The double bind (Gregory Bateson, slightly expanded):

(1) Do X.
(2) Do not-X.
(3) Internalize the command to do both, and expect censure for failure.
(4) Repress all this, and despise anyone who reminds you of it.
(5) Idealize the command-giver.




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 the "translator-function."

(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 [various foreignisms]).

(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 and innovative.

(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 (Robinson Turn).

(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 by translating.

(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.

they're supposed
Translators do what | | to do, period.
ever they want

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 smoothly.

(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:

Norms vs. freedom

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