NSTS: Day 2

What a lovely day we are having in Misano. The sun is warm and the breezes from the Adriatic are cool and crisp. I can glipse the sea through the seminar room window, and I have to admit a certain tension in my soul between learning and seaside reflection. I'm hanging in there for the moment because the papers are so diverse and engaging. Here are today's presentations:

Stefano Arduini, "History of Translation as History of Concepts: Agápe, Caritas, and Love"

Stefano explored the complex semantic fields of the various terms for "love" in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin texts from the Hebrew Bible through Augustine and Jerome. His argument is that the complex interactions between these languages (and cultures) caused the terms for love to be constantly reframed and redefined as they were taken up in translation. He argued that "the history of concepts is connected to the history of the translations that have rewritten those concepts;" and that "subsequent rewritings have produced hybrids which underpin cultural identities."

Stefano is a linguist, and his account of the history of these words was impressive in its breadth and nuance. He began with Anders Nygren's argument (from Eros and Agápe) that the notions of eros and agape are immeasurable and untranslatable concepts, and that they divided the Greek and Christian worlds irreconcilably. Early Christian writers, says Nygren, incorporated eros into agape, but it was Luther who rearticulated the complete elimination of eros from agape in Paul's theology. In this Lutheran reading, agape is free grace, the descent of God to humanity; eros (as present in the Christian mystics, for instance) destroys free grace by focusing on the human ascent to God.

Stefano responded to this argument by showing that in fact the whole semantic field of "love" within the Christian tradition is very complex. He explored the whole history of Hebrew ahav, and hesed; Greek eros, philia, and agape; and Latin amor, dilectio, and caritas. One particularly interesting part of this was his argument that agape had been used (rarely) in somewhat vague terms in classical Greek, and was invested with new meaning through the LXX translation of hesed as agape. Thus, agape is neither a Greek nor a Hebrew concept; it is a "hybrid," something new that has emerged through rewriting.

Stefano suggested that Augustine erased the differences among amor, dilectio, and caritas, unifying all of these in the concept of agape as love in a neoplatonic sense. Love is the preparatory road that leads to God; the object of love is the Good; and the highest Good is God. In contrast, Jerome chose to render agape as caritas, thus committing (in the argument of Antoine Berman) an act of ethnocentrism; it was a Latinization of the Greek term. Ethnocentrism in this sense is defined as the the process of placing foreign culture into one's own terms, while the foreign is either rejected or disguised. In his letter to Pammachius, Jerome argued that the translator is a creator of ideas, not someone who merely manipulates words.

There is in translation an inevitable break from the original text, an annexation that erases the difference between the source and the target. It is as if the text were written in the target language all along. This hybridity is possible because cultures are unstable; there is always a dynamic negotiation of cultural meanings. As in the work of Homi Bhabha, symbols are set in a mobile space in dynamic balance with constant overlap and transfer.

I found Stefano's paper to be incredibly thought-provoking as I think about the problems of "literal" English Bible translation. The question is how do the English terms replacing the "original" language reformulate the concepts in an ethnocentric way.

Rosemary Arrojo, "Stories of Rivalry and Betrayal: Rethinking the Politics of Translation Through Fiction"

Rosemary's presentation was quite different from what we have seen before, and it was refreshing and delightful. She is particularly interested in translators that appear in fiction, as a way of exploring the dynamic interactions between source texts, authors, translators, and readers. She explored the translator’s role in the production of translations as it is elaborated in certain stories. The reading of fiction is helpful because it brings out issues not normally addressed by scholars, and reveals psychological tensions in the power relationships embedded in the nature of translation.

She provided a close reading of Brazilian short stories, especially Jorge Luis Borges, "Pierre Menard: Author of Quixote." She retold the stories with us, drawing out ways in which the translator is visible (cf. Venuti's "invisibility" of the translator) in making meaning in the translation process. She argued in the end that we need to reconcile our devotion to the "original" with the power that is held by the translator and reader (in a non-essentialist hermeneutic).

One interesting implication of her thesis with respect to biblical translation is that one's first reading of a text is "the original" for that person, without regard for whatever source was behind that version. For instance, in what way does advocacy for the KJV reflect the psychological identification of the KJV as the Bible. And in fact, the KJV has come to exercise power (and its translators through it) upon Christian communities far beyond the power exercised by the Hebrew and Greek sources. And so, it is no coincidence that revision projects like the ESV attempt to reorient Bible readers to "the original," the Hebrew and Greek, now ostensibly made more available in the new "literal" translation.

Rosemary explored the metaphor of the text as the author's 'woman' who is 'unfaithful', and who becomes the 'mistress' of the translator. At some point, the mistress then marries the translator and ceases to be the author's woman, and is now respectable again. This metaphor will change how I hear arguments that English Bible translation must be "faithful" to the original. Like any sexual or marriage relationship, there are power relations in this translation process that need to be unmasked, and translators need to be visible rather than hide in the shadows with their unfaithful mistress.

Christiane Nord, "Quo Vadis, functional translatology"

In her presentation, Christiane presented a history and account of the development of "functional" approaches to translation theory. This theory originated in the 1970s as a way of understanding the links between the translation process and the purpose (skopos) of the project within its audience. It is associated with the aphorism (among those who support and critique it) that "the end justifies the means." In other words, any translation process is inevitably determined by the purpose that the target text is intended to fulfill in its intended context. Functionalist approaches could apply to either "documentary translations" (that attempt to document a communicative act in the source culture, such as an interlinear Bible) or to "instrumental translation" (an independent instrument of communication, such as poetry). What characterizes this theory is its attention to the many kinds of translation projects in the worlds of literature, business, law, art, cooking, and technical writing.

This theory has evidently become very popular among biblical translators, who see reflected in its approach their own readerly concerns. In other words, missionary or evangelistic biblbical translations have a goal of making the Bible easy to read for indigenous communities in their own languages, for the purpose of growing the church. Therefore, from this perspective, it is natural that their translation would make decisions to 1) simplify language, and 2) make the theology in the text as clear as it can be in order to facilitate sharing, preaching, and communal interpretation.

The major question for me is whether these skopoi can be treated in such a neutral fashion. What if there is a biblical translation for which one purpose is to reinforce patriarchal practices and masculinist theology of God? If that translation makes decisions to highlight gender-exclusive language, then they have fulfilled their purpose. However, these purposes are never free of power relations, and they need to be interrogated to examine who benefits, and why, from any particular translation decision. I am just learning about these things, but I have not seen yet enough reflection within the theory about the higher-order ethical responsibilities (other than to the constituencies) or the means by which projects can be adequately critiqued from the outside.