10 August 2009

The Invisible Translator (4)

In the third chapter, “Dissidence” Venuti looks at how the selection of works for translation can be part of a foreignising project in the translating culture.

The major part of the chapter is about the work of Iginio Ugo Tarchetti, an Italian writer of the mid-19th century, who belonged to a group called scapigliatura (roughly, ragamuffinry). He wrote in the fantasy genre, and it’s suggested this was a literary and political challenge to the orthodox style of realism, enshrined in I Promessi Sposi, which underrepresented any social divisions within the new Italy. There’s a long discussion of Tarchetti’s translation/plagiarisation of a Mary Shelley story, "The Mortal Immortal". He published this as his own work but it is very much a translation. However, by not claiming (or admitting) to be a translation, the work is able to part company with the original. Venuti argues that this enables Tarchetti to strengthen the role of class divisions.

Venuti seems to regret that there’s no place for this kind of translation/plagiarisation today. It’s forbidden by copyright law and contracts. He suggests that the concept of the author as embodied in copyright law is over-simplified: the work is not simply the product of the person who wrote it, and the modern emphasis on single named authors doesn’t allow the kind of collaborative work that we may imagine Homer to be. And there would be a kind of frankness in a translator being able to say they have made several changes to the original to make it more relevant to the target culture.

But he says that people can attempt to introduce some foreignising influence into their translation work by their choice of material.

The chapter ends with a rather separate but interesting exploration of a recent phenomenon in English language publishing: the popularity of translated crime novels – eg the Wallander books. It’s unconclusive. On one hand, you can see the readers of these books as wanting to read about a different culture. But if that was so, why don’t they read mainstream literature in translation? On the other hand, the books that tend to be translated are firmly in the anglo-american tradition, focussed on the police officer or detective’s solution of the crime. The discussion has made me want to read some Wallander, though, as well as some of the other less mainstream books discussed, eg Miyuke Miyabe’s Kasha (translated as All She Was Worth. Venuti ends with the happy thought that even unchallenging books like the Wallander series can expand the range of acceptable books in the mainstream culture. I think that’s true: anecdotally, it seems to me that the choice of translated books that appear on Waterstone’s tables is becoming more adventurous - which bizarrely means more mainstream.

That’s it for today. The next chapter is called “Margin”. It’s quite a long one, and it features - tada! - Ezra Pound.

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