Magazine article World Literature Today

Contra Instrumentalism: A Translation Polemic

Magazine article World Literature Today

Contra Instrumentalism: A Translation Polemic

Article excerpt

Lawrence Venuti Contra Instrumentalism: A Translation Polemic Lincoln. University of Nebraska Press. 2019. 216 pages.

Lawrence Venuti is the lightning rod of translation studies. Among his most enduring contributions to the field is his claim that publishers "domesticate" translated works by expecting translators to strip them of their inherent otherness in order to make them more palatable to American audiences. What's his remedy for the book industry that, among its many faults, renders translators invisible? "Foreignizing" translations, i.e., retaining of foreign names, diction, syntax, etc.-anything that made the foreign text appealing in the first place. Given the rise of so-called world literature, a bland mush of worn-out plots and stock characters, it's hard not to agree with him.

In his latest upending of entrenched thinking about translation as a practice whose final product is often judged as "faithful" or "unfaithful," Venuti aims his polemic at instrumentalism, a mode of translation that conceives of it "as the reproduction or transfer of an invariant that is contained in or caused by the source text, an invariant form, meaning, or effect." In its place, Venuti proposes an alternative model, which he calls hermeneutic. In arguing for translation to become an interpretive act that is both linguistic and cultural, Venuti reminds us that every translator applies, often "intuitively and without critical reflection," formal and thematic "interpreters" to the source-text. "The application of interpretants," according to the Temple University professor, "guarantees that a translation is relatively autonomous from its source text even while establishing a variety of interpretive relations to that text."

Tracing the origins of the instrumental mode to the Romans and providing examples from more than a half-dozen languages and cultures, including Arabic, German, Greek, and Spanish, Venuti argues that instrumentalism "grossly oversimplifies translation practice, fostering an illusion of immediate access to the source text. …

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