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28 - Free translation - part two

«[...] De Wet dio las gracias al Presidente del Consejo de alta Traición por la corrección del proceso, y además por el derecho de completa libertad para defenderse»1.

"[...] De Wet thanked the President of the High Treason Senate for the correctness of the proceedings, and further for the right of complete freedom to defend himself"2.

The very fact of formulating a thought in a different language, the very fact of translating it into another language "expresses a notion with a nuance that our language does not attach to it". Translations are, in Schopenhauer's opinion, always incomplete, always ineffectual, always incomplete, because from the natural codes' anisomorphism "derives the necessarily deficient character of all translations". Every translation is false, because it is not possible to provide for a translation in a non-false way. If one opts for a philological translation, here's what happens:

Even in simple prose, the best of all translations will succeed at most, as compared to the original, as the transposition of a piece of music in another tonality can succeed [...] every translation remains a dead work, and its style is constrained, rigid, unnatural:

That's the reason why a false text is created, not in the sense that it falsely reproduces something, but in the sense that it is false its identity as a text. As if a body were deprived of its life, disassembled and re-assembled: a monster is obtained, that resembles a creature, but is a true reproduction in a false text. If, on the other hand, one opts for creative recoding, a fake is created as regards its relationship to the prototext, a false reproduction in a true text is created.

or it becomes a free translation [...], therefore a false one. A library of translations resembles a gallery of copies. Not to mention, moreover, the translations of ancient writers that are a surrogate of them, like chicory is a surrogate of coffee. (130-131)

Schopenhauer is flawlessly coherent, one must admit: in the great philosopher's opinion, the taste of chicory is characteristic both of "free" translation and of translation "on a leash".

Equally pessimistic on the hope for realizing a free translation is the great linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf. What, for many advocates of "free translation" is precisely freedom, for Whorf is conversely an obligation. And that obligation is all the more insidious because it is sneakily accepted from the moment an infant acquires its mother tongue. Obligation is the language itself, with the implied contract incorporated.

We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way-an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated one, BUT ITS TERMS ARE ABSOLUTELY OBLIGATORY; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees. This fact is very significant for modern science, for it means that no individual is free to describe nature with absolute impartiality but is constrained to certain modes of interpretation even while he thinks himself most free. (213-214)

If any culture has a different but equally burdensome obligation to express reality in a given way, what the advocates of "free translation" call "freedom" is actually obligation: it doesn't make sense to think of a transposition of the same linguistic gown into a culture where that dress has a completely different semiotic value. The so-called free translation wouldn't be other than - in Whorfian terms - an obligatory translation, the transposition of one relationship into another. Or, more precisely, of the verbal relationship the text-protoculture has with outer reality represented by the prototext translated into the verbal relationship text-protoculture (or metaculture) to the outer reality represented by the metatext. The presumption of freedom in Whorf reveals itself for what it really is, and this explains the paradox we alluded to in the previous unit between bound and free translation (Chukovsky).

A contemporary Italian writer, Augusto Frassineti, rebels against the advocates of a translation too restricted by philological criteria, and openly states he's in favor of translation as remaking, as free recoding.

free [translation], I mean, inasmuch it remains unconditioned by that state of fetishistic awe for text as cultural medium of translation intended as imitation of the original in a strict sense, that is, I think, in the same sense in which figurative art was once meant as imitation of nature. (1984: 152)

A philologist is a fetishist, having the prototext as object of his morbid attention, and who presumes to excite the reader in the same way, to use Locke's terminology. One who doesn't prefer free translation is sick, because instead of focusing on life focuses on himself, he is a narcissist, he can love only some textual paraphernalia of his fellow humans.

The moment of maximum freedom is reached by translation with Jacques Derrida's translation deconstructionist theory. That, even if Derrida's theory of translation states that it is enemy of the pursuing of freedom. Derrida's translation is free because it doesn't aim even to be free, because it overlooks any and all duty, be it philological or liberal, and revolts at any intention to communicate the prototext's content, to "imprecisely transmit an unessential content". In Des tours de Babel, of 1985, he enunciates the four principles of translation:

1. The translator's task is not revealed by any reception.

2. Translation has not as essential aim to communicate.

3. Translation is neither an image nor a copy.

4. Translation has no obligation to transport contents, yet must evidence the affinity between languages, must exhibit its potential (1985: 386-395).

Derrida's is a primordial translation allowed by the subjective interpretant sign, that has no aim to produce a text apt for being understood, that has no aim to communicate to the outside. A "free" translator is an exhibitionist who enjoys in flaunting his ability to translate his way. The Derridian translator is a narcissist, because he doesn't care about text except as a mirror of his bravura; he is interested in himself as capable translator.

This is undoubtedly a view of free translation, free from bonds of any kind, both toward the prototext and toward the reader. But I don't think that, after the initial impression that such a view can possibly provoke, because it provocatively overturns the recognized importance translators have in our society, has any heuristic value.

I close this saunter among the points of view on free translation with a classic: George Steiner. Here a deep acknowledgement of the arbitrary notion implicit in any interpretive reading (in any reading) and in any act of writing or translation is expressed. But, fortunately, there is no translator-director in the foreground. Translation freedom in Steiner's opinion is above all freedom of the author and of the prototext: it is the

exponential product of all possible sense or non-sense worlds as these are construed, imaged, tested, indwelt through the interaction of two liberties: that of the text, in movement across time, and that of the receiver. (1989: 83)


Bibliographical references

CHUKOVSKY K., Vysokoe iskusstvo (1968), in Sobranie sochinenij v pjatnadcati tomah, edited by E. Chukovskaya, Moskvà, Terra, 2001, vol. 3. ISBN 5-275-00127-4.

DERRIDA J., Des tours de Babel (1985), in NERGAARD S. (ed.), Teorie contemporanee della traduzione. Texts by Jakobson, Levý, Lotman, Toury, Eco, Nida, Zohar, Holmes, Meschonnic, Paz, Quine, Gadamer, Derrida, Milano, Bompiani, 1995, ISBN 88-452-2470-8, p. 367-418.

FRASSINETI A., Nota del traduttore, in Diderot, D., Il nipote di Rameau, Torino, Einaudi, 1984, ISBN 88-06-05737-5, p. 150-153.

LOCKE J. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 1690.

MARÍAS J. Negra espalda del tiempo, Punto de lectura, 2000 (original edition 1998), ISBN 84-663-0007-7.

MARÍAS J. Dark Back of Time, New York, New Directions, 2001 (translated by Esther Allen), ISBN 0-8112-1466-4.

SCHOPENHAUER A., Della lingua e delle parole, in Sul mestiere dello scrittore e sullo stile (1851), translation by Eva Amendola Kuhn, Milano, Adelphi, 1993, p. 125-149. ISBN 88-459-1013-X. Original title: Über Sprache und Worte, in Parerga und Paralipomena.

STEINER G., Real Presences (1989), Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1998, ISBN 0-226-77234-9.

VIVES J. L., Versioni o interpretazioni (1533), edited by Emilio Mattioli, in Testo a fronte, n. 12, Milano, Crocetti, 1995, ISBN 88-7887-00183-0, p. 127-132.

ZHUKOVSKIJ V. M., O perevodah voobshche i v osobennosti o perevodah stihov (1810), in V. A. Zhukovskij-kritik, Moskvà, Sovetskaja Rossija, 1985, p. 81-85.

1 Marías 2000, p. 354.
2 Marías 2001, p. 283.