Academic journal article Bucknell Review

Retranslations: The Creation of Value

Academic journal article Bucknell Review

Retranslations: The Creation of Value

Article excerpt

Inscriptions and Institutions

TRANSLATION, like every cultural practice, involves the creation of values, linguistic and literary, religious and political, commercial and educational, as the particular case may be. What makes translation unique is that the value-creating process takes the form of an inscribed interpretation of a foreign-language text, whose own values inevitably undergo diminution and revision to accommodate those that appeal to domestic cultural constituencies. Translation is an inscription of the foreign text with intelligibilities and interests that are fundamentally domestic, even when the translator maintains a strict semantic equivalence with the foreign text and incorporates aspects of the foreign-language cultural context where that text first emerged. (1) Retranslations constitute a special case because the values they create are likely to be doubly domestic, determined not only by the domestic values which the translator inscribes in the foreign text, but also by the values inscribed in a previous version. Of course, retranslations may be inspired primarily by the foreign text and produced without any awareness of a preexisting translation. The cases to be considered here, however, possess this crucial awareness and justify themselves by establishing their differences from one or more previous versions.

These differences may first be introduced with the choice of a foreign text for retranslation, but they subsequently proliferate with the development of discursive strategies to retranslate it. Moreover, both the choice and the strategies are shaped by the retranslator's appeal to the domestic constituencies who will put the retranslation to various uses. A typical case is the choice of a foreign text that has achieved canonical status in the translating culture. The sheer cultural authority of this text--the Bible, for instance, the Homeric epics, Dante's Divine Comedy, Shakespeare's plays, or Cervantes's Don Quixote--is likely to solicit retranslation because diverse domestic readerships will seek to interpret it according to their own values and hence develop different retranslation strategies that inscribe competing interpretations. Here the choice of the text for retranslation is premised on an interpretation that differs from that inscribed in a previous version, which is shown to be no longer acceptable because it has come to be judged as insufficient in some sense, perhaps erroneous, lacking linguistic correctness. The retranslation may claim to be more adequate to the foreign text in whole or part, which is to say more complete or accurate in representing the text or some specific feature of it. Claims of greater adequacy, completeness, or accuracy should be viewed critically, however, because they always depend on another category, usually an implicit basis of comparison between the foreign text and the translation which establishes the insufficiency and therefore serves as a standard of judgment. This standard is a competing interpretation.

The issue of readership is especially important with retranslations that are housed in social institutions. Generally, a translation that circulates in such a setting contributes to the identity formation of the agents who function within it, to their acquisition of values that constitute qualifications, and so a translation can affect the operation and reproduction of the institution. (2) Retranslations are designed deliberately to form particular identities and to have particular institutional effects. In religious institutions, retranslations help to define and inculcate orthodox belief by inscribing canonical texts with interpretations that are compatible with prevailing theological doctrine. In academic institutions, similarly, retranslations help to define and inculcate valid scholarship by inscribing canonical texts with interpretations that currently prevail in scholarly disciplines.

Retranslations can thus maintain and strengthen the authority of a social institution by reaffirming the institutionalized interpretation of a canonical text. …

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