In The Postcolonial Exotic, Graham Huggan discusses the way the Western world treats African literature. He shows how African writers are dependent on Europe, and how this influences what is written and what literature enters Europe. This paper will try go on where Huggan stopped: it will do more or less the same, but for translation and not specifically the translation of African literature. It will discuss in detail the consequences of the choices that are made in the process of selecting and translating works written in non-hegemonic languages. It will also look at postcolonial translation theory in general, and work towards the future of translation theory, discussing decolonising translation strategies.
Huggan devoted half a chapter to the way Europe dominates the African literary market. On the one hand writers want to tell a certain story, but on the other hand they have to be aware of how they can reach a certain audience and how their writings will be perceived by different readers. Writers want their stories to be read by as many people as possible, both for financial and ideological reasons. In practice this means that writers have to either write in one of the hegemonic languages (often English, in many parts of the world viewed upon as the language of freedom) or to have their works translated. These authors usually end up writing for European publishing houses, because there hardly is a publishing industry in most Third World countries. The fact that all these books are published by European publishers does not only affect what is written and how these books are read, but it also creates a vicious circle: the already underdeveloped book industry does not get the opportunity to develop.
African authors will often turn to foreign publishers because of a general mistrust in local publishing, and to be assured of a higher quality product. Therefore, both writers and books are geared primarily towards an outside audience. This vicious circle seems to be a well-established mechanism by continuously directing its resources and products towards an external supplier and consumer."
(Lizarríbar 1998: 58, quoted in Huggan 2001: 51)
Another problem with this is that these western publishers often have a very limited knowledge of the author's culture, and therefore have false expectations. They want the authors to address certain issues in their writing, or expect them to write like other authors from the same cultural or ethnic background.
"Books are almost always praised for using motifs and symbols out of the author's own national tradition, or when their form echoes some traditional form, obviously pre-English, and when the influences at work upon the writer can be seen to be wholly internal to the culture from which he 'springs'. Books which mix traditions, or which seek consciously to break with tradition, are often treated as highly suspect."
(Rushdie 1991: 66)
There are two processes at work here. One is the fact that authors feel obliged to write something that fits into the world of the reader, or in Rushdie's words, to use motifs and symbols that the reader associates with the culture of the author. For example, a South African author might feel pressured into writing on the Apartheid regime, to describe the streets of Johannesburg and to use words in Afrikaans, because readers think this is the 'authentic' South Africa. Authenticity is a term of praise often used in the studies of Third World and Commonwealth literature, when referring to traditions and stereotypes in a novel. According to Rushdie, "[w]hat is revealing is that the term […] would seem ridiculous outside this world. Imagine a novel being eulogized for being 'authentically English', or 'authentically German'. It would seem absurd" (Rushdie 1991: 67). The other process is that readers sometimes take literary works to gain knowledge. Even if authors do not try to create an image of a country or culture in their novels that exists in the western world, some readers mistake fiction for facts. A good example is Salman Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children. In this novel, Rushdie writes about a generation born at the moment of India becoming independent. The story is told by Saleem Sinai, an unreliable narrator, who "is cutting up history to suit himself" (Rushdie 1991: 24). The book became successful and was even awarded a Booker Prize and this changed the way it was read. Many readers mistakenly took the novel for a history or guide book, and others criticised Rushdie for making mistakes and being incomplete:
'If you're going to use Hindu traditions in your story, Mr Rushdie,' I was asked by an irate and shiny-headed gentleman in Bangalore […] 'don't you think you could take the trouble to look it up?' I have also received letters arguing about Bombay bus routes, and informing me that certain ranks used by the Pakistan Army in the text are not in fact used by the Pakistan Army in Pakistan.
(Rushdie 1991: 23)
According to Huggan, Third World literature has become part of commodity culture: it has "global market-value of a reified object of intellectual tourism" (Huggan 2001: 56). People read novels about foreign cultures to study cultural difference, to celebrate it even, and they try to find universal values in them. They are even actively used as a way to educate people about different cultures: not only do people read them for signs of cultural difference, the novels usually contain footnotes, glossaries, photographs and introductory essays to explain the culture of the author, which help people to understand the novel not in a literary way, but in a historical or anthropological way (Huggan 2001: 53). Unfortunately, although people try to respect other cultures and try to value them for what they are, and although publishers now publish Third World literature, this does not mean there is no power struggle left. It must be clear by now that all the attention paid to other cultures turned them into a product to be consumed by the West. Even though the West publishes their literature, people from the Third World are not free to write what they want: they have to conform to the western genre of the novel and their works are only accepted if they write from a traditional point of view, that is without mixing signs from different cultures. They have to write in a language the West understands, or be prepared to have their works translated.
The rest of this paper will focus on translation. It will start with looking at the process of selecting a text for translation, and then examine the strategies used in the process of translation itself. In the field of translation studies there has been a debate on the preferred strategy of translation: domestication or exoticisation? This should clear up the title of this paper. In translation there has been a tendency to domesticate, and this paper will also attempt to explain why. In this way, the other culture, the exotic, is domesticated: a foreign culture is translated so that the Western reader can understand. This has been severely criticised by many translators and postcolonial critics, among them Gayatri Spivak, Harish Trivedi and Susan Bassnett.
In the Introduction to Translation and Empire, Douglas Robinson writes that postcolonial studies and translation studies have got closer to each other. Over the years, postcolonial scholars have come to realise that culture is mediated through language, and thus that translation is an intercultural phenomenon significant to their field of study. Not only postcolonial scholars have become interested in this, postcolonialism has also become part of translation studies. It is also interesting that both studies consider movement in a very different way. Postcolonialism studies the influence of colonialism, or the new ways that Europe and the USA have power over the Third World (through movement of knowledge or products), and translation studies the way one culture or language is taken to another culture or language. Translation can be seen as a metaphor, because originally it means something like 'bearing across'. Translation thus does not only have the meaning of replacing a word from one language with that from another, but also that of replacing a sign (anything) from one culture with a sign from another culture. This leads to the most important issue in translation studies: the age old 'word-for-word' vs. 'sense-for-sense' debate, which over the centuries developed into the debate of 'domestication' vs. 'exoticisation'. The first one to write about this issue was Cicero in the first century BC, and this debate still forms the basis of translation studies. Word-for-word translation used to mean just that: replacing individual words of a source language (SL) with that of a target language (TL). This was how translation was practised until the translation of the Old Testament from Greek by St. Jerome. He believed this literal translation lead to an absurd translation that actually did not represent the meaning of the original (Munday 2001: 20). He was the first one to start translating sense-for-sense. In the sixteenth century another important event took place: Martin Luther translated the Bible into the language of the German people, a language they could understand. He took an enormous risk, though, because not even two decades later the French humanist Etienne Dolet was burned by the church because of his 'blasphemous' translation of the Bible. In the seventeenth century, the ideas on translation began to change a bit, and there were some early attempts of developing a systematic translation theory. It was still thought that one should be 'true' or 'faithful' to a text, but it now meant that one would have to stay as close to the original meaning as possible. The word 'imitation' was introduced by Cowley, who admitted to changing texts any way he wanted to, so that he could pass on the 'spirit' of the text; he tried to prevent texts from losing beauty by adding his own ideas (Munday 2001 : 24). The English poet and translator described three categories of translation: "metaphrase," literal or word-by-word translation; "paraphrase," staying close to the original, but conveying meaning is more important than strict translation of the words; "imitation," which corresponds to what is now called adaptation (Munday 2001 : 24). Over the centuries there have been many translators who have tried to think of ways to capture the meaning of a text. Alexander Fraser Tytler, in the eighteenth century, thought the translator had to "adopt the very soul of his author" (Munday 2001 : 26) and, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Schleiermacher asks the question of how to bring the source text (ST) writer and the target text (TT) reader together:
Either the translator leaves the writer alone as much as possible and moves the reader toward the writer, or he [sic] leaves the reader alone as much as possible and moves the writer towards the reader.
(Schleiermacher 1813, cited in Munday 2001: 28)
Schleiermacher wanted the reader to be moved towards the writer, so that the reader of the translation would get the same impression as the reader of the original. Of course all these terms and Schleiermacher's proposed method of translation are rather vague and subjective. Many theoreticians have noticed this problem and tried to develop more coherent and objective theories. In the second half of the twentieth century many theoreticians were concerned with the concepts of meaning and 'equivalence'. Equivalence is a concept developed by Roman Jakobson. In "On linguistic aspects of translation," Jakobson explores the relation between the signifier and the signified, showing that this relation is arbitrary and that there are no full equivalents in language. The English word 'cheese,' for example, can easily be translated into any other language of cultures that are familiar with a 'food made of pressed curds,' but they are not exactly the same because the words for 'cheese' in different languages refer to different sorts of cheese. And where the Dutch only have 'neven,' the British have 'cousins' and 'nephews.' But according to Jakobson, this does not mean that meaning cannot be translated at all, only that differences in the structure and terminology of a language have to be taken into account (Jakobson 1959, cited in Munday 2001: 37). From then on many linguistic theories on translation have been developed, which are far too complicated to explain in this paper and have hardly anything to do anymore with the discussion of translation strategies. It was only in the 1970s that Itamar Even-Zohar developed his polysystem theory. This theory is highly relevant, because it was the first theory that actually saw all literary work as part of a literary system, and translated literature works as a system in two ways: "in the way the TL selects works for translation" and "in the way translation norms, behaviour and policies are influenced by other co-systems" (Munday 2001 : 109). The importance of translation fluctuates. In smaller nations dominated by the culture of a larger one, translated literature has a leading role in the development of new models for target culture literature. Normally, however, translated literature has a peripheral position in the polysystem: translated literature conforms to the literary standards of the TC (Munday 2001: 110). This, of course, is what happens to Third World literature translated into English, and which is so fiercely criticised by postcolonial scholars who feel that it is impossible to tell who wrote the novel in the first place:
In the act of wholesale translation into English there can be a betrayal of the democratic ideal into the law of the strongest. This happens when all the literature of the Third World gets translated into a sort of with-it translatese, so that the literature by a woman in Palestine begins to resemble, in the feel of its prose, something by a man in Taiwan (Spivak 1993, cited in Huggan 2001: 25).
According to Even-Zohar, translation strategy is conditioned by the position of translated literature in the polysystem. Although this is certainly true, there are more processes that influence the way in which a literary work is translated. What is not recognised by him, but is by Gideon Toury, is that translation is a process taking place in the translator. Toury tries to describe trends in translation behaviour by examining texts and statements by translators, publishers and reviewers, and so to find out what 'norms' are operating during the process of translation. The most important norm, 'the initial norm,' is the choice of translation strategy of the translator. If the translator decides to follow the norms of the ST, the translation will be adequate, and if he decides to follow the norms of the target culture, the TT will be acceptable. In the 1980s, translation theory changed from an analysis of translation as text to a translation of culture, which is where postcolonial studies and other cultural studies come in. When closely examined, postcolonial translation theory has much in common with the translation theory of the 1970s in general and that of Even-Zohar and Toury in specific. They try to see translation in relation to other literature, to the wishes of publishers, the expectations of the public and power relations (as pointed out by Even-Zohar on the position of translated literature in the polysystem: in smaller nations translated literature influences national literature, and in stronger nations translations are adapted to national literary norms) and they look at the processes at work in the translator the way Toury does. But of course there are also plenty of differences. Toury and Even-Zohar did not take a political stand, and many of the postcolonial critics do. They criticise the way the West dominates the literary market, and they disapprove of the translation strategies commonly employed in the west, as does Spivak, who even argues that feminists in the West should learn the languages of women in Third World countries to show solidarity, because translations into hegemonic languages overassimilate their work (Munday 2001 : 134).
Now that the main problem of translation has been explained, the other processes at work in translation will be discussed.
Toury's method … must still turn to cultural theory in order to assess the significance of the data, to analyse the norms. Norms may be in the first instance linguistic or literary, but they will also include a diverse range of domestic values, beliefs, and social representations which carry ideological force in serving the interests of specific groups. And they are always housed in the social institutions where translations are produced and enlisted in cultural and political agendas.
(Venuti 1998, cited in Munday 2001: 145)
Translation starts with the selection of a text, but not many attention has been given to the process of selection. This is strange, considering it is a very important decision. What is translated decides what can be read by people from other cultures, it influences the perception of the source culture and often there are political reasons for (not) selecting a work. In the past, many texts were translated by rich white men with too much time on their hands, and they usually had strong beliefs that could be detected from a mile away; e.g. they wrote for a religious or a political cause, like Martin Luther. Nowadays things are completely different. It still happens that translators select texts themselves, but usually it is the publishers and editors deciding on what text should be translated and then hiring an agency to translate it for them. The main purpose of literary translation in the West is generating profit, and this means that it is important to find texts that are appealing to as many people as possible. This leads us back right to the beginning of this paper, to the discussion of Third World literature written in English: the novel has to be acceptable to people, it has to live up to their expectations. The Anglo-American world is monolingual, it is not open to influences from outside. They are not very interested in literatures from other parts of the world; these are considered of interest only to specific groups of people, e.g. specialists and students. It is estimated that works from the Third World represent only one or two percent of the books read in the First World (Robinson 1997: 33). It seems that British and American publishing
has reaped the financial benefits of successfully imposing Anglo-American cultural values on a vast foreign readership, while producing cultures in the United Kingdom and the United States that are aggressively monolingual, unreceptive to the foreign, accustomed to fluent translations that invisibly inscribe foreign texts with English-language values and provide readers with the narcissistic experience of recognizing their own culture in a cultural other.
(Venuti 1995, cited in Robinson 1997:33)
Because of this, texts are selected that can easily be understood by the dominant culture, or that can be translated in a domesticating way. This means that Western values are dominant in the translation, both politically and aesthetically. The language of the original is adapted to a language accepted in the target culture and sometimes the form of the work is altered. As already said above, the content should not contradict the commonly accepted views of the source culture, and this means that the works selected are often written by authors who are educated enough to either speak English or to be able to write a text fully conscious of the stereotypes and ideas of the West relating to their own culture. On the other hand there are also groups trying to promote foreign literature. Some of them are companies like Heinemann (see Huggan 1991 on the African Writers Series), but others are non-profit organisations or postcolonial scholars trying to heighten the status of Third World literature or to fight racism. Translations by these organisations often advocate a foreignising translation strategy, so that the 'voice' of the original can be heard in the translation. This strategy will be addressed later on, when discussing the future of (postcolonial) translation, now this paper will proceed with the next step in the process of translation: the role of publisher and editor. Translators often do not get to have a lot to say in the process. They have to work for low wages because publishers try to keep the costs to a minimum. It is usually the editors deciding on the translation strategy, but more often than not they are only concerned with the text reading well, because they are not fluent in the foreign language (Munday 2001: 154). In some cases, this has disastrous consequences for the original, as in that of Milan Kundera's The Joke
whose first English translator and editor, working jointly, decided to unravel the ST’s intentionally distorted chronology in an attempt to clarify the story for the readers. Kundera was sufficiently shocked and used his dominant position to demand a new translation.
(Munday 2001: 154)
Unfortunately, things like this happen very often, and also in cases where the author is not so influential. In the article "Staten van verwarring, Nederlandse vertalingen van Chinese literatuur," Mark Leenhouts writes about the film Raise the Red Lantern, which was based on a novel by Su Tong, Wives and Concubines, which had absolutely nothing to do with red lanterns. People thought it was a lovely, authentic depiction of traditional Chinese culture and the film became a success. Nobody even knew that the filmmaker Zhang Yimou had made up the ritual of the red lanterns himself. The novel is still known as De Rode Lantaarn [The Red Lantern] in the Dutch translation. To prevent these things from happening in the future, some changes have to be made in the world of translation. Venuti is one of the translators-theorists that are concerned with this issue. Venuti deplores the fact that many translators are underpaid and dominated by the publishers and editors. He calls for action: for 'resistancy,' a foreignising translation strategy to increase the visibility of the translator. He has often been criticised for this, because it is doubtful whether this would actually change anything in translation, but what is generally appreciated in his theory is that he recognises the role of the publisher and the editor, and sees translators as real people in a system. Another problem in Venuti's theory is that his 'resistancy' cannot be tested or measured: that foreignisation is always relative. Some of the techniques that, according to Venuti, can be used in foreignising translation are a close adherence to the structure and syntax of the ST, including calques, and making the reader aware of the translator through language, by e.g. juxtaposing archaisms and colloquialisms (Munday 2001: 147).
The organising principle of Robinson’s Translation and Empire is a utopian myth of translation studies: translation has three different roles in past, present and future. In the past it was actively used in colonisation, in the present translation is a postcolonial act, but in the future it will be used in decolonisation.
[T]ranslation has been used to control and 'educate' and generally shape colonized populations in the past; translation in the present remains steeped in the political and cultural complexities of postcoloniality; and one of the hopes of postcolonial translation studies is that translation might open new and productive avenues for the future. (Robinson 1997: 6, 31)
Translation over the centuries has developed into an interdisciplinary field of study, and it is likely that the field will keep expanding: that more and more fields of study will become interested in the phenomenon of translation, and start working together. The different groups of theorists that are interested in translation do not seem to be interacting as much as one could hope. Postcolonial translation theory will probably discuss the different ways in which translation can be a part of the process of decolonisation. This discussion has started already, but there seems to be more emphasis on the signs of postcolonialism. Several critics have proposed strategies of decolonisation through translation. Venuti and Spivak have already been mentioned. They both propose a foreignising translation strategy, but Venuti focuses on the role of the translator and creating visibility of the translator through language, whereas Spivak focuses on the way other cultures are depicted and feels that text should always be recognisable as foreign, that the voice of the original should be present in translation. Niranjana, however, writes from a poststructuralist perspective and believes that postcolonial translators have to call into question aspects of colonialism, to dismantle the West from within, and to actively look for the methods the West uses to repress other cultures to be able to counter it. She demands an active approach of the translator (Munday 2001: 135).
It is difficult to draw a conclusion, because this paper has discussed so many different issues, concepts and opinions from everywhere in the world and over a long period of time. Because of that, I will not attempt a conclusion, but end with the hope that Robinson is right, and that translation in the future can be used as a means of decolonisation, and that Third World countries and authors will get more opportunities and be able to escape from the vicious circle of postcolonialism described above.
"It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately, to the notion that something can also be gained" (Rushdie 1991: 17).
This essay was graded 8.5 on M level.