Translators of the world, unite!

La Revue Nouvelle 1/2023

On translation as politicized practice: domestication versus foreignization; degendering and resistance; and the risks of translating feminist sociology back into Farsi.

In an era of machine translation, La Nouvelle Revue issues a call to arms, inviting eight translators to contribute to this special report on challenges and innovations in their field.

Drawing an often invisible profession out of the shadows, the articles reveal how translators’ personal experiences and choices variously transmit, shape and betray the original text. The agency and influence of these human ‘filters’ is examined in discussions of ethnocentrism, the role of the editor, feminist translation, children’s literature, and the political implications of transliterating Ukrainian names. The dossier concludes with an introduction to TraduQtiv, a Belgian association that works to draw attention to this critical link in the chain of reception.

Domestication versus foreignization

What do we experience, as readers, when we open a translated book? A voyage into another culture, or a mirror of our own? Perhaps the latter, suggests Georgia Froman. In her dual capacity as an editor and a translator, she is well placed to observe the differing concerns of each role and the pitfalls of ethnocentric translation. She points out the imbalance in translation activity across the globe, with dominant cultures flooding the world with their literary production while ‘remaining relatively impenetrable’ to that of others.

And when foreign texts do enter dominant cultures, ‘domesticating tendencies’ make it seem as if they were originally written in the receiving language. These tendencies include invisibilizing the translation – omitting the translator’s name and the original language from the book’s cover, refusing explanatory notes or any signposting of the process of transfer from one language to another – and minimizing the ‘otherness’ of the source text. Replacing foreign cultural references with ones from the receiving culture, for example, ‘reinforces the ethnocentrism of the readers by implying that everyone shares their references and their way of thinking’.

As a translator, Froman is familiar with the ‘foreignizing’ techniques used to counteract this trend, but also with the ‘frightened’ response of editors, whose duty is to their readership rather than to the author, and whose priority is to publish an ‘accessible, readable and enjoyable’ text. Editors therefore walk a tightrope: ‘Seeking to reassure and protect’ their readers, they risk ‘confining them to their own shores’.

Froman also points out the ethnocentrism in scientific translation: the misconception that English is a ‘neutral’ medium and that science, as a ‘perfectly universal’ field, escapes issues of cultural and political bias in translation. She argues that ‘writers in the sciences are just as influenced by their native linguistic sphere as their literary counterparts’, and may have different references that warrant explanation in translations of their work. In the sciences too, editors and translators ought to join forces to ensure ‘otherness’ is visibilized, not erased.

Degendering and visibilization

Noémie Grunenwald’s book Sur les bouts de la langue: Traduire en féministe/s explores a feminist approach to translation that uses words to disrupt the ‘established order’. July Robert presents key ideas from the book, describing it as a ‘revelation’ and a compelling influence on her own practice.

Grunenwald mostly translates from English to French, and is conscious of her role in perpetuating Anglo-American dominance and ‘a colonial and imperialist process’. It is, she argues, ‘our responsibility to upset, overturn …, subvert, or interrupt the patriarchal and racist uses, habits, and rules of language, of science, or of literature’.

Robert agrees with Grunenwald that political translation of this kind is not an act of betrayal but a necessary correction to the ‘patriarchal stamp that marks our texts’; an ‘opportunity … to disrupt the cultures in which translations are disseminated, read and shared’.

Grunenwald rejects the term écriture inclusive (gender-inclusive language) for its implication of women being granted access to a male domain, preferring ‘degendered, demasculinized or feminized language’. She advocates dealing with words on a case-by-case basis, and playing with ‘degendered forms’ to extend the realm of the possible in language and avoid normalization.

Used in this way, translation becomes a form of resistance that reverses the ‘mechanisms of invisibilization of minorities, of oppressed social categories’ and a site of collective action where feminists can build networks, pool resources, and present a united front. More than a filter, the translator is a mediator, and certainly never ‘neutral’.

Translation as risk-taking

Despite the risks involved, Mahdis Sadeghipouya chose to translate from English into Farsi the work of an Iranian sociologist, Sara R. Farris, In the Name of Women’s Rights: The Rise of Femonationalism.

In 2018, living in Paris and unable to join the protests in Iran in response to US sanctions, Sadeghipouya turned to translation as a form of activism, a means to assert her position on the side of those Iranian feminists who, rather than calling for western help against an oppressive regime, ‘condemn all forms of intervention (military, economic, etc.) in Iran, but also throughout the world’.

In Revue nouvelle, Sadeghipouya describes the challenges she faced – financing, finding a publisher, passing the censor – and her fear of the Iranian state using her text ‘as fodder for its anti-western claims’. She reflects too on the role of translation in the diaspora: as ‘a tool for contributing to a language, to cultures, a means of supporting one’s comrades, one’s people, and all those who speak and live in this language …, a weapon that can bring about transformations and raise awareness’.

Published 19 March 2023
Original in English
First published by Eurozine

© Eurozine



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