|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||15. Nr.||August 2004|
R. Thompson (Department of Modern Languages, Millikin University
Meaning is served far better - and literature and language far worse - by the unrestrained license of bad translators.
Walter Benjamin, "The Task of the Translator" (78)
"'The Spanish are kinda ornery that way,' Herbert said. 'Groups of 'em will get together and start something because they're insulted that someone would think they'd start something.'"
Tom Clancy, Op-Center: Balance of Power (152-53)
A curious book review by Justo Navarro appears in the February 27, 1999 issue of Babelia, the Saturday literary supplement of Spain's daily El País. Navarro critiques the Spanish translation of a recent work of popular fiction by the American writer Tom Clancy, who with co-writer Steve Pieczenik has created a series of techno-thrillers under the title Op-Center.(1) Op-Center is a fictional, top-secret U.S. agency that monitors and performs crisis management in countries experiencing civil unrest due to terrorism, hate crimes, civil war or political sabotage.(2) While the setting changes in each of the novels, the plot is clearly formulaic. A series of seemingly unrelated events coincide and escalate into violence or political upheaval that places a particular geo-political region (and ultimately the rest of the world) in grave danger. The only super-power capable of preventing imminent disaster is the United States, specifically its team of specially-trained operatives known as "Striker" and Op-Center, the secret agency that oversees their missions. Following a series of plot twists involving risky, secret operations interspersed with melodramatic love and sacrifice, the Striker team adeptly quells the cause of civil unrest and restores order.
In 1998 Clancy added a new title to the series called Op-Center: Balance of Power, and the setting for ethnic violence and political turmoil in this story is Spain. Navarro's review in Babelia critiques the Spanish translation of Clancy's thriller, entitled Op-Center: Equilibrio de poder. In particular, Navarro claims that Equilibrio is hardly a translation of Clancy's original work, given that the editors have made so many substantial cuts and changes to the English text. He writes that the editors at Planeta, the Barcelona-based house that publishes Clancy's translated novels, have watered down Clancy's representation of Spain to avoid disturbing the Spanish audience's view of their own reality. Víctor Pozanco, translator of Clancy's novels at Planeta, describes in a prologue note the need for revisions due to poor research on the part of Clancy's writing staff:
Having previously published translations of many of Clancy's novels, the editors at Planeta must have felt obliged to issue a translation of Balance of Power faced with the demand for Clancy's work among Spanish readers; yet, given the contentiousness of this particular story, they assumed responsibility for modifying aspects of the plot that appeared to exceed the boundaries of conscientious representation. The degree to which the translation succeeds at redressing the errors of the original is debatable, but the effort to portray contemporary Spain, in a positive light, in the context of an imperialist, American novel, deserves attention. The muted depiction of regionalist discord in the translation gives credence to the notion that Spain strongly opposes identification with the developing world, especially with domestic conflicts akin to those of the former Yugoslavia and U.S.S.R. Since the transition to democracy in the late 1970s, the self-image that Spain has tried to export to the rest of the world is that of a country in league with other western European nations - stable and resistant to the problems that plague areas inhabited by large, diverse ethnic groups. But the institutionalization and continuation of democracy in Spain does not erase the political tensions of the past, nor can these be swept under the rug by those who speak only of Spain's modernization.(3)
At issue in the Spanish translation of Balance of Power are notions of textual genre (Clancy's novels straddle the border between historical fiction and popular techno thrillers) and censorship. Pozanco's remarks in his introduction to Equilibrio de poder are reminiscent of Franco's censor's attempts to frame the Spanish audience's reading of a provocative text; however, his remarks seem to run counter to his (and his editors') purposes in revising Clancy's representation of Spain. If the relationships among different regional groups in Spain are clearly not as fragile or volatile as Clancy depicts them, then why the urgent need to "correct" these errors and create a version consistent with Spain's current state of affairs? Why not leave this process up to Clancy's Spanish readership and allow them to determine the success of the story, as conceded by the authors in their acknowledgements (7)?(4)
The most intriguing aspect of the textual revision of Balance of Power is how the publisher negotiates the demand for a translation of Clancy's novel with perceived notions about the appropriate representation of present-day Spanish culture and politics. The translation of a controversial American novel for the Spanish public illustrates how translation itself is much more than a transparent medium through which readers gain insight into other cultures. Translation is an effective means of re-writing and transforming cultural representation, especially those representations arising from nations, such as the United States, that dominate the global marketplace.(5)
Before moving to more theoretical observations about the transformations enacted in translation, we should observe some examples of revision that take place between Balance of Power and Equilibrio de poder. The story begins with the assassination of Martha Mackall, an American diplomat who intends to meet with Spanish legislator Isidro Serrador in hopes of diffusing tensions among Spanish regional groups, on the steps of the Palacio de las Cortes in Madrid. Mackall is accompanied by Aideen Marley, a agent with expertise in Hispanic cultures and the Spanish language.(6) Deputy Serrador had previously expressed interest in meeting with U.S. officials to collect intelligence about potential uprisings against the central government by regional groups from Spain's periphery. Clancy describes the federation of autonomous provinces as "the loosely woven quilt of Spain" and suggests that uprisings could lead to a second civil war and even the destabilization of NATO in southern Europe (7). Agent Marley's Spanish professor in college told her that "Spain was a nation on the verge of disaster," leading his protégée (often the agent of historical and editorial commentary) to conclude that if Deputy Serrador's fears were corroborated, "the nation was poised to suffer its worst strife in a thousand years" (14).(7)
In the ensuing chapters the reader learns that Mackall's assassination is a carefully coordinated effort by the Basque Deputy Serrador and a group of wealthy Catalonian businessmen to disrupt American diplomacy. The goal of these industrialists is to initiate an economic collapse in Castile that will allow Catalonia to take over the central government; however, their plans are frustrated when Adolfo Alcazar, a young mercenary from San Sebastián, explodes a yacht in La Concha Bay, killing the wealthy Catalonians. Adolfo works for the ambitious Castilian General Amadori, the principal antagonist of Clancy's novel, who intends to exploit regional uprisings in order to initiate a military takeover of Spain and dictate Castilian policy. The novel reviews the historical relationship among the most influential autonomies in Spain, citing each group's staunch independence and distrust of other groups. Paul Hood, the director of the Op-Center, comments that the Castilians "'always believed that they are Spain and that everyone else in the country isn't'" (87, original emphasis). Darrell McCaskey, the head of Striker operations in Madrid, points to the wealth and influence of the Catalonians and that due to paying taxes that support other minorities, "[t]hey [Catalonians] would be just as happy to see the other groups disappear" (88).
Just as Clancy's American agents are sent to diffuse political tensions, Pozanco (the translator) attempts to soften the pronounced social divisions erected in Balance of Power.(8) In several instances, the translator tones down statements that appear to exaggerate the state of affairs among autonomous regions. While Clancy's director Hood claims that "Spain has been going through some serious upheavals over the last few months," the translation reads " . . . en los últimos meses se han producido algunos disturbios" ("in the past few months a few disturbances have arisen" Balance 85; Equilibrio 71). Sometimes Pozanco omits altogether references to Spanish customs that reinforce negative stereotypes. For example, a State Department official in Clancy's story explains that the Spanish government often bribes journalists not to report on potentially inflammatory events. In Equilibrio, the same official surmises that the government is able to silence the press by simply appealing to reporters' patriotism (72). One of the most blatant omissions comes in chapter six, where Clancy's characters attempt to decipher the motives behind Martha Mackall's assassination. In the original text, Chief Intelligence Director Bob Herbert suggests that Mackall's ethnicity may be the key to her having become a target.
The translated novel omits all reference to this accusation of Catalonian racism in the conversation among Op-Center and other high-level government characters.
One begins to question the criteria the translator and his editors establish for the changes made with respect to relationships among Spain's political and regional groups. While the introductory note claims to re-tell Clancy's story according to Spain's socio-political reality, the text belies a tendency to vindicate Catalonia in the real-world political conflicts between this autonomous region and the central government in Madrid. Passages describing nationalist sentiment among Castilians are omitted, however, such as a lengthy passage in which Clancy indirectly relates the thoughts of Adolfo Alcazar about the victimization of Castilians. The erasing of Castilian nationalism, not altogether exaggerated by Clancy, in the translation leads us to believe, ironically, that the reality and the peaceful coexistence of which the translator speaks in his introduction are indeed shaped by the same sharp, regionalist worldviews that he attempts to dull in his re-working of Balance of Power.
Several significant omissions take place in the translated novel where the original draws comparisons with the current, fictional situation and the Spanish Civil War earlier in the century (1936-1939). Luis García de la Vega, a Spanish Interpol agent assisting Darrell McCaskey and Aideen Marley in Madrid, speculates that some Spaniards believe the civil war never really ended and that recent events might easily resuscitate the political and ideological divisions created by the war. The leader who could rise up and end this conflict once and for all would become "[t]he new Franco" (139). Shortly thereafter, the American operatives discover that a Castilian general named Amadori is responsible for ordering the murder of the Catalonian businessmen and is seeking to promote widespread, negative opinion about the Catalonian and Basque regions.
In his portrayal of the power-hungry General Amadori, Clancy clearly has in mind a modern-day Francisco Franco (dictator of Spain from 1937-1975), complete with a prestigious military background and strong political ties to fascist Germany. Clancy reaches back further into Spanish history and mythology in order to make an extended comparison of Amadori with the legendary medieval knight El Cid. In chapter eighteen of the novel, Clancy digests the medieval knight's service to Sancho II and Alfonso VI in a conversation between Aideen Marley and María Corneja, the Andalusian agent assigned to accompany Marley in gathering intelligence and later to the Striker team whose mission it is to eliminate Amadori. Marley and Corneja speculate that Amadori wants to be more than a soldier of fortune; he wants to be the Castilian king to whom all Spaniards render homage. His goal is to subordinate every region to Castile, making himself the leader of the military and political hub of Spain. María boldly proclaims that her people, the Andalusians, as well as other regional groups would never allow that to happen. The ancient rivalries between Spanish regional groups from the periphery and Castile are too strong to permit Castille from becoming the heart of a new Spain (212).
Pozanco omits all references to the story of El Cid as well as to any long-standing rivalries between Castile and other regions. He seems to find political editorials sprinkled throughout the novel superfluous to the plot and so chooses to delete them. The discussion of Amadori's objectives must strike a particularly sensitive nerve with the Spanish editors, given their similarities with the aspirations and ideology of Franco, whose forty-year dictatorship remains a taboo topic for many Spaniards. Rather than subject Spanish readers to a text that gives recourse to memories of the dictatorship, they prefer to censor such passages and shelter readers from controversial suggestions about the volatility of socio-political relationships between Madrid and the regional autonomies. This type of elision - a hallmark of Francoist censorship - conforms to theories of translation as an "exercise of power" in which readers are often relegated to the position of observer, having been guided by the translator's commentary and not privy to changes or omissions (Peter Fawcett, "Translation and Power Play."). Rather than participating in the (re)construction of meaning, the reader is asked to rely on the translator's judgment with respect to the original (178-81).(9) Readers of Pozanco's translation are called upon to trust the editorial team's decision to remedy the original text's errors; however, it seems that the cure inflicts as much, if not more, damage than the illness.
Pozanco must make drastic departures from the plot of Balance of Power in order for his translation to maintain coherence. Such departures begin with the displacement of General Amadori's headquarters. Clancy locates the rogue military leader and his army faction in the Royal Palace in Madrid. Army sentries control the outside perimeter while small groups of soldiers engage in training exercises and form firing squads in the Plaza de la Armería. Eventually, the Striker team must enter through the secret tunnels below the palace to gain access to their target. The translation presumably finds it ridiculous that a crazed general could take over the Royal Palace, so the general's headquarters becomes an abandoned castle outside Madrid called "La Caserna."
As the plot's denouement and the standoff at the Royal Palace / castle take place, the translator elects to omit material and shorten the plot in order to compensate for earlier changes. He becomes trapped, seemingly, in his web of transformations and quickly seeks to relieve himself of the pressure to fabricate a believable ending. Perhaps the most comical of his inventions for the sake of consistency takes place at the end of the penultimate chapter. In Pozanco's description of the country palace, he makes reference to a helicopter that sits on the castle roof ready for the general should he need to escape. Having killed Amadori, the remaining members of the Striker team make their way to the roof to use the helicopter for the same purpose. One of the remaining good guys is a mild-mannered Jesuit named Father Norberto, who is Adolfo Alcazar's brother and a parish priest in San Sebastián. Norberto becomes involved with the American agents after Adolfo is killed by members of the same Catalonian clan whose leaders he murdered in La Concha Bay. Upon their reaching the palace roof, Norberto surprises his companions (and readers) when he announces that he is not only a parish priest but also an accomplished pilot:
In a review of Equilibrio de poder published in Barcelona, Pozanco explains the reasons for re-writing the story and not engaging in a "strict literary translation": "Different regional groups live together in harmony. You see Andalusians chatting with Catalonians in bars and shops. The original version would be very inopportune at a delicate moment in European politics, and would have created tension and bad feeling."(10) As in his translator's introduction, Pozanco contradicts himself when stating the purposes of the translation's revisions. If the people of Spain's autonomous regions coexist peacefully, and if the country is a prosperous, politically-stable member of the European Union, then how could such stability be seriously threatened by a clearly misinformed spy thriller from America? One approach to this question is to examine the pervasive influence of popular fiction. During the Franco regime in Spain, government censors scrutinized romance novels and popular foreign films (especially from Hollywood) while paying little attention to poetry, drama and high-brow novels. Franco's censors saw these minor genres as insignificant threats to moral uprightness or political stability. Romance and adventure novels and popular films were widely consumed, however, and represented greater potential damage to moral and political codes of behavior.
Rather than diverge into a study of popular fiction's pervasive influence, though, I would like to return to the process of translation to shed light on the two novels in question. The striking revisions and omissions of the Spanish translation of Balance of Power, in light of critical reactions by readers familiar with both texts, point up a wide divergence between common understanding of translation's function and the contemporary practice of translation. Common understanding still reveals a belief in the translator's so-called "invisibility" - in his/her providing a window through which readers can clearly see the original text without interference from the mediating subject(s). This notion seems outdated, but given that most readers are not familiar with both translations and the original texts from which they arise, the presumption of the translator's invisibility goes largely unquestioned.(11) Translators, however, are active participants in the choices - both proliferations and exclusions - that shape textual discourse. They occupy one of the many subject positions that comprise the "author function" as defined by Michel Foucault.
Besides the control exerted by the translator, another important factor to observe in the process of translation is the creation of a cycle of legitimacy wherein both translations and their sources validate one another. In his well-known essay "The Task of the Translator" Walter Benjamin asserts that translations create a cycle of authorization whereby the original lends authority to the translation due to the need for making a significant work available to audiences outside the original's linguistic community. Likewise, the translation, owing its existence to the original, perpetuates its predecessor (as well as its extra-linguistic features) in a contemporary form of the target language and up-to-date cultural context.
According to Benjamin, translation is the genre in which we witness the "maturing process" of the original texts' language as well as the "reconciliation and fulfillment of languages" (73, 75). But we can certainly argue that cultural and political maturity are observed in translations as well. Translating Balance of Power into Spanish lends a degree of (unmerited) authority to the original and its author; however, it also presents a contrasting view of relationships among Spain's major autonomous communities, one which enters into negotiation with exaggerated (mis)representation in the source text. The translation juxtaposes itself with the original, remaining faithful to Clancy's "mode of signification," as Benjamin prescribes, yet claiming itself a more accurate, contemporary vision of Spanish society (78). Both the original and the translation are "recognizable as fragments of a greater language": the discourse of ethno-political relations in modern-day Spain (Benjamin 78); however, their contentious relationship belies the stable coexistence of regional autonomy and national identity that Spanish authorities seek to portray.
The translation of Op-Center: Balance of Power illustrates some of Spain's social and political vulnerabilities and the tenderness with which they are often treated domestically. On one hand, Spain seeks to consolidate its national identity (even amidst the diversity of its autonomous regions) and on the other hand, the country seeks greater assimilation into the global economy, which has a deleterious effect on national identity and democratic freedoms.(12) To some degree Pozanco and the Planeta editors adopt the position of defenders of Spain's identity against the affront posed by a culturally-biased, mass market novel. Their translation of Balance of Power is a contemporary example of how Spain is dealing with the increasingly intertwined, quarrelsome relationship between cultural conservatism and open-market trade. Clancy's novel may be symptomatic of how Spanish cultural authorities, such as editors at large publishing houses, attempt to mitigate the corrosive influence of globalism even as they profit from trading artifacts of cultural identity, like popular literature, in the global marketplace.
© David R. Thompson (Department of Modern Languages, Millikin University U.S.A.)
(1) Clancy's name appears in bold letters on the cover of the series for obvious marketing purposes; however, Steve Pieczenik, Jeff Rovin and a team of researchers are generally credited for writing and editing the books. Their names appear in a statement of acknowledgement at the beginning of the novels. For this essay, I will refer to Clancy as the author of the Op-Center series.
(2) Novels in the series depict the U.S. agency resolving disputes and restoring order in areas such as post-Soviet Russia (Op-Center: Mirror Image), Botswana (Op-Center: Mission of Honor), India and Pakistan (Op-Center: Line of Control), the United Nations (Op-Center: State of Siege) and re-unified Germany (Op-Center: Games of State).
(3) Zaldívar and Castells claim that Spain's most current challenges, such as drug addiction among youths or political corruption, are those of every democratic nation. The authors ironically use these problems as evidence of Spain's rank among the most prosperous and developed countries, thus confirming their thesis: "España ya no es tan diferente." Their opening chapter upholds the rather myopic belief that the transition to parliamentary democracy precludes Spain from the political turmoil that marked its past. See also the excellent discussion of Spain's European integration in the essay "The Politics of 1992" by Helen Graham and Antonio Sánchez.
(4) One possible answer to this question is the tremendous popularity of Clancy's novels and the general tendency to read and absorb his complex military thrillers, with their proliferation of data and detail, at face value. Pozanco and the editors at Planeta, like censors under the Franco regime, realize the powerful presence of (American) popular fiction in Spain. While a literary work revealing the same ideological and political representations might be overlooked as farcical or inconsequential, a controversial piece of popular fiction by one of the world's top selling authors draws more attention and concern from overseas editors and translators. Tom Clancy's popularity among readers around the world is not to be underestimated:
Clancy himself muses on the reception of his work: "We write urgently about what is going on in the world today - in my case about the clash between American democracy and foreign tyrannies. People like that; people like being on the side of the good guy; they want to be part of our culture. America is the good guy" (Cowley, 1998).
(5) André Lefevere makes this point in his study Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame: " . . . translation is the most obviously recognizable type of rewriting and it is potentially the most influential because it is able to project the image of an author and/or a (series of) work(s) in another culture, lifting that author and/or those works beyond the boundaries of their culture or origin" (9). In the new global economy, however, the small number of countries responsible for the greatest distribution of translated works are also able to infuse literary markets with particular ideological and cultural frameworks (Steiner's "residue" of translation) exported with translated texts. See Steiner's discussion of "reciprocity," the fourth part of the "hermeneutic motion" (316-19).
(6) Marley's expertise in Castillian Spanish (and, consequently, Clancy's researchers' efforts) are called into question from the start. When Aideen tells a guard at the Palacio de las Cortes that the two agents have arrived for a tour, she proclaims, "Nosotros aqui para un viaje todo comprendido," for which Clancy provides "'We're here for a tour'" as the translation (13). Pozanco re-fashions several statements like this in his translation to reflect more authentic grammar and usage.
(7) Clancy's fictional Intelligence Chief Bob Herbert tells Martha Mackall, "This will make the Spanish Civil War look like a brawl," referring to the potential conflict at hand. This sentence is omitted in Equilibrio de poder.
(8) Throughout the novel Pozanco omits material and interjects statements that do not appear in the English original, statements that serve to mitigate the exaggerated, negative representation of Spanish culture as well as strike back at the creators of the original story for their ignorance and lack of creative prudence. Notwithstanding the stated need for objectivity in the translator's introduction, many of these changes appear to vindicate the role and authority of Catalonia in Spanish history. Following the source novel's statements about Castilians believing themselves to be the only authentic Spaniards, Pozanco includes a statement by the Chief Intelligence Director not found in the original: "No obstante, no hay que olvidar que Cataluña formaba parte del reino de Aragón, que fue cofundador de España" (73).
(9) Fawcett defines receptor-oriented translation, of which Equilibrio de poder is a good example, as "an act of linguistic paternalism/maternalism which states that the 'reality' readers are exposed to should consist of this but not that, and which excludes from representation in art and entertainment those whose behaviour does not match the maternal/paternal standard" (185).
(10) See "Clancy censored for Spain" (http://bcn.qwe.as/stories/storyReader$20).
(11) For a thorough and illuminating discussion of the translator's role in cultural production and modification, see Lawrence Venuti's The Traslator's Invisibility.
(12) Mattelart, Delcourt and Mattelart make this point very well in their essay "International Image Markets": "It should not be too quickly forgotten that whereas the goal of democracy is the extension of freedoms and the multiplication of points of popular decision-making, that of the market is based on the division of labour, power, knowledge, and wealth" (437).
Benjamin, Walter. "The Task of the Translator." Illuminations. Essays and Reflections. Ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken, 1968. 69-82.
"Clancy Censored for Spain." Rev. of Op-Center: Equilibrio de poder, by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik. Barcelona Business. Online. 16 Mar. 2001. <http://bcn.qwe.as/stories/storyReader$20>
Clancy, Tom. Op-Center: Balance of Power. New York: Berkley, 1998.
_____. Op-Center: Equilibrio de poder. Trad. Víctor Pozanco. Barcelona: Planeta, 1999.
Cowley, Jason. "Winners in the Title Fight." Sunday Times [London]. 16 Aug. 1998. Lexis- Nexis. Online. 19 July 2002.
Fawcett, Peter. "Translation and Power Play." The Translator 1 (1995): 177-92.
Foucault, Michel. "What is an Author?" The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon, 1984. 101-20.
Graham, Helen and Antonio Sánchez. "The Politics of 1992." Spanish Cultural Studies. Ed. Helen Graham and Jo Labanyi. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. 406-18.
Hooper, John. The New Spaniards. London: Penguin, 1987.
Labanyi, Jo. "Censorship of the Fear of Mass Culture." Spanish Cultural Studies. Ed. Helen Graham and Jo Labanyi. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995. 207-14.
Lefevere, André. Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.
Matelart, Armand, Xavier Delcourt and Michèle Mattelart. "International Image Markets." In The Cultural Studies Reader. Ed. Simon During. London and New York: Routledge, 1993. 421-37.
Navarro, Justo. "Delirio Español por Tom Clancy." Rev. of Op-Center: Equilibrio de poder, by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik. Babelia. 27 Feb. 1999: 11.
Niranjana, Tejaswini. Siting Translation: History, Post-Structuralism, and the Colonial Context. Berkeley: U of California P, 1992.
Steiner, George. After Babel. Aspects of Language and Translation. 3rd ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford UP, 1998.
"A Translator's Patriot Game." Harper's (June 1999): 27-28.
Venuti, Lawrence. The Translator's Invisibility: A History of Translation. London and New York: Routledge, 1995.
Zaldívar, Carlos Alonso and Manuel Castells. España, fin de siglo. Madrid: Alianza, 1992.
7.2. Translation and Culture
Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections
Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu 15 Nr.
For quotation purposes:
David R. Thompson (Millikin University U.S.A.): Patriot Games: Translation, Censorship and the Representation of Modern-Day Spain. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW: http://www.inst.at/trans/15Nr/07_2/thompson15.htm