Translation as a Poetic Experience/experiment: The Short Fiction of Quince Duncan

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Academe has always been tradition-bound in its emphasis on the classics of western literature, whether they were the works of the Greco-Roman writers or those of print-culture Europeans and their New World successors; therefore, the academy developed an almost impenetrable canon. Rainer Schulte indirectly addresses the issue of confronting "venerable models" when he refers to the fact that literary translations are generally viewed askance, and, in some instances, are treated with open hostility by the guardians of modern language, literature, and humanities programs. Not only is translation dismissed as a serious scholarly activity, it is also seen as potentially harmful to the full appreciation of a literary text.1 However, Schulte asserts that "in order for cultures to find cross-fertilization and meaningful exchange of ideas, customs, and artistic creations, the art and craft of translation is indispensable."2 Shigeo Minowa supports the idea of translation as an essential process in fomenting international scholarly communication, and he adds that "the nature of translation reflects the intellectual vitality of a country and its cultural relationships with its neighbours."3 Andre Lefevere concurs with the above two scholars and reminds us that the translation of literature as a discipline has a respectable history, which dates back to the eighteenth century. Moreover, it even dominated the study of literature until the 1920's.4 This essay will proceed on the basis that the translation of literature, especially that produced by writers of the African-American diaspora, is not only a vital but also a refreshing aspect of the vast field of literary criticism. Furthermore, through selected excerpts from The Best Short Stories of Quince Duncan, I hope to strike a much-needed balance between theory and practice.5

Many scholars of translation studies, among whom is Marilyn Gaddis Rose, view translation as process. According to Rose, translations may be classified in terms of binary oppositions such as "literal" versus "free" or "literary" versus non-literary," which are the oldest types. That scholar comments: "literal versus free denotes the translation strategy, how the translation should be carried out, whereas literary versus non-literary denotes what is being translated, how the text is classified to begin with."6 Schulte, who also views translation as process, outlines four principal steps in translating a literary work: the act of reading, the act of interpreting, the act of evaluation, and the act of decison making, in that order.7 Lefevere sees translation as a products or an artifact produced within the broader context of the target literature.8 Thus, his bipolar continuum postulates "reader-oriented" translations on the one hand, and "text-oriented" translations on the other9 Schulte's outline has provided a valuable tool for future revisions of The Best Short Stories, which was translated without recourse to theory. Lefevere's perspective that literary translation is a product, which is linked to the "polysystem hypothesis," is also vital when considering Duncan's role within the larger context of African-American and other non-canonical literatures in the Western tradition. Lefevere comments:

The term "polysystem" denotes that a literature is never at any moment in its history, the monolithic whole which textbooks tend to present it as, but rather, in each phase of its evolution, a collocation of different, often antagonistic, trends, dominated by the set of literary works a given era accepts as "canonized." This canonized literature comes under attack from other trends, which try to displace it and achieve canonized status themselves. Analogously, one literature can occupy a canonized position vis-a-vis another.10

The "polysystem hypothesis," then, provides the context for the four-stage, translation-as-process model used to assess my adaptation of Duncan's short stories, four examples of which come from the collection Una cancion en la madrugada, or Dawn Song. …

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