Logos Multilingual Portal

30 - The analysis of the text to be translated - fifth part

"Today each of you is the object of the other's
reading, each reads in the other the unwritten story"1

In unit 29 we took the time of the speech act, under consideration, that of the drafting of the prototext. As to the drafting of the metatext, the time of the translating action is patently important only wherever the two texts are not contemporary.
  If the prototext belongs to another time, its analysis is influenced by the use that is meant for it. A fundamental alternative concerns the choice between prototext modernization and historicization. Using the former model of actualization, the modernizing of the text, chronological references to the prototext's time are modified and adapted to the metatext's time, in order to make them homologizable in the reader's present. In this case, the reader does not have to transfer herself into another time. In the latter, historicizing, model, the chronological datum is valued for what it is, a historical element, and is preserved as it is. When the metalanguage lexicon is not sufficient for describing all the prototext's objects, for the historical realia in question the language of the prototext is used. In this case, the metatext's reader must transfer, while reading, her reception capabilities back in time, and must cover, sometimes with the help of a metatextual structure, the chronotopical distance between herself and the prototext.
  The practical consequences of such diverging approaches on the translation-oriented analysis of the prototext concern the translator's point of focus of attention.
  In the modernizing approach, the main focusing point of the translator-reader is the present, it is the cultural context of her model reader. Every element of the prototext is projected onto the outline of the model reader, and all the areas where the former doesn't fit in the latter, the area where the former does not quite cover the latter, is "altered", excluded from the channels of pure interlingual translation, and mentally sent along the channels of modernizing transformation. The translation-oriented analysis, in this case, is therefore characterized by a continuous process of projection of the prototext into the translator's present, of forward projection. The time of the metatext is at the center of such an analysis, around it the adaptation of the prototext to the categories of its culture translation strategy is built.
  In the historicizing perspective, on the contrary, the main focal point of the translator-reader is the past, the cultural context of the prototext. Every element of the metatext model reader's culture is projected onto the prototext outline, and all the areas where the former doesn't fit the latter, the areas where the two don't mesh, is adjusted, excluded from the channels of pure interlingual translation, and mentally sent along the channels of historicizing preservation. The translation-oriented analysis, in this case, is therefore characterized by a continuous process of projection of the translator's present onto the prototext, of backward projection. The time of the prototext is at the center of such an analysis; around the adaptation of the prototext to the categories of its culture the translation strategy is built.
  In order to concretely exemplify the two approaches toward the translation process, we quote a stanza from Pushkin's Evgénij Onégin in the translation by Charles Johnston, of 1977, and in the translation of Vladìmir Nabókov, of 1964. They are not the perfect absolute incarnation of the two approaches, but we think that Johnston has a more modernizing translation ideal than Nabókov's more philological one:

There came a murmur, for a fleeting
moment the assembly seemed to shake...
that lady the hostess was greeting,
with the grand general in her wake -
she was unhurried, unobtrusive,
not cold, but also not effusive,
no haughty stare around the press,
no proud pretensions to success,
no mannerism, no affectation,
no artifices of the vain...
No, all in her was calm and plain.
She struck one as the incarnation -
Shishkov, forgive me, I don't know
the Russian for le comme il faut.

Let us now see Nabókov's version:

But lo! the throng has undulated,
a whisper through the hall has run....
Toward the hostess there advanced a lady,
followed by an imposing general.
She was unhurried,
not cold, not talkative,
without a flouting gaze for everyone,
without pretensions to success,
without those little mannerisms,
without imitational devices....
All about her was quite, simple.
She seemed a faithful reproduction
du comme il faut... (Shishkóv, forgive me:
I do not know how to translated it).

Johnston translating has his model reader in mind; this is shown by the fact that he tries to preserve the rhyme, as a distinctive trait of poetry according to a stereotyped view. Nabókov, on the other hand, after explaining in the huge metatext (the critical apparatus of Nabókov's edition takes as much as ten times the translated text) that in his opinion the dominant of Pushkin's poem is metrics, the iambic tetrameters characterizing that work and that were defined afterwards "Onegin's tetrameters" because they set a fundamental antecedent, builds a metatext in iambs that, whenever he can, are tetrameters, too. There is, for example, the exception "She was unhurried," a dimeter. Of course, the rhyming structure, implicitly considered as the text dominant, induces Johnston to acrobatics to force the whole plot of the stanza (more than the verse's conformation) into a formal structure that he imposed upon himself.
  What are the general considerations about modernizing and historicizing of translated texts? The first can be considered more indicated for entertainment, because it is less tiring to the reader, the text being more easily usable. The second is better indicated for increasing the reader's knowledge of different, alien cultures. Maybe in this case it is possible to speak about entertainment, the former being entertainment "at home", consequence of a desire to enjoy oneself without going out of one's own known world. The latter is a more explorative entertainment, implies more curiosity toward the unknown, the new, the alien world.
  From the point of view of the translation abilities to be used, modernization emphasizes the translator's ability to make herself understood by the audience, consequently also the ability to get to know the audience one has before her and to recognize their needs. The translation-oriented analysis of a modernizing translator tends to look, for each dated reference, for one homologous in the metaculture to be used as a substitution for the former. Historicization tends to emphasize the philological abilities of the translator and her ability to present the elements of a remote culture in an interesting way stimulating the reader's curiosity, and creating a metatextual apparatus that is pleasing and not too heavy.


Bibliographical references

CALVINO I. If on a Winter's Night a Traveller, London, Random House, 1998, ISBN 0-749-39923-6.

NORD C. Text Analysis in Translation. Theory, Methodology, and Didactic Application of a Model for Translation-Oriented Text Analysis, translated from the German by C. Nord e P. Sparrow, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1991, ISBN 90-5183-311-3.

PUSHKIN A. Eugene Onegin, translation by C. Johnston, London, Penguin, 1977, ISBN 0-14-044394-0.

PUSHKIN A. Eugene Onegin, translation by V. Nabokov, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975, ISBN 0-691-01905-3.

1 Calvino 1979, p. 156.