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  • Contra Instrumentalism: A Translation Polemic by Lawrence Venuti
  • Alla Perminova (bio) and Michael M. Naydan (bio)
Contra Instrumentalism: A Translation Polemic. By Lawrence Venuti. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 2019. 216 pp. Paperback. $20. ISBN-10: 1496205138. ISBN-13: 978-1496205131

Lawrence Venuti has become one of the most influential brand names on the international market of literature in translation studies. It stands for the expertise, challenge, and novelty that characterize the scholar's writing. For decades Venuti has been a trend setter, dismantling canons and providing a new vision of what translation is and does, amplifying the views of his predecessors in a provocative manner, which has allowed him to shape thinking and writing about translation by those in the field. Every piece of his writing is reception-oriented and demands corroborative reading. Each is aimed at the simultaneous frustration and satisfaction of his audience's expectations. The book currently under review is no exception. It is designed to convince readers to reexamine how they think about translation and is meant ultimately to trigger change in intellectual approaches.

The target of the author's polemic is succinctly stated in the very title of the book Counter Instrumentalism, which simultaneously provokes the reader with the word "counter" and arouses curiosity to find out what exactly instrumentalism is, why the author opposes it, and what he suggests should supplant it. According to Venuti, instrumentalism comprises a model of translation that has dominated thinking in translation theory, commentary, and practice for millennia. Conceptually, it sees translation as the reproduction or transfer of an invariant that is contained in or caused by the source text (an invariant form, meaning, or effect). In the author's opinion, this model is overly simplistic, clichéd, and moralistic. According to Venuti, this has resulted to the present day in marginalization of translation by literary studies from the vantage point of looking at which translations are ones that do not contaminate the integrity of the source text rather than ones that bring the translator out of obscurity through her or his work. [End Page 758] As such, instrumentalism must be replaced by translation research and practice that are radically hermeneutic. Hence, inspired by German romantic poets and critics (Goethe, the Schlegel brothers, and Friedrich Schleiermacher), as well as Antoine Berman, Charles Peirce, Umberto Eco, and Jacques Derrida, Venuti elaborates a hermeneutic model that conceives of translation as an interpretive act that on the one hand inevitably varies source-text form, meaning, and effect according to the intelligibilities and interests in the receiving culture, but on the other can encompass different concepts of equivalence. According to this model, a translator turns a source text into a translation by applying interpretants—formal and thematic factors that affect the translator's decision-making process. This results in a relatively autonomous target text. The latter is a model of alternative thinking that, to Venuti's mind, breaks the vicious circle of instrumentalism rooted in the long-entrenched idea of a sacred original and radically turns it into a Schleiermacherian hermeneutic circle as an ever-increasing spiral that incorporates new interpretations. The core principles of the hermeneutic model include variation, radical transformation, proliferation of meaning, multiplicity of interpretation, and evolution.

The materials the author uses to build his arguments involve a variety of languages and cultures (Arabic, Danish, French, Italian, German, Greek, Korean, Latin, and Spanish), which are examined from both diachronic and synchronic perspectives in various sites of intellectual activity (Renaissance humanists and contemporary scholars of comparative literature, structuralists and poststructuralists, translation scholars and educators, poets and poetry translators, as well as film critics and subtitlers).

To perform the ambitious task of eradicating instrumentalism from all paradigms of thought about translation, the author analyzes the above-mentioned materials using archeological method as suggested by Michel Foucault, which is aimed at articulating the "episteme" (the model of translation) of a specific culture in a particular historical period. The discourse that sustains the implementation of the method employed by the author is marked with radicalism that could be exemplified not only by ideas she or he generates but also by verbal choices she or he makes ("translation remains grossly misunderstood...


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