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Comptes rendus

Lieven D’hulst. Essais d’histoire de la traduction. Avatars de Janus. Paris, Classiques Garnier, “Perspectives comparatistes 24,” 2014, 321 p.

  • Paul St-Pierre

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  • Paul St-Pierre
    Université de Montréal

Cover of Traduction et rédaction : un destin lié, Volume 29, Number 1, 1er semestre 2016, pp. 9-261, TTR : traduction, terminologie, rédaction

Article body

This volume is divided into two sections. The first—“Parcours théoriques”—contains chapters on historiography, the perennial role of metaphor and metonymy in the elaboration of theories of translation, postcolonial translation, translation and transfer, and the historicity of translations (Goethe’s Faust in the French translation of Gérard de Nerval, in re-editions and revisions since 1988). The second—“Traduire en France et au-delà (XVIIIe-XXIe siècles)”—presents a series of case studies, some of which touch on areas discussed in the first part of the volume. Thus, there are chapters devoted to translations published in France between 1810 and 1840, to the first doctorates on translation in France at the beginning of the nineteenth century, to Ferri de Saint-Constant’s Rudiments de la traduction, to the transposition into French of German Lieder by two Belgian lyricists in the mid-nineteenth century, to a French interpreter (Charles Villette) during the time of Napoleon, to fictional representations of interpretation during the colonial and postcolonial eras, and, finally, to Octave Delepierre, a nineteenth-century Belgian writer and translator, who through his different discursive interventions attempted to “se réapproprier le patrimoine national puis à le transmettre sous une forme digeste et utile, à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur [de la Belgique]” (p. 271). Most of the chapters have previously appeared in print, in different journals and collections, though certain have been modified and/or extended for inclusion in this volume. The division between the two sections is somewhat misleading, since many—if not all—of the chapters in the second part explicitly explore theoretical issues, such as—to cite only two examples—intersemiotic translation and genre. And, as the title of the volume suggests, all of the chapters deal with the relation of translations to history, through their insertion in the epistemological and historical contexts in which they were produced, published, reedited, revised, or read. The division of the volume into two sections, then, is somewhat artificial, and perhaps even unfortunate, both because it mirrors a division between theory and practice that translation studies would do well to rid itself of and because it seeks to create distinctions between the chapters that do not indeed exist. It is more useful to see the volume as one in which studies of particular questions, of specific authors or translators, always serve as a point of departure for a discussion of more general questions, always with a display of wide-ranging and solid erudition.

There is also considerable speculation in these chapters (‘sans doute’ is an expression that occurs frequently in this volume), and this is perhaps inevitable when complex theoretical questions are being dealt with in a limited number of pages—but it can also be somewhat frustrating for the reader. Thus the chapter entitled “De la naissance des théories. Métaphores et métonymies,” first published in 1992 but to which a section on metonymy has been added and other sections reworked for inclusion in this volume, seems at once overly ambitious in scope (this is, after all, a subject on which innumerable publications exist – as the author himself notes) and dated. It is not at all clear what criteria were used to select the five works singled out for discussion (p. 46), and two of these—by Judith Woodsworth (1988) and by James St. André (2010)—are not in fact referred to. A similarly overambitious reach mars the chapter on postcolonial translation (“Échanges interdisciplinaires,” pp. 63-79), which seems very selective in the questions and concepts it chooses to deal with (even explicitly so, as in the section “De quelques concepts postcoloniaux appliqués à la traduction” [my emphasis], p. 70 et seq., raising once again the question of what principles underlie the selection of the particular concepts of hegemony, métissage, cannibalism and cultural translation). Moreover, the chapter is very vague and overly general in its condemnation of writings by researchers working on postcolonial translation, as in the following sentence: “Cannibalisme, appropriation, transcréation : ces termes se chevauchent dans le discours postcolonial sur la traduction, sans que leurs auteurs s’évertuent à les départager ou sans qu’ils précisent toujours comment il convient de les rapporter à des modalités concrètes de la traduction” (p. 74). This seemingly neutral and descriptive statement is in fact highly subjective and, indeed, partial—in both senses of the word (incomplete, and unfair), for while it would most certainly be possible to cite examples where the terms of ‘cannibalism’ and ‘transcreation,’ for example, are used interchangeably and imprecisely, each has its particular history and geography. For example, the term ‘transcreation’ originated in India, in the work of P. Lal (1972), and refers to a quite specific practice of translation that involved the rewriting of the great epics—the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, in particular—in regional languages with the addition of episodes and other substantial changes. So while certain authors may indeed be guilty of using such terms in an indiscriminate fashion, it seems unfair to tar in such a general manner all researchers working in this subfield.

When Lieven D’hulst addresses himself to the fields in which his contributions to translation studies are the most well known—the history of translation, in France and Belgium, in the nineteenth century—he is on much solider ground. The two chapters dealing with Belgian translators—“ERLKÖNIG en Belgique” and especially “Un médiateur culturel belge : Octave Delepierre”—are of particular interest, as they deal with aspects of translation that have received relatively less attention: translation in Belgium, but also the translation of Lieder and the importance accorded to rhythm (though in this regard it is surprising there is no reference to the work of Henri Meschonnic, for example, 1982), as well as the way in which translation can be combined with other discursive practices with a view to cultural mediation and to national definition.