Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Different Journeys along the River: Claudio Magris's Danubio and Its Translation

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Different Journeys along the River: Claudio Magris's Danubio and Its Translation

Article excerpt

On the dust-jacket of the English translation of Claudio Magris's Danubio John Banville's critical assessment of the book stands out for its epigrammatic conciseness: 'Danube is "international" in the best, Jamesian sense; it is also, I believe, a masterpiece.' (1) This apparently simple statement opens up a series of possible questions: what is Danubio a masterpiece of, and how exactly are this masterpiece and its translation 'international'? The present article deals with the problem of genre as it applies to Magris's book, and with the ramifications of the problem once we consider not only the original but also its translations, which have indeed turned Danubio into that rare thing: an Italian book capable of international success. (2)

The approach to genre, however, needs to be qualified: the intention is not to advocate rigid generic distinctions but to argue that Danubio's resistance to rigid genre categorization was in fact one of the most important factors in its wide European success. The question of genre will be analysed from the point of view of reception and of what Jauss has called the 'horizons of expectations' of different audiences: horizons that give rise to different readings, all of which are justified and free from value judgements. Jauss has written that the 'coherence of literature as an event is primarily mediated in the horizon of expectations of the literary experience of contemporary and later readers, critics and authors'. (3) Horizonal changes, which are particularly relevant in the present context, can take place both on the historical and on the geographical plane (along time and space coordinates). Within any given cultural context the reading of a text is conditioned by the active horizon, but an innovative text can also 'result in a "change of horizons" through negation of familiar experiences or through raising newly articulated experiences to the level of consciousness' (Jauss, p. 25).

In Jauss's perspective, then, genre is defined in a dynamic, historicized fashion, and this line of argument brings him to a reception-oriented reformulation of the concept, in which the cultural context plays a central role:

Every work belongs to a genre--whereby I mean neither more nor less than that for each work a preconstituted horizon of expectations must be ready at hand [...] to orient the reader's (public's) understanding and to enable a qualifying reception. (p. 79)

This dynamic conception of genre also highlights how moving a text across cultures and canons can determine shifts in the horizons of expectations evoked by it, including its genre affiliation; here Jauss takes his lead from Tynianov:

A work which is ripped out of the context of the given literary system and transposed into another one receives another coloring, clothes itself with other characteristics, enters into another genre, loses its genre; in other words, its function is shifted. (4)

Such a perspective on genre is closely linked with translation studies and with the attempt to understand and analyse translation as a form of transfer, manipulation, rewriting of texts, playing an essential part in communicating across cultures. (5) A reception-oriented approach may then be applied to the problem of genre in translation. If shifts in reading take place when the horizon of expectations activated by a text changes, it is appropriate to ask what happens in the case of intercultural translations, what becomes of horizons of expectations (and of readings) when a text crosses the linguistic and cultural boundaries of the community which first received it, and, in the sense qualified above, what happens to its genre affiliation.

In Polysystem Studies Itamar Even-Zohar claimed that an 'appropriated repertoire does not necessarily maintain source literature function', concluding that, in fact, 'transfers often involve functional shifts' (pp. 70, 94). Andre Lefevere, on the other hand, analysed the way in which translation, like other forms of rewriting, is regulated by the cultural system in which it takes place; this system, whose main elements are patronage and poetics, is tendentially conservative and 'acts as a series of "constraints" [. …

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