe the Untranslatable is actually more of a perpetually translatable, always trying to speak the remainder of the source language, becoming poetry.

The translation of the Dictionary of Untranslatables is not, I am afraid, an example of this.  I chose to read through the entry on “sex” and was infuriated by the translation.  This is “Frenglish,” a thinly veiled anglicization of French discourse that only served to obfuscate rather than enlighten the reader on the complexities of the interrelated interlingual fields of gender, genre, genus, Geschlecht and sex.  How bizarre that the Untranslatable has become the poorly translated in a work that appears to have as its mission the foregrounding of the complexity of words and the love of logology.

Pravda and Truth

On Borders and Untranslatability

German/Polish borderlands, July 2014

Just over a month ago, I visited my mother’s birthplace, Forst/Lausitz, an unassuming town located on both sides of the Neiße river, intentionally developed as a production center for textiles and cloth in the 18th century by the Saxon statesman, Carl von Brühl.

Like his nearby palace, Pförten, Forst was devastated by a repeated change of hands; from the Seven Years War to the end of the Second World War the geopolitics of Central Europe determined its fate.  In 1945, as the Ukrainian divisions approached the Neiße, the German army gave the order to blow up all the bridges that connected the eastern side of the town with the west.  And so the bridges have remained; like snapped off rods, jutting out across the river and its low banks.

As a child, the mysteriously overgrown and unattainable other side of the river haunted/taunted me.  Innocent of the consequences, one afternoon, while our parents were visiting old friends who lived on the cobblestoned street that ran along the river, my sister and I went down to the bank and she asked me to take her photograph.  I dutifully obeyed, only to be accosted by an East German border guard who demanded to have the film from the camera.  Taking photographs of the state border was forbidden.  My mother, who must have been watching from the window, flew downstairs and explained to the incensed border guard that we were just children, how did we know that those prettily striped poles on either side of the bombed bridge signified a geopolitical flashpoint?  He looked at her with sheer amazement and then took our film.

Der Steg, Forst/Lausitz

Since that moment, borders have evoked fear in me.  Maybe from an early  encounter with the invisible lines drawn through cities and landscapes that have the power to trigger “the shoot to kill” policy of the inner-German state division, or traumatic experiences at US immigration checkpoints, I await the moment where my right to travel across that bridge, or through that port of entry, is revoked.  And, if Apter is right, maybe that is why I have been drawn to translation theory and its subsequent field of study in a romantic mission to rebuild those exploded bridges.  Maybe I too have been guilty of what she identifies as the attempt of translation studies to use “border crossing” as a prime metaphor of general equivalence (Apter 2013, p. 101), a location of meaning exchange and inter-disciplinarity.  Maybe I too see the new German/Polish border crossing just up the river from Forst, where the checkpoints were built but never used, as a “space of flow” in a new European world order.  This  travel  without checkpoints, however, does not take us to a translation zone of positive interchangability.  It produces a narrow zone where the Euro and German are the accepted currency, where Germans go to buy cheap petrol and cigarettes (and maybe a bunch of flowers, too) and then hastily return home, away from the gazes of the linguistic and cultural other.  Drive too far out of this zone, and you pay with sloty and  communicate in Polish.

So, what is Apter’s project with this provocatively named volume that positions itself immediately as an “against,” invoking the dialectic that she claims to so vehemently oppose in her chapter on chronology?  Is it to expose translations as “instruments of global consumption”?  Is to to argue for the de-provincialization of the canon?  Is it, to extend the eating metaphor from yesterday, to introduce “indigestibles” to this mass consumption (her style serves this purpose well) and then to make of the indigestible untranslatables the “fulcrum of comparative literature”?  Is it to foreground a kind of “glossolalia” that defies translation, a speaking in (non-referential) tongues that no-one understands? How does she deal with the semiotics of the Untranslatable that evoke God, logos, truth, Derridean transcendental signifieds?

What Apter claims to be promoting is a translational activity of “verkehrte Wahlverwandtschaften”, disruptive elective affinities that replace the organic ones, the false friends of translation that lead us down the slippery path of assumed equivalence (think for example of the horrors of the “Handy” or “Public Viewing” in German).  Or a World Literature that is “an experiment in national sublation that signs itself as collective, terrestrial property.” (p. 15)  More “War and Peace”?  The example she provides of such a successful translation and production of World Literature is Alain Badiou’s hypertranslation of Plato’s Republic, a work that demands both the closest of readings, “channeling Plato” (maybe understanding Plato “on his own terms” pace Lefevere), absolute comprehension, and what I would call an adaption where the cave becomes a movie theater.  The untranslatable, as the Stein des Anstoßes, produces new knowledge, it becomes an “epistemological fulcrum for rethinking philosophical concepts and discourses of the humanities.” (p. 31)  And hopefully not a fetish object of the new world order.

This then would seem to be the reason for her fascination with the Dictionary of Untranslatables.  Celebrating mistranslations, sophistry, and logology, Apter invites us to to survey this cartography of philosophical differences.  Writing about the entry on “pravda” Apter sees the untranslatable as “militant semiotic intransigence,” the remainder of translation that has the potential to undercut national language ontologies but still resorts to nationalistic essentialist thought (you know, my Weltschmerz is not accessible to you because only the Germans feel it in their Waldeinsamkeit).  Can the zone of untranslatability become a new Habermasian  public sphere, a negotiation zone between languages and cultures that undercuts nations?  And how can we fit World Literature into such a zone?  Does it then consist of an “enlightened common culture,” an ecologically aware “planetarity,” a literary world system that foregrounds a poetics of difference and a cartography of scale that is the very stuff of Comparative Literature?

This zone of untranslatability might be so large, so filled with the HUGE DATA of world literature, that only the philological tools of the telescope/microscope in Moretti’s Literature Lab can navigate it.  How do we read so much and not reduce it to the easily digestible pap of globalized fast food?  Reaching for the utensils of systems theory, Moretti developed the mathematical modelling of the dynamics of the economy, the spread of disease, the neural networks to examine the evolution of literature (the novel as a genus-gene-genre).  Only in exile, she claims, he claims, do these genres bear great fruit.  “Are new genres made by virtue of translation failure? Does differentiation come at the expense of hybridity? (see Apter 2014, p. 50).  Forgiving his Eurocentric focus, Apter recognizes the potential of Moretti’s notion of a global web/system.  She sees his quantitative formalism as a way in which to map/grid the small/micro politics of a literary work to the global/macro political context.  Such excitement in the hyperbole of Stanford’s Literary Lab, who describe  themselves as space men exploring the great unmapped territories of the great unread oeuvre of the novel, might be a way forward for the field.  But I don’t think Apter is quite sure, yet.

If we might be able to create a translation zone with the DH tools of Stanford’s Literary Lab, we must still beware the traps of periodization.  In the discussion of three core courses in Comparative Humanities we have these discussions all the time.  How do we deal with the given that critical traditions are embedded within European typologies? How do we navigate the totalizing nomenclature of World Literature (Chinese art, Japanese modernism, Russian music)? How do we develop a translational literary history that is not determined by “fetish dates” of Eurochronology?

Bucknell's Carnegie Building

Our colleague at Penn State Eric Hayot proposes breaking down periodicity by focusing on one year and then building out from that (we started HUMN 250 like that); our ex-colleague Kathleen Davies points out the link between periodization and cultural political categories (exemplified in the names around the Carnegie Building on campus-a prime example of “tycoon medievalism”).

Like Nietzsche, we should instead reject the Hegelian dialectic, disable linear history, and subvert periodization, producing a “verkehrte Geschichte,” thoughts that are not of the season in sequences that perhaps reflect more of a Benjaminian sense of the “Jetztzeit.”  The action of politics on time, an Untranslatable now.

The Mauerweg, Berlin-Rudow, June 2014

In her interrogation of world literature and translation studies, Apter may frustrate the reader with a style that deliberately trips us up with incessant bibliographical references, complex sentences, and obtuse neologisms and revived archaisms.  But this also wakes the reader up to the potentially sloppy thinking that has accompanied the spread and study of world literature and the practice that makes it possible, translation.  Border zones, interlingual and intercultural spaces should not be seen as places of equivalence but rather thresholds of untranslatability and blockades.  But, in order to be able to argue this, Apter has chosen her borders carefully.  How would she parse the discrete “Mauerweg” that surrounds what was West Berlin.  Where once the “Todesstreifen” signalled the impassable divide between eastern and western bloc, there is now a bike path, flanked by blind lampposts, curved like shepherd’s crooks, that has melded into the landscape.  Unlike the bombed bridges of my mother’s hometown, here is an untranslatable border.

On Damrosch and World Literature

 

In his piece on the ACLA website, the guru of World Literature, David Damrosch talks about the issue of scale and world literature; namely, who can read everything that is out there?  And how can we read it?

We can think of ordering all this literature/ work in terms of center/periphery (some have thought in terms of the hierarchy of major/minor –see Kundera and Kafka) or seeing the expanse of World Literature is so vast that we cannot think of it in terms other than national book markets.  Other critics argue about the question of language, post-coloniality, planetarity (Spivak) and ask what kind of approach to literature are we teaching our students?

For Damrosch, the nation/world question is one that is best thought of as figure/ground.  But, is it possible to think this way within the conditions of market and post-coloniality?  He claims, yes, but not returning to the crypto-nationalism of the 19th century (what was crypto about it?) and the notion that high literature is the embodiment of a nation’s highest cultural values [Herder].  This however elides the examination of minority cultures or bilingual authors [see Kafka].  Bilingual and minority culture authors confuse the genealogy of national literature: nation<->culture<->language.  Add post-coloniality to that and the picture becomes far more complex.

What is translatability and the “dream” of equivalence?  Within Translation Studies there are formal/technical terms that we employ everyday.  See the entries.  However, we also must do this in the face of Derrida’s claim that everything is at one translatable and untranslatable.  Personally , I find that André Lefevere’s concept of the conceptual and textual grids is the very  useful in teaching students about translatability and I find his chapter in the Bassnett/Trivedi volume helpful. Given my obsession with spatial visualization, I like to think of translation as an act of “mapping meaning” and thus the concept of textual and conceptual grids allows us to examine the mapability of meaning within the greater hermeneutical framework of society and politics.  Lefevere brings up the old chestnut of “fidelity” and that it is not always the best guide to translation.  It is important in technical manuals but no in advertising, because of the need to “localize” in translation.

When foregrounding fidelity, Lefevere warns us of the danger of assigning primacy and privilege to the source text and suggests that we can think of the ST as Europe and TT as the rest of the world.  Calling on the ubiquitous master trope of EATING, there exists the danger that the intention and style of the ST will devour the TT [is there the fear that the TT might do the same to the ST?]  and that there will be a wholesale transposition and translation of ST’s conceptual and cultural grid onto TT culture.  The predominance of translation into English (and other European languages) perpetuates the colonizing process.  A good example of the politics of translation is that of Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam which was considered to raise the ST to the status of art within the dominant culture.

For example, how do you translate a sexual “sweat” in Shakuntala into the national language of the women who only glow?

What is translation according to Bassnehtb-giantbanyantree-randygardnertt and Trivedi?  Must it always be linked to a spatial metaphor, the carrying over of meaning in the German and Latinate calc?  Can’t we also think about it as a temporal figure?  A “Nachsagen”?  anuvad?  How does this change our conception of the translational act?  How might the image of the banyan tree with its branches becoming new trees help us?  Is this a form of “rhizomic” translation?

We then also have to face Salman Rushdie’s claim that all postcolonial writers have already been translated.  What is the status of English as the language of the postcolonial writer?  Chapter 2 considers strategies of postcolonial writers who are writing and publishing  English to signal their “otherness”.  Indian and African writers who do not reject English but who already see themselves as translated or hybridized and thus, within their texts, signal this through code-switching/uses of culturally specific terms, perhaps even needing to gloss their own pages (Chinua Achebe adds a gloss of Igbo terms at the end of Things Fall Apart, as does Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Half of a Yellow Sun).

Do we agree that Rushdie’s English is already a translation because it is a language that no-one would speak in India?  “Indian English writers are thus not so much translating Indian -language texts into English as using various strategies to make their works read like translations.” (Bassnett/Trivedi, p. 53.)  A Schleiermacherian move to produce the “alienating translation” in order to “creat[e] an English that resists easy appropriation British or the West as a whole is thus a primary task” of the postcolonial writer (Bassnett/Trivedi, p. 55).

So, that brings us to Emily Apter’s critique of the project of World Literature and her elevation of the concept of Untranslatability to the “fulcrum of comparative literature.”

Kendall’s Question

Throughout Chapter 4, Steiner comments on the challenges of translation and reaching equivalence between the natures of the two languages. He introduces the notion that by attacking translation, one vaguely attacks the essence of language itself. The author rationalizes that no two people share the exact identical meaning for the same term, yet if they do, there is no way to establish this like comprehension. The chapter further discusses that not everything can be translated as a result of potential loss of context. I found this negative portrayal of translation to troubling as I continued throughout the reading. Should we choose to forgo the means of receiving text in our native language simply because we will never be able to achieve an equivalent meaning? Is desire to learn more about other cultures and groups of people not justification for wanting to attempt to translate? How are we to be educated individuals if we do not choose look past our ethnocentric views and obtain even a glimpse into the lives of people different from ourselves?

Steiner Chapter 4 The History of Translation

Breughel detail
The Tower of Babel, detail, Breughel

Steiner, Chapter 4

Claims of Theory Periods in translation

  • from classical times until 18th century – translation more a version in a new language and not a word for word translation but rather what is the gist of something and then re-express it in one’s own language. What are the assumptions behind such a theory of translation? Dryden, Horace, Cicero
  • Theoretical and hermeneutic inquiry—Translation set within the questions of theories of language and the mind—develops its own vocabulary and method. People writing about the hermeneutics of translation are also practitioners–Schleiermacher, Schlegel, Humboldt.
  • Machine translation – attempts to map relations between formal logic and models of linguistic transfer
  • We are still in the hermeneutic moment, because he claims of the discovery of Benjamin’s paper (1923) which appeals to a universal notion of language, revitalizing the arguments of the ChomskyistsWhat about the realm of World Literature?
  1. 251—Should there be any passage from one tongue to another? Religious and psychological doubts about this—Kabbalah, Kafka, can one utter the knowledge of God in a mortal tongue?

But ironically much of the need to translate has come from Christianity’s need to translate the Gospels. Language should not prevent you from salvation.

Translation also seen as the “intertraffick of the mind”—a language community wants to enrich itself from outside

  1. 262 Not everything can be translated. Theology and gnosis posit an upper limit—not everything can be translated now—there is no unwobbling pivot from which we can view the world and history

Registers of translation—common matter and recreative transfer from one literary philosophic or religious text to another

  1. Literal
  2. “faithful but autonomous restatement” (266)
  3. “imitation, recreation, variation, and interpretive parallel” (266)

Difference between Dolmetschen and Übersetzen

Dolmetschen- refers to interpretation using both literary and contextual views of a text to come up with a translation. Not just translating- interpreting.

Übersetzen- This refers to translation/translators. This focuses on finding word-to-word equivalencies.

Goethe’s three phases of translation

  1. 277  First order of translation acquaints the target culture with the foreign culture in the latter’s own terms. Imperceptible entry of the foreign into our domestic vocabulary—Luther and his stress on the everyday.

– This is done in the hopes that translated text will then translate into the foreigner’s lives.

  • Appropriation through the surrogate: native garb placed on foreign form – could this be a parody?

– This refers to new/translated ideas acting as replacements for old ones- one example being the teaching of Christianity to foreigners in terms of their own religious views.

  • Metamorphosis and entelechy will lead to a perfect identity between original and translation. The translator has to create a tertium datum.

-implies a full understanding of the meaning in a foreign text.

  • Jakobson—interlingual translation is a translation which is infinitely regresses/progressing
  • Transmutation is a recoding, a placing of one sign into another system—systems of signification- allows us to figure out the meaning of words in relation to things other than other words. Uses pictoral representations as a way of gaining more accuracy.
  • Can we theorize about translation? Can we produce models?
  1. 300 In significant measure, different languages are different, inherently creatively counter-proposals to the constraints, to the limiting universals of biological and ecological conditions. They are the instruments of storage and of transmission of legacies of experience and imaginative construction particular to a given community.”

– This addresses the idea that when removed from a native context, certain words are never the same. There are plenty of theories that attempt to reach a conclusion about which approach to translation is best, but if context is lost, meaning is damaged.

Steiner Chapter 4 Questions from your predecessors

  •  On one hand, I can potentially see the demise of words “when words shake off ‘the burden of having to mean’ and will be only themselves, blank and replete as stone.” On the other hand, these blank words can determine our thoughts as we fill in our own meanings around these words.  Realistically speaking, can they really exist in the long run?
  • Steiner speaks of translation being a useful process because of the fourth step of translation, reciprocity. He cites Hegel and Heidegger in arguing that by attempting to clarify the text’s essence, we are in fact enriching the meaning through repeated attempts of understanding. I have two issues with this. First of all, it would only enrich the meaning if you were aware of its original meaning. Thus, if you could only read the language it was translated into, it would make the meaning shallower instead of giving multiple routes of exploration into the text. This could be explained by the fact that he seems to promote a type of translation that can be truer to the heart of the text than the original. “Where it surpasses the original, the real translation infers that the source-text possesses potentialities, elemental reserves as yet unrealized by itself”(160). I also take issue with this answer however. Does this mean that the text takes on a life of symbols and meaning of its own? Is it a reflection of some purer question or answer that can be better refined through translation? With this answer, Steiner really does kill the author.
  • Steiner spends most of page 158 talking about translation as an act of violence, destruction and as he says “infection.” Yet can’t we also see the act of translation as one of creation, as a means of building new links and bridges between languages so that the more we translate the more we connect different cultures?  Rather than fearing that “we may be mastered and made lame by what we have imported” can’t we see ourselves as enriched and more connected to a linguistic system and thereby people different from our own?
  • “As he sets out, the translator must gamble on the coherence, on the symbolic plenitude of the world (p. 7).”  Language, like many other cultural fundamentals has been shaped and guided by the evolutionary “powers that be,” so to speak. Adaptively surviving to best fit the cultural environment, within which it is set or from which it emerged. While the language’s culture has also operated adaptively but in ways best-fitted to the culture’s surrounding ecological and civil environments. How do we as a cultural collective translate our external environments? How as individuals do we do this? It seems a difficult task, for the human self, to not project his or her notions, beliefs or one’s internal understanding–onto external phenomena. Humans have a strong tendency to be human-centric and anthropomorphize. In translation or cross-linguistic understanding, is it dangerous to be culture-centric or even narcissitic in projecting the “we” or the “I” familiar to the source text or of the interpreter’s/translator’s/reader’s language, endemic to his or her cultural habitat? And in regard to this, what do we make of those persons native to polyglot habitats?
  • Steiner says that genuine translation should aim to equalize; it should neither fall short of the original text, nor should it surpass it.   If no such perfect “double” exists, then what is more favorable? Possibly like Schleiermacher, I would argue the latter. However, in talking about enriching the source text via the target language, the notion of hierarchy of languages is back in play.
    Is it really possible to “know better that the author did” in translating a text? What would that involve?
  • Steiner brings up the analogy of translation with code-breaking, of “leaving the shell smashed and the vital layers stripped”.  The idea of translation as code-breaking is an interesting one, partly because it brings up the idea of language as a code.  As we’ve covered this idea a bit before (“Everyone who can understand me can go ahead”), I think it would be more interesting to consider how translation can both decode, and encode, a text.

Discussion questions from Nina

As a theorist in translation field Pym represents us many other thoughts about it. The chapter starts by defending the equivalence paradigm. And he comes to decision that “preexisting equivalence is based on the historical conditions of print culture and national vernacular languages”.
He touches next questions:
-what should be translation?
-what could be a perfect paradigms for translating?
-what is in general translation theory?
-what means “use theory/paradigm” in this case?
-what do you need for the good/proper translation?
-is there any “ideal” type translating?
-why equivalence is different?
-how we need to translate the text to make it maximally closer to the original?

Pym Questions (from your predecessors)

  • How might someone find the tertium comparationis between a known and a completely unknown language? Would you still be able to “deverbalize” the source text to emphasize the sense of the meaning that is supposed to be able to be expressed in all languages. Can you really find a sense of what someone is saying? For as we have been saying, every word has a different meaning even if they are considered synonyms. How can you translate into a language that might not have a grammatical structure? You would need to focus on the sense of the meaning, but is that even possible?

 

  • Pym talks about how belief in the equal values of language was rare in European theorizing before the Renaissance and rise of the printing press. Medieval thinking assumed that some languages were intrinsically better than others. Excuse my loaded question, but do vestiges of that same assumption still exist today?
    And in terms of translation as an enrichment of the target language – again, Pym calls it medieval thinking, I would call it average White American thinking. What do I mean by this?
  • While there are likely cases where there is no way around the structuralist view of translation, in that the world is a cut up of perspectives respective to the culture of any given source language, might there be a way, today, to work toward a sort of collage of language within the original construction of a text or source text? Pym mentions the language hierarchies, at a time prior to the printing press, but I wonder… In a world as technologically advanced as it is now where the printing press is somewhat marginalized by the digital press and at a period in history where global communication and information exchange is constantly occurring should there be a greater cognizant responsibility on the writer’s end, with the source text on behalf of the author’s potential target text? Or even a foreign audience whose second or third language learned is in the source text?
  • Toward the end of the reading, Pym mentions that in the Middle Ages, there was a hierarchy of languages that left the idea of equivalence little room for acceptance among translation theories of the time.  It seemed to me that the idea of superior and inferior languages was simply a rehashing of the idea that older things (in this case, languages) are more “pure” (essentially, confusing something’s age with its value), and that part of the reason for disallowing equivalent words and phrases to “come up” from other languages was to preserve this “purity”. This left me wondering if there were any examples of this phenomenom in our modern society (aside from the example of the french, which we have mentioned already).
  • Pym explains that “Japanese and Chinese…are very open to borrowing when dealing with new “international” subject matter, so that loans and calques become far more frequent and acceptable…”(17). Does a culture that lets “international” words into their language at an incredible rate stand the risk of losing a great deal of their cultural identity? Or perhaps in fact this openness to foreign words represent a deeper set of cultural values and goals? This emphasis on adding “international” language to Chinese appears to be in line with the Chinese priorities of economic progress and entering into the international field as an equal. Are rules of translation in themselves cultural?