Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Dezember 2005

9.4. Translation and Ideology
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Nitsa Ben-Ari (Tel Aviv University)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Report: Translation and Ideology

Nitsa Ben-Ari (Tel Aviv University)


Recent translation studies have focused more and more on the role of norms, rather than any linguistic constraints, in translation. Postmodern awareness of the power struggle behind the cultural scene has, in its turn, led the way to more research in the function of ideological norms on translation. Varying from subtle manipulations to direct, blunt censorship, ideology motivated norms must have dictated the behavior of translators from the onset on. The purpose of this session was to further enquire into this fascinating issue, especially in search for the ideology supporting or opposing change and innovation.

The session was organized with the aim of covering three main domains in translation: Fiction translation, non-fiction translation, and interpreting. In all three domains the main issue was how ideology interfered with translation, both in the process and the end-result. More specifically, how and in what conditions translation accepted, or even initiated innovation, and how, and in what conditions it rejected innovation, promoting conservation and reproduction. What ideological pressures are imposed (or self imposed) upon the translator and how these vary with time and place.

The session opened with three representative papers, dealing with the more general and theoretical aspects of the topic. My paper on "When Innovation and Nationalism Clash" attempted to reach general conclusions with the help of a case where a young culture was built on the principle of innovation: the Zionist revolution was based on replacing the Old Jew with the New Hebrew, providing a new identity for a new nation, speaking an old-new language. Translation had a major role to play in this re-birth. Yet it seems that national ideology showed a predilection for certain themes, genres and source cultures, investing in the "right" trends and neglecting others: the "I" had to give way to the communal, love and erotica were considered irrelevant for the enormous feat of building a nation, heroic themes of "nature, "survival" and "few against many" were favored, realistic and socialistic genres were preferred and certain cultures considered more prestigious (Russian and German to start with). The result being that while certain cultural strata enjoyed the reviving rush of innovations, others suffered great lacunae.

Franz Poechhacker from the University of Vienna introduced the approach of Interpreting research to ideological intervention in his paper: "Interpreters and Ideology – from 'between' to 'within'". Apparently, although the topic of how ideology may influence interpreting is necessarily omnipresent in the field, interpreting research has only recently started to focus on it. A re-conceptualization of the relationship between interpreters and ideology hinges on the remodeling of interpreting as a socially situated practice rather than a psycholinguistic processing skill. The move can be described as a shift from "between" to "within".

Diana Yankova from the New Bulgarian University represented the vast filed of non-fiction or technical translation, in her paper: "Is Translating the Acquis Communautaire Reforming the Context of Social Relations and National Discourse Models?" Yankova investigates what happens in a unifying Europe with texts "produced in a supranational multicultural discourse community where there is no linguistically neutral ground". The translation of primary and secondary EU legal instruments in the now 21 official languages within the European Union is in the process of remodeling each nation's cultural, social and legal identity.

Four papers presented a highly stimulating discussion of literary translation: Ziva Shamir from Tel-Aviv University in "Baudelaire's Translations and Modern Hebrew Poetry" (a paper read by myself, as she was unable to attend) stated that Baudelaire's poetry was one of the major sources of influence on modern Hebrew poetry in the last 120 years. She showed, however, how each generation of Hebrew poets who translated the "poete maudit" has used his metaphors and themes in order to promote local cultural and poetic interest of the period. Every generation reflected Baudelaire differently, thus proving the validity of Harold Bloom's theory of "misreading".

In his "Belle du Seigneur, Translation/Interpretation", Jack Abecassis from Pomona College in California presented a stimulating insight at a different reading of Albert Cohen's masterpiece. He argued that, contrary to scholars and critics viewing Cohen's novel as the ultimate love story, the reading should involve issues such as the dichotomy between Judaism and Christianity, the ambivalent feelings of the Jew towards his own culture and the underlying ever-present atrocity of the Holocaust.

Gabriel Zoran from Haifa University reflected on the romantic manifesto of translation revealed in Faust's attempts at translating the Bible. In his paper "Faust Translates the Holy Scriptures: Concepts of Translation in Romanticism", he showed how two concepts of translation are presented in the Faustian monologue, the one requiring that the author of a foreign culture be brought in such a way that we can regard him as ours, the second requiring that we should go across to what is foreign and adapt ourselves to it. Goethe prefers the second, advocating for a verbal translation of the foreign texts, which, at the same time, explores new possibilities in German literary repertory.

Verena Kuzmany of the University of Washington, Seattle, discussed "Paul Celan as 'World Poet' – The role of translation in the concept of 'world literature'. Kuzmany introduced the question of what the label "World Literature" traditionally and actually means and why the poet Paul Celan should be considered part of it. She questioned the translatability of Paul Celan's poetry, showing how Celan eludes this ambiguous category, and how, through his translations, he may provide an alternative way of approaching poetry translations for the "world" as a dialogue rather than a soliloquy.

Andreea Moderea from Montreal, Canada represented the post-modernistic approach to translation. In her paper, "Ideology, Subversion and the Translator's Voice: A comparative analysis of the French and English translations of Guillermo Cabrera Infante's Tres TristesTigres" she explored the deconstructionist demand to view translation as a creative dialogue with the source, a sort of "re-writing". Moderea even suggested that there was a clash between one of the translator's theoretical subversive views and her actual "sub-version" of the original.

Two scholars presented a historical point of view of ideological intervention in translation. Ren Dongsheng from the Ocean University of China (whose paper was read by Claudia Monacelli) gave a comprehensive survey of "Chinese Ideologies and Chinese Bible Translations". He illustrated how different periods took different interest in Bible translations, favoring or disfavoring it; and how, for ideological reasons, evidently, non-missionary Chinese Bible translators adopted the approach to the Bible as a literary work, rather than a religious or sacred one.

Hannah Amit-Kochavi from Beit Berl College, Israel (whose paper I read) surveyed the somewhat naïve efforts of "Bridging the Conflict: The ideology behind translations of Arabic literature into Hebrew (1868-2005)". Her paper offered an overview of different periods in the ideologically motivated attempts at translating Arabic literature. The endeavor had various public goals, in which translators even believed they could use translations to justify the return of the Jewish people to its historic homeland. No less naïve was the belief of the Israeli translators (quite few, in fact) that this might be a way of reconciling Jews and Arabs and even contributing to the peace process.

Two participants introduced stimulating non-literary discussions. Noam Baruch from Tel-Aviv University described the problematic area of "Reconstructing Freudian Vocabulary in Hebrew". Referring to his own work on the translation of the French monumental Vocabulaire de la Psychoanalyse by Laplanche & Pontalis, he illustrated the many considerations and pressures involved in the choice of vocabulary for the work, which could eventually become a basis for a Hebrew Standard Edition. In selecting the alternative options for translating the German term Wunsch, for instance, one has to consider whether it is possible to dress the Freudian term with Lacanian signifiers, thereby creating an anachronistic imposition of the Lacanian discourse on the Freudian text.

Claudia Monacelli from the University of Bologna concluded the session with her paper on "The Ideology of Interpreting through a System Dynamics Perspective". In transcending the limits of a given system, translators enter the larger system that encompasses or includes the system transcended. Yet, applying the systemic approach to interpreting, she argued, was questionable. Since conference interpreters work under "face-threatening" constraints, an overall mitigating effect of source texts is created where the interpreter's "position" is necessarily one of distancing and de-personalization.

The various themes and points of view, as well as the highly interesting discussions they stimulated, contributed to the mutual recognition of the importance of the subject. And though they could obviously offer no more than a fleeting glance, some insight was gained into the cultural role of translation as a vehicle of innovation/reproduction, with the underlying ideological dilemmas involved.

© Nitsa Ben-Ari (Tel Aviv University)

9.4. Translation and Ideology

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