Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Theory meets practice? (This is not an anti-theory post)

Spring semester in MALT programme and things have become really exciting. New modules, new ideas, new supplies for our future translation arsenal. One of our most powerful weapons as literary translators is, presumably, a good knowledge of theory. And therefore, we were all happy to find out that there was a “translation theory” module in this semester’s programme.
I haven’t had any specific difficulty with this module, at least regarding all the reading we have to do. I like it, I find it extremely interesting, so much that I actually find myself not being able to stop talking about theories at some times. I have even managed to come up with some pretty decent jokes concerning theories and theorists.
However, I have been facing a problem as far as translation theories are concerned: I don’t seem to be able to apply them-and by the moment I have written this, I know that I take a great risk by using this term.
I am not trying to start an anti-theory manifesto, claiming that theory is not necessary and- in more extreme terms- useless. I believe I have a long way to go if I ever decide to actually set that as a belief. I am only stating that we should not consider theory to be panacea.
Literary translation is a very creative domain of translation studies. The translator is often regarded as a writer, especially when it comes to the “author is dead/alive” dilemma. Some times, intuition is stronger than any kind of theory, descriptive or prescriptive, and unfortunately, intuition cannot be engaged with theories-at least in my mind. Having been practicing translation for some years now, I have come to realise that theory can help to some extent, but it can’t overshadow the state of mind of a translator in the process of translating, unless one is asked to do so. Theory has helped me as a translator- reader, not as a translator- writer.
I feel the need to say one more time that I am not suggesting that theory can be yet another constraint-as if there were not de facto many- for a translator, and I am definitely not rejecting theory. What I am saying, is that if theory is supposed to “simply be a way of looking at the world”, as Gutt suggests, then every one has a different way to do that, a different perspective on what the world is, different experiences and ways of understanding whatever takes place to their reality.
And after I have managed to work all my way through inconsistency, since by quoting a theorist, I automatically reject all the things that I have argued above, I believe that theories are useful when we are not narrow-minded, following them with blind faith, considering them to be our translation Messiah.
However, intuition in translation is a marvelous thing. As the topic of this year’s Norwich Papers issue suggests, “it just does/doesn’t sound right” can be a very powerful theory, strategy, notion on its own (I wouldn’t want to call it something specific, as it is quite wide an idea to be described by one word only.)
To sum up, as mentioned above, this is not an anti-theory post. Theory is essential as well as intuition. They come in peace, they are here to help. They are not supposed to work as constraints. Publishers do a terrific job regarding that…

Thei Sorotou is a translator working with Greek, English and French. She graduated from the Department of foreign languages, translation and interpreting, Ionian University, Corfu, Greece, and is currently a MALT student in the University of East Anglia. She is really interested in the field of drama translation.
Contact: theisrt@yahoo.gr

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Computer theory

The other day I read an article in the Guardian (I think it was). Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the article, and I've cleared my browser history since I read it, but the reason I'm mentioning it is because it contained a link. A very interesting link. It was from a column written by my current home-boy, Umberto Eco, which can be found at http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_mac_vs_pc.html. In this speech, Eco compares religion to computers. He says that Macs are Catholics and PCs are Protestants. Now I'm neither Catholic or Protestant, but I think the idea of there being a theory behind computers very interesting.

As a Mac user, I've never thought of myself as having anything to do with Catholicism. In fact, I don't actually know much about Catholicism. However, I do think Eco's views are very interesting. He states that the Mac operating system is, "cheerful, friendly, conciliatory; it tells the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach -- if not the kingdom of Heaven -- the moment in which their document is printed. It is catechistic: The essence of revelation is dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous icons. Everyone has a right to salvation."

I agree that Macs are very user friendly. When I got my first Mac, a Power Mac G4, I thought it was incredible that I could just open the box, attach the cables in their proper places, and voilĂ ! Instant computer. I never had any kind of experience of that nature with Windows. In fact, even to this day, I still find Windows incredibly frustrating and difficult to navigate. With Macs, everything I need is right there

If I want to search for a document on my computer, for example, I just hit Command-space and type in the term I need. I can even write special notes so I can find a document or picture (for instance) more easily. If I want to do the same thing in Windows, I have to click on the Start menu, type in a term, and wait while the computer searches for the term, which it may or may not find, since there is no way to type any special notes. In other words, you have to know exactly what you are looking for if you want to find something in Windows. I once tried to look for a programme called Task Manager, which is a piece of software that every windows computer automatically comes with, so I could see how much processing space the machine was using. When I typed in "Task Manager" into the Windows search box, there were no results. If I now typed in those same words on Spotlight (the Mac search box), I would instantly be directed to this very document. Umberto says that DOS (the programming on which Windows is based) is Calvinistic, and I agree with him. With Windows, you have to accept their terms or else. I think this would also apply to the Windows word processor, Microsoft Word. In order to view a Word document either by you or someone else, you have to have Word installed on your computer. There are other programmes that can convert into Word, but they are unable to read Word files. I remember very early in my undergraduate career when I wrote an entire paper in AppleWorks, a Mac word processor which (alas) no longer exists. I tried to open it on a school computer and could not figure out why it would not open. I think I actually ended up copying and pasting the text of the paper into an email and sending it to myself. Unfortunately, it also meant that all of the footnotes I had written for this paper were missing, since AppleWorks did not copy them. If I had taken the Calvinistic Windows approach and accepted Word, I would have been able to print out the document without any problems. As a result of this, I later bought a copy of Word for Mac, which, now that I think about it, must completely contradict Eco's theory.

Lastly, I wonder what Eco would think of Rich Text Files, which can be opened by any word processor, from AppleWorks to Apple Pages to Text Edit to Word to Open Office. All for one and one for all. A sort of Three Musketeers theory, if you will. Which, incidentally, is precisely what I wrote this in. Text Edit.

Sabrina Steiner is a Spanish to English translator and ardent Beatles fan. You can contact her at beatles4life@gmail.com.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Translation and Intentism: A Dialogue

Intentism is a movement which believes that art (in the broad sense) can convey an artist’s intended message to his or her intended audience. It both recognises and celebrates the relationship between an artist’s creation and its creator. Vittorio Pelosi is a founding member of Intentism. Over February-March 2011, I spoke to him about translation and Intentism, to get a better understanding of whether they are compatible. Below is an edited fragment of the conversation between Vittorio (not a translator) and myself (not necessarily an Intentist). Apologies for not presenting the entire dialogue; our discussion is still under way.

Samantha Christie: Can you provide a brief introduction to your ideas?

Vittorio Pelosi: It was said in a seminal work called 'The Intentional Fallacy' by Wimsatt and Beardsley that not only can intentions not be accurately found, but even if they were, they would not be useful in understanding meaning. However, Intentists believe that the work is the 'vehicle' of the meaning and that intentions imbue the work with meaning. If you want to distill our theory into a statement, I suppose it would be that 'all meaning is the outworking of intention.' This is to say, intention by itself is not meaning, as intention is a 'performance expectation'. However, once the intention has been realized, the meaning is found in what was intended.

SC: Where does translation stand in relation to Intentism? Are there any translators already working within an Intentist framework? Has it been written about?

VP: Intentists believe that a translator should put the author's intention (originally formed in one language) in a new set of signs (language.) Professor William Irwin, an Intentist and an American philosopher, has touched on this. He quotes Gadamer, who was against much of what Intentists believe. Gadamer said that however much a translator can empathize with the original author, the translator cannot re-awaken the original process in the writer's mind. Instead, the translator re-creates the text guided by the way he understands what it says. And Jorge J. E. Gracia makes an interesting distinction. He says that the translator can be a new author, but only the author of a new text, since the translator chooses new signs and nothing has been written in this language like this before. However, he can't be the author of the work, since that remains with the original creator.

SC: Gadamer’s point is quite a common view amongst translation scholars. We're almost trained to see ourselves in that way, actually. I agree with him. Though I also think it depends on what type of text is being translated and why - if it's a two-line answer to a question, something quite close
will probably be appropriate. If it's a poem or a highly stylised piece of writing, I think re-creating or rewriting comes into it more. There is more involvement from the translator and there are some cases where you have to restructure phrases in order for them to make sense in English, or add a short extra sentence to explain something culturally-specific. I agree with Gracia, too. The translator is the author of a new text; a re-created text.

VP: Intentists believe 'No creative input, no meaning input’ - meaning that anyone who creates something or adds to it creatively, adds to it epistemologically.

SC: I find this very interesting from a translation viewpoint. I see the translator as a separate entity from the author, not just an extension. Inevitably when translating, some of your personal views or style of language will seep in, or you may deliberately try to translate in a certain way to highlight certain things. We've already established that we have a creative input into the translation, so if we think of the translation alone, couldn't we see that the translator has a meaning input as well? I don't just mean by putting it into a new language we get the new meaning (or same meaning in a different language), I mean by the translation choices made. For example, translating a feminist text in such a way as to emphasize the feminism, or translating for a new audience, such as a children’s version. In this way, the translator’s intention supersedes the author’s.

VP: I think I agree. There needs to be a distinguishable difference between the work before the creative act and afterwards. So for example, some postmodernists believe in the creative eye. This is their way of saying when you look at a work you construct the signs and symbols through your creative frame of reference. This is another way of saying meaning comes from the viewer and not the author. I don't think this holds water. It has been put to me this way: I visit a gallery and I see a work I had seen before. Between my visits it has been seen by another without my knowing. Could I tell from the work alone? Surely not. The work is unchanged. Therefore, there is no genuine creative input that changes the works meaning. (Different cultures and generations can have different views of a work, but that is new significance, not meaning.) However, obviously a translation directly affects the text. So I think I would agree.

A full version of this dialogue will appear on www.intentism.com in April.

Samantha Christie is a translator from French and Spanish into English and is currently pursuing the MA in Literary Translation at UEA. Special interests include translation in the areas of detective fiction and music, and the relationship between author and translator.
Contact: info@samanthachristie.co.uk