in Target 10/2 (1998). 357-361 as a reponse to Itamar
Making of Repertoire and the Role of Transfer (1997).
See also Even-Zohar's
and biblically concise, Itamar Even-Zohar’s notes on “The
Making of Culture Repertoire and the Role of Transfer” (Target
9:2) invite reflection and response. Much of it is commendable.
I particularly like, for instance, traces of a certain concern
about the future (“the fate of societies and cultures”,
355), which might yet draw us beyond timeless descriptivism
or directionless deconstruction. Here, perhaps, there is
something important to be found in the matter of cross-cultural
movements. I am also quite happy with the general concept
of repertoire (“the aggregate of options utilized by a group
of people, and by the individual members of the group, for
the organization of life”, 355), which seems rather more
tangible than the previous dehumanized talk of a system
as “the assumed set of observables supposed to be governed
by a network of relations” (Even-Zohar 1990a: 27). Now,
at least, there are people with something to do (they make
choices, perhaps as in a Hallidayan system) and with a reason
for doing it (they have a life to organize, perhaps with
practical sense, as in Bourdieu), although one could argue
that such things were always so obvious that the polysystematizers
never really had to mention them. Ditto, I suppose, for
the language component and communication channels so rightly
emphasized by José Lambert (in Target 10/2). All
of that seems implicit enough to get by as an attractively
wider frame for translation studies; none of it really worries
My concern is rather
more circumstantial. The dates being what they were, I happened
to read Even-Zohar’s piece at the same time as several articles
marking the 50th year of the Israeli State. An entirely
fortuitous coincidence? Perhaps so, given that Even-Zohar
is clearly trying to think through more than his own national
culture. Then again, perhaps not, since 50 years is most
of a life; it’s surely a point for reflecting on past and
future fate; and the repertoire of theoretical concepts
available to any theorist is partly constructed, selected,
and applied in view of the life most at hand. No, I’m not
going to say that Even-Zohar’s is just an Israeli view of
cultures (nor that my own is irremediably Australian). But
consider, if you will, the following peculiar features:
First, when considering
the subjects presumed to have a cultural repertoire, Even-Zohar
privileges “a large group of people living on a certain
territory” and “a small number of people living in the same
apartment”, both of which are strangely considered “by definition
cultural entities” (356). Both items imply spatial delimitation,
at base the “territorial principle” that Lambert correctly
questions, devolving into terms such as “the home system”,
to which Even-Zohar later reverts (358). Why especially
these groups, and this particularly territorial criterion,
from among the repertoire of all available kinds of groups
and criteria? Am I entirely wrong to look at all those historical
maps of Israel and the associated territorial debates? Should
we leave the importance of the family (all in the one apartment?)
to a question of Jewish stereotypes? More important for
where Even-Zohar wants to take us, why ask immediately about
the size of “the” group, as if cross-cultural transfer only
involved the history of one divinely-defined space? Even
in the case of Israel, perhaps especially, there were repertoires
prior to the territory as we know it.
My second doubt is more
technical: “Transfer”, says Even-Zohar, “is the process
whereby imported goods are integrated into a home repertoire”,
and “[n]aturally, not all imported goods result in such
‘transfers’”(359). Naturally? As a matter of definition,
I suppose the term “transfer” is in such a mess that we
are all more or less free to use it as we see fit. Now,
finally, I understand a little better Even-Zohar’s previous
calls for “transfer studies” as a general frame for looking
at translation (1981, 1990, cf. Pym 1992), although I would
suggest that a better term for the integration of things
is probably “integration”. Nevertheless, beyond the words,
there seems to be a hell of a lot riding on this apparently
ontological distinction between just moving an object (“importation”)
and making it part of your repertoire (“transfer”). What
then is the cultural status of items somehow imported yet
not successfully “transferred”? Surely they are there, somewhere,
with meaning for someone? Where is their repertoire? On
what territorial or categorical foundations? More pointedly,
imagine several million Russians “imported” into Israel
from the former Soviet Union but not effectively “transferred”
(integrated) in any cultural or political sense. What would
Even-Zohar’s terms say about them? Well yes, now they should
probably become integrated, “transferred”, since a repertoire
must be created, national life must be organized (we are
told nothing about possible needs to break up organizations).
The analytical terms would even seem in tune with what I’m
told is a Department of Immigration and Absorption (though
I’m typically informed I miss the connotations of the Hebrew
terms). Not just movement but cultural adaptation as well.
Two clear steps, not one hesitant or looping process marked
by debate and resistance. But the terms are surely mere
terms. As in the shift from “assimilation” to “integration”
in Australian Aboriginal policy since the 1960s (or was
it the other way round?), so many words are produced while
the real problems obstinately remain: the imported-but-not-integrated
covers a whole range of social possibilities, a gamut of
multicultural repertoires, of people living with more than
one repertoire, of seriously productive challenges to national
and family organizedness, and of steps toward progressive
social fragmentation that find no marked place in the “naturally”
of Even-Zohar’s distinction. Once again, the theorist has
given us just two items from a potentially much wider repertoire.
And what is overlooked or unnamed might turn out to be more
interesting than the options identified.
Exactly what is unnamed
here? Who are we invited not to see? Most obviously, the
possibility of people with multiple repertoires, perhaps
many translators. Consider carefully the agents excluded
in the following passives: “the targeted group” (357) (exactly
who is doing the targeting?); “goods are imported” (358)
(by whom?); “a willingness to consume [goods] is somehow
aroused” (359) (again, aroused by whom, and to what end?).
If we look for the deleted agents, we do indeed find a few
explicit but contradictory mentions. First, it seems, repertoires
“are made, learned and adopted by people, that is the members
of the group” (357). So agency is apparently already with
the “home” group, singular, and strangely common to all
the members of that group, without fissures. Then again,
we find that transfer involves “the images projected into
society by the people engaged in the making of repertoire”
(361), so agency now belongs to rather special people who
are somehow sufficiently outside of the group to project
things into it, even though they were previously described
as members of the same group. Are these our translators
or professional intermediaries? How did they get into this
strange inside/outside location? Are they in the space of
any properly cultural repertoire? Further, we find mention
of the more international agency of “two-three industries,
located in two-three countries” (361), industries (not people?)
that would perniciously dominate the repertoires of television
films, now well beyond the comforting homeliness of any
properly cultural group. In all, agency here finds no real
home. It is variously within “the group”, on the fringes
and overlaps of groups, and in some manipulative Olympus
that would homogenize repertoires and potentially do away
with groups altogether. Significantly enough, the term “power”
is only mentioned once in Even-Zohar’s text, right at the
end, without integration (“transfer”?) into the general
repertoire of theoretical terms.
Let me stop picking and
say what I think. I suspect (though I can’t prove) that
the vagueness of Even-Zohar’s agency is conceptually related
to his distinction between “import” and “transfer”, such
that the latter agency, the capacity to integrate rather
than merely move, is attributed a degree of cultural authenticity
denied to the former. Agents can import (why is export not
mentioned?), they can globalize as much as they like, but
the more significant cultural work is reserved for home-group
souls who construct the truly organizing repertoires. As
if there were no logic, system or organizedness in the overly
commercial register of import (and yes, export). As if that
too were not part of properly cultural processes. And as
if there were not a range of deterritorialized intercultures
(overlaps of cultures) actively engaged in both import and
“transfer”. Of which I shall now try to indicate one.
To understand my point,
it is perhaps enough to apply the concept of culture repertoire
to Even-Zohar’s theorizing, as I have started to do above.
One finds, I hope, that the concepts he uses to see and
talk about cultures do not wholly belong to any one territorial
or “home” culture. Even-Zohar’s particular selection and
arrangement of concepts is no doubt better suited to addressing
certain cultures rather than others (Jewish, French, Galician,
plus the similar nations on his website), but his repertoire
is by no means limited to that. Nor need it be just his.
If I were to rewrite his text to address my own set of privileged
situations, I would probably have to start at the end, focusing
on the power of people who mediate between a multiplicity
of cultures, with numerous strategies mixing both import
and “transfer”, and only then could I work my way through
to the way target groups are delimited, with as few preferences
as possible about relative authenticity. But I can operate
quite happily with more or less the same basic repertoire
as Even-Zohar. Because we, as people who would try to see
cultures, perhaps formally like translators and intermediaries
of all kinds, are engaged in an activity that is professionally
intercultural, in the overlaps, at once inside and outside.
The real danger is that we become so concerned with seeing
cultures that we fail to see our own cultural activity,
and shortchange our repertoires accordingly.
1981. “Translation Theory Today: A Call for Transfer Theory”.
Poetics Today 2:4. 1-7.
Even-Zohar, Itamar. 1990a.
“The ‘Literary System’”. Poetics Today 11:1 [Special issue
on Polysystem Studies]. 27-44.
Even-Zohar, Itamar. 1990b.
“Translation and Transfer”. Poetics Today 11:1 [Special
issue on Polysystem Studies]. 73-78.
Even-Zohar, Itamar. 1997.
Making of Culture Repertoire and the Role of Transfer”.
Target 9:2. 355-363.
Pym, Anthony. 1992. “The
Relations between Translation and Material Text Transfer”.
Target 4:2. 171-189.
- Last update
20 May 1999