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Reviewed by:
  • The Work of Literary Translation by Clive Scott
  • Brian Nelson
The Work of Literary Translation. By Clive Scott. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. xii + 295 pp., ill.

This ambitious and challenging book, building on Clive Scott’s previous studies of the translation of modern French poetry and the phenomenology of reading (see especially Translating the Perception of Text: Literary Translation and Phenomenology (Oxford: Legenda, 2012), reviewed in FS 68 (2014), 143–44), urges us to rethink and radically extend our understanding of literary translation. Scott is concerned, not with the methodology of translation, but with imagining a philosophy of translation. Despite our familiarity with the writings on translation of philosophers such as Schleiermacher, Benjamin, and Derrida, little has been done, he feels, to examine the kind of knowledge we invest in translation and derive from it. What interests him above all is the literariness of the translational act. Translation, he argues, changes the nature of literary knowledge, or rather, it ‘specializes in and activates its own forms of literary knowledge, which are peculiar to the perceptual field of readerly consciousness’ (p. 137). A key word for Scott is ‘potentiality’: he sees literary translation as replete with creative possibilities. These possibilities are generated by a view of translation as intralingual engagement with a source text, rather than a hermeneutic interlingual practice. For Scott, the real function of translation is not the traditional one of catering for the needs of the monoglot reader. It lies, rather, in the empowerment of the polyglot reader (familiar with both the source language and the target language) to explore the multiplicity of possible signifiers in their own language in response to a text in another language. It is not a question of identifying, through a process of exclusion, the ‘best’ rendering of a foreign-language text, but of an expansive performative approach, ‘an inclusive and proliferative approach to alternatives’, exploring ‘the expressive, sensory, sense-making possibilities that a text generates in the consciousness of the individual reader’ (p. 241). In other words, everything may be gained in translation, for the work of literary translation is ‘the maximisation of the literary, understood as the created excess of the signifier over the signified, so that the reader is more fully immersed in textual movement, in existential experiment, in a proliferation of sense and the inter-sensory, in the urgent project of future possibilities and possible futures’ (p. 245). Scott’s arguments, clearly informed by his understanding of the modernist sensibility and experimental aesthetics, are developed with impressive energy, and within a rich theoretical framework. They are supported by highly original analyses of a range of literary texts, mainly modern poetry: Apollinaire, ‘Les Soupirs du servant de Dakar’; Baudelaire, ‘Les Veuves’; Cendrars, ‘Tour’; Chénier, ‘On vit; on vit infâme.. .’; Goethe, ‘Über allen Gipfeln’; Mallarmé, ‘Mes bouquins refermés.. .’ and ‘Victorieusement fui.. .’; Rimbaud, ‘Au Cabaret-Vert’ and ‘Le Dormeur du val’. This book will be of great interest to scholars in literary studies and translation studies alike. It will be especially stimulating to anyone interested in the expressive resources of language and innovative uses of translation in literature, translation studies, and creative-writing courses. [End Page 507]

Brian Nelson
Monash University


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