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

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