A historical overview on the consideration of literary translation from a Comparative Literature point of view

George Steiner

Comparative literature is an art of understanding centred in the eventuality and defeats of translation. […] Every facet of translation […] is absolutely pivotal to the comparatist.

Steiner (1995: 10)

The ontological concept of translation to which we have alluded has been suffering in the West from the negative influence of deeply rooted convictions throughout the centuries, which has had a counterproductive effect on its qualitative consideration. André Lefevere (1991) pinpointed with special clairvoyance the historical circumstances that determined this situation. In his opinion, the study of translation had been hampered by an excessive prescriptivism arising from the way that the evaluation of the translation exercise was carried out. Thus, from the perspective of language teaching (in which translation has been practiced for so long), translation was the tool enabling the teacher to check whether the original text had been well understood. This is why there was a great insistence on the existence of an extreme dichotomy between correctness/incorrectness or between loyalty/freedom, without the possibility of intermediate positions being considered.

It goes without saying that this was due largely to various institutions (church strata, state, educational institutions, etc…), which have always wanted to ensure that the major works were translated in the right way to preserve their interests. Broadly speaking, this double choice between loyalty/freedom (already mentioned by Cicero in 46 b. C.) is referred to with the expressions “word for word translation” and “meaning for meaning translation.”

The debate on whether literalness and full respect for the original text are more desirable or, conversely, an adaptation to the host culture is to be preferred, had long occupied theorists in fruitless discussions. It was not until the mid-20th century that the linguistic approaches to translation overcame this extreme dichotomy and a consensus was reached on the fact that translation must be based on a compromise between respect for the original and the communicative efficacy of a new text conceived by means of different linguistic signs in a different cultural context.

On the other hand, the dichotomy between loyalty and freedom came inextricably linked to another dichotomy, established between correctness and incorrectness. The delicate task of translation involves a balance between avoiding excessive domestication, which would be a betrayal to the original text, and excessive foreignisation, which would be a betrayal to the host language and culture. This meant that, over the centuries, a strong emphasis was made on the presentation of rules prescribing which should be the correct way to translate. Obviously, these rules were continually revised and resulted in different and even contradictory translation poetics.

This fruitless debate between whether to opt for a free translation or for a literal translation, was raised many times in exclusive terms and without regard to the principles governing the translator’s decision-making, such as their own ideological or aesthetic convictions, the purpose of the translation or the public it was intended for. A similarly unproductive debate was held on the possibility of translation itself or, in other words, the dichotomy between translatability and untranslatability, either from a linguistic point of view (for example, the universalist thesis against cultural relativism) or stylistic terms (for example, the limits that the existence of motivated signifiers implies to obtaining equivalence, as in the case of poetry). Currently, these debates setting out the situation in dichotomous terms have been fortunately overcome, or at least have ceased to be discussed in a mutually exclusive way.

The way in which the practice of translation and the teaching of this practice were addressed traditionally has, according to A. Lefevere (1991: 136-137), a second major effect on the evolution of the thought on translation: the already mentioned huge discrepancy between the status of the original and that of the translation. The Romans were convinced of the superiority of Greek over Latin, just as during the European Renaissance the superiority of classical languages ​​on the vernaculars was stressed. When classical texts were translated, not only did the translator have to show a perfect understanding of the original text, but also imitation of the original’s style was considered to be a strategy that improved the translator’s own style. Additionally, this improvement was not limited to the personal style of each individual, but this exercise was supposed to also promote the improvement of the target language the translator was working with.

Throughout the Renaissance, no language was considered worthy until it demonstrated its ability to elegantly translate the great classical authors. This concept of imitation underwent major transformations in the 17th century (a trend which started in France), when the authors of that period began to consider themselves able to compete with the classics in the search for literary excellence. This was very symptomatic of the interest to turn French into a real language of culture, not to mention the fact that it was practiced at a time when the readership of these translations could have directly read the originals. Classic and modern works would cohabitate in the same space and it was not uncommon to find translators capable of correcting the original authors when they thought that they had not reached the desirable levels of quality, based on the poetics of the moment.

Later, during the Romanticism, and very markedly in Germany, a deliberate attempt to incorporate the classics (especially Hellenistic classics) was made in order to show that the host language was able to make the leading figures of world literature speak through it. Thus a deliberate cultural planning was carried out, leading to an enrichment of the literary repertoire. Such prominent authors and translators as Goethe, Humboldt or Schiller considered translation a tool for achieving universality (through the German language), while others, like Schlegel and Novalis, considered that translation (and criticism) helps us understand poetry as an absolute (“After all, translation is just an instance of poeticizing. Ultimately, all poetry is translation,” would the latter say). The different translation exercises performed are accompanied by empirical and speculative considerations about the literary, cultural, metaphysical, religious and historical implications of this activity, and are part of an attempt to feed language and culture, especially in its poetic expression, thanks to the import of classical Greek models, which will expand the repertoire by transmission through foreignisation.

We have already suggested that Comparative Literature paid scant attention to translation for a long time. Indeed, it would be more correct to say that it rejected translation, for it not only considered translation to be an inappropriate field of study but also did not use it as a tool to access literary works. Its emergence as a discipline had to find an academic space next to classical philology and the different modern philologies. If in the first one translation had been practised, it had been as a tool for learning dead languages ​​or evaluating that learning (this was therefore a didactic translation). In modern philology the study of the history of the language occupied a privileged place, leading to not requiring the use of translations and allegedly forced direct access to texts, despite their being written in a very pronounced diachronic variety. According to what Lefevere states elsewhere (1995:2), Comparative Literature, in order to maintain a high degree of academic respectability, kept this tradition.

In fact, it was assumed that one of the main attributes of the comparatist was having mastered several foreign languages, with the ultimate goal of not having to resort to the use of translation unless absolutely necessary. For example, Hugo Meltzl, founder of the first journal on Comparative Literature (Acta Comparationis Litterarum Universarum), declared in its founding issue in 1877:

The art of translation is, and will remain, one of the most important and attractive tools for the realization of our high comparative aims. But the means should not be mistaken for the end. […] True comparison is possible only when we have before us the objects of our comparison in their original form. Although translations facilitate the international traffic or distribution of literary products immensely […] nobody will dispute Schopenhauer’s opinion that even the best translation leaves something to be desired and can never replace the original. Therefore the principle of translation has to be not replaced but accompanied by a considerably more important comparative tool, the principle of polyglotism. The principle of translation is confined to the indirect commerce of literature in contrast to the principle of polyglotism which is the direct commerce itself (D’Haen, Domìnguez and Rosendahl 2013: 20).

It is during the last decades of the 19th and early 20th centuries when we witness the consolidation of Comparative Literature as an academic subject. Among the main studies on this subject published in the 19th century, we find Comparative Literature (1886), by the New Zealander Possnett Hutcheson Macaulay, expressing unequivocally his clear scepticism about the feasibility of translation, especially in the poetic domain:

How far is accuracy of translation possible? It is clear that both in prose and verse there are difficulties in the way of the translator sometimes unsurmountable. Even in prose translation objects such as animals or plants nameless in the translator’s language, or customs and institutions unknown to his group, or ideas -political, religious, philosophical- similarly nameless, may present such obstacles. But in verse, besides these difficulties, there is the close connection between sounds and ideas which in every language is more or less recognisable (Macaulay Possnett 1886: 44).

During those years statements similar to Meltzl’s and Possnett’s were repeated. Thus, for instance, Danish critic George Brandes, author of the renowned Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature (1872), published in 1899 a short article called “World Literature” in which he insisted upon the need to read the works in the original language, thus repudiating the use of translations, at the same time that he mourned (in appearance paradoxically), the limitations minority literatures, such as Danish, had to achieve presence in the international sphere:

However many translations are taken up, it is nevertheless without a doubt that the writers of the various lands and languages differ widely with respect to the likelihood of acquiring world renown or just a certain measure of acknowledgement. […] It is impossible to write anything artistic in another language than one’s own. On that we are all in agreement. But these translations! To these we all object. I confess to the heresy that I can only view them as a pitiful expedient. They eliminate the literary artistry precisely by which the author should validate himself, and the greater he is in his language, the more he loses. […] Lyric poetry is translated with difficulty and in every case loses much in so doing. Usually the effort to translate it to another language is not undertaken for the simple reason that nothing will be gained from such an effort. […] According to the received opinion, prose writing suffers no great loss in translation. But this is wrong. The loss remains immeasurable, albeit less striking than in poems. The selection and the sound of the words, the architecture of the sentences and the harmony, the peculiarity of literary expression; everything vanishes. Translations are not even replicas (D’Haen, Domìnguez and Rosendahl 2013: 25).

In any case, it is unarguable that we also count with some early statements in favour of translation, which are surprising nowadays due to their modernity and lack of hang-ups. For instance, Richard Green Moulton, author of some important works on classical tragedy, Shakespeare or the Bible from a literary point of view, expressed in World Literature and Its Place in General Culture (1911), one of his most celebrated works, the implicit limitations in the exclusive access to literature in its original language, at the same time as he stressed the intrinsic qualities of literary translation as an exercise of creation:

One who accepts the use of translations where necessary secures all factors of literature except language. One who refuses translations by that fact cuts himself off from the major part of the literary field; his literary scholarship, however polished and precise, can never rise above the provincial. […] On the other hand, it is noteworthy how classical scholars of front rank have devoted themselves to translation as the best form of commentary […], how poets of front rank have made themselves interpreters between one language and another. […] Again, men of the highest literary refinement have made strong pronouncements on the side of translated literature (Green Moulton 1911: 4-5).

Clearly, comparatists were aware that they were facing a dichotomy with no easy solution: if it was only legitimate to read the works in their original languages, the comparatists exercise would be limited to those authors and texts expressed in a language the scholar knew. This necessarily limited the amount of texts and authors and resulted in a microscopic view. Conversely, if they aimed to understand the direct and indirect links between the different literatures that form the international literary order, resorting to translation as an instrumental tool was mandatory. Thus, for instance, Albert Guérard, author of about thirty books on literary and historical issues, emphasized this matter in his Preface to World Literature (1940), characterizing translation as the element enabling the sheer existence of universal literature:

Not even professional scholars can know even all the major culture languages, and the indispensable instrument of world literature is translation. But translation is still distrusted, and even despised. It is claimed that art intention and form are inseparable, and that every translation is bound to destroy this vital unity. […] Every book, even in our own language and dealing with our own language requires a translation from the terms of the writer’s experience to those of the reader’s. Fortunately, man is able to make such an adjustment, and to feel the human element under the infinite variety of forms. Without such a capacity, there could be no communication between man and man. It is the extension of such a capacity that makes communication possible between age and age, nation and nation, language and language, and accounts for the undeniable, existence of World Literature (D’Haen, Domìnguez and Rosendahl 2013: 63).

It is especially noteworthy that Guérard considered translation to allow an update of the text, enabling it to stay always alive and topical, adding that this could not happen with the original (thus reversing the traditional hierarchy by which the original was considered to be a supreme model precisely because it remained immutable): “Translation offers one advantage over original work: it can more readily be corrected, perfected, brought up to date, by successive generations. Every age has, and should have, its new translations of Homer or Dante” (D’Haen, Domìnguez and Rosendahl 2013: 62).

It is true that those languages were limited to the main ones in the European area, which was in line with the following of a canon that was clearly Eurocentric. In the United States this orientation was greatly due to the arrival of prominent critics from Europe after the Second World War, such as Erich Auerbach, Leo Spitzer, or René Wellek. Things started to change with the decentralization of this canon thanks to the raising of alternative voices that started questioning the issue from a multicultural perspective.

This is clearly perceived if we examine, for instance, the reports that the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA) prepares every ten years, which set the guidelines of the discipline. Thus, in the first report, written in 1965, Harry Levin emphasized the need to have some kind of access to the original languages and set a clear distinction between the didactics of foreign literature in translation and the proper exercise of comparatism. Comparatists must read the original work, provided that it was possible, and should only turn to translation when dealing with very remote languages. In this regard, we are reminded of the words of Werner P. Friederich, who a few years earlier, in 1959, in a lecture at the University of Wisconsin, had argued that the teaching of world literature in English translation was disdained by comparatists, stating: “Foreign Literature in English Translation is a much needed field for undergraduate instruction, while Comparative Literature should be distinctly for graduate students only” (D’Haen, Domìnguez and Rosendahl 2013: 63).In the second report of the ACLA, prepared by Roland Greene in 1975, teachers were still instigated to work with original works, not only in order to benefit those students who had a good knowledge of foreign languages ​​but also because this should foster in students the belief that access to a work through translation was a clearly incomplete reading exercise. As discussed below, the third report (which should have been ready in 1985, but was not issued until 1993) showed a clearly symptomatic change of attitude due to the emergence of alternative voices that meant a challenge to the Eurocentric canon from a multicultural perspective.

Little attention was paid to literary translation in most models developed under what has been considered a systematic or scientific study of translation between the 1950s and the first half of the 1970s. By analysing the strategies of transference or substitution of the signs of a source language in search of their supposed equivalents in the target language, translation was understood as an special case of Linguistics (dependent on Applied Linguistics or Contrastive Linguistics) and focused on the study of a series of binary relations and the analysis of the structural differences of the languages involved. The aim was to systematically establish the proceedings to establish the rules of correspondence between linguistic systems. The study of the possibilities of transference focused above all on lexical and grammatical levels and had the word or the sentence as its main subject of study. Furthermore, the fundamental concept was equivalence, which is hardly surprising if we take into account the importance given to the word as translation unit, as it was easier to talk about equivalence when speaking at a microtextual level rather than at a macrotextual one.

The notion of equivalence in itself opened the way for evaluation, in that it allowed the formulation of correction parameters. Instead of relying on the mere empirical description of the product, the trend was to compare translations paying attention to a concept of equivalence postulated beforehand, thus depriving ​​the comparative exercise of any historical perspective. Linguists focused their attention exclusively on non-literary texts, justifying this decision by simply saying that literature was a “special case”. The truth is that literature raised problems which it was necessary for them to ignore, since it implied a textual production subjected to extraordinary encoding. From the 1970s, and following the development of linguistics itself, translation begins to be studied at a textual level, rather than at the level of word or sentence, which meant that language stopped being studied as an abstract system and the focus was on its use instead. In parallel, we perceive a progressive abandonment of purely linguistic approaches, which favours the subsequent attention to socio-cultural constraints that determine both the translation act and the mechanisms of reception of the translated text. This shows the need to provide Translation Studies with a social theory of language allowing the study of its role in the communicative interaction as a whole, as well as the mediating role of the translator in transferring communication between different codes.

It is known that translating means to transfer the meaning proposed by the sender of the original text to the target receiver. Both are framed in different social contexts, so the translator is influenced by his or her own social conditioning during the task. Equivalence, the central notion in linguistic approaches, goes from being considered at a microtextual level (word, sentence) to a macrotextual level (text), as well as the supratextual level (context), based on the belief that languages are not what we translate during the translation process (they in themselves are not translatable) but texts (specific updates of uses of language in specific cases), which are an integral part of the world around us, as they are framed in a particular extra-linguistic situation and are marked by a specific socio-cultural context.

Since the late 1970s we perceive the progressive abandonment of Applied Linguistics as an exclusive approach to focus on the social and cultural constraints that determine the translation act and reception mechanisms of the translated text. Thus we perceive psycholinguistic, sociolinguistic, hermeneutical, anthropological or philosophical contributions among others. Indeed, also in those years, Comparative Literature started to establish a new type of relationship with translation, characterized by the features we will now describe.

First, it caters exclusively to the notion of translation as a product, rather than understanding it as a process, which is in tune with the fact that it is not interested in the teaching of translation (translator training), where the fundamental issue is the translation activity, with the aim of improving the skills of its practitioners.

Second, Comparative Literature aligns itself with the descriptive approach to translation instead of the prescriptive one: this perspective does not aim any longer to evaluate the quality of translation, i.e. the traditional comparison exercise between original text and target text to check how much the latter differs from the former. On the contrary, the purpose is to study the role played by translation in the evolution of the different literary systems and thus to analyse, for example, how is translation performed in each period and culture; why are certain models imported rather than others; how much is translation practiced in a given context, and what recognition is given to this activity; what is the reception of the various works translated in relation to their originals; how can translation be used as an ideological weapon; what is its ability to subvert, renew or strengthen particular poetics; why do translations become outdated and are replaced by each other; what is the relationship between translation and other types of rewriting such as anthologisation, literary criticism, etc.The whole list would be too long. All these issues have probably more to do with the history and evolution of literature or literature in general than with any other topic, but they are also to be located within the domain of Sylistics: the particular features of a given author are probably exacerbated, or at least become more obvious, when we perceive the way he or she translates others. In a similar sense, the appreciation of a writer’s style may be exacerbated by a comparison with the translation his or her work has been subjected to, considering what aspects have been ignored or magnified (without any need to introduce a component of qualitative evaluation). At the same time it is clear that any diachronic analysis of literary translation must be always linked to a study of translation theory, since theoretical reflections are most often the cause or effect of the different ways to translate characteristic of each culture and historical period. This aims to highlight the unquestionable fact that the literary translator is not a person who works in some sort of no man’s land, alien to any kind of social bonding. As mediators, translators try to defend certain interests. Their exercise is by no means a neutral and totally innocent one, since they stand as true deus ex machina in the whole process. However, this does not necessarily mean that translators are trying to protect their own interests, as they may be subject to higher hierarchical instances (for economic reasons, social status, etc.). Furthermore, we must say that there are many other elements that will determine translators’ work, either consciously or unconsciously: the times they have had to live, the literary traditions that they attempt to bring together, the languages ​​themselves, etc. (in short, the norms of translation, understood from a descriptive perspective).

As we said above, in the 1970s we find a number of scholars, from Comparative Literature or the literary field, becoming interested in translation. The American James S. Holmes, located in Amsterdam in the 1960s, is a clear pioneer of this new trend, and he set in motion a number of contacts with Czech structuralists, such as Jiři Levý or Anton Popovič, with whom he coincided in the consideration of translation in literary history and in their stylistic approach to translation. Subsequently, Holmes contacted researchers from the University of Tel Aviv (such as Itamar Even-Zohar or Gideon Toury) and other scholars from Belgium and the Netherlands (such as José Lambert, André Lefevere, etc.), and managed to establish a productive link between the two groups. Three small conferences were held in Leuven, Antwerp and Tel Aviv, whose proceedings were published and helped give cohesion to the group: J. S Holmes, J. Lambert and R. van den Broeck (eds.), Literature and Translation. New Perspectives in Literary Studies (1978); I. Even-Zohar and G. Toury (eds.), Translation Theory and Intercultural Relations (1981); A. Lefevere and K. D. Jackson (eds.), The Art and Science of Translation (1982). Besides these, the following publications also stand out: a collection of articles by James S. Holmes published in 1988 under the title Translated! Papers on Literary Translation and Translation Studies, which includes what is held to be the foundational study of the modern discipline of Translation Studies, “The Name and Nature of Translation Studies”, first published in 1972; Papers in Historical Poetics by Even-Zohar (1978), which shapes the polysystemic theory starting from the theses of the Russian formalists, Czech structuralists, Marxist critics and reception theory; Translation Studies by Susan Bassnett (1980) in which, in very clear terms, she delves into some important concepts, explains the general principles of the history of thought on translation and studies the problem of translating the three main literary genres; In Search of Theory of Translation by Gideon Toury (1980), a genuine statement of the most orthodox principles of the descriptive paradigm from an empirical point of view; also The Manipulation of Literature, edited by Theo Hermans (1985), whose introduction is a programmatic vision of all texts included in the volume, defending that from the point of view of the reception pole, any literary translation is a manipulation of the original text in order to achieve certain objectives, involving a teleological reorientation of the discipline; and finally, the various articles by José Lambert, who develops models to compare translations and studies their role in the development of the literary systems. Many of them were collected in Lambert (2006).

Generally speaking, all these contributions are a real starting point for the descriptive paradigm in detriment of the evaluative and prescriptive one. Instead of questioning the possible (un)translatability or postulating beforehand what is (or is not) a translation, it is previous translations and how they are integrated in the reception culture what is under study. Instead of emphasizing the cross-lingual relations, the focus is on the intertextual ones, placing the text within the norm framework of the receiving community, studying the relationship between literature and other forms of social manifestation. The polysystemic approach is useful to understand literature as a dynamic and complex system, in an attempt to carry out a study in terms of functions, connections and interrelationships, as well as to relate translated literature with other subsystems in the receiving literary system. It is clearly oriented towards the target pole (thus the name of the journal Target, founded in 1989, seems to be symptomatic) and is functionalist in its nature, involving an attempt to change the traditional hierarchy that always conditioned translation to the original, now giving its legitimate importance to the receivers and the reception context. Finally, it expresses an interest in the norms of collective behaviour from a diachronic perspective, in an attempt to broaden the context of study and achieve historical projection.

Thus a new paradigm is established focusing on literary translation, as opposed to the traditional approach to translation (there is no longer a search for the formulation of rules, norms or standards of behaviour leading to the evaluation of translation exercises or to didactic implementation in the training of translators), but the main interest lies in the study of translation as an actual fact, both in the present and in the past, and its integration into cultural history, focusing therefore on empirical facts. For an overview on the development of the descriptive paradigm in Translation Studies, with particular attention to the polysystemic contribution, see Hermans (1999).

In line with B. Lepinette (2007), we suggest that the study of translation can be done from two complementary perspectives -sociological and comparative- (even though she actually speaks of three perspectives –sociological-cultural, descriptive-comparative and descriptive-contrastive–I have chosen to bring the last two together into one). From the first perspective, the social and cultural context of translation at the time of its production and its reception are studied, which involves making a textual description of textual migration through its effects on the history of the receiving national culture, whether speaking of literary texts or not. The focus of research is the determination of cause and effect relationships, always with the receiving pole as the centre of interest.Thus, we propose to formalize these studies as follows: “History of X translations ​​by Y” (where X = a national literature, a literary genre, the work of a generation of writers, the work by a writer, a work by a writer, and where Y = a country, a generation of writers, a writer). Similarly, we can study “Y as translator of X” (with the same definition of Y and X).Finally, we can also introduce element “Z” (time frame), with two resulting diagrams: “X translator of Y at Z” or “Y translator of X at Z.” Obviously, we can expand or restrict the study as much as we want, depending on the relative amplitude of X, Y and Z. I follow here the traditional scheme used by the French comparatists for searching presences and influences, like F. Balderspenger, Paul van Tieghem and J.-M. Carré practised, which then was taken up successively by M.-F. Guyard, C. Pichois and A.M. Rousseau or P. Brunel. In Spain it was practised by Menéndez Pelayo. For example, we can study the history of translations of English literature conducted in Spain throughout history or we can focus on Pedro Salinas as a translator of the first act of Romeo and Juliet, by Shakespeare.

This type of approach, widely practiced by the French School of Comparative Literature, either in terms of literary influences or traces or from the particular point of view of translation, constitutes what is often called “reception studies” (cf. Enríquez Aranda 2007). From the descriptive-comparative perspective, we focus on the translation choices made by translators in a given target text or a series of target texts corresponding to the same original text. When we adopt a diachronic perspective, we reach a historical projection, which allows us to study the different norms followed in the translation of a particular author or work over time. Thus, we can draw a comparison between ST (source text) / TT (target text) or a comparison ST/TT1 – TT2 – TT3 … TTn comparing the ST with each TT and the TTs with each other.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Translation Studies began what has been called the “cultural turn”, in which the publication ofTranslation, History and Culture, edited by S. Bassnett and A. Lefevere (1990) was decisive. There is a change towards a broader consideration of the cultural and political contexts in which translations and other kinds of rewriting take place. In this cultural turn we can place several clearly politicised tendencies, which entered suddenly into Translation Studies and which, at least in the first two cases, were fostered by the incorporation of Post-structuralist or Deconstructivist assumptions. I am referring to Feminist theory, Post-colonialist theory and the theory organized around the concept of the (in)visibility of translation. All of them are concerned about ethics and identity, and consider the history of translation as fertile ground for conflict, paying attention both to what is included in translation and what is left out, both to the explicit manifestations of behaviour and the implicit ones, as well as to the great power structures underlying individual behaviour. Thus, issues related to power and its ability to manipulate are given importance, as well as the factors that condition the establishment of the canon. This follows a line opened by Cultural Studies, and also by the decentralization of the canon from a multicultural perspective.

While Translation Studies had begun to be interested in the extra-linguistic and extra-literary factors of translation, Cultural Studies had expanded its field of analysis on race, class and gender to start covering also language differences, which had led to the possibility of approach between the two disciplines. These issues can be consulted in the collection edited by Ortega Arjonilla (2007).

Nowadays, translation is often used in Cultural Studies as a metaphor to describe the growing internationalisation of cultural production, the conflict of those who live between two different languages and worlds. By highlighting that translations work as carriers of attitudes and ideological assumptions, their ability to create strongholds of resistance against cultural hegemony is the focus. This allows translations to become tools to rebuild lost or silenced cultural ways, thus fighting against imperialism, racism or sexism. The linguistic approach is left aside in order to analyse the interaction between translation and culture, giving importance to context, history and convention. In line with this, A. Lefevere (1992), for instance, has dealt with the study of the creation of the literary image through all kinds of rewriting, be it anthologies, critical commentaries, film adaptations, or translations, revealing the important role of institutions in this process. On the other hand, if we understand ideology as a set of beliefs and values ​​that shape the vision that individuals or institutions have of the world, translators also have to take part in it. In the introductory chapter to Translation, History and Culture, Bassnett and Lefevere radically questioned the peripheral or subsidiary position that the study of translation had had within Comparative Literature:

Translation, the study of translation, has been relegated to a small corner within the wider field of the amorphous quasi-discipline known as Comparative Literature. But with the development of Translation Studies as a discipline in its own right, with a methodology that draws on comparatistics and cultural history, the time has come to think again about that marginalization. Translation has been a major shaping force in the development of world culture, and no study of comparative literature can take place without regard to translation (Bassnett y Lefevere 1990: 12).

Three years later, Susan Bassnett (1993) took a step further to argue that Comparative Literature as understood in the traditional way had died, and that the new critical impulses came from fields such as Cultural Studies, Gender Studies and Postcolonial Studies, as well as from Translation Studies. This was basically the reason she further said that, in such a state of things, perhaps Comparative Literature should become understood as a subdiscipline within Translation Studies. However, this comment may be unfair or disproportionate, as Comparative Literature deals with many other issues not covered by translation.

Bassnett (2006) herself later redefined her own proposal by acknowledging that it had been a provocative statement, motivated by an attempt to give recognition to a new expanding discipline, and by the agonizing crises of another, unable to shed the 19th-century positivism that had been imbued in its roots since birth, and also unable to analyse the political implications of intercultural transfer processes. However, her words on this occasion were no less provocative than in the previous occasion, because she concluded that “neither comparative literature nor translation studies should be seen as a discipline: rather both are methods of approaching literature, ways of reading that are mutually beneficial” (2006: 6). Actually, saying that Comparative Literature was not a discipline was in accordance with Gayatri Spivak’s assertion three years earlier, when she criticized in The Death of a Discipline its strong Eurocentrism and the need to revise its underlying ideology in order to analyse literary reality in a world that is post-colonized and subject to the effects of globalisation.

Previously we mentioned how the ACLA reports of 1965 and 1975 had stressed the need to use the original texts, rather than resorting to translations (at least in an educational context). A significant change of attitude was shown in the report from 1993, prepared by Charles Bernheimer. Then, although the convenience of knowing foreign languages ​​is reaffirmed, also referring to the teaching field, the traditional rejection of translation is mitigated. Furthermore, it is suggested that translations can be a corpus with a potential to become the paradigm from which to seek solutions to various problems:

While the necessity and unique benefits of a deep knowledge of foreign languages must continue to be stressed, the old hostilities toward translation should be mitigated. In fact, translation can well be seen as a paradigm for larger problems of understanding and interpretation across different discursive traditions. Comparative literature, it could be said, aims to explain both what is lost and what is gained in translation between the distinct value system of different cultures, media, disciplines, and institutions. […] It may be better, for instance, to teach a work in translation, even if you don’t have access to the original language, than to neglect marginal voices because of their mediated transmission. […] We would even condone certain courses on minority languages in which the majority of the works were read in translation (Bernheimer 1995: 44)

The final report was prepared in 2004 by Haun Saussy. It focused on the situation of the discipline in the era of globalisation. The issue of translation is not mentioned in it, but Steven Ungar did mention it in one of the replies to the report, lamenting the insufficient attention Comparative Literature had given to translation throughout history:

Translation has remained central to comparative philology as well as to the European and North American models of world literature since the early 19th century. Yet the centrality of translation within literary studies is at odds with the fact that it often remains under-analysed and under-theorized. […] The workings of translation are often dismissed within literary production as a second-order representation, with the translator accordingly invisible as a– faithful or unfaithful – extension of the original work attributed to the author (Ungar 2006: 127)

Also in the context of the United States, it is noteworthy that in the presidential conference of the prestigious Modern Language Association in 2009, under the name“English Is Not Enough”, Catherine Porter reflected on the values ​​of multilingualism and multiculturalism and, in close connection with this conviction, she made sure that the three sessions that made up the presidential forum were devoted to translation (with the title “The Tasks of Translation in the Global Context”). Eleven papers were then collected at the annual Profession (2010), including papers by recognised theorist as S. Bermann, G. Spivak and L. Venuti. It is pertinent to draw attention to the call launched by Porter herself:

How do we justify teaching literature in translation and deal with the constraints, losses, and displacements that reading in translation entails? What uses should we make of translation -from and into the target language- in teaching foreign languages? Should departments of foreign and comparative literatures use translations extensively and make comparative translation a cornerstone of the discipline, or should they defend the use of original texts and pursue a practice of cultural comparison that stresses linguistic difference? What place should the nascent field of translation studies and courses in translation theory have in the teaching of language and literature? What perspectives on translation are offered by the various subfields of linguistics, and what can the study of problems in translation contribute to work on language acquisition? In the broad domain of study embraced by the MLA, what role should we ascribe to programs that train professional translators? What roles do we play in decisions about what texts are to be translated and in what direction? In the discussion about our national deficit in knowledge of foreign languages and cultures and about the need for international or global studies, should we be concerned about a translation deficit and advocate for more translation as a means of fostering transcultural awareness? (<http://www.mla.org/pdf/presforumbrochure.pdf>)

We will mention finally that, similarly, ACLA’s presidential conference from 2009, given by Sandra Bermann, was dedicated to the relationship between Comparative Literature and translation. It emphasized the supreme importance that translation has for the discipline:

With the growing recognition of translation as a visible, separable sphere of practice and knowledge, comparative literature and translation now encounter one another more regularly, more closely –and more intriguingly– than ever before, since translation poses timely questions for our field and, I think, the humanities in general. It highlights both the linguistic specificity and materiality of texts we study, and opens a series of new dimensions to explore (Bermann 2009: 438).

According to Bermann, like Comparative Literature, translation is transnational and interdisciplinary. Both its practice and the theorizing generated around it allow establishing important textual relationships throughout time, space and language, calling attention to the very nature of language.

Contacta con nosotros

Puedes enviarnos un email y te responderemos lo antes posible, gracias.

Not readable? Change text.

Escriba el texto y presione enter para buscar