Thursday, 20 March 2014

Munday on the creative voice of the translator

I recently came across a really satisfying article by Jeremy Munday in a 2009 issue of Romance Studies. The article is called 'The Creative Voice of the Translator of Latin American Literature' and it outlines some of the debate there has been around the notion of creativity in Translation Studies. It uses Michael Hoey's notion of lexical priming to look at the ways in which we might read lexical and phrasal choices in translation as elements of creative practice. 

As with all the most satisfying articles, I don't agree with every step in the argument - for instance, I have more time than Munday does for wacky exercises like translating from languages one doesn't understand - but it's an elegant and wide-ranging treatment of creativity in translation. I absolutely agree with Munday that 'there remains a relative absence of detailed descriptions of the creative process by which the translator reshapes the text [...], of the nitty-gritty detail of the whys and wherefores of textual modification [...]'. He quotes the translator Peter Bush (aptly enough, since Bush has contributed a lot of nitty-gritty detail over the years) on where the translator 'sits' in the creative process:
Translatorly readings of literature provoke the otherness within the subject of the translator, work at a level not entirely under the control of the rationalising discourse of the mind, release ingredients from the subconscious magma of language and experience, shoot off in many directions, provoked by the necessity of the creation of new writing. A professional translator is one who is aware of this process, gives it full rein, and is able to hold it in check [...]
He also turns to Junot Díaz to refute the idea of loss in translation:
So many writers take the position that with translation you lose a lot. But really, how much do you lose? Do you lose more than when you speak any language? Isn't language already an act of compromise with reality?
I'm just sorry I didn't find the article in time for a recent encyclopedia entry on creativity that I wrote for the John Benjamins Handbook of Translation Studies - it should be included.

It's a timely reminder of the importance of working with physical books and journals. All my keyword searching for the Benjamins book didn't come up with this article (which in retrospect seems surprising); it was through coming across a physical copy of the journal issue that I became aware of the article (and another great article by Andrew Rothwell in the same issue: 'Translating 'Pure Nonsense': Walter Benjamin Meets Systran on the Dissecting Table of Dada').

This kind of bibliographical encounter is something which, to some extent, we are losing with the shift to ejournals and ebooks. Keyword searching and library-shelf-browsing juxtapose items in very different ways. Even library-shelf-browsing and ejournal-table-of-contents-browsing don't necessarily yield the same results. Let's hope that academic libraries remain places where we can do both.

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