Literary Translation: Recent Theoretical Developments
By Sachin Ketkar
Lecturer in English
SB Garda College,
Literary studies have always, explicitly or implicitly, presupposed a certain notion of `literariness' with which it has been able to delimit its domain, specify, and sanction its methodologies and approaches to its subject. This notion of `literariness' is crucial for the theoretical thinking about literary translation. In this paper, I have attempted to analyze various recent theoretical positions to the study of literary translation and sought to understand them in the context of the development in the field of literary studies in the last three decades of the twentieth century. The recent developments in the literary studies have radically questioned the traditional essentialist notion of `literariness' and the idea of canon from various theoretical perspectives. I have contrasted the traditional discourse on literary translation with the recent discourse in order to highlight the shift in the notion of `literariness' and its impact on translation theory.
The traditional essentialist approach to literature, which Lefevere (1988:173) calls `the corpus' approach is based on the Romantic notion of literature which sees the author as a quasi-divine `creator' possessing `genius'. He is believed to be the origin of the Creation that is Original, Unique, organic, transcendental and hence sacred. Translation then is a mere copy of the unique entity, which by definition is uncopy-able. As the translator is not the origin of the work of art, he does not possess `genius', and he is considered merely a drudge, a proletariat, and a shudra in the literary Varna system. This traditional approach is due to the Platonic-Christian metaphysical underpinning of the Western culture. The `original' versus `copy' dichotomy is deeply rooted in the Western thought. This is the reason why the West has been traditionally hostile and allergic to the notion of `translation'.
The traditional discussion of the problems of literary translation considers finding equivalents not just for lexis, syntax or concepts, but also for features like style, genre, figurative language, historical stylistic dimensions, polyvalence, connotations as well as denotations, cultural items and culture-specific concepts and values. The choices made by the translators like the decision whether to retain stylistic features of the source language text or whether to retain the historical stylistic dimension of the original become all the more important in the case of literary translation. For instance, whether to translate Chaucer into old Marathi or contemporary are very important. In the case of translating poetry, it is vital for a translator to decide whether the verse should be translated into verse, or into free verse or into prose. Most of the scholars and translators like Jakobson (1991:151) believe that in the case of poetry though it is "by definition impossible ...only creative transposition is possible...". It is the creative dimension of translation that comes to fore in the translation of poetry though nobody seems to be sure of what is meant by creativity in the first place. The word is charged with theological-Romantic connotations typical of the `corpus' approach to literature.
The questions around which the deliberations about translation within such a conceptual framework are made are rather stereotyped and limited: as the literary text, especially a poem is unique, organic whole and original is the translation possible at all? Should translation be `literal' or `free'? Should it emphasize the content or the form? Can a faithful translation be beautiful? The answers to the question range from one extreme to the other and usually end in some sort of a compromise. The great writers and translators gave their...