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  • Essais d’histoire de la traduction: avatars de Janus by Lieven d’Hulst
  • Lesley Lawn
Essais d’histoire de la traduction: avatars de Janus. Par Lieven d’Hulst. (Perspectives comparatistes, 24; Littérature et mondialisation, 2.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2014. 321 pp.

Who better to grace the title of a collection of essays on translation than Janus, the god of beginnings and ends, of transition and passage? The famously ‘Bifrons’ deity looks both backward and forward across frontiers, and is therefore a fitting image for a work that not only considers the history of translation, but looks towards its future place within the discipline of translation studies. The main thesis of this study by Lieven d’Hulst is perhaps best summed up by his quotation (p. 20) from E. F. Koerner’s article, ‘The Development of Linguistic Historiography: History, Methodology, and Present State’ (History of the Language Sciences, 2006, 2802–20 (p. 2803)): ‘A discipline comes of age when it seriously contemplates its own past.’ What this book is not, of course, is a chronological account of the history of translation or translation theory from Cicero to the present day. The stated aim of the work is to ‘define some of the parameters for a historiographical approach to translation’ (p. 273) and translation studies, and, as such, this is a scholarly and well-conceived examination of the conceptual and methodological approaches to the historical study of translation, which also looks forward to how such study might inform the future development of this constantly evolving discipline. In the first of the book’s two parts, the author takes the orator’s approach and examines the quis, quid, and ubi of translation history, followed by a more comprehensive analysis of some key concepts, such as metaphor, the importance of context, the cultural turn, postcolonial writing and translation, and finally a detailed chapter on how historicity inspires the re-edition and rereading of past texts, such as translations of Faust by Nerval and others. With the clear intention of demonstrating the potential for historical research, the second part moves from theory to practice, and comprises a series of detailed and thoroughly researched case studies (with particular reference to France and Belgium) focusing on the translator as cultural mediator, intersemiotic translation, interpretation in the colonial and postcolonial era, as well as past theories and methodologies. The result is a work that not only recognizes the significant role played by translation in human history, but also highlights the importance of the historical approach and, therefore, of analysing and recording the accumulated wealth of the past before cultural and linguistic differences are ‘flattened out’ in an increasingly globalized world (p. 11). D’Hulst expresses the hope that his work will encourage historical consideration of past theories and methods in order to foster future research within the discipline. He also emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of this historiographical approach. While the literary translator may not dabble in biosciences, there are endless possibilities for extending research and forging links within the wider context of the humanities and social sciences; hence the avatars of Janus. This study is a valuable contribution to the expanding field of translation studies; while contemplating the past, it points the way towards new lines of enquiry and an interdisciplinary approach to the future of historical translation studies.

Lesley Lawn


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