Nida: Day 8

I gave my Associate presentation on Thursday, and so the last few days have been rather busy with last minute edits, good conversation and feedback with regard to my paper, and rest. And so I fell behind a bit in my summaries, but I should have them up by the end of the day.

In addition to faculty lectures, we had a series of diverse and fascinating Associate presentations. I have notes on these as well, and they are well-worth sharing. My plan is to make another post with abstracts for all of the presentations, and a static page with information about the Nida School of Translation Studies. I also have a text and powerpoint for my presentation that I will upload to

Next year's theme for the NSTS has been announced. Here is the information I received:

NSTS 2015 is scheduled for May 18-29. The Nida Professors will be Profs. Susan Bassnett and Sandra Bermann. The theme is "Leading Edges in Translation: World Literature and Performativity." Applications will be received December 1, 2014 -- January 31, 2015.

Siri Nergaard, "Whose Interpretation is a Translation?"

Siri is a Norwegian scholar and also general editor of the journal, Translation. Her presentation was a response to the common image within Translation Studies of the solitary translator, alone in his or her study, working carefully on their translation. This romanticized notion goes back to the iconography of St. Jerome working along, with only his pet lion to keep him company. As the field has expanded, it has not shed the self-conception of the heroic, inspired translator working individually. In fact, we should think of translation as something other than a "decisional" process.

In fact, "real translation" is a collaborative and differentiated process. Siri asked the question, if translation is interpretation, then whose interpretation does it represent? Is it that of the translator only, or of the publisher, editor, content editor, copyeditor, proof reader, designer, type setter, marketing consultant, or of the press agent? In fact, all of these individuals have influence over the final form of the translation, and the translator (often as the only "outsider" in the process) has little control or influence over much of this work.

In addition, Siri pointed out that a book of translated text does not contain only the work of the translator. In addition, "paratext" elements contextualize the text and have a major influence over how readers interpret the work. This would apply to everything from the titlepage to the images, appendices, and index. Indeed, we must think of any translated work as interpretations.

Consider the actual processes behind Bible versions. When we think about ideology and bias, we cannot conceive of it in individualistic and romantic terms. Rather, must think in terms of power structures, institutional contexts, and the force of cultural norms on the construction of the task itself, as well as the more specific elements that appear to be decisional artifacts.

We often imagine Bible translations as the work of individual or perhaps cooperative scholars working earnestly. Actually, biblical translation is a political, communal, and economic process. As Siri asks, whose interpretation is the translation of a published Bible?" How do the imposition of style and "readability,"" ideology, marketing, and production influence the translation or even create multivocal interpretations?

Lawrence Venuti, "Translation, Intertextuality, Interpretation"

This middle of Venuti's three lectures contained the heart of his argument this week. He argued that translation is a particular kind of intertextuality: it operates within intertextual relations 1) between source texts and other texts in the source culture; 2) between the source text and the translation (what is usually meant by "equivalence"); and 3) between the translated text and other texts in the receiving culture.

These intertextual connections are complex and uneven; there are manifold gains and losses at lexical, syntactical, stylistic, and discursive levels. In negotiating these various layers of intertextuality, the translator replaces souce relations with contemporary references, obliterating the original and establishing a translated difference. In this way, translation-as-interpretation plays havoc with equivalence, leaving alone neither the source text or the translated text.

Venuti went through each of these three intertextual layers in some theoretical detail. He argued that in the translation process, translators decontextualize the text, breaking the intratextual and intertextual and intersemiotic web that makes interpretation possible. Furthermore, in moving from the source to the target text, the translation is transformative in that the text takes on a whole new network of intratextual and intradiscurive relations, a process that he called "a formal loss and an exhorbitant gain." In its new form, the text—now recontextualized—has meaning only within its new system of "interpretants."

Since translation in this sense is not the tranferrence of a fixed meaning (an "invariant") from source to target, translators and readers must develop a more critical awareness about the nature of translated texts. A careful reader, he suggested, must be able to recognize the ways in which the two texts (two different texts) interrogate each other. He argued that "model readers" (Eco) will have the linguistic training necessary to understand the complex intertextuality of a translated text. General readers, though, must also change their understanding of translation as a transparent re-presentation of the original's meaning. Venuti argued that intertextuality is real, but that it depends on recognition from the readers.

Characteristically, he surveyed a wide range of examples from David Mamet to Freud and Ezra Pound.

I found Venuti's presentation to be persuasive, much more so than Monday's. However, I wonder if in the end he is not "pulling his punches" with regard to his shift to a "hermeneutic" rather than an "instrumental" model of translation. If the translated text is a new text, then in what sense is it a "translation?" Should translated texts be interpreted any differently from "original" compositions, since they are in every way "original?" How far does the readerly approach go? Are these interpretants "intentional" or do they exist purely in the mind of the reader? Is there any difference between a referent that the translator intended to apply and the ones that readers experience? Venuti repeatedly described the translation as having "relative autonomy" from the original. What does "relative" mean in this phrase?

In other words, Venuti borrows the language and perspective of poststructuralism, but one could argue that his whole project is still essentialist. He is responding to a tradition within Translation Studies that has not adequately (he says) accounted for the autonomy of the translation. To take his argument to its completion, however, we must question his qualifier, "relative." And in doing that, we bring the whole field of "translation studies" into suspicion.

As Gerald West asked at the end of the presentation, is "translation" an unavoidably modern conception?