This compact anthology does everything it claims to do: its contributors, all writing concisely and expertly while keeping their personal stamp, condense the relationship of culture, philosophy, linguistics, opera, cinema, and politics to translation and condense as well translation history and literary translation, not to mention over two millennia, into 147 pages (excluding bibliography and index).
And therein lies its risk for Translation Studies.
So, let us turn first to the negative implications, i.e., how this will give the skeptics of Translation Studies evidence in charging our interdiscipline with dilettantism and derivativeness.
After all, with a companion like this it will no longer be necessary to have recourse to The Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies (1998) in order to avoid reading directly the disciplines which inform the interdisciplinary nexus of Translation Studies. Indeed in 94 words, Gunilla Anderman in “Linguistics and Translation” (p. 47) fills the one conspicuous gap in the Encyclopedia, i.e., the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. In fact, some contributors even refer to a source text via another Translation Studies scholar’s accommodation of that source, making their summation thrice removed from the informing discipline.
However, the anthology can be summarized with positive implications also, at least for beginning postgraduates in the Commonwealth orbit. (This reviewer nearly always agreed with the essayists’ summations as they unwittingly echoed the three last decades of her own readings and lecture notes—and not a few of her comments in public forums.)
The editors believe that Translation Studies, which elicited a “Babel of theories” (4) and a conference pace that became “frantic” (2) in the late 1980s and 1990s, has settled down into a stabilization phase. (To judge from the dates in the bibliography, this anthology must have required several years to put together.) Those in Translation Studies now, the editors believe, are reconciled to differences among themselves and generally recognize the value of what everyone else is doing. Furthermore, it should be interjected, in this still uncrowded field, everyone invariably knows almost everyone else, frequently personally, inevitably by contributions.
Thus, the anthology had major aspects assigned to recognized experts, all but one (Luise von Flotow) based in Europe. Susan Bassnett, referring to Constructing Cultures (1998) which she completed after André Lefevere’s death in 1996, demonstrates her masterly ability to make complex systems like that of the late Pierre Bourdieu sound not only simple but simply applicable. She is followed by Anthony Pym, who performs a tour of philosophical intervention that is a tour de force, juggling the claims of analytic philosophy, empiricism, and deconstruction within the paradox of meaning as both impossible to ascertain and transferable all the same. The editors allowed him to convey his platform wit and to puncture pompous pronouncements. Anderman not only reinstates the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, she indicates the importance of Eugene Nida, who after all founded the discipline as it is presently construed, and Chomsky and their European and UK contemporaries. Perhaps it is because Translation Studies publishers are seldom mainstream that chronological confusion is hard to avoid. It is unclear in Anderman’s account, but it should be pointed out that Nida preceded Chomsky, who was aware of Nida’s work; Nida then incorporated Chomsky as he was later to incorporate the Peirce semiotics renaissance and to prepare a defense against the Babel of deconstruction. Nida still incorporates what he finds of value.
Lynne Long on translation and history and specifically the history of translation performs the feat of abridging both Douglas Robinson’s reader from Herodotus to Nietzsche (1997) and Jean Delisle and Judith Woodworth’s Translators through History (1995). From remarks that she and Bassnett make about the anomaly of Edward Fitzgerald’s Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam, it can be assumed that neither is aware of Harold Bloom’s casebook on the masterpiece (Philadelphia, Chelsea House, 2004). Theo Hermans’s review of literary translation effectively integrates developments in Comparative Literature with literary translation as scholars have weighed the distinctions between what is literary and what is not. He prepares the way for Von Flotow whose “Gender and Translation” is arguably the most forward-looking essay in the book. Von Flotow starts with the “first paradigm,” i.e., the assumption that there are marginalized portions of a population that must be given (back) their voice. She then moves on to the “second paradigm,” the developing perspective that diversity is so great that basic assumptions are simplistic, that gender as it comes into texts and translation is discursive and performative. Of all the essays here, hers is the one that should send any reader into further research.
Mary Snell-Hornby and Eithne O’Connell, on opera and screen, respectively, are highly informative, although neither essay takes the place of readers’ pursuing these areas on their own. Christina Schäffner, who has provided US students their access to German theorists like Katharina Reiss and Hans Vermeer, concludes the collection. She takes up translation in politics and the politics of translation, including language policies and censorship.
Throughout the volume there are names that recur across essays in addition to those previously mentioned. These are not surprising: Mona Baker, Walter Benjamin, Jacques Derrida, Itamar Even-Zohar, Martin Heidegger, Gideon Toury, and Lawrence Venuti. There are three terms that recur also: think-aloud protocols, corpora studies which have developed under Baker’s leadership and require an electronic infrastructure and polysystem categorizing (even though Even-Zohar and Toury have stopped using the term).
Readers are left with the prospect of a period of stability with protocols and corpora studies showing what translators must have had in mind when they translated, not just signs but the referents clinging to them. A peaceful, productive prospect.
But readers should be cautioned to use this companion as a guide not a crutch.