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Postcol+Trans - Bassness and Trivedi

Postcol+Trans - Bassness and Trivedi - Translation Studies...

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Unformatted text preview: Translation Studies General editors: Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere St' C o I O n i a I Tra n s I ati o n Theory and practice In the same series: Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame André Lefevere Translation/Historleulture ' Edited by André Lefevere lted Susan Bassnett Translation, Poetics and the Stage Six French Hamlets and HariSh Trivedi Romy Hey/en Contemporary Translation Theories Edwin Gentzler The Translator’s Invisibility Lawrence Venuti Gender in Translation Cultural identity and the politics of transmission Sherry Simon R London and New York/ WW? Chapter I Post-colonial writing and literary translation Maria Tymoczko Analysis of literary texts emerging from peoples who have been colo— nized or oppressed invites metaphor: the criticism of such texts speaks, for example, of voices silenced, margin and centre, and epis- tolary exchange.l Perhaps this is so because of cognitive processes themselves. In speaking of unfamiliar or new phenomena, humans often adapt the language of similar though disparate objects and action. Figurative language is used: in English, for example, the newly invented vehicle propelled by an internal combustion engine was sometimes known as the harmless carriage.2 The penchant for metaphorical speech about post-colonial literature suggests that critics View it as a new literary phenomenon about which we do not as yet know how to speak directly, a type of writing for which we do not as yet have an adequate vocabulary. Because metaphoric speech is cognitively pervasive, a normally harmless and time- honoured linguistic practice, the approach could be extended; metaphors are to hand. Mirrors come to mind as appropriate , figures, for example: the writing of post-colonial authors or those from subaltern cultures as a house of mirrors in which the reader and writer alike risk being lost in the tangle, confusion and redun- dancy of reflections; as the mirror in St Paul’s trope, in which one as yet sees only darkly rather than face to face; or, to adapt Joyce’s aphorism about Irish art, as the cracked looking-glass of a servant. And let us not forget the mirroring in the well—used figure of Caliban’s rage. Translation might be used as such a metaphor, but this is not what I am about here. Translation as metaphor for post-colonial writing, for example, invokes the sort of activity associated with the etymological meaning of the word: translation as the activity of carving across, for instance, the transportation and relocation of the 20 Maria Tymoczko M bones and other remains of saints. In this sense post-colonial writing might be imaged as a form of translation (attended with much cere- mony and pomp, to be sure) in which venerable and holy (historical, mythic and literary) relics are moved from one sanctified spot of worship to another more central and more secure (because more powerful) location, at which the cult is intended to be preserved, to take root and find new life. There is, of course, much in this metaphor that bears reflection (mirroring again) in relation to many works emanating from former colonies, and the metaphor is sugges- tive of certain perils faced by writers in these circumstances.3 However that might be, in this enquiry I am not using trans- lation as a metaphor of transportation across (physical, cultural or linguistic) space or boundaries: instead, interlingual literary transla- tion provides an analogue for post-colonial writing. The two types of intercultural writing are essentially distinct, but they have enough points of contact that exploration of the two in tandem and compar- ison of the two —— investigation of the commonalities and the differences — results in new insights about both. Moreover, because literary translation is a phenomenon that can be charted for more than two millennia with an almost coeval critical and theoretical literature about it, many of the workings of literary translation are reasonably well understood. Thus, the comparison of literary trans- lation and post-colonial writing is particularly apt to shed light on the latter more recent literary phenomenon, an understanding of which can benefit from the body of knowledge that has been built up in translation studies. Significant differences between literary translation and post- colonial literature are obvious and should be addressed from the outset. The primary difference is that, unlike translators, post- colonial writers are not transposing a text. As background to their literary works, they are transposing a culture — to be understood as a language, a cognitive system, a literature (comprised of a system of texts, genres, tale types, and so on), a material culture, a social system and legal framework, a history, and so forth. In the case of many former colonies, there may even be more than one culture or one language that stand behind a writer’s work. A translator, by contrast, has seemingly a much more limited domain, only a single text to transpose. As perspectives from general systems theory and semiotics suggest, however, this difference is more apparent than real, for the same cultural complexity facing a post-colonial or minority-culture author is implicit in any single text of the same Post-colonial writing and literary translation 2! M culture: Ivir (1987: 35) goes so far as to claim that translatiOn means translating cultures not languages.4 Thus, a literary translator is de farm concerned with differences not just in language (transposing word for word, mechanically), but with the same range of cultural factors that a writer must address when writing to a receiving audience composed partially or primarily of people from a different culture. The culture or tradition of a post-colonial writer acts as a metatext which is rewritten — explicitly and implicitly, as both back- ground and foreground ~ in the act of literary creation. The task of the interlingual translator has much in common with the task of the posecolonial writer; where one has a text, however, the other has the metatext of culture itself. A more significant difference in the two literary activities has to do with the parameters of constraint. A translator is faced with a fixed text (one usually freely chosen, to be sure, but fixed nonethe- less); such a fixed text includes cultural and linguistic elements that are givens for the translator and that typically involve factors that are particularly problematic for the receiving audience. Thus the translator is faced with the dilemma of faithfulness: to be ‘faithful’, such problematic factors must be transposed despite the difficulties they might cause to the sensibilities or cognitive framework of trans— lator or audience; in obscuring or muting the cultural disjunctions, the translator ceases to be ‘faithful’ to the source text. This constraint of a text with cultural givens in a fixed ordering is a major factor behind the discourse regarding literalism that has been part of dis- cussions of translation for some centuries.5 A post-colonial writer, by contrast, chooses which cultural elements to attempt to trans— pose to the receiving audience. An author can choose a fairly aggressive presentation of un— familiar cultural elements in which differences, even ones likely to cause problems for a receiving audience, are highlighted, or an author can choose an assimilative presentation in which likeness or ‘universality’ is stressed and cultural differences are muted and made peripheral to the central interests of the literary work. Similarly, linguistic features related to the source culture (such as dialect or unfamiliar lexical items) can be highlighted as defamiliarized elements in the text, or be domesticated in some way, or be circum— vented altogether. The greater element of choice in the construction of an original literary text means that in the hands of a skilled writer it is easier to keep the text balanced, to manage the information load, and to avoid mystifying or repelling elements of the receiving 22 Maria Tymoczko ________________________________———-————————-- audience with a different cultural framework. Because a translator begins with a text intended for an audience in the source culture, however, it is not uncommon that elements that are difficult for the receiving audience will cluster; a translated text more than an orig- inal piece of literature thus risks losing balance at critical moments, making the information load too great for comfortable assimilation by the receiving audience. These diflerences are somewhat miti- gated in practice by the choice actually exercised by translators in deciding which elements of a text to preserve in translation (T ymoczko 1995); at the same time writers are not necessarily so free as might be imagined, constrained as they are by history, myth, ideology, patronage and affiliation, which set bounds on the presentation of the source culture in the literary work. Thus, the two types of writing converge on the shared limit defined by cultural interface.6 It is tempting to identify the greater range of paratextual com- mentary permitted to the translator as another difference between literary translation and post-colonial writing. In the form of intro- ductions, footnotes, critical essays, glossaries, maps, and the like, the translator can embed the translated text in a shell that explains necessary cultural and literary background for the receiving audience and that acts as a running commentary on the translated work. Thus, the translator can manipulate more than one textual level simulta- neously, in order to encode and explain the source text. This, too, is a distinction that may be more seeming than real between these two types of intercultural writing. Particularly in contemporary literary works aimed at intercultural audiences, it is not uncommon to find maps, glossaries, appendices with historical information, or intro- ductions describing the cultural context of the work, while experi— mental formal techniques and multilayered textual strategies may even permit the use of embedded texts, footnotes and other devices constituting more than one textual level. Authors also frequently pro- vide introductions and postscripts, write critical essays commenting on their own texts, or facilitate ‘authorized’ commentaries on their work.7 Indeed, we better understand why post-colonial authors embrace such textual types and such literary strategies by consider- ing the functions of similar elements for translators. Thus, although there are differences between literary translation and post-colonial writing, such differences are more significant pn'ma farie than they are upon close consideration. The two types of textual production converge in many respects; as the metaphor Post—colonial writing and literary translation 23 of translation suggests, the transmission of elements from one culture to another across a cultural and/ or linguistic gap is a central concern of both these types of intercultural writing and similar constraints on the process of relocation affect both types of texts. To these constraints let us now turn. It is abundantly clear from the theory and practice of translation that no text can ever be fully translated in all its aspects: perfect homology is impossible between translation and source.8 Choices must be made by the translator; there are additions and omissions in the process, no matter how skilled the translator. Some of the differences between text and translation have to do with incompatibilities between the substance of any two linguistic systems, and it is for this reason that ].C. Catford defines translation as ‘a process of substituting a text in one language for a text in another’, involving the replacement of source-language meanings with alternate receptor-language meanings (Catford 1965: l, 20, 35—42). Many of the differences between source text and translation are inescapable, resulting from the shift from the oblig- atory features of one language to the obligatory features of another. Other shifts have a cultural basis; the translator must decide how to handle features of the source culture (e.g. objects, customs, histor— ical and literary allusions) that are unfamiliar to the receiving audience, adapting and modifying the source text in the process, if only through the process of explanation.9 Still other differences have to do with information load: in trying to adapt the multiple layers of information in a text to a new reception environment, a translator will almost inevitably produce a longer text. Even that eventuality does not result in a full capture and transposition of all the coded information. ‘0 A translator’s refractions of a source text have analogues in the choices a minority—culture writer makes in representing the home culture, for no culture can be represented completely in any literary text, just as no source text can be fully represented in a translation. Selectivity is essential to the construction of any piece of literature, particularly when the intended audience includes readers who are unfamiliar with the cultural subject.” Not everything in a post— colonial cultural metatext can be transposed in a literary format; just as literary translations are typically simpler than their source texts, so post-colonial authors of necessity simplify the cultural fields they write about. Like translators, they will be criticized accord— ingly. The greater the distance between an author’s source culture and the receiving culture of the author’s work, the greater will be 24 Maria Tymoczko the impetus to simplify. A minority-culture or post—colonial writer will have to pick aspects of the home culture to convey and to emphasize, particularly if the intended audience includes as a sig- nificant component international or dominant-culture readers; similarly, a literary translator chooses an emphasis or privileges an aspect of the text to be transposed in translation (e.g. linguistic fidelity, tone, form, cultural content, or some combination thereof). Another name for the choices, emphases and selectivity of both translators and post-colonial writers is interpretation. Judgement is inescapable in the process; ‘objectivity’ is impossible. And just as there can be no final translation, there can be no final interpretation of a culture through a literary mode. There is no last word.'2 Such a process of selectivity and interpretation is ideological and will inevitably invite controversy. The political censure that post- colonial writers are subject to from their fellow citizens can be given an intellectual context in the proverbial denigration of translation as a process; the Italian aphorism about translation, ‘traduttore, traditore’, says it succinctly. The ideological valences of post-colonial literature are spectacularly obvious in cases where feelings run so high about the portrait of the source culture that the very life of an author is in jeopardy, but the case of Salman Rushdie is only a limiting example of the way in which post—colonial literature can become the battleground of ideological disputes. Many post-colonial writers choose to live abroad, writing about their culture of origin from the vantage point of another nation, in part because of the ideological pressure and censure — both implicit and explicit political constraint — that they are subject to within their native framework. joyce is an example of such a writer, and he was outspoken about the impossibility of writing freely about his culture from within Ireland, making explicit the necessity he saw of exile if he was to be an artist.” Translation is generally a less heated affair at present, but the process of translating texts from minority cultures can in fact become fraught for ideological reasons (Simms 1983), while in the past translation has produced its own martyrs to ideology.” Various well-known problems of translation can be related to marked features of post-colonial writing. There are, for example, often perturbations in the lexis of a translation. In source texts to be translated translators are presented with aspects of the source culture that are unfamiliar to the receiving audience — elements of the material culture (such as foods, tools, garments), social structures (including customs and law), features of the natural world (weather "*5 Post-colonial writing and literary translation 25 conditions, plants, animals), and the like; such features of the source culture are often encoded in specific lexical items for which there are no equivalents in the receptor culture or for which there are only extremely rare or technical words. In the face of such a crux, a trans- lator has avariety of choices: to omit the reference or pick some ‘equivalent’ in the receptor culture on the one hand, and on the other to import the word untranslated (with an explanation in a footnote perhaps), add an explanatory classifier or an explicit explanation, use a rare or recondite word of the receiving language, extend the semantic field of a word in the receptor language, and so on.[5 The use of rare or untranslated words in translations and the inclusion of unfamiliar cultural material are not necessarily defects of translated texts: translation is one of the activities of a culture in which cultural expansion occurs and in which linguistic options are expanded through the importation of loan transfers, calques, and the like. The result is, however, that translations very often have a different lexical texture from unmarked prose in the receptor culture. Similar features are to be found in the lexis of post-colonial texts as writers struggle to translate the cultural metatext, and similar lexical solutions can be discerned as well. In A Grain of Wheat, Ngauga‘i wa Thiong’o imports without explanation words for plants (e.g. Mwarilci, p. 125), tools (e.g., panga and jembe, pp. 6, 8), garments (e.g. Mithum, Miengu, p. 180), and dances (p. 205), among others, where the category of the words is made clear by context or collo- cation. In A Man (yr the People Chinua Achebe also imports African words into English (e.g. lappa, a garment), but more typically uses established English equivalents for African cultural concepts that are part of his English dialect (e.g. head tie, pit latn'ne, lzighlfe). Another tactic is exemplified by Buchi Emecheta, who introduces African words, for which she then provides explicit explanations: ‘he . . . paid ten shillings towards his esusu, a kind of savings among friends whereby each member of the group collected contributions in turn’ (fry: (idiotherhood, p. 147). The same technique is found in Bapsi Sidhwa’s introductions of ‘by'li: a word that in the various Indian languages, with slight variations stands for both electricity and light— ning’, ‘C/zoorailr, witches with turned-about feet who ate the hearts and livers of straying children’, or ‘a plump, smiling bowlegged Sikh priest, a grant/u" (Cracking India, pp. 30, 31, 63). In .Mz'dnz'ght’s Children Rushdie takes an assirnilative approach to lexis in a key metaphor, using pickle where he might have chosen chutney as representing the source culture concept more precisely.‘6 26 Maria Tymoczko Other lexical anomalies can also be identified in both literary translations and post—colonial writings. Features of the source language or the source culture in both types of intercultural trans- position are associated with variant semantic fields for words, with non-standard frequency distributions of particular lexemes, and with non-standard patterns of collocation. These aspects of trans- lation have been discussed extensively in the literature about translation (cf. Nida 1964: 137-40), and similar features are found in post—colonial writing. Thus, for example, Ngaugai uses the term ridge in a non-standard sense to refer to villages and their territory; his use of the English taste is also non-standard: ‘Did he himself taste other wo...
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