Movement is change
If texts can be said to belong to certain people or to certain situations, then transfer away from these people and situations must change the nature of the belonging, gradually turning degrees of familiarity into degrees of foreignness. But the changes brought about by transfer can go much further and become far more abrupt, since socially or linguistically embedded values are inevitably transformed in accordance with jumps to new social or linguistic circumstances of reception. Either way, gradually or abruptly, simple transfer induces changing values.
Simple transfer changes values:
a) "In Loma, for example, straightforward transliteration of 'Messiah' turns out to mean 'death's hand', and hence the transliteration has to be altered to the form 'Mezaya", so that it will not be a misleading form." (Nida 1964, 233)
b) There used to be a Spanish brand of potato crisps called "Bum" (pronounced "boom", perhaps related to a strange anglicism for French parties). One suspects that the transfer of several million English-speaking tourists put an end to it.
If simple transfer can modify the value of a text, can translation then be seen as a response to such modifications? If so, a transfer-based approach should have consequences not only for the analysis of translational difficulty (as outlined above) but also for questions concerning the social conditioning and role of translation as a purposeful activity. If the approach is valid, a sociology of translation would have to be based not directly on what translators do, but on transfer as the process by which their work situation is initially set up.
In this light, transfer assumes a vital complexity involving questions well beyond the simple picking up and carrying off of an object. How should one conceptualise groups of transfer acts? What rationality or determinism might lie behind transfer movements in general? Are there any rules limiting the time, place and directions of text transfer?
Answers to these questions should start from a few very
basic and commonly overlooked principles.
Texts do not fall from the sky
To the extent that they require material supports, texts move in time and space. Sitting on library shelves, they move through time ; manually, mechanically or electronically reproduced, they can be moved through space; translated, they can move from culture to culture. However, precisely because texts require material supports, their movements are not eternal. Countless millions are lost every day. And since their survival is a complex selective process, it is possible to talk about constraints which, in making it easier for texts to move in some directions rather than others, might be seen as a social conditioning of translation.
The texts that reach the translator do not fall from the
sky. They are all Y texts, each with an implicit question-mark asking why
it has come from a distanced place, why it is to go to another, and why
the ensuing constraints on transfer should be obeyed or subverted in the
space of translation.
Textual movements are not natural needs
A general relation between transfer and translation has been recognised by Gumbrecht in his definition of "reception" as:
"...the processes by which a certain number of texts from the general supply are selected in accordance with the needs of a society..."
which is then followed by the moment of translation proper:
"...and are then either used in the traditional way or adapted to new uses by means of the techniques of translation." (1974, 206)
Although Gumbrecht is quite correct to see translation as a process conditioned by the selection of texts - you have to get hold of the text before you can translate it - , there are several problems with the way he describes this relation:
- Since the material movement of texts is not eternal, the notion of a "general supply" is as inadequate as are conceptions of general texts and general readers. Texts do not just appear: some are extremely hard to find; others are difficult to avoid; and there are numerous social and cultural interests involved in the relative ease with which they reach the hands of translators and other receivers.
- The process of simple "selection" is similarly vague in that it does not recognise the plurality of possible agents. It might be assumed that the receiving culture is responsible for the selection process, but this would be to overlook all the means by which texts can effectively be preselected and sent by a source culture. It would be difficult to believe that Moctezuma selected Cortés's devious greetings from a general supply, or that Australian aborigines actively sought the official proclamation of the Sydney Cove colony.
- The selection process is supposed to be based on the "needs" of the receiving society. But some societies apparently also need to export texts. In Spain, Canada and Australia, for example, there are official grants and subsidies for the translation of national texts into foreign languages. In cases like France and Catalonia, however, financial assistance is given for translations into the local language. This means that a sufficiently cunning translator could receive no less than three subsidies for the movement of a text from Catalan into French (money from Barcelona, Madrid and Paris), but nothing for a translation in the opposite direction. In these circumstances, it would be naïve to assume that texts are freely selected in accordance with the wishes of only the receiving society, as if cultural consumption were an entirely natural process unaffected by official or external stimulation.
- Gumbrecht would then see translators as being employed to adapt texts to "new uses", which would appear to be as natural as the social needs determining the arrival of the texts to be translated. But I have argued that translators are mostly employed to produce equivalence; they work within an exchange-value system which is quite independent of natural use values. Even in the study where Gumbrecht's definitions appear - a sociological explanation of medieval Spanish translations of French and Latin romances - , the supposed primacy of use values appears to be contradicted by the accompanying comment that the thirteenth century was "an age in which the source of utterances rather than their intrinsic probability determined their value" (1974, 215). According to this principle, why should the thirteenth-century translator not have been more concerned with creating illusions of equivalence to authoritative sources (be they foreign or local) than with providing natural use values? Gumbrecht's initial terms are at least questioned by his findings.
In short, the notion of translation as selective and transformational reception, like the "polysystem" hypotheses which similar approaches have espoused, is fundamentally inadequate to the way the movement of texts conditions translational work. It limits its vision to situations in which ST belonging can be considered inoperative. But most translation is conditioned by relative material distances across which texts move in some directions but not in others its locus is an intercultural situation where the constraints of belonging are operative to varying degrees, exerting influences and defining strategic positions. It is not enough to look at only the receiving culture; it is not sufficient to trust, as did Vossler, that "all translations are made at the instigation of a linguistic community's instinct for self-preservation" (in Kloepfer 1967, 74; Lefevere 1977, 97). Translation by definition concerns relations between several cultures; it is by no means immune to processes of cultural hegemony, annexation or even suicide. The type of analysis most appropriate to the general situation of translation must thus incorporate strong notions of transfer - especially purposeful directionality - as phenomena partly determined beyond the TT culture.
But should one then maintain that all translational texts are purposefully directional?
Parallel texts are not really translations
Linguistic contemplation may pleasantly amuse while one waits for a breakfast tea to brew. Consider the following instructions found in-situ on a teabag ticket:
Linguists might ponder the peculiar verbal form of the English, the fact that the German would have the water drawing out the tea whereas the notion of "infusion" instead sees the tea invading the water, and so on. But since all three texts appear on the same piece of paper and there is no explicit performative, there is nothing to indicate which of them is to be considered an ST or Y text (extra-textual indicators of Englishness are deceptive: this particular tea appears to have been packed in Belgium). As such, the texts lack the directionality necessary for any one of them to be considered a translation. There is no distance Y-ST, or, to be more exact, Y-ST is in this case 0. Strictly speaking, the teabag ticket is not translational.
This is not to say that the example has nothing to do with translation or a lack of transfer. Transfer is obviously pertinent in the sense that the teabags in question must be designed to enter at least three different cultures, as well as the Spanish culture in which I bought my sample. This pertinence is moreover not at all lessened by the texts having been produced before the moment of actual material displacement. In the case of the "mouton"/"mutton" example from Saussure, transfer took place many centuries before the presentation of the parallel texts. Here transfer takes place after the production of parallelism. But since the spatiotemporal position of translators is in principle indifferent to the quality and quantity of their work, this consideration alone does not stop parallel texts from becoming translations.
Nor is the example lacking in equivalence, since the mode of presentation, implying controlled reference to a shared context, would for many receivers guarantee the relation TT:Y [approximates] 1.
The problem with this example is that, if we go back to the formula for the way translation represents distance
the values ascribed in this case would give
which, if I remember my basic mathematics, is an infinite
value. This suggests that, from the point of view of a rigorous definition
of translation, parallel texts are infinitely ubiquitous and thus strictly
directionless. They might remain of interest to lexical semanticists anxious
to liberate themselves from contexts or to fill in lonely breakfasts, but
they are of no real import for a theory of translation. Our time is better
spent with examples of determinate directionality.
Why "La Movida" moved
The example of "La Movida", presented and analysed above with respect to the significance of quantity, can also be approached from the point of view of transfer. Here again are the texts:
(1) "...'La Movida', was wörtlich übersetzt "Die Bewegung" heissen würde. 'Aber mit Vorwärtsgehen hat das nichts zu tun' sagt selbstkritisch der Maler El Hortelano. 'Es ist mehr wie ein Schluckauf, der einen auf der Stelle schüttelt'." (Geo, Hamburg, November 1985)
(2) "La Movida c'est intraduisible. La Movida, c'est la société espagnole tout entière qui choisit d'avancer." (Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris, 5-11 July 1985)
(3) "...the phenomenon known as 'La Movida' ('The Happening')."
(Newsweek, International Edition, 5 August 1985)
Why has the same uncovered term "La Movida" been accorded different values, different TTs, different modes of equivalence in each of these texts? Because, quite simply, the term is not the same in each of these places. Its referential value is perhaps constant, but the simple fact of transfer, of displacement away from the ST locus of Madrid, means that Y1 ("La Movida" in Hamburg), Y2 ("La Movida" in Paris) and Y3 ("La Movida" in New York) have different exchange values even before different translators and different languages try to represent those values.
The transfer of "La Movida" thus concerns three different material distances (Y1ST; Y2ST; Y3ST), producing values represented and transformed by several different semiotic relationships of equivalence (TT1:Y1... TTn:Y3). It is worth considering how these translations work in terms of the cultural consequences of transfer.
The German rendering is the most explicit. The literal TT "Bewegung" [movement] is proposed only to be discarded in favour of the negation of "Vorwärtsgehen" [going forward]. The paraphrase thus carves out a semantic space for movements which neither advance nor imply regression or reaction. The naming of this space is then left to citation of the ST milieu itself: the painter El Hortelano claims that "La Movida" is like a hiccup ["Schluckauf"] and the cotext later confesses that in Madrid "no one knows and yet everyone understands what is meant". The German reader is given to understand that one cannot properly understand. Significant cultural distance is produced on the basis of material transfer.
The Nouvel Observateur strategy is similar in several respects. Representational adequacy is denied and reference is thus made to the ST milieu, but here the final gloss is positive rather than negative: "'La Movida'... is the whole of Spanish society choosing to advance", thus formulating precisely the "moving forward" that the German representation chose to deny. However, the French cotext then further positions the question of choice within Spanish society itself, claiming, as it does two pages later, that the supposed advance has taken place against the background of what we could translate from French as "the eternal Hispanic duality of isolation and openness, casticism and cosmopolitanism". In less universal terms, this "advance" is the post-Franco opening of Spain. To describe this opening, the French journalist forgets about hiccuping painters and instead cites a very serious banker: "'We have been living artificially,' says Carlos March, 'sheltered by extreme protectionism. As a result, we are still a backward country.'" The representation of "La Movida" is now squarely located in the semantic field of "going forward" or "staying behind" ("avancer"/ "être arriéré"); it has become a question of what English inevitably calls "development". The article then launches one final assault on the untranslatable: "Spain's history has enabled it to jump over the industrial stage and slide into post-industrial society." And from "post-industrial" - the article was written in 1985 - it is only one short step to a further term which, through the peculiarly French efforts of Lyotard and Baudrillard, had gained a post-industrial sense unexploited in previous American usages: we have already cited the final step: "...the latest news is that 'La Movida' has taken another name, awaiting the next: postmodernisme." One senses that the French exchanges have reached their goal.
The Newsweek example is rather more direct in its strategy of annexation. Although the cotext once again cites unnamed protagonists "many of whom identify with the so-called 'new expressionist' or 'postmodernist' movement", the term considered the most apt for immediate representation is "The Happening", which, as we have noted with reference to the lack of intervening quantity, evokes little more than a belated Spanish adoption of an American cultural past.
If left on the semiotic level, these three readings would merely suggest that each receiving culture finds what it wants to see in "La Movida". There are probably several hundred translation analyses - of Homer, of the Bible - that never get beyond this kind of conclusion. But should one be surprised if Hamburg, the political home of Green ideology, sees "La Movida" as a negation of development ideology? Could Paris, as the traditional if challenged home of avant-garde intellectualism, do anything but seek proof of its own theses on "postmodernisme" (no matter how historically absurd its claim of absent industrialism might be with respect to Catalonia and the Basque Country)? And it is only natural that Americans associate their historical aesthetic vocabulary with an apparently vital democracy, no matter how much the United States supported the Franco dictatorship in the days of real Happenings. This kind of analysis reveals nothing that was not known beforehand.
Let us accept that each translation responds to a specific interest. But how could one pretend that these interests exist in mutual isolation? Is it possible to ignore the very material context which places all these examples in relation to Spain's proposed EEC entry (January 1986) and her uneasy decision to remain a member of NATO (March 1986)? How could one forget that the semiotic distances presented in translations are based on material distances and interrelated by active transfer?
The extent of this transfer was limited. In Australia, where articles from Newsweek are regularly reprinted in a once nationalist magazine called The Bulletin, the corresponding edition published a text on Spain's economy but chose to omit the article on "La Movida". The American article no doubt made its way to an editor's desk in Sydney, but it died before reaching the printer. This is then option X, non-transfer, the absence of both Y and TT. Australia noted Spain's imminent accession to the EEC but was apparently unconcerned about any cultural implications. One could thus formulate the hypothesis that transfer of "La Movida" was in this case limited to general news magazines in cultures which, because of geographical or economic proximity, were directly affected by Spain's cultural relations with other European countries.
In the case of Newsweek itself, which reaches a European public for whom English is mostly the language of business, transfer must thus have responded to more than simply economic interest. Distance was likely to be problematic on the cultural level itself (presumably, members of this public were likely to meet real live Spaniards and appreciated a small stock of reasonably informed conversation pieces). But the immediate rendering of "La Movida" as "The Happening" quickly reduces the material distance involved to almost unquestioned equivalence, leaving the naked Y as a marker of little more than local colour. Translational representation has all but eclipsed the material distance YST.
From this perspective, the more interesting strategies belong to the cultures which, closer to Spain, were more directly concerned by the EEC entry. As we have noted with respect to translational difficulty, proximity can make the representation of distance a far more complicated affair.
In German, the language of an industrial economy which has long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with Spanish labour and beaches, there is no real conflict at stake. The culture of "La Movida" retains its right not to move forward; its relative lack of industrialisation becomes a mark of local colour to be respected as such; all goes well as long as a hiccupping Spain, extremely advanced in its refusal to advance, presents no real challenge to German industry or Green ideology. The material distance is to be retained on the semiotic level.
The French, however, too close and too much in agricultural competition with the Spanish, allow no merely exotic hiccups. The selection of the verb "avancer" should be read as a refusal of not only several available Anglo-Germanic conceptualisations ("to happen", "to move without advancing"), but also the available French alternatives ("bouger", "se remuer", "s'animer", etc.). Distance here is not a problem of differences between two languages. Nor is its reduction a purely linguistic affair. The Parisian paraphrase takes pains to avoid the real point of conflict - the agriculture of southern France - , thus performing ideological acrobatics in an attempt to meet Spain at some vague "post-industrial" point in the future, where neither industry nor agriculture will stir problematic proximities. To write on contemporary Spanish aesthetics as a guide to protectionist history, to suggest that "post-modernisme" has the same meaning on both sides of the Pyrenees , is thus to suggest future compatibility whilst side-stepping present conflict. Contemporary distance will eventually be reduced. And French aesthetics might even be rejuvenated.
The French example thus presents an inverse relationship between the material distance YST and the represented distance TT:Y, indicating that the translational representation of distance can radically contradict the actual material distance crossed in transfer.
This kind of analysis shows that transfer processes are
far less natural or inevitable than notions of needs or general supplies
would suggest. If mere translators can actively misrepresent material distance,
then transfer is surely not strong enough to impose any absolute social
determinism on translation. Indeed, transfer itself must be seen as a weakly
determined phenomenon which in turn weakly determines translation. Or again,
in its weakness, transfer should be seen as able to respond actively to
material conditions, just as translation has been shown to be able to respond
actively to transfer.
Texts are like sails raised to the wind
There is no doubt a certain rationality in the above movements of "La Movida". As the non-transfer X indicates, not all texts are transferred in all directions all the time. There are moments, places and directions that are more or less appropriate; there are degrees of belonging that make certain acts of transfer easier than others. This relative ease or difficulty enables us to talk about the social conditioning - or weak social determinism - of transfer. But what is the exact nature of this conditioning?
The first point to be made here is that acts of transfer rarely occur in isolation. The situations in which Quine's jungle linguist found himself confronted by an untouched culture are, on this planet, as good as exhausted. In all but very exceptional cases, criteria of precedence point to existing cross-cultural pathways; individual acts of transfer are easier to carry out when they follow established directions. According to this simple principle, the more travelled the route, the less effort has to be put into the journey.
But individual routes are no more isolated than are individual acts of transfer. In the "Movida" example, it was no accident that three news magazines addressed the same information at approximately the same time. The editors of these publications read each other and respond to the same major international events (in this case the approaching Iberian extension of the EEC). They themselves form minor networks for the transfer of information or, in this case, cultural curiosities of at least passing interest. Within such networks, each transfer opens the channel a little wider for further transfers, just as each new route creates new possibilities for associated routes.
With the progressive division of labour, of the professions, of the sciences, transfer networks are no doubt becoming increasingly specialised, each developing its own geo-economic forms and modes. And yet they remain to a certain extent interdependent, on one level because of the more general interests associated with financial and political networks ("La Movida" only moved because Spain was going to move into the EEC), and on a more basic level because of the shared nature of the technology used for the transfer of texts: from shoes to satellites, the one means of communication can serve texts in several different fields at the same time, thus helping to shape common directions by deviating, to a greater or lesser extent, what might previously have been more direct or specific communicative purposes. If I fly from the Canaries to Australia, mass transfer makes it easier - though geographically longer - for me to pass through London, even though I rarely have any desire to visit England. Thanks to a similar logic, many nineteenth-century Russian, German and even English texts were translated into Spanish from French, simply because Paris was the point of mass convergence for literary transfers.
If one can thus talk about the social conditioning of transfer, one must also add principles by which transfer can escape from the direct control of individual societies. Texts do not always go exactly where and when their senders or receivers want them to go; they can be intercepted, delayed, detoured, blocked and destroyed; noise enters the passage of information, contexts change, and the Y text received can differ significantly from the ST sent.
There is no absolute control:
There should be no conspiracy theory of absolute power over transfer or non-transfer. When living in a Rhodesia supposedly under siege from an international embargo, I worked alongside geologists who exchanged journal articles with other experts, in the Soviet Union.
And Austrian locomotives pulled trains full of wheat from South Africa to Zambia, marked "Swaziland-Malawi".
If the interests are great enough, information and food can slip through most forms of official closure.
There is a certain randomness:
a) Many nineteenth-century Japanese prints reached Europe as packing-case filler, since they were considered of no value in Japan. In Europe, they helped to revolutionise fin de siècle aesthetics. One could thus say that the texts were transferred according to some kind of market logic, from a culture in which they had little value to another in which they came to be highly valued. But there was no such rationality at work. The only necessary social condition was that Meiji Japan accept European traders, so that the prints could then accidentally hitch a ride out.
b) To take an obverse example, Clarín's historical novel La Regenta was not translated into French or English in the nineteenth century because it was not highly regarded within the Spain of the time. In cultural affairs, despite the example of Japanese prints, a high domestic value can assist international transfer.
When describing the social conditioning of transfer, it is obviously not sufficient to assume the prior existence of a coherent purpose expressed in every act of transfer and then re-expressed by every translator. Purposes go awry, even before translators enter the scene. Some more subtle model is needed.
El Hortelano did not choose Madrid 1985 as the place to describe "La Movida"; he did not choose to have his description or his term sent to airport newsstands. It just happened that, with all the commodities and ideas that are constantly moved across the planet, there was a particular historical moment in which a series of economic, social, aesthetic and editorial conditions came together to enable this particular transfer to take place, coming together to overcome the constraints of belonging. Indeed, there were so many determining factors that, although El Hortelano's description is signed, actual transfer of the text is of necessity anonymous. No individual person, no one society, can determine the point of least resistance, the ideal moment for an act of intercultural transfer. Only when the network is appropriate and the right circumstances arise can the transfer then take place. The kind of conditioning most apparent in transfer is that expressed by the model of the ideal moment.
Lukács on value, winds and sailors:
"The wind is a natural fact which, in itself, has nothing to do with the idea of value. But sailors have always quite correctly talked of favourable and unfavourable winds." (1976-81, II, 353)
"Humankind is a being that responds [...]. In order to respond to the
wind by the raising of sails, one requires the necessary intervention,
the entry into active practice, of the ideal moment." (378)
Networks are complex, quantitative and contradictory
The term "network" tends to suggest a binding web, a pattern of linkages enabling communication and circulation within a fixed area, producing and reproducing the embeddedness of belonging. It is in this sense that Even-Zohar, for instance, defines a "system" as a "network of relations" (1990, 27); it is in this sense that the supposed systemicity of networks might then be applied to literatures, languages and cultures corresponding to given communities. According to such an approach - which is by no means unjustified - , the spatiotemporal form of a network will more or less conform to the geography and history of a community, with dense centres, sparser links towards the frontiers, and border-posts where different networks interconnect, in the same way as different organisms might interconnect for the purposes of reproduction or partial symbiosis.
The study of translation, however, requires a somewhat different view of networks. Instead of communities, organisms and ecosystems, it is perhaps more stimulating to think of winds, of forces that sweep across particular cultures, now one way, now the other, with prevailing tendencies, presenting the possibility of movement if and when the direction is favourable but without any necessary restriction to the inner cohesion or circularity of the territory crossed. Such a network would comprise the general lines of individual voyages made from culture to culture, without mimicking the curves of geopolitical frontiers. The lines or bundles of lines would not go around a centre or along a border; they must instead cut through the bonds of belonging, opening up the possibility of translation, creating and re-creating border posts as they go. This kind of network would by definition be transcultural rather than properly systemic. Although no doubt of limited use for the systematisation of any particular culture, this model is highly useful for the study of translation as a strictly intercultural phenomenon. Its conceptualisation might moreover find inspiration in the most unexpected places:
A model network of lines, according to Chatwin (1987, 66):
"Suppose you had a tribal area like that of the Central Aranda [of Australia]. Suppose there were weaving in and out of it some six hundred Dreamings [or land-lines which sacred songs describe as the routes travelled by mythological beings]. That would mean twelve hundred 'hand-over' points dotted around the perimeter. Each 'stop' had to be sung into position by a Dreamtime ancestor: its place on the song-map was thus unchangeable. But since each was the work of a different ancestor, there was no way of linking them sideways to form a modern political frontier. Each 'stop' was the point where the song passed out of your ownership; where it was no longer yours to look after and no longer yours to lend. You'd sing to the end of your verses, and there lay your boundary."
Chatwin describes these geographical lines mapped in song-cycles as crossing Australia for thousands of kilometres, going through some twenty languages or more. They were used for trade, for the regulation of inter-tribal relations, and for the transfer of texts.
The historiography of intercultural transfer must be based on the development of such networks at all levels: those of navigators, railways, roads, political and military alliances, colonial and imperialist extensions.
But a careful distinction should maintained between the
archeology of things that actually move and the history of how such movements
are represented. What moves on the material level of the network is constantly
affected by what is believed to be moving, by what is allowed to move,
and by what is constrained from moving. Archeology can trace actual acts
of transfer; it can say more or less what happened. But the properly historical
understanding and explanation of such acts requires something more; it
calls for analysis in terms of translation and belonging, facilitation
and resistance. In other words, historical analysis must address not only
actual acts of transfer and their material connections, but also the regimes
directing transfer and the development of networks. But what then are regimes?
Regimes are ways of representing and acting within networks
One of the essential problems with the idea that translation is socially conditioned through material networks is that each individual act of translation can respond not only to a corresponding act of transfer, but also to the way associated acts of transfer are already perceived.
Confronted by a term like "La Movida", an adequate translator will of course take into account the specific interests involved in the movement of the text concerned. But the final translation decision will also necessarily be influenced by general ideas about the reasons for the movement, about the relative value of Spanish culture and about legitimate ways of representing that value. In cases where such general ideas are specifically those of the ST or TT culture, their import will no doubt be in some way inscribed in the act of transfer; the inevitable analytical conclusion will be that each party finds what it wants to see in the other. But if translation is seriously framed as a situation of exchange between cultures, there must be a certain level on which these ideas are shared by the cultures concerned, just as the networks they are based upon are necessarily shared. That is, there must be a level of social conditioning which is itself intercultural, comprising a set of ideas about the ways and means of legitimate interrelation. When I recently had to translate "La Movida" - in the quite different network associated with Madrid's status as European cultural capital in 1992 - , my version inevitably took into account all the previous Spanish and foreign versions I was aware of, including those analysed above, since this was the only way I could possibly know what the term meant. My translation thus responded not to one particular act of transfer, nor solely to my Spanish client's commercial interests, but to a set of very different previous transfers and the knowledge they had set in place. It is on this level of general interrelated networks that the representational work of translations becomes most vital. It is here that bundles of transfer acts can be reproduced, legitimated, questioned or contradicted in terms of what other disciplines call regimes.
The study of political and commercial negotiations in the late 1970s saw the vocabulary of "international systems" replaced by theories of "regimes". Keohane and Nye give a simple definition of a regime as a "set of governing arrangements organising relations of interdependence" (1977, 19). A later collective definition is a little more detailed:
"A regime is made up of explicit or implicit sets of principles, norms, rules and negotiation procedures in terms of which actor expectations converge on a field of international relations and through which the individual behaviour of these actors can be coordinated." (Conference on International Regimes, Los Angeles 1980; in Finlayson et al. 1981, 563)
Two aspects allow a distinction to be made between "regime" and "system". First, the idea of "independent actors" refers to a theatre for which the play has not yet been written, such that there is no presupposition of the kind of purpose or coherence which could ensue from a sole author or world power. Second, the elements comprising a regime are not so much what actually happens on the level of material networks as what actors expect will happen on the basis of their perception of current, future or desirable intercultural relations. Attention must be paid not just to the contacts that actually take place, but also to those that are actively or passively avoided by one party or another. Regimes are thus firmly situated on the semiotic or ideological level where transfer is represented in both its positive and negative aspects. And yet they are not merely subjective or culture-specific. They are by definition intersubjective and intercultural.
Clear examples of regimes can be found in the fields for which the notion was developed: GATT talks, arms reduction negotiations, EEC agreements in specific areas like agriculture, and international treaties concerning fields from extradition rights to ocean zone sovereignty and the pollution of outer space. Regimes ideally enable different parties to come together and organise general rules for their present and future exchanges.
Or again, in trying to understand and improve stilted negotiations like the 1991 Arab-Israeli peace talks which began in Madrid, system analysis would no doubt look at factors like demographic distribution, water sources and security forces in Israel and its neighbours. But regime analysis would be more interested in the procedures and frames of reference of the conference itself, the presence of the American and Russian convenors, the strategies for saving face and withstanding pressure, and the reasons why the Syrian delegate spoke Arabic whereas the Palestinian and Israeli representatives spoke English (to whom were they really speaking?). Where system analysis looks at interactions between systems, regime analysis focuses on systems of interaction. No one can doubt the importance of the systemic factors affecting the peoples and the lands of the Middle East. But regime analysis posits that negotiations like those begun in Madrid do more than just represent the existing systems; it posits that the microcosm of the conference itself could, in the best of possible worlds, change the pre-existing systems in the interests of a greater common good. Regime theory is fundamentally (and often naïvely) optimistic. That is why it is more interested in what negotiators do than in the systemic essence of what they are supposed to be representing.
In the light of these examples, is it possible to talk about independent translational regimes? No one can doubt that the cultures linked by translation have something of the systemicity of phenomena like demography, water and security in Israel and its neighbours, but is there then a separate level where regime analysis could find translational events corresponding to the function of a peace conference? This is an important methodological question to which I have no unequivocal answer. On the one hand, it is clear that neither authors nor translators come together to negotiate intercultural exchanges of texts or modes of translation. Texts certainly move; they certainly form international networks crossing cultural systems; but, beyond the purely mercenary world divisions fought over by major publishers and dominated by major languages, there are few substantial conscious efforts to direct or control these networks. On this level, there would appear to be no uniquely translational regime. However, it is equally clear that general modes of translation change with history and that these changes are now mildly influenced by intercultural institutions like UNESCO, the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs, international conferences on translation, and indeed the publication and distribution of translation theory, although there remains a big gap between these very nebulous organisations and something as concrete as a peace conference. The question is really to determine whether these institutions offer the possibility of formulating an independent professional regime, or if they are merely parasitic on other intercultural regimes situated closer to economic and political power. Optimistically, I would hope that translators will one day use these institutions in order to develop their own regime. Realistically, however, I must recognise that there is still a long way to go and that translation is so far more adequately seen as responding to ideologies which have little to do with the real or ideal functions of translation itself.
My own attempts to assess the relative dependence or independence of translation have been limited to studies of intercultural relations at the end of the nineteenth century, an epoch when translational ethics was becoming important as a correlative of copyright laws and publishing agreements, although translators themselves were still very much thought of as individuals passing the time of day rather than professionals earning a living. It would be extremely difficult to argue that nineteenth-century translators worked in terms of an independent translational regime. But there were several identifiable intercultural norms and conventions concerning acceptable translation practices, as well as numerous debates over possible transgressions of these norms and conventions. Moreover, these norms and conventions were not passive reflections of the way economic, political and military regimes determined international relations at the time. There was a limited degree of independence.
Where did this relative independence come from? Most immediately, it was made possible by the mediation of nineteenth-century literary institutions, since ideas about translation were almost always based on literary models and debates about these ideas almost always took place in terms of literary intercultural regimes. Literature was thus a place where translators could talk about their work, just as theology had previously provided a context for translational disputes, and just as translation schools and institutes tend to do today. This means that although nineteenth-century translation might appear to have depended on literature, this relation was in fact one of the ways in which it gained sufficient professional solidity to develop elements of its own regime. Which is one good reason for paying careful attention to the historical role of literary translation.
More generally, however, the relative independence of translation was made possible by the interculturality of the translators themselves, since translators by definition have a greater awareness of foreign cultures than do those who need to read translations. As a collectivity, translators presuppose their own intercultural context, and thus their own space for the development of an intercultural regime.
As an example of how the relative independence of a regime might be analysed, let us consider the European colonial regime from 1870 to 1914, which we can then use to locate elements of corresponding literary and translational responses. Puchala and Hopkins (1982) usefully describe the colonial regime in terms of the following principles:
1. Bifurcation of civilisation (civilised Europeans against "savages").
2. Legitimacy of government at a distance (colonies were governed from Europe).
3. Legitimacy of the accumulation of foreign land (the prestige of a power was measured in terms of the land under its control).
4. Importance of the balance of power (each power expected compensation for intrusion into territory under its control).
5. Neo-mercantilism (each power had the right to organise the economy of its colonies for its own profit).
6. Non-intervention in the domain of another power.
Such would be the regime by which the European colonial powers regulated their interactions. But was the European literary network of the time subject to any such regime? There can be no doubt that the spread of Symbolist and Naturalist aesthetics created complex intercultural relations, calling for numerous translations and requiring the development of new ways of evaluating foreign texts. Although there were no actual negotiations between writers or translators, and despite numerous material non-correspondences between the networks involved, the literary relations of the time were conceived of in terms like those of the colonialist regime. If we therefore take the colonialist precepts and look for their literary correlatives, the result might be something like the following (cf. Pym 1988):
1. Bifurcation of civilisation (the Paris-London centre was opposed to a wide "exoticised" periphery).
2. Superiority of passive influence (the most influential actors were those at the centre who apparently sought not to exert any influence).
3. Legitimacy of the accumulation of aesthetics (it was more important to be aware of several aesthetics than to follow any one master).
4. Principle of professional fraternity (replacing the father/son or master/slave relationships implicit in the principle of "government at a distance" or the Romantic idea of the "School").
5. Superiority of the unknown (through exoticism, distance itself produced positive values).
6. Supra-nationality of intellectuals (intellectuals took up international causes despite local or national allegiances).
Clearly, these literary principles contradict the colonialist norms at least with respect to points 2, 4 and 6, and probably on point 5 as well. It is thus incorrect or at least maladroit to say that the literary institutions of the period were irredeemably colonialist, although it is correct and interesting to look for ways in which they managed to talk about and respond to the colonial regime.
If we now go one step further and look for these same principles in the specific field of (literary) translation, similar results might be expected. The following is a rough attempt to see what echoes these six principles might find in the field of European translations of lyrical texts from 1870 to 1914 (cf. Pym 1985):
1. Bifurcation of prose/verse in terms of new/old (prose translations at the centre; verse translations on the periphery; transfer movements overwhelmingly from the "newer" centre to the "older" periphery).
2. Superiority of the translator as an active influence promoting the new (in the wake of Baudelaire's marketing of Poe, it was better to champion a foreign writer than to sing one's own praises).
3. Legitimacy of the accumulation of influences (reviews published translations from widely different sources, presented one after the other despite their contradicting aesthetics).
4. Principle of professional fraternity between poet and translator (claims of mystical inspiration).
5. Superiority of the untranslatable (archaisms and exotic terms, inherited from Romanticism).
6. Supra-nationality of aesthetic discourse (adoption of foreign terms from the centre; exclusion of local terms and objects on the periphery).
In this way, the mediation of a literary regime enables
historically marked translational principles to be related to the colonialist
regime without ever being confused or identified with it. If the movements
of transferred and translated texts should happen to have benefited from
a few imperialist winds, this does not mean that the translators of the
late nineteenth century had sold their souls to the superior powers of
an all-embracing colonialism. They enjoyed at least relative independence.
Translation histories are deceptively diachronic
Given that the public theorising of translation can be seen as one of the ways in which translation has gained a certain degree of independence, it is not surprising that most general historical overviews of translation theory tend to take this independence for granted. But an epistemological caveat is perhaps necessary here, since this particular image of independence could also be due to a certain lack of history in the histories concerned. The available anthologies and histories of translation theory provide fascinating material on how translators have thought about and defended their practice, but very little information is offered on why such defences should have been culturally necessary, nor on the relation between theories and actual textual practice, nor indeed on the intercultural relations within which these debates took place. There are several reasons for these absences.
The vast majority of the current historical approaches define their fields in terms of the great Romantic boundaries (English, German, French, Spanish). Diachronic continuity - such as the curious wandering line from Cicero to Darbelnet in Horguelin 1981 - tends to be chopped off at period limits which are as good as arbitrary (mostly based on centuries and mid-centuries). The premises of such research thus refer to nationalist and numerical categories in order to describe intercultural phenomena, perhaps responding more to contemporary institutional constraints on data collection than to the nature of any specific problem that might have to be solved. The initial drawing up of nationalist research fields moreover excludes the prime concerns of regimes, since these approaches seek to locate neither concrete international contexts, nor synchronic relations based on movement in space, nor moments of regime change based on rupture on several levels at once (brought about by factors like war, revolution, colonisation or major technological advances). Admittedly, the results are even more frustrating when no arbitrary field is delimited: Kelly (1979) sets out to work on "the West", giving way to a relativism that staggers from century to century, mostly looking to explain translation not in terms of intercultural relations but through reference to linguistics as a branch of theology. When fields are defined in an arbitrary way, or when they are not defined at all, it is difficult to relate serious thought on translation to the more definite times and places of concrete intercultural regimes.
Much of this arbitrariness is due to the nature of historical theorisation itself. The major translation theories prior to the twentieth century concerned sacred or classical texts and thus the relation between the present and the past, between innovation and tradition, Antiquity and the Renaissance, Anciens and Modernes. The ostensible problematic was diachronic, whereas political, economic and intercultural regimes are primarily synchronic. If one is to analyse translation in terms of regimes, many historical theories have to be read against the grain.
Such readings are nevertheless possible. From the Crusades to Napoleon, at least, the regimes of synchronic political alliances were also conceptualised in diachronic terms. For as long as the Church and the monarchies based their authority on the past, the negotiations of the present had to be justified or contested in terms of tradition; political or economic struggles were argued in terms of history. Diachronic translation theories are perhaps no different in this respect. When Luther talked about how to translate the Bible, was he not also talking about how to oppose Rome? When Meschonnic criticises Nida's dynamic equivalence, is he really talking about rhythm in the Bible or about contemporary relations between Jewish and Christian cultures? Were Perrot d'Ablancourt's "Belles Infidèles" simply adaptations of Greek and Latin authors or, more interestingly, declarations of the supposedly superior sensibility of French culture in the context of seventeenth-century Europe? And when similarly libertine ideas about translation entered England in the 1640s and 1650s (T. R. Steiner 1975, 19), were they adopted by Abraham Cowley because he wanted to be true to Pindar's "way and manner of speaking" or because he himself had been a Royalist exiled in France? In short, the kind of reading we have applied to isolated examples like de Gaulle's speech or "La Movida" might also be projected over broad historical periods, questioning diachronic problematics in terms of essentially synchronic regimes.
Such questions can only be investigated in a controlled way if the fields of historical research are defined in terms of problematics concerning more than one culture, more than one line disappearing into the past and the future. That is, one should first look closely at the level of transfer, at the actual movements of texts, before deciding the limits of a historical study. Data that the semiotic level presents as transfer from a distanced or transcendent source culture often actually concern transfer from previously transferred or translated texts that are momentarily lodged in neighbouring cultures. Although Nida, for example, appears to be talking about a Bible in Hebrew and Aramaic, the kind of transfer he is really theorising is from English-language evangelistic commentaries into third-world tongues. Whatever the diachronic nature of their internal problematics, translation theories should be made to speak in terms of the translation practices they are derived from, and translation practices should in turn be seen as pertinent to transfer acts carried out in terms of synchronic intercultural regimes.
As paradoxical as it might seem, I am arguing for a mode
of historical diachrony based on the primacy of intercultural synchrony.
I believe that no other historical approach can properly grasp the importance
Translation plays an active historical role
Jean Delisle has proposed that a history of translation be written in terms of the roles translators themselves have carried out in the development of various fields like languages, literatures, nations and religions. In keeping with the objectives of the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs, the purpose of the undertaking is to "advocate and advance the recognition of translation as a profession" (1991, 11). This is admirable. But does it mean that the profession is at last to be recognised for services passively rendered in these particular fields, or will translation be seen as a mode of intervention in the course of history? To what extent can historical approaches reveal truly active translators?
Relatively few claims can be made for the historical role of the individual translator at work on the individual text. Apart from exceptional cases where the translator has an extra-textual identity as an author, the anonymity required by equivalence makes it very difficult to attribute significant historical influence to an unseen worker. What kind of power can be attributed to "nobody in particular"?
On the other hand, if one considers the general case, if one considers the general functions of transfer and translation as intercultural phenomena, the notion of an active historical role becomes rather more interesting. Since transfer and translation in principle provide each culture with everything it believes it knows or does not know about other cultures, the historical role of translation is potentially of extreme importance. From the perspective of this second approach, translation can indeed intervene in the course of events, especially at those points - and there are many - where economic, political and technological rationalities fail or contradict each other, causing history to be made on the frontiers of established systems. Because cultures stimulate, copy, praise, fight, absorb and sometimes exterminate other cultures, translation might ultimately have its say in the way of the world.
This is why historical analysis should initially proceed from general intercultural transfer to the individual translation, from the extra-textual to the textual. There is of course nothing to stop it then developing secondary individualised models working in the other direction, but the object of study itself requires that the general case still be privileged. If this methodological priority is not accorded, if intercultural transfer and individual translations are seen as homologous or in a merely tautological relationship, the resulting historiography will inevitably condemn translators to express what we already know about intercultural relations, and will inevitably find that regimes passively conform to what we already know about translation.
An example of the trap to be avoided can be found in Susan Bassnett, who makes the following block comment on both Rossetti's 1861 praise of translational servility and Fitzgerald's roughly contemporaneous dictum concerning the translator's superiority over "inferior" foreign poets:
"These two positions, the one establishing a hierarchical relationship in which the SL author acts as a feudal overlord exacting fealty from the translator, the other establishing a hierarchical relationship in which the translator is absolved from all responsibility to the inferior culture of the SL text are both quite consistent with the growth of colonial imperialism in the nineteenth century." (1980, 4)
I find this argument powerful but rather too pessimistic.
Bassnett's belief in epistemological consistency leads her to overlook
the possibility that these translators might have played distinctive roles
within and against the dominant colonialist regime. Should translators
pretend to be above their authors? According to Bassnett, colonialist if
you do, and colonialist if you don't, since the terms of the debate are
colonialist even before the translator enters the scene. It is thus methodologically
assumed that translation can have no active historical role. Bassnett moreover
ignores the fundamental difference between Fitzgerald's exotic fantasy
(his Rubaiyat was never really taken seriously as a relative equivalent)
and Rossetti's translating of early Italian poets according to criteria
of work and workmanship, an aesthetic which was to connect with a very
internationalist line of English letters. The two modes of translation
were motivated in terms of quite different regimes. Even more obviously,
the English network of literary translation as a whole presented strong
incompatibilities with the networks formed by imperialist military and
economic regimes (in Italy?, in eleventh-century Persia?). Such contradictions
allow translations to play an active role within the wider regimes upon
which they materially depend.
Translation history could be based on regimes
Because texts move, the historiography of translation must concern more than just translation. It must take into account the reasons why texts move, for whom they move, and in relation to what economic and political movements they move. Only then can the historian properly say what translation does and can do within intercultural regimes.
The regime is the level at which the most important questions should be asked of translation studies; it is where translation should provide data and models critically elucidating intercultural relations in regions and periods of substantial extension.
This plea for analysis on the level of regimes is more than just an expression of personal discontent with systematically one-sided approaches to translation history. My concern with regimes is also an attempt to formulate the reason why the writing of this kind of history might be important as a contribution to our general understanding of intercultural relations. Beyond the mere collection and arrangement of data, beyond the beguilingly objective identification of systems and natural processes, research on this level should be able to present a critical view of the non-translational levels on which cultures interact, posing and attempting to answer questions not only about past regimes but also about what kind of regimes should be developed in the future.
That is, attention to regimes should enable translation
studies to formulate and contribute to questions of professional ethics.