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35 - The analysis of the literary prototext

"And for the verb 'to read'? Will we be able to say,
'Today it reads' as we say 'Today it rains'?"1.

The book by the Slovak researcher Anton Popovič Problems of Literary Translation is a translation studies classic perhaps investigated too little in non-Slavic culture countries. In this unit we will examine the principles of translation-oriented literary text analysis according to the precepts of the Bratislava school, one of the most important in the international arena of translation science.
  The first phase of the prototext analysis, according to Popovič, is of registration and descriptive character. One must study the structure, the theme, the language, the composition, the stylistic structure, the phonetic organization, the grammatical and morph-syntactic structure genre signs, the repertoire and rhetoric devices and their interactions. Up to this point the analysis is not so very different from a general, non translation-oriented, literary text analysis.
  Such an analysis is, however, insufficient if it is not accompanied by an examination of the cultural context in which the text is born, a context that concerns the translator as far as it is reflected in the structure of the work under investigation. In this sense, the elements to be examined are

the theme and its relations to society, the social definition of characters, social and psychological motivation for choosing the various means of depiction, the artistic measure in the selection of such means, the rhythmic peculiarities of the text etc.2

But in order to carry out an analysis of the text to the fullest, we must highlight the oppositions represented in the text as regards the processes through which world depictions are reflected in a work. To create an analytical guideline that functions as a model applicable to different texts, it is advisable to use the binary oppositions formed by pairs of poles that in the analyzed text are opposed in order to emphasize the importance of a point of view within a text's poetics.
  Here are some examples of such pairs:
  content - form
  material - method
  you - they
  time - space
  high - low
  near - far
  wide - narrow.
The choice of the consistent pairs of opposite poles to be applied to the analysis of a given text must be done based on two principles. The first concerns the complexity of the prototext and the presence of multiple levels, inducing to use more than one binary opposition for each analyzed text. The use of a ingle binary pair, albeit particularly productive with that specific text, often unmasks only a part of the text's features, producing a deformed picture and - in the worst cases - artificially manipulated by the interpreter, and/or by the critic, to suppress some aspects and emphasize others. The second principle concerns the scant productivity in the application of certain binary oppositions to some prototexts. It could be seen as a logical paradox: to get to know a text's poetics you must apply the binary oppositions that are more productive for that text, while other pairs are low productive or not productive at all. So, in order to get to know the work's poetics we must already be familiar with the poetics of the work, and know which categories to apply to its analysis?
  Actually, we may apply all the categories considered potentially productive to the text analysis, and then discard all the less significant results. The choice of such categories depends a lot, as it is easy to sense, on the researcher's scientific creativity (or, in our case, the translator's).
  In this context, Popovič proposes a communication model that, more than the traditional operative-pragmatic axis connecting author and receiver, contemplates another axis, perpendicular to the first that has at its extremes the tradition the text (literary canon) and the outer protoculture reality: the iconic depiction axis. Let us first take a look at that model :3:

Individual oppositions useful for the creation of a model for the text depend on the communicative dominant of the text. The principal pairs being, according to Popovič, are the oppositions of iconic depiction of reality, of text formation, of text development, of operative-pragmatic character. The two groups of oppositions (of depiction and of development) interact between themselves,

because the relation with reality determines the author's relationship to tradition, as much as the relationship with tradition determines his relation to reality4.

The oppositions can originate in different contexts: philosophical, sociological, anthropological, psychological, semantic, semiotic, linguistic, poetologic, gnoseologic, pragmatic.
  In the case of literary translation, the above model becomes more complex. Here is how it is depicted by Popovič (we made a slight terminological adaptation here):

Legenda: Pa = prototext author; P = prototext; Pr = prototext reader; Plt = protoculture literary tradition; Pr = protoculture reality; Ma = metatext author; M = metatext; Mr = metatext reader; Mlt = metaculture literary tradition; Mr = metaculture reality5.

  As you can notice, at the center of the model there are two figures: the prototext reader and the metatext author, that both coincide with the translator. While elaborating her translation strategy, we must first analyze the relations between the prototext and the literary canon it originates from, on one hand, and its extra-literary reality origin, on the other hand.
  The higher degree of complexity of the situation of the translation does not depend on a simple doubling of the model to account for the "second passage" of the text by the metatext author (the translator) to her reader. Such complexity concerns above all the fact that locating the prototext dominant does not automatically dictate the choice of the metatext dominant. In some cases, the receiving culture is not able to accommodate a text having a given dominant (or, at least, the translator can believe it is so): for example, it can be considered too complex to translate a poetic composition with a rigid metric model of rhymes using meter and rhyme as a dominant for the metatext as well. It is often thought- rightly or mistakenly- that in the metaculture it is easier to catch the denotative content of a work even if it is poetical, so, the metatext's dominant often does not coincide with the prototext's.
  These considerations begin to project us into the subject of the third part of this course: the production of the metatext.


Bibliographical references

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

POPOVIČ A. Problemy hudožestvennogo perevoda, edited by P. M. Toper, translation from Slovak by I. A. Bernštejn e I. S. Černjavskaja. Original title: Teória umleckého prekladu, Tatran, 1975. Moskvà, Vysšaja škola, 1980.

1 Calvino 1979, p. 176.
2 Popovič 1980, p. 42.
3 Popovič 1980, p. 43.
4 Popovič 1980, p. 44.
5 Popovič 1980, p. 53.