Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Translation theory - Venuti chapter 1

I read chapter 1 of the Translator's Invisibility by Lawrence Venuti last night - and today a few examples from Horace, and I skimmed his discussion of the history of translation into English of various texts from various languages.  It is serious detail in many tongues.  But I like the thesis that English translators have tended to domesticate the foreignness of translated texts by reducing them to 'natural' and 'fluent' English. I expect that other cultures could do similar things to English texts. E.g. this comment from page 12
British and American publishers have reaped the financial benefits of successfully imposing English-language cultural values on a vast foreign readership, while producing cultures in the UK and the US that are aggressively monolingual, unreceptive to foreign literatures, accustomed to fluent translations that invisibly inscribe foreign texts with British and American values and provide readers with the narcissistic experience of recognizing their own culture in a cultural other.
I listened yesterday as Exodus was read from the Revised English Bible and was following the Hebrew. The task was quite difficult because the story was so freely told in the REB. I don't know if I liked it or not. It certainly lacked the foreignness of Hebrew - but it read very well. I compared it with hearing the Coverdale psalm 124 which was a breeze to hear in English while reading the Hebrew - pretty much word for word.  Perhaps it's the difference between poetry and prose too. So the dynamic equivalent was unclear to me but the word for word was a breeze.

Neither of them seemed violent to the text - but I can see where they might be.

Venuti quotes Derrida in his determination of 'meaning' - "the effect of relations and differences among signifiers along a potentially endless chain (polysemous, intertextual, subject to infinite linkages) always differential and deferred, never present as an original unity". Whew! Sure - who could disagree? (But I don't feel I get much beyond 3 or 4 links let alone infinite) I have tried to eschew meaning and explanation and to lay out possibilities by juxtaposition and repetition. My manipulations are derived from this kind of thinking just because I live at this time - even if I had not read either of these authors. One picks it up from the ether. Actually it was Rabbi Jonathan Magonet who told me to look for repeated words. I obeyed him.

But there is an origin that seats our 'meaning' - even if it is in the strange and unfathomable boot-strapped core of each of us, even if it is relativistic, holographic, and slipping or skipping into unknown dimensions in every cell of our bodies. The origin is where we are known even in our own unknowing.

Venuti gives some space to Nida too. I did not know that Nida pioneered the term, 'dynamic equivalence'. O boy. How nice it was to read that he published in the 1950s, when the waves of Christendom breaking over the rocks of the 20th century were at the height of their frothiness. The '50s held the ignorance of all my teachers, and our failures to learn to love the classics (already laments about this were being heard in the 1880s) and to learn the ancient tongues. Yes I know, not all of them or all of us failed. But I knew their and my own failures.  I have little respect for the arguments for clarity, accuracy, naturalness, etc as I have sometimes noted. I find, on the other hand, the puzzles intriguing, the language games delightful, and my late in life learning assured if even of uncertain communicability.

Nida is quoted as disapproving of "the tendency to promote by means of Bible translating the cause of a particular theological viewpoint, whether deistic, rationalistic, immersionistic, millenarian, or charismatic" (p18). I think these concerns over theology often raise the wrong questions. Someone noted somewhere recently that the debate on whether God is or is not is a fruitless conversation. I love in the Psalter the indeterminate nature of election and anointing - is it Abraham, Moses, Solomon, David, Israel, Jacob, the poet(s), the tribes, Aaron, the monarch, the unclean bird, or the owl of the disabled prayer, (psalm 102), the mysterious unique righteous one, or any and all who are in that unspeakable joy called 'fear' with its untold familiarity? I do not wish for a moment to put aside the fullness of Anointing that is evident in Jesus, but even with my bias being what it is, the answer to every question is not necessarily that name alone.

There is little chance that my translations are deistic, rationalistic, immersionistic, or millenarian. Good grief.

Venuti at the end of chapter 1 (33 pages) states his "argument pursued chronologically" - not to jettison but to revise the prevailing fluency that results in "various kinds of cultural domination and exclusion", and to recover "excluded theories and practices". I will have to read more to see if I can glean a bit more of where he is going with his "argument".