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Retropost: Gideon Toury - Some New (& Newer) Myths in Translation Studies

Retropost #626 (26 de noviembre de 2005): Gideon Toury - Some New (and Newer) Myths in Translation Studies


(Sigue, previamente a la clausura del congreso sobre "Translation and Cultural Identity", la última conferencia plenaria del congreso, de Gideon Toury, autor entre otros muchos libros de Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond. Versa la conferencia sobre "Mitos nuevos y novísimos en los estudios sobre traducción", y aquí hay unas notas sobre la misma, en inglés live).

A paper and a closing statement. As the conference ends, "I’ve had enough of translation for the time being". Let’s shift to translation studies, and the identity of translation scholars. A closing statement should provide some food for thought, perhaps inconvenient thoughts.

Pro trivial questions. ¿Can we (in our capacity as translator scholars) take it for granted that translators read their source texts before they set out to translate them? (We are other things apart from translation scholars -- please don’t bring translation studies to your children -- [Oops, Mary Poppins]). Simply a question out of curiosity, curiosity which leads us to new knowledge. Do they read the entire source text? Of course a measure of reading (or equivalent for oral translation) must take place. But is there a full reading of the text? 2 answers: "some do, some don’t" or "sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t" but they are not good answers because they contribute little knowledge. Further questions: "when", "how" -- when do translators read the whole thing, or how do they read the rest of the text? To what extent is the text read as text? A reading may not be "textual". 2 dimensions in reading a text: 1, forward-movement, 2 helical, non-linear, interactive, without any simple direction forward ("Serial" and "Structural", for some). Holmes describes the non-linear as generating a mental map of the text. The simple one-way linear reading would be a pathological phenomenon, reading 2 without reading 1 is unimaginable. "Can translators be assumed by translator scholars to give the text at least one full reading before the application of translation strategies proper?" Many translator scholars of the sixties and the seventies, foregrounding the textual reading, assumed that was the case. Slogans: "translation as text", etc. -- have their own function in making statements, goals, theories But usually these statements are presented not as hypotheses but as axioms, assumptions. Many translation theories are built on such unexamined assumptions. Critique of Christiane Noord, etc.
Apart from the myth of the text, we have the myth of "the definitive definition of translation" that would, supposedly, solve all the problems of translation studies – moreover, a definition which should be ahistorical and non-culture specific Such essentialist notions of definition do not hold water. The definition myth seems to have been exploded, but...

A more recent myth: the myth of the "translation universals" -- that there are phenomena which are found only in translations and would therefore be intrinsic to this activity. E.g. explicitation, disambiguation, avoidance of repetition, etc. Several research modes are used to examine texts in order to test for these supposed universals. Toury is skeptic, and would prefer to speak of probabilities. E.g. in some translations implicitation may be more important than explicitation.

Why so much focus on "myth"? We could even use the notion of "mythology" and of "gods and heroes" Some people whose authority is associated with the myth. An everyday notion of myth is "a commonly held but erroneous belief"; better still: "a story which is granted authority by a given community, irrespective of its mixture of fact and fiction". A myth is valid without evidence. It has a function which is not simply to reflect reality or give true reports on it. One of the functions of myth is to establish the group activity; it has a constitutive function for the group. It is not the myth itself that is important, but the fact that it is shared by a given group. Overlaps, etc., of course, but only partial: there are no two communities with the same mythology.

In the mythical end of the spectrum, the actual state of affairs becomes irrelevant. Myth as disguised propaganda to maintain a privileged social order, etc.? Community-making function. Translation scholars have long had a wish to belong, to become a community: with networks, associations, etc. We have already become a community, or a loose aggregate of sub-communities. But any attempt to find a common ground is bound to fail. For instance, there is no general agreement that a common ground should be identified or established. But that doesn’t prevent people form engaging into missionary activity, trying to convert people to their own myth, without telling them it is a myth.

Toury is not against any particular myth, or against myth in general. In fact, he has actively contributed to the creation of some myths and catchphrases. Actually, many myths are reduced to catchphrases through shortened, simplified and second-hand formulations. Reformulations replace the original story. Many people don’t bother to read the story that gave birth to the myth in the first place.

An example of a myth pushed to the extreme: "the relationship between translation and ideology – all translation is political". Research nowadays does not begin with the bare facts, but with an ideological agenda which predetermines the facts which are going to be focused on: feminist, postcolonial, or whatever. This leads to the neglect of other points of view; this leads to using texts as instruments in a political struggle. Although this has not led to much insight in translation methodology proper, it has created a sect, and has led to a politization of the discussion and a kind of new religion of political correctness.

E.g. the boycotting of translation studies done "in a particular country", as if the scholars represented the state as a whole, or the official politics of its government. Not giving names. Perhaps this will be leading to a new association, with different journals and the original myth originating this community, and the specific boycott which started everything in the summer of Summer 2003, will soon be forgotten.

Vs. the prospect of sectarianism in translation studies. People are choosing, little by little, different conferences to meet in, and the "politically-correct" and the "apolitical" group are drifting apart, although there are a good number of scholars connecting both groups, mediating and trying to prevent the growth of sectarianism.

Discussion generally agrees on supporting the speaker’s defense of a tolerant community of scholarly encounters which is not subordinated to specific nationalist or anti-nationalist political aims, and which does not make scholars the collateral victims of their governments’ policies.

(La discusión tras la conferencia apoya la defensa que ha hecho Toury de una comunidad académica que no esté subordinada a proyectos políticos, nacionalistas o anti-nacionalistas, su oposición a que se haga de los académicos víctimas colaterales de los conflictos políticos censurándoles de entrada en función de su nacionalidad -- como sucede en algunos foros con los académicos isralíes, y antes sucedió con los sudafricanos... En absoluto se apoya con esto las políticas de esos gobiernos, al contrario, se defiende la tolerancia y se lucha contra el sectarismo acrítico en que, sorprendentemente, acaban derivando algunas posturas políticas críticamente concienciadas.

Y con esto se cierra el congreso sobre "Translation and Cultural Identity", con numerosos participantes internacionales, de cerca de veinte países, y también de muchas partes de España; aunque, en contraste, con una asistencia un tanto escasa de profesores y alumnos del departamento organizador... ironías de la vida. Sectarismos también, a veces. Y eso que nos habían interrumpido las clases para que asistiese todo el mundo).



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