31 - Revision and self-criticism
«I couldn't get through dictations, I made hair-raising mistakes. Ganzhorn saw the kettle of fish and corrected my mistakes with lifted highbrows»1.
There are mental mechanisms that give us the impression that what we do makes sense just for the fact that it is we that did it. Whenever such mechanisms fail, we risk living in a state of permanent uncertainty and disappointment about the inadequacy of our performance. Such mechanisms can of course have negative repercussions. If they are overdeveloped, the individual tends to be too much sure of herself, and is not self-critical enough. This is a crucial defect for a translator.
We have seen that a single translation process actually consists of a very wide-ranging set of intersemiotic translation processes. The text is transformed at first into the translator's non-verbal mental material, and hence is transformed back into verbal material fit for the receiving culture.
Such a series of transfers of the verbal prototext into the mental metatext, and in turn becoming the mental prototext of a further verbal metatext has components which, at least in part, remain without conscious awareness. We saw that especially in the units 36 and 37 of the second part. Without such an aconscious component, the translator's work would be incompatible with her economic survival, because it would be too time-consuming.
Consequently, whenever a translator ends her first draft, prints it and sits at the table for revision, she has before her a text that is partially new, because, although it is a fruit of her labor, it was partially generated by habitual processes and by an alternate motion oscillating between reading, alert translation, and translation by "autopilot". Since it is a back-breaking labor, mental mechanisms intervene to give a sense of mental "compensation" to the individual: it was hard work, but the result is good.
For this reason self-review and self-criticism are very difficult processes. One has to activate a strength of critical penetration toward a product that is one's own, and therefore by mental definition a good one. The Russian Formalists, and Shklovsky in particular, viewed art as a procedure or device (priyom), i.e. defined as artistic any form different from the one the reader is accustomed to. Conscious of the perceptive automatic mechanisms, they realized the importance of their disruption (estrangement) for a work to be perceived as a creative, and not merely an informative, object.
A similar approach is, in my opinion, also valid for linguistic and cultural structures. A translator compares the two systems: source culture and receiving culture. In the case where the translator is bilingual, the two cultures are both "mother cultures", i.e. learnt in a spontaneous way since childhood. In the case of monolingual upbringing, only the receiving culture coincides with the translator's mother culture, while the other one was "learnt" at a conscious age. In both cases the source culture text is brought into one's own culture that, from the point of view of self-consciousness, is a sort of no-man's land.
The linguistic and cultural structures of the receiving culture were acquired in a spontaneous way, and as such they have been used from the moment in which the metalingual (and metacultural) function was activated, i.e. when one starts reasoning on such structures. The reason why it is much easier (and more professional) to translate into the receiving culture is that in it we have preformed structures, while in the other culture we would start building our structure brick by brick, from the ground up.
The preformed structures constituting our mother culture were often formed in a non-conscious way, and we use them initially more out of habit than by rational choice.
The translator reads the text in the source culture, ready to catch standard or deviant syntactic structures, lexical frequencies, idiolects, registers, and to reproduce them in the receiving culture, but, owing to the laborious mental gymnastics she is forced to undertake, she easily looses the detachment she needs, and in such cases she can make semantic and syntactic calques from which, when cool headed, she could defend herself from. While in a "green" translator such a risk is ever present, in the expert translator it lies in the pressure, fatigue and stress of work, the risk of trusting false friends, like the English "to assist" becoming the French "assister", or the English "sensible" becoming the French "sensible" or the German "sensibel" (examples from Shuttleworth 1997: 58). The ability to detach herself from her own text is inversely proportional to the translator's overall - and affective - investment. On the other hand, a very boring text can induce even the most vigilant of translators to lower her guard.
From what I said, an "external" revision may seem the fitting solution, i.e. a revision by someone that is not the translator herself, that therefore evaluates the translated text as someone else's product, not her own, for whom therefore all the obstacles involved in the attitude toward one's own product are not standing. The problem is, when the revision is made by someone else, it is not easy for that person to be aware of the translation strategy that was followed, and therefore for her to operate reasonably.
In some cases, for example, a translator can use compensation (see unit ten of this part of the course) in order to avoid a loss connected to an untranslatable element in that time and place, and the addition that such a compensation involves could easily be read by the reviewer as an illicit addition and therefore edited out. The same can be said of the characterization of the various modes of speaking of the characters etc.:
By "character's expressive aura" we mean the set of traits that constantly accompany her/him, a lexical field defining the unit of perception of the character. It is strange that in new, revisioned editions of old translations such a unit can be absent; in other words, the editor's psychology is different from the translator's psychology. (Torop 1995: 150)
Exactly because there is a self-evident difference between the reviser's psyche and the translator's, and between them there is often no communication or just a very superficial and hurried communication, the publisher's revision always poses serious problems as far as translation quality is concerned. This is also caused by the fact that in the editorial offices, for reasons of productivity or imprudence, such problems are seldom considered.
Such a reality brings us to the question of self-revision. Are there techniques to avoid the mental mechanisms of defending one's own text?
One should do her bets to live one's text as if it were someone else's. For this reason it is necessary, within the limits of possibility, to live the text as chronotopically distant, both in time and in space, therefore.
The time between the first draft and revision must be as large as possible. And this is one of the parameters. As far as "space" is concerned, detachment can be greater and greater passing from the first to the last of the situations described below:
1. reading one's text on the monitor; (strongly discouraged)
2. reading one's text on the paper; (not recommended)
3. reading one's printed text alone and aloud2;
4. reading one's printed text aloud to someone else; (strongly recommended)
5. listening to the text read aloud by someone else to the author; (strongly recommended)
6. listening to the text read aloud by someone else to the author before an audience; (strongly recommended, but I realize it is an unrealistically ideal situation).
CANETTI ELIAS Die gerettete Zunge. - Die Fackel im Ohr. - Das Augenspiel, München, Carl Hanser Verlag, 1995, ISBN 3-446-18062-1.
CANETTI ELIAS The Tongue Set Free. Remembrance of a European Childhood, translated by Joachim Neugroschel, in The Memoirs of Elias Canetti, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999, ISBN 0-374-19950-7, p. 1-286.
SHUTTLEWORTH MARK e COWIE MOIRA, Dictionary of Translation Studies, Manchester, St. Jerome, 1997, ISBN 1-900650-03-7.
La traduzione totale, edited by Bruno Osimo, Modena, Guaraldi Logos, 2000, ISBN 88-8049-195-4. Total´nyj perevod. Tartu, Tartu Ülikooli Kirjastus, 1995, ISBN 9985-56-122-8.
1 Canetti 1980: 314.
2 Such a proceeding involves at least one risk: the voice introduces super-segmental traits that might make the text more comprehensible, above all if read by the translation's author. It is much better if the text is read by someone else.