07 June 2010

TSR: André Lefevere

I've pretty much abandoned chronological order in looking at TSR, so now I'm looking at this essay from 1982, "Mother Courage's Cucumbers", which must be one of the first examples of the "Wittgenstein's Poker" school of titling.

Starting with some unarguably bad translations of Brecht, he then goes on to look at how translations, like other "refractions" (critical essays, stagings ...) are situated within one system of language, and have to use various strategies to adapt the original work. Each system includes ideological, economic poetic assumptions. With the poetic differences there are four strategies, and, André, you could have been clearer at this point. A list, such as follows, might have helped.

(i) One can recognise the value of the plays themselves, while dismissing the poetics out of hand
(ii) One can go in for the psychological cop-out: Brecht's poetics can be dismissed as a rationalisation of essentially irrational factors
(iii) One can integrate the new poetics into the old one by translating its concepts into those of the old poetics
(iv) to show that the system can in fact accommodate the new poetics, and be changed by it.

A similar pattern applies to Brecht's ideological content. Translations and other refractions have to fit within the system of the time.

Finally, economic considerations affect whether Brecht's plays are translated, staged, anthologised. (An amusing consideration is that if there are too many songs in a play in America, it becomes a musical and according to theatre custom and practice requires a full orchestra.)

So, applying these deliberations to translation, it becomes clear that translations are a mediation between different systems. While we may think early translations of Brecht were bad, this is not because the translator nodded, but because s/he had to adapt the plays to make them acceptable. We can only afford more accurate translations because the early ones built Brecht into the canon of drama.

On my other blog, I've recently commented on the National Theatre's production of Women Beware Women. A production is a refraction, certainly, and it might be interesting to try to apply this model to what I've written there.

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