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27 - Translatability - part 3

Once accepted that the translation process, as we have demonstrated in the previous unit, is a rationalized interpretation preventing a reader of the metatext to read it with all the ambivalences and different potential interpretations available to the prototext reader, we have to undertake the problem of translation loss. How is it possible to express the thought content that the rationalization necessary to produce the translation erases, and inform the metatext reader about this forced rationalization?

  Torop proposes to take advantage of the opportunities offered by a book. Since a translated text, in its practical life, takes on the form of a publication, the parts that are untranslatable within the text, the interpretation choices that are no longer available to the metatext reader owing to the translator's policy, the presence of cultural terms (realia) that complicate comprehension in the receiving culture "can be 'translated' in the commentary, in the glossary, in the preface, in the illustrations (maps, drawings, photographs) and so on" 1.

  Otherwise, if the translator opts for a "transparent", unperceivable translation, in which the interpretation and rationalization work is unconscious in the translator (because she is not able to realize the linguistic and cultural differences between prototext and metatext), or even in a hidden fashion (the translator rationalizes and simplifies the text and takes shortcuts without presenting the whole roadmap of the possible interpretations, but presents the reader with the abridged version as if it were fully detailed), the result would be to nullify the reader's responsibilities and to deny the cultural differences.

  We agree with Torop when he states that one of the duties

of translation activities is to support (ideally) the struggle against cultural neutralization, leveling neutralization, the cause, in many societies, on one hand, of indifference toward cultural "clues" of the author or the text (above all in multiethnic nations) and, on the other hand, to stimulate the search for national identity or cultural roots. Even in developed democratic countries, there are examples of totalitarian, rather than total, translation, i.e. of a reideologizing (in the broadest sense of the word) "rewriting" of the translation 2 .

This problem is particularly important in the present, owing to growing opportunities and the rapidity of global communication. The technical tools themselves provide for enormous possibilities for the transfer of information all over the world. It is up to the user to decide whether the purpose of such potential should be the homogenization of cultures and languages in a single global blob or, contrarily, the potential of these technical tools should be used to strengthen cultural differences and to spread the culturally distinctive features that, in the past, have played small role in the interactions in the semiosphere.

  We favor the second choice, and struggle against what Torop rightly calls "totalitarian translation", i.e. unfounded appropriation of other's cultures, reideologization of the texts. The totalitarian approach tends to minimize the impact of a text in the dominant culture, to facilitate its fruition, to simplify it and offer its products to a public less and less aware of their own cultural identity and that of the other cultures they interact with.

  In this view the translator's mission is crucial: she can preserve cultural differences and insert them as they are into the receiving culture, or, on the contrary, she can deny the existence of such differences and appropriate what belongs to different cultures in a stealthy way.

  Holmes, the founder of translation studies as a discipline, has proposed a very efficient model to describe the translator's choices within the framework of her own/other's dialectics. Holmes holds that the translator operates in three areas: the linguistic context, the literary intertext, and the socio-cultural situation. In these three spheres, the translator may opt for a greater or lesser preservation of the other's element in the translated text, which is visualized along two axes: exoticizing versus naturalizing, and historicizing versus modernizing:

Each translator of poetry, then, consciously or unconsciously works continually in various dimensions, making choices on each of three planes, the linguistic, the literary, and the socio-cultural, and on the x axis of exoticizing versus naturalizing and the Y axis of historicizing versus modernizing 3.

In other words, in Holmes's view, there is a diachronic axis, along which the chronological, historical distance between prototext and metatext is measured. Along this axis, the translator can opt for the preservation of the historical element (historicizing) or for its adaptation to the times of the metatext (modernizing). Moreover, there is a synchronic axis, along which the cultural differences are measured against one another, not concerning the single historical periods, but as they occurred in different areas. Along this axis, the translator can opt for the preservation of the other's element (exoticizing) or for its adaptation to the receiving culture (naturalizing or, better, familiarization, domestication).

  Obviously, historicization and exoticization are choices that tend to preserve the other's element in the translation, while modernization and naturalization tend to deny the diachronic and synchronic differences.

  On the basis of this model, Holmes thinks it possible to describe the attitude of a culture toward translation. The famous researcher holds that, for instance, in the 18th century there was a general trend toward modernizing and naturalizing of the translated texts (just think of the belles infidels phenomenon in France, for example); in the Romantic 19th century there had been, in Holmes's opinion, a greater trend toward exoticizing and historicizing, while in the 20th century the situation is more complex:

Among contemporary translators, for instance, there would seem to be a marked tendency towards modernization and naturalization of the linguistic context, paired with a similar but less clear tendency towards in the same direction in regard to the literary intertext, but an opposing tendency towards historicizing and exoticizing in the socio-cultural situation 4.

Some book collections play witness to such a trend.

  In the following units, we will see the great importance of JUrij Lotman's studies for the definition of translatability.

Bibliographical references

HOLMES J. S. Translated! Papers on Literary Translation and Translation Studies. Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1988. ISBN 90-6203-739-9.

TOROP P. La traduzione totale. Ed. by B. Osimo. Modena, Guaraldi Logos, 2000. ISBN 88-8049-195-4. Or. ed. Total´nyj perevod. Tartu, Tartu Ülikooli Kirjastus [Tartu University Press], 1995. ISBN 9985-56-122-8.

1 Torop 2000, p. 129.
2 Torop 2000, p. 129-130.
3 Holmes 1988, p. 48.
4 Holmes 1988, p. 49.