Double Bind 6: Norms vs. Freedom
(1) Feel socially constrained to think
about and practice translation in certain ways.
(a) Let me, whom you are free to call
"society" or "social constraints" or "translation
norms," just as you prefer, define for you what a translation is
and is not (constitutive norms, Toury 1995), or what people will expect
a translation to look like and not to look like (expectancy norms, Chesterman
1997), and teach you to (help) police the boundary between the two, both
intellectually and behaviorally.
(b) Let me define also, in different
ways for different times and places, what will be translated, when (the
shifting sands of cultural history), by when (deadlines), by whom (how
much training s/he should have, how much experience, whether s/he should
be a native speaker of the source or target language), and for how much
money (preliminary norms, Toury).
(c) Recognize that, as the commissioned
translator of texts sent to you, you are an integral part of an extensive
network of social constraints. Your role in that network might be called
(d) Let me define what it means to be
a translator, to practice translation professionally (professional norms),
including, again in differing ways depending on time and place, but with
enough historical and geographical continuity to make these norms seem
more or less "universal" to you, what it means to translate
"ethically" and "with integrity" (accountability norms),
and how translators function in extensive social/professional networks
as communication experts (communication experts, Chesterman).
(e) Let me define what you as a translator
should do with texts (operational norms, Toury):
(f) Let me define how you should understand
the source text: what "counts" as really part of that text,
what is central and what is peripheral, what aspect should form the interpretive
center of the target text; what kind of text it is (literary or non-literary,
and if literary what period it belongs to and whether it is conventional
or experimental, highbrow-middlebrow-lowbrow, and if non-literary what
specialized terminologies and registers it draws on); who its original
audience was; what the original author intended by it, and intended to
achieve through it.
(g) Let me define how you should construe
equivalence between the original and your translation (relational norms,
Chesterman): whether what is desired is some form of paraphrase (and just
how close a paraphrase it should be), or literalism (and to what purpose
the literalism is desired: for back-translation, to give the commissioner
a gauge of the accuracy of the original translation [your source text];
for pedagogical purposes [interlinear translations]; to give a sophisticated
intellectual readership a sense of interpretive friction or difficulty
(h) Let me define how you should construct
the target text: how much of the text is to be translated, how to handle
omissions and expansions, how to distribute large textual segments (whether
paragraphs or sections can/should be combined, split up, resequenced)
(matricial norms, Toury); how to manage textual coherence through the
use of conjunctions, sentence modifiers, back- and forward-reference (textual-linguistic
norms, Toury); what constitutes fluency, readability, accessibility for
this particular job (text-type, register, readership, purpose).
(i) Let me define for you, finally, how
to behave in regard to criticism of your finished product (response norms):
who has the right to determine whether your translation is acceptable
or unacceptable, and if acceptable with what revisions, and if unacceptable
what is to be done about it (will it be rejected? will you receive any
financial remuneration for the rejected work? will it be edited extensively
and used? if it is used, under whose name?); who has the right to edit
your work; whether, once your work has been edited, you will or should
have the right to read the edited text before it is published or otherwise
released; whether your work once published will carry sufficient cultural
weight to be reviewed, and if so, where (in how prominent a forum), by
whom (whether an expert in the source or target culture or both or neither,
whether any attention will be paid to equivalence or other translation
processes), and in what venue (short or long review, newspaper or magazine
or book, print or conference).
(j) Internalize all these norms so that
you become a fleshly vehicle for them. Do not question them. Do not pick
and choose among them. Obey them all, but don't feel the obedience; feel
as if you were doing what you wanted to do, because it's right.
(2) Feel socially free to translate and
to define translation any way you please.
(a) Enter into each translation task
with an expanding sense of the infinite creative choices and possibilities
at your disposal. Think of yourself as in Coleridge's terms a "dim
analogue of the Creator," a descending creative god. You can do whatever
you want. You create the target text. It is your creation.
(b) Feel your power over the text. You
can frame it any way you want. You can choose an existing register that
seems appropriate to you, modify it to suit your emerging sense of the
text, or create a totally new one. You can tease out of the text potentials
you see lurking in it, or push into the background things that you consider
conventional and boring.
(c) Ground your work in the knowledge
that all writing is the interpretive rearranging of preexisting words
and images and ideas. The "original" author of the text you
are translating was no more (and no less) original than you are (Derrida
1985, Arrojo (199?). You are both channeling textual materials from the
past into the future. Text flows through you, as it did through the "original"
author (Barthes). All writing is creatively and constitutively intertextual,
interstitial, in a liminal flux.
(3) Internalize the command to do both,
and expect censure for failure at either.
(a) Understand without being told that
what is at stake here is not just your professional integrity as a translator
(by whatever social or personal norms that integrity is defined), but
your worth as a human being. If you can successfully both obey and flout
the social norms governing translation, you are not only a good translator,
but a good person.
(b) Understand without being told that
you can't do both, and thus will never be either a good translator or
a good person.
(c) Expect to have your nose rubbed fiercely
in your failures: you will be derided as a "servile" or "slavish"
drone if you obey 1, and decried as a high-handed and arrogant traducer
who has no respect for the source text or author or their cultural traditions,
or for the target reader who simply wants to know what the original author
said, if you obey 2. You are either an utterly dehumanized tool, an instrument,
a thing, no person at all; or you are a mocker of traditions, a self-indulgent
scofflaw, no translator at all.
(d) Internalize the negative conception
these conflicting commands mandate not only of you but of your profession.
Think of the translator as inherently or "naturally" trapped
between the conflicting demands to be both slavish and creative, respectful
(e) Fight the negative conception of
translation that the impossibility of obeying both 1 and 2 mandates by
working harder, and calling on other translators to work harder as well,
to obey both 1 and 2. If only translators would show more respect for
both the source and the target language in their translations, people
would respect you and your profession more. Let this transform 1-2-3 into
a vicious circle from which there is no escape.
(f) To the extent that you lean more
toward obeying 2, base your professional work as a translator, and your
corresponding definition(s) of translation, on those realms in the translation
field where there are few if any constraints on your work, such as translating
poetry for the little magazines.
(g) Ignore more constrained realms, such
as technical translation. They are for boring people, and it is boring
to think about them.
(h) Ignore the people who would impose
constraints on your work, or who are shocked at what you do to texts,
or who, tight-lipped, refuse to call your work "translation."
They are boring, narrow-minded people, trapped in ancient repressions
and inhibitions, and the less you have to do with them, the better.
(i) Ignore the ways in which your own
work is unconsciously constrained in which, for example, your social
and professional "freedom" as a translator is based on a denial
of or resistance to norms that you too have internalized but don't much
like to think about. Define your "denial of constraints" or
"resistance to constraints" as freedom.
(j) To the extent that you gradually
become aware of social constraints on the way you translate norms
articulate an ethos of resistance to or liberation from those norms.
(k) Think of the norms as tyrannical
thought-structures that hinder or limit less creative or rebellious minds,
but not you.
(l) Imagine your task as translation
theorist to help less creative or less resistant translators and theorists
to articulate their own resistance to or liberation from those thought-structures
(m) Articulate your own "new"
set of dissident or resistant norms for translation (Schleiermacher 1813/1838,
Berman 1984/1992, Venuti 1986, 1992, 1995, 1998a, 1998b). Present them
as simultaneously as normative thought-structures intended to constrain
translators and, because they are conceived in opposition to prevailing
norms, as a channel of translatorial freedom.
(n) To the extent that you lean more
toward obeying 1, base your professional work as a translator, and your
corresponding definition(s) of translation, on those realms in the translation
field where there are clear and closely monitored constraints on your
work, such as translating technical texts for agencies or in the translation
division of a large corporation.
(o) Ignore less constrained realms, such
as literary translation. They are for overeducated ninnies with no strong
grounding in the hard realities of the marketplace, and it is pointless
to think about them.
(p) Ignore the people in on-line translator
discussion groups or at conferences who would encourage greater freedom
in your work, or who try to get you to admit that the full range of the
work you do, including editing and adapting and summarizing and improving
other people's texts, is "translation." They are abstract thinkers
more interested in playing theoretical mind-games than in earning a living
(q) Ignore the actual freedoms you do
have in your work your power to emphasize or deemphasize this or
that textual element, to select and channel registers and terminologies,
to construct images of your reader and of the text's purpose. Think of
the work you do as perfectly and totally constrained by the source author's
intentions and/or by the target reader and/or by the translation commissioner.
(r) To the extent that you gradually
become aware of your own partial freedom from social constraint in the
way you translate, articulate a professional ethic that voluntarily limits
that freedom. Whatever freedom you might have in principle, you willingly
give away, so as to minimize the interpretive distortions your creative
freedom would inevitably cause in the transfer of meaning.
(s) Imagine your task as translation
theorist to assimilate relativistic "functionalist" or "action-oriented"
or "descriptive" conceptions of translation, according to which
translation is whatever any given culture or a commissioner or a reader
at any given point in time says it is, back to more traditional source-oriented
equivalence-based assumptions. In the translation marketplace, anything
goes, in theory, but in practice of course no one ever asks translators
to do anything that deviates from ancient norms of accuracy and equivalence
and the rest (Gutknecht and Rölle).
(4) Repress all this, and despise anyone
who reminds you of it.
(a) Reassure yourself that there really is no conflict here at all. It's only when you start blowing a few peripheral examples way out of proportion and pretending that they have some significant bearing on the issue that it comes to seem as if translation is a conflicted hermeneutical activity steeped in irresolvable contradictions. If you ignore all those unnecessary nitpicky complications, translation boils down to a very simple process, really.
Anyone who says anything different probably
has too much time on his hands.
(b) Forget all this talk about translation
"norms." When was the last time you held a norm in your hand,
or heard one call to you from across the room? Norms are fictions, hypotheses,
methodological constructs whose existence cannot be proven, only imagined.
(c) Forget all this talk about the translator's
"freedom." Freedom is an illusion. Freedom is just a word. Freedom
is a fairy tale we tell ourselves to help us fall asleep at night. There
are certain things that translators do that make them translators. If
they don't do those things, they aren't translators. It's that simple.
(5) Idealize the command-giver.
(a) Believe that there is no command-giver;
there is simply a factual state of affairs. Don't even deny the existence
of a command-giver; just never let the possibility arise. Tell yourself
that, to the extent that translators are constrained at all, they are
not constrained by me, i.e., society. They are constrained by the nature
of translation. Don't lend even half an ear to the relativistic notion
that translation norms are different in different places and times because
the constraints on translation are social, cultural, political, rather
than universal or natural. Of course they're universal. Of course they're
natural. If they weren't, we might one day find ourselves in a situation
where a whole society or significant portion thereof uses the name "translation"
for adaptation or free imitation or something else that you don't believe
is translation. And we can't have that.
(b) To the extent that you identify the
command-giver as "society," or "social norms," do
not think of this as tyranny or authoritarian control; think of it as
the ordinary professional discipline that makes orderly social life possible,
even enjoyable. If there weren't rules, there would be chaos. If there
were no social norms, no one would know how to act. Nothing would ever
get done. There would be no such thing as efficiency. Nothing would run
(c) If you're inclined to (b), slide
gracefully from the perception of norms as external control to the more
constructive one of internal control. Once you learn the norms governing
translation, you are no longer controlled by them; you use them to regulate
your work. You are in control! Pay no attention to the fact that the internal
source of that regulation is in fact internalized, an external source
that you have simply instilled in your own head. Just don't think of it
that way. It's much more invigorating to think of yourself as an ethical
professional who knows the right way to act than as someone who is controlled
by external social forces, a puppet, a marionette, an instrument, a tool.
(d) To the extent that you reject all command-givers and believe in your own personal freedom to translate any way you please, don't recognize the origins of that belief in resistance to external or internalized control. Pay no attention to the element of defiance in your maverick sense of personal freedom. You do whatever you want and that's final!
Other double binds: