Thursday, May 24, 2007

translation: hosting (not targeting) Aristotle our guest

Some rhetoricians have been reluctant to translate Aristotle. Thomas Conley, for example, insists that: "Anyone who is wholly dependent upon [Lane] Cooper’s translation—or any other scholar’s translation—is not likely to be able to read the Rhetoric acutely [sic].” And Jasper Neel confesses: “that I have offered more of a ‘transterpretation’ than a translation”—as if no translation ought to have interpretation in the target language of English, and as if a reading of the "original" Greek source language frees one of the need to interpret.

A few rhetoricians are more optimistic (and wisely, helpfully realistic). Richard Leo Enos, for instance, says:

The entire point of translations . . . is to put wisdom in the hands of readers who have an expertise other than philology, so that their insights can enrich our understanding in another dimension . . . . Aristotle’s Rhetoric can continue to enrich our discipline.
from, “The Classical Tradition(s) of Rhetoric: A Demur to the Country Club Set

The entire point of translation is the point of this blog.
On the entire point of translation, no one has written better (but has perhaps been read least) than Lydia H. Liu. Here, then, is some of what Liu writes:

As I have argued elsewhere, one does not translate between equivalents; rather, one creates tropes of equivalence in the middle zone of translation between the host and guest languages. This middle zone of hypothetical equivalence, which is occupied by neologistic imagination, becomes the very ground for change. (Tokens of Exchange: The Problem of Translation in Global Circulations: Post-Contemporary Interventions, 137)

I am interested in theoretical problems that lead up to an investigation of the condition of translation and of discursive practices that ensue from initial interlingual contacts between languages. Broadly defined, the study of translingual practice examines the process by which new words, meanings, discourses, and modes of representation arise, circulate, and acquire legitimacy within the host language due to, or in spite of, the latter’s contact/collision with the guest language. Meanings, therefore, are not so much “transformed” when concepts pass from the guest language to the host language as invented within the local environment of the latter. In that sense, translation is no longer a neutral even untouched by the contending interests of political and ideological struggles. Instead, it becomes the very site of such struggles where the guest language is forced to encounter the host language, where the irreducible differences between them are fought out, authorities invoked or challenged, ambiguities dissolved or created, and so forth, until new words and meaning emerge in the host language itself. I hope the notion of translingual practice will eventually lead to a theoretical vocabulary that helps account for the process of adaptation, translation, introduction, and domestication of words, categories, discourses, and modes of representation from one language to another and, furthermore, helps explain the modes of transmission, manipulation, deployment, and domination within the power structure of the host language. (Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity-China, 1900-1937, 26)

If it is always true that the translator or some other agent in the host language always initiates the linguistic transaction by inviting, selecting, combining, and reinventing words and texts from the guest language and, moreover, if the needs of the translator and his/her audience together determine and negotiate the meaning (i.e., usefulness) of the text taken from the guest language, then the terms traditional theorists of translation use to designate the languages involved in translation, such as “source” and “target/receptor,” are not only inappropriate but misleading. The idea of source language often relies on concepts of authenticity, origin, influence, and so on, and has the disadvantage of re-introducing the age-old problematic of translatability/un translatability in the discussion. On the other hand, the notion of target language implies a teleological goal, a distance to be crossed in order to reach the plentitude of meaning; it thus misrepresents the ways in which the trope of equivalence is conceived in the host language, relegating its agency to secondary importance. Instead of continuing to subscribe to such metaphysical concerns perpetuated by the naming of a source and a target, I adopt the notions “host language” and “guest language” . . . (. . . radically alter[ing] the relationship between the original and translation) , which should allow me to place more emphasis on the host language than it has heretofore received. (Translingual Practice: Literature, National Culture, and Translated Modernity-China, 1900-1937, 27)

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