07 June 2010

TSR: Itamar Even-Zohar; Gideon Toury

Back to bogginess and the 1970s. But apparently these two writers provided some of the background for Lefevere, so I ought to look at them.

Even-Zohar's "The Position of Translated Literature within the Literary Polysystem" soon recovers from that awful title. Here he's essentially looking at the different ways in which translation can affect the host "polysystem" (which is similar to the system Lefevere refers to). I think he provides some social/political context to this, although I'd say there's too little reference to sheer political power of one society against another, in economic or military terms. He looks more at the cultural state of the host culture, and it feels right to believe that a new or developing culture is more open to change by the practice of importing translations than a stable old culture would be. It's a pretty short piece, though, not much more than a sketch of what might be investigated further.

Gideon Toury has a simpler title, "The Nature and Role of Norms in Translation", but quickly sinks to this:
The acquisition of a set of norms for determining the suitability of that kind of behaviour, and for manoeuvring between all the factors which may constrain it, is therefore a prerequisite for becoming a translator within a cultural environment.
It's not impenetrable, it's just that it could have been said much more plainly. And so it goes on. The broad argument is that in translation there are some things that you have to do (rules), some things that are at your choice (idiosyncrasies), and those that it's on the whole best to do (norms). All of these are subject to change.

Blimey, I just summarised 12 pages in a paragraph. Of course there's more to it, but it's tough. So he draws us a diagram. The caption says "Schematic diagram showing the Return Potential Method for representing norms: (a) a behaviour dimension; (b) an evaluation dimension; (c) a return potential curve, show the distribution of approval-disapproval among the members of a group over the whole range of behaviour; (d) the range of tolerable or approved behaviour." I'm not even sure if this is just an illustration of what a return potential curve graph looks like, or if it's in any way a mapping of what Toury thinks is the relation between translation norms and acceptability.

At this stage we must be content with our intuitions [...] [M]uch energy should still be directed toward the crystallization of systematic research methods, including statistical ones, especially if we wish to transcend the study of norms, which are always limited to one societal group at a time, and move on to the formulation of general laws of translational behaviour, which would inevitably be probabilistic in nature.
So I can't help thinking this isn't nearly as scientific as it wants to be. The concept of norms etc seems to me very close to Genette's framework of vraisemblance, and I'm eager to see if anyone has made that connection.

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