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Reviewed by:
  • Literary Translation and the Making of Originals by Karen Emmerich
  • Luise von Flotow
Emmerich, Karen. Literary Translation and the Making of Originals. London: Bloomsbury, 2017 Pp. viii+ 224 illus. $108.00 hardcover; $26.96 paperback; $21.56 ebook.

This book starts from one main premise: a literary translation makes an original. This is bolstered with a series of related ideas that are fleshed out in five interesting and detailed case studies, further cementing the argument that literary translation does not first and foremost transfer meaning or produce equivalence, but stabilizes an unstable original. Karen Emmerich's argument runs counter to the conventional notions about source texts and target texts that have largely framed Anglo-American/European work in academic translation studies over the past half-century, and that underlie most non-academic ideas about translation as well, at least in the Anglo-American Eurozone. She states point blank that the binary view of source and target texts and the expectation of "equivalence" and "faithfulness" this brings with it, always condemn translation to failure and to accusations of "loss," if not treachery.

On page 3 of the introduction, we read:

Reference to this vague notion of faithfulness or accuracy crop up time and again in reviews and popular discussions of translated literature, and even in many translators' descriptions of the work they do. Yet this stance betrays a misconception as deep as it is widespread. Translation has no truck with modest changes. The entire translation is a text that didn't exist before: all the words are added; all the words are different. A translation adds a new iteration, in a different language, to the sum total of texts for a work.

This statement sets the tone for the book, and rests on the argument that there is no such thing as one stable source text to which a translation must or can ever remain faithful and loyal, or which it can render with accurate equivalence. There are "texts" that make up a "work" (16), and these may or may not underlie the translation. A translation, in fact, fixes one version of a work, one version of a piece of writing that is rarely a stable unit and can often consist of various texts, edited differently at different times and for different purposes, excerpted, adapted, reframed, anthologized, used in multimodal applications. Indeed, Emmerich argues, a work only becomes an "original" when another derivative text comes along to make it so (13-14). And translation, as "iterative proliferation" (5), plays exactly that role of establishing an "original."

The instability and indeterminacy of textual meaning has largely been asserted, proven, and demonstrated, if not accepted in all parts, in what Emmerich refers to as our "post-poststructuralist intellectual environment" (2). A translation is therefore always an iteration of something indeterminate. Second, and more importantly for this book, there are many very practical reasons that make for the inherent uncertainty of the text being translated: unfinished works, variant versions, different editions by different editors, authors' attitudes, rewritings and reworkings over [End Page 690] the ages. These are developed in the introduction (1-36) and elaborated in the case studies. Third, Emmerich insists on the "textual scholarship" that underlies the iterative growth translation brings to any work it creates in a new language, recognizing the "collaborative or social aspect of textual production" (12). Textual scholarship addresses the texts that make up the translated work and elaborate its becoming.

Emmerich is most emphatic about the fact that translation is not transfer, but proliferation; like writing, it is a citational, recombinatory, derivative mode. She vehemently dismisses contemporary work that has produced theorizations about "untranslatability" by basing them on translation as "false coin," an "epistemological scam," and "faked-up alterity" (187). Such theorization "has set up a conceptual straw man, a false demand that translation provide a 'genuine translinguistic encounter with a foreign literature'-a demand which translation can, of course, never meet" (187). Drawing from her own teaching practice in which various translations of an existing work such as the Iliad or the Bible are studied, Emmerich describes translations as rich, historically situated objects of interpretation that need not focus solely on semantic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1913-9659
Print ISSN
0319-051X
Pages
pp. 690-693
Launched on MUSE
2019-03-21
Open Access
No
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