• Refiguring Self and OtherCurrent Issues and New Approaches in Translation Studies—An Introduction

Umberto Eco requires translation specialists to not only have the experience of translating but also the experience of being translated, “obviously into a language they know, so they can work in close cooperation with their translator.” (Eco 2001, 6) This, of course, is an extremely fortunate position: not all theorists are translators and very few translators are writers in their own right with the degree of success that would call for translations of their works into other languages. His statement imagines an ideal relationship between an original author and her/his translator, which may be realized, with luck, only in the case of a contemporary translation of a creative work. Eco categorizes as translation any interpretive endeavor that follows an original text, be it an allusion, a pastiche, a parody, or even an adaptation in quite another medium—only excluding “rewriting” (106). His analyses of works of ‘translation’ in a wider sense (a film adaptation of a piece of piano music, for example) leads to his theory of “translation proper,” or adaptation of a written work into another language in a written form (Eco 2001, 119–20, 125–8). Judging from his critiques of various types of “translation,” the requirement he imposes on scholars or theorists of translation is a proposal to examine and evaluate a work of “translation proper” simultaneously from the perspectives of the original author and the translator, or from those of the source language and the target language. It goes without saying that the act of reading figures prominently in Eco’s thinking: the translator here is very like his ‘Model Reader,’ one selected by the stylistic and other types of coding in the text or, in the case of postmodern literature, one whose reading is already anticipated by, or embedded in the text. The reader not only collaborates with the text but also “activates” it or brings it into existence. (Eco 1979, 7–41) The model translator, like the Model Reader, is called to the task of translation by the text’s codes and activates the text in the context of the language into which the translation is [End Page 3] made. As the Model Reader thinks and reads like the author—on the ideal level, the reader is none other than the author herself/himself—the model translator, too, is expected to be as close to the original author as possible, presupposing a contemporaneous and collaborative relationship between the two.

All of the contributors to Part I of this issue are academics, some of whom teach courses on the theory and practice of translation. Some are also literary translators and/or theorists, including those whose works have been translated into foreign languages. As a group, if not individually, we are commendable in Eco’s terms. Our papers jointly reevaluate and rethink current issues of translation and propose possibilities for new approaches and theories. We might begin with the traditional assumption that the source text is an artifact that has been stabilized through age and canonicity while the translation is a variable construct that depends on the inclination and skill of the translator as well as the demand of her/his readership or the target culture. A translation is ideally a ‘transparent,’ or at least translucent, film laid over the original artifact to make it accessible in a second language. This film resembles the original but lacks its genuineness or authority. The target language is a tool while the source text is the content to be conveyed. Fidelity to the source is the primary duty of the translator in this formulation, but as long as the work is being put into another language, the translator is obligated to be considerate of the target language reader. Because the translator is also a writer, she/he possesses as strong a desire as the original author to create a work of art.

In this traditional relationship, the translator, distanced from the original, faces the eternal dilemma of translation, which Charles Inouye calls a “lose-lose proposition.” His tragicomical essay borders on autobiography as it details his experience with an elusive text of early 20th-century Japanese fiction. Drafting a translation is already a battle between ethical duty (fidelity) and artistic desire (readability) but the pressure of being sandwiched between the two becomes intense when a colleague gives his manuscript a thorough reading. Being a learned scholar and native-speaker of Japanese, she stands firmly on the side of the source text and demands that the source language be represented in the closest possible form in the borrowed clothing of English. Inouye, prisoner and victim of compression between the weight of duty and the force of desire, still strains his voice to sing a praise of the virtues of translation—and this is comforting to his reader as his song is set against the backdrop of a pastoral landscape of farming in the memory of his childhood. The complex and conflicting relationship between source and target has been studied in all sorts of ways but it is not easy to theorize the translator’s split self or her/his actual toil. And, yet, these are central concerns for translators and scholars of translation. This seems to be the reason why translation constitutes such a self-conscious discipline of study and why so many papers and essays in this issue refer to the translator’s own personal experiences. Inouye’s paper, foregrounding autobiography, suggests creative writing as a possible way to represent the actuality of translation.

In Eugene Eoyang’s paper, the end result of the translator’s suffering is seen from the other side, namely, the perspective of a critic and instructor of Chinese poetry in English (although Eoyang himself is a translator of poetry). Like Inouye, he assumes a vertical relationship between source and translation but foregrounds [End Page 4] the variability of translation. While a translation tends to be deemed ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending on the perspective of the judge, i.e., the reader, whose orientation can be placed anywhere in the spectrum between source and target, Eoyang proposes a criterion for evaluating poetic translations based on the degree of success in combining the qualities of fidelity (the literal) and readability (the literary). His is an attempt at an objective protocol for judgment for critical and pedagogical purposes. According to permutations of four categories beginning with the least commendable “false to the letter; false to the spirit” and ending with the ideal “true to the letter; true to the spirit,” Eoyang examines the failures and successes of English translations, including his own, of a wide range of Chinese poems, classical and modern. These categories provide within his paper a framework that allows his readers to encounter those characteristics of Chinese poeticity that challenge translators. Under this same rubric the reader of the paper is led on a guided tour of translations from the bottom level of the ridiculous to the final level of the sublime.

The ethics of translation involves the translator’s responsibility not only toward the source text, but also toward a potential readership, and by extension, to society at large. Legal or economic pressure may censor the translator’s freedom of expression. Social pressure may come from a particular culture’s sexual prudence or political correctness, to which the publisher and the translator may respond by self-censorship, the topic of Yoshihiro Ohsawa’s paper. By examining the case of a Japanese translation, by a prominent novelist, of an American children’s book, he illustrates cultural differences in attitudes toward the question of political incorrectness between the U.S. and Japanese publishing markets. The comparisons he draws among German, French, and English versions of a contemporary Japanese novel reveal different attitudes toward self-censorship, ranging from a belief in fidelity to a taste for readability. One of his findings is that American translators, inclined toward artistry, take greater liberties with the source text than their European counterparts.

Perceiving the distance between source text and translator as the “difficulty” of the source in the eye of the translator, Uchang Kim sheds a phenomenological light on the relationship between poetry, translation, and society. Assuming that translation is an impossibly difficult undertaking, he locates the chief difficulty in the cultural differences between the source and the target of translation. Drawing examples from sijo and other forms of Korean poetry and Japanese haiku, Kim illustrates the elements of culture—rhythm, music, caesura—that declare themselves in non-verbal spaces within the source text. His pursuit of causes of difficulty aids potential translators and cultural critics by clarifying the characteristics that mark East Asian poetry—such as exclamations, end words, pauses, and the elimination of certain words, and conventional themes. These elements, as they ‘bracket’ a poetic world away from the real one, simultaneously refer the poem to emotion and other elements of actual life and society, assigning a cyclical function to poetry and its translation vis à vis the real world.

The need and zeal for translation intensify at a juncture in history when a culture is pressed to refigure its identity in the face of an overwhelmingly wide and fast-moving encounter with other cultures. Katsuya Sugawara examines [End Page 5] Japanese translations of Western poetry at just such a juncture in Japan’s history, when the need to study and catch up with Western civilization was intense. His analyses of the poet-translators’ endeavors in representative anthologies of Western poetry in translation, spanning from the late 19th to early 20th century, illustrate the ways in which the Japanese used Western prosody for inventing their own and for re-engaging familiarly Japanese conventions in new forms. Translations, according to him, moved from source-oriented to target-oriented, from ornate to colloquial, and from faithful to boldly inventive renditions. The source text was no longer the content for which translation served as a tool; translation, in fact, was now an artifact for which the original text was either raw material or a source of inspiration. Since the translators in question were poets in their own right, the shadows of fidelity and invisibility did not darken their pursuits for long and their translations readily laid claim on authorship. Here is a case of translation taking the lead as literature and powerfully enriching the target language.

The history of concepts of translation is seen by Michael Henry Heim as being parallel to the evolution of general literary trends or ‘isms.’ Thus postmodernity characterizes translation in our age, when it signifies chiefly an act of involvement in the alterity of the source text. The content of cultural difference is what Uchang Kim calls “difficulty,” but Heim’s emphasis is on the translator’s self-consciousness in calling the reader’s attention to the otherness of the source thereby declaring her/his translation, and the translator herself/himself, as a separate entity. While rejecting both the exoticization of a foreign text by the use of an archaic diction and, at the same time, its familiarization by the use of a current colloquial style in the specific target language, Heim proposes methods for representing the unfamiliarity of the source culture to the postmodern target audience. Since it is not often possible to enact complex foreign elements in the writing style of a translation nor is it easy to weave an explanation into the text of translation, prefaces and notes are recommended as one of the functional solutions. These constitute a text in which the translator and the reader can engage in communication outside the translated text. The independence of prefaces and notes makes the translation and its source text incomplete artifacts, inspiring further responses in the forms of new translations and new notes while drawing attention to the translator, a phenomenon in keeping with the aesthetics of postmodernity.

Yingjin Zhang, also situating himself within the current translation theory, notes that the same shift of attention from source to target, or text to culture, applies to the latest theory of adaptation as well. Within the context of the history of Chinese adaptations of Shakespeare in various forms and media, Zhang focuses on a 1931 Chinese silent film demonstrating the workings of the Chinese sense of subjectivity that deconstructs the fictions of authorship, fidelity, and transparency. A response to the Japanese invasion, the film expresses a surging nationalism through the masculinization of women and the creation of the image of strong national heroes, both of which distort and expand the source text. Even the image of plum blossoms, a symbol of erotic love in traditional Chinese literature and art, is assigned a new political signification. A film adaptation belongs to the category of translation in a wider sense. The only parts of the film that can be called “translation proper” are the bilingual intertitles projected on the screen, Chinese over English. [End Page 6] Those intertitles consist of approximations of Shakespeare’s lines with their Chinese equivalents above them, as well as additional invented lines of Chinese text, reflecting changes in character relationships and the story line, accompanied, below them, by their rough translations into English. This mutually reflective scheme of the intertitles, most likely anonymously composed by multiple hands, adds a complex intertextuality to the film and engages, presumably, a culturally hybrid audience in the film’s simultaneous domestication and foreignization, erasing borders between the source and the target.

John Milton evaluates modern theoretical approaches to translation while analyzing a variety of works in translation that aim at decolonizing India, Brazil, and Ireland. Warning against a reliance on modern European theory in translating and evaluating translations of works from a culture quite outside the European circle, he calls for ways of judgment on the source culture’s terms. Here, transparent/literal rendering of the text from or into a European language is not possible. Thus the translator and the critic face a dilemma. An excessive familiarization, i.e., Westernization, will result in a loss of alterity in the target reader and of her/his chance to participate in reading the text’s layers. On the other hand, obsessive foreignization will cause stylistic awkwardness, alienating the target readership. Either way, translation is prevented from serving the cause of decolonization. Milton recommends that the translator occupy the hybrid ground between source and target, mixing indigenous materials from the postcolonial culture with those imported from the colonizers. At the same time, he celebrates cases of aggressively political translation in which words are coined from foreign roots and source texts are manipulated to the point of creative invention, recalling the cases of established Japanese poets’ translation of Western poetry to create their own poetics and genres (Sugawara) and the boldly political use of adaptation in Chinese filmmaking (Zhang).

David Bellos problematizes foreignization theory by focusing on the issue of a language that is neither the source nor the target. The foreign language (L3) placed in the source text (T1) written in its indigenous language (L1) must be conveyed in the translation (T2) in the target language (L2). Left in L3, the passages in T2 cannot be called a translation, while put into L2, the meaning of the use of L3 in T1 is completely lost. The first choice foreignizes T1 while the other domesticates it, each failing both the source culture and the target reader. The choice of leaving the word in L3 or putting it in L2 depends on the cultural status of L3 in L2. National ideology operates in the way L3 is handled, constructing what Bellos calls “Language Fictions,” the typical case being the French insistence on their language being the global standard. Occasionally, L3 used in the text written in L1 is L2, in which case, the same word in L2 may not carry the same connotation as in the text in L1 as it loses its contextual value in that language. The questions the issue of L3 poses complicate the understanding of any language so that Bellos suggests a history of L2, say, English, could be written through the decisions made by translators when confronted with L3. In fact, Bellos reminds us, language has a translingual capacity, so that no language constitutes an autonomous universe. This notion points to the diversity of perspectives and the value of differences warranted by the theory and phenomenon of multiculturalism. Indeed, the issue [End Page 7] of L3, a dark hole left by existing theories of translation, deconstructs traditional dichotomies. It deserves a reconfiguration of translation studies as called for by Bellos.

My own modest contribution attempts at locating the role of the translator in relation to the source text/language and to the target audience in this border-crossing and border-erasing age of ours. Tracing the origin of the ideally democratic relationship between source and target, such as that suggested by Eco, to an early modern Japanese Confucian hermeneutist, I propose that hierarchical distance is created by temporal and geographical, as well as linguistic differences, which are highlighted by writtenness. For equality between author and translator, the necessary conditions are contemporaneity, spokenness, and the authority of the readers’ market. The history of translation traces a movement away from originality, canonicity, and fidelity toward fluidity and equality. The first step was a translation into Japanese of an American novel written in English in which Asian languages and their cultural contexts are densely woven, the case, in Bellos’ terms, of translating back into L2 a T1 which, not only contains L2, but the inclusion of which constitutes much of the meaning of T1. The rise of bilingualism after the war inspired the rise of a new type of reader, whose appreciation of the translation is flexible and variable far beyond the prescribed boundaries of source and target or author, translator, and reader. In the postmodern market, Eco’s recommendations have the opportunity to take shape as the author of the source text and the translator may work dialogically and on equal terms. Indeed, it is quite possible that the translation is far more valuable than the source text in their respective markets, a case Bellos presents, shifting authorship between the two.

Within the limited space of a single journal issue it is not possible to survey and evaluate all schools of thought on the subject of translation. The papers included, however, respond to the latest shifts in focus from source to target, from invisibility to authorship, from writing to production, and from universality to specific differences. On issues of translation, related to the need to convey differences, some innovative solutions are offered and new theoretical paths are opened. Translation is broadly conceived to include adaptation and other forms of production and media outside the written work. Discussions of translation in performance (the singability of songs and the enactability on stage and screen) receive new treatments in some of the papers. Finally, the studies of poetic translations included herein render obsolete the notion that poetry is what is lost in translation. [End Page 8]

Sumie Jones

Sumie Jones is Professor Emerita of Japanese and Comparative Literature and Residential Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study at Indiana University. She is editor-in-chief for a forthcoming anthology of early modern Japanese literature in English, and her translations of two crime stories from the 18th and 19th centuries, The Shirokya Scandal, has just been published.

Works Cited

Umberto Eco. The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1979.
———. Experiences in Translation. Alastair McEwen, trans. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2001. [End Page 9]

Additional Information

ISSN
1947-2978
Print ISSN
0084-3695
Pages
3-9
Launched on MUSE
2010-12-06
Open Access
No
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