Lawrence Venuti at Stockholm University (22-23/11)

Welcome to two lectures by Professor Lawrence Venuti (Temple University) at Stockholm University next week. 

Cosmopolitanism, Minority, Translation: Englishing Eduard Márquez’s Zugzwang

2-4pm, 23rd November 2018, Y22 Geovetenskapens hus, Stockholm University.
Organized by the research programme Cosmopolitan and Vernacular Dynamics.

Cosmopolitanism can be productively defined as an attitude of openness to linguistic and cultural differences. Yet the precise nature of that attitude varies according to the location where it originates, whether that location is “major” or “minor” or some hybrid point in between, positioned not only in the global hierarchy of symbolic capital that is so unevenly distributed among national literary traditions, but also in the local hierarchies of prestige and resources that emerge in the institutions that house those traditions. Translation can be a key practice in fostering or suppressing cosmopolitanism, depending on the degree to which it challenges the conditions that at once enable and constrain it, sparing from scrutiny neither the source text nor the source culture, neither the receiving situation nor the translated text itself. A cosmopolitanism grounded on translation is a variable category that both erodes the boundaries of receiving cultural constituencies and constructs images of source cultures that are reductive yet interrogative.

A case study from Catalan will focus the exploration of these ideas. Eduard Márquez’s collection of Catalan flash fiction, Zugzwang (1995), reflects the tensions of a minor culture cultivating a cosmopolitan outlook. Drawing on the experimentalist tendencies that developed in United States narrative traditions from the 1950s onward, Márquez created a distinctly Catalonian work, expressive of cultural nationalism yet dependent for its expression on the resources of a major literature, repressive of its political unconscious while appealing to universal themes. An English translation produced for readerships in the United States can foreground the literary and cultural conditions of the Catalan text while exposing the limitations of United States narrative experimentalism. Yet although the Catalan author sought the consecration enabled by translation into a major language, he ultimately derailed the project by assuming an instrumental model that understands translation as the reproduction or transfer of an invariant contained in or caused by the source text, an invariant form, meaning or effect.

Instrumentalism can function differently in major and minor locations, mandating assimilative translation practices or interdicting translation entirely. Yet it always curtails cosmopolitanism. A hermeneutic model of translation, in contrast, understood as an interpretive act that inevitably varies source-text form, meaning, and effect according to receptor intelligibilities and interests, can encourage a cosmopolitan attitude-- provided that the interpretation inscribed by the translation questions dominant values, beliefs, and representations in the receiving culture. The idea of cosmopolitanism advanced here seeks to avoid the cultural narcissism that can derive from the wholesale assimilation of linguistic and cultural differences to forms and practices that prevail in the receiving situation.

Venuti. Abstract. 23 Nov 2018


Traduttore Traditore: The Instrumentalism of Conventional Wisdom

3-4:30pm, 22nd November 2018, lecture theatre 11, Södra huset, Stockholm University.
Organized by the Institute for Interpreting and Translation Studies. 

Since antiquity, regardless of time and place, language and culture, the discourse on translation has been mired in clichés. The cliché may be a dichotomy indicating opposed translation strategies. Perhaps the most famous example is European, “word-for-word” vs. “sense-for-sense,” which dates back to Cicero’s De optimo genere oratorum (46 BCE) but is decisively formulated in Jerome’s Epistula LVII (395CE). Similar dichotomies occur in Asian cultures as well, such as “unhewn” vs. “refined,” which is reported to have appeared in Zhi Qian’s preface to his Chinese version of the Buddhist sutra, Dharmapada (third century CE).

The cliché may also develop into a fully-fledged proverb about translation, a pithy statement that is believed to encapsulate an accepted truth and therefore to be worthy of repeated application, whether in elite or in popular cultures. Here belong catchphrases like “traduttore traditore” (1539) and Robert Frost’s “poetry is what gets lost in translation” (1959). Even Jacques Derrida’s paradox--“Rein n’est intraduisible en un sens, mais en un autre sens tout est intraduisible” (1996)--has now been used so many times as to have become a theoretical chestnut. These discursive phenomena indicate not only that translation has long been the site of rote thinking, but also that it has been grounded on an instrumental model in which it is understood as the reproduction or transfer of an invariant contained in or caused by the source text, an invariant form, meaning, and effect.

My lecture initiates a rigorous interrogation of proverbial expressions where instrumentalism continues to limit translation commentary. I will start with an examination of the proverb as a genre that is metaphorical and then return a particular translation proverb--“traduttore traditore”--to various contexts where it has been used, both originary and subsequent. The first published use of this proverb seems to have been a sixteenth-century Italian satire, whereafter it was developed in French by sixteenth-century authors, notably the poet Joachim du Bellay. Modern uses examined in the lecture include: a 1929 letter to the editor of the London Times about international business transactions; John Frederick Nims’s 1952 review of Roy Campbell’s translation of San Juan de la Cruz’s poetry for Poetry magazine; Roman Jakobson’s 1959 essay, “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation”; and Arthur Sze’s introduction to his 2001 collection, Silk Dragon: Translations from the Chinese.

The discussion explores how instrumentalism preempts an understanding of translation as an interpretive act that inevitably varies source-text form, meaning, and effect even when the translator maintains a semantic correspondence and a stylistic approximation. At the same time, instrumentalism restricts the definition of the translator’s linguistic competence and leads to notions of untranslatability. Yet if translation is indeed an interpretation, no text is untranslatable since every text can be interpreted. My aim is to defamiliarize notions that have come to be all too familiar as truths of translation, to show how they actually limit thinking about what translation is and does, and to indicate other, more productive directions that thinking can take.öppen-föreläsning-töi-lawrence-venuti-traduttore-traditore-1.397621


written by Alice Duhan
13 November, 2018