Corps de l’article

This volume presents the author’s research on translations of Hispanic literature into French. Working firmly within the paradigm of Descriptive Translation Studies, Laurence Malingret seeks to reveal the processes of selection, interpretation and rewriting in a corpus of French translations of Hispanic literature for a period of 30 years (1950-1980) — all titles in the corpus are conveniently appendixed at the end of the book. The translations under review are drawn from French, Canadian, Belgian and Swiss bibliographies, though, not surprisingly, but significantly, most of the corpus is made up of French publications. The period chosen for analysis is particularly rich in that it represents a time of clear evolution in the practice and circumstances of translation of Hispanic literature into French.

The principles of descriptive methodology on which the book’s empirical analysis sits are well laid out: translation involves relations of discourse and power between two literary systems; these relations are inevitably hierarchical; norms of the target culture tend to dominate translation strategies; description of translation methodologies is inevitably empirical in that it must account for specific translations by translator/authors in specific target and source socio-economic contexts. Research results are supported by exhaustive theoretical justification. Indeed, the first 40 pages of the volume (Chapters 1 and 2) present an articulate overview of the history and evolution of the principles of DTS analysis, touching on notions of re-writing, fidelity, equivalence, norms, the poetics of translation and the subjectivity of the translator. The remaining chapters of the book are devoted to complete and detailed empirical evidence.

Historically, Hispanic literature was deeply influenced by French literature, thus making relations between the two literary systems fertile ground for study. Chapters 3 and 4 of the book address the evolution of socio-economic circumstances under which Hispanic literature was translated into French in the 30 year period under review. The author raises practical issues, who publishes, who translates, who is translated, the decentralization of publishing houses handling Hispanic literature in France (the creation for example of the Actes du Sud in Arles) and the slow market growth from a trickle of translations of Peninsular classics such as Don Quixote to the eventual explosion and opening up (in the 60s) to publications of pan-Hispanic works in translation. Chapter 4 demonstrates how the evolution of norms and conventions in translation of titles reveals a definite change in attitude to reception in the French literary system. For example, avoidance of stereotypes and inclusion of Spanish words in titles (unthinkable some years ago) would indicate a certain opening up to “foreigness” and willingness on the part of publishers to risk letting the reader know that the book is in fact a translation.

Though the information presented in this part of the book is well-documented and mostly interesting, one is left with a desire for deeper analysis of the (hierarchical) relations between Hispanic and French cultures and of how French perceptions of Hispanic culture, the specific nature of this interculture, effected selection and publication of translations. Were works close to French literary sensibility chosen for translation? How did perceptions of art, class and refinement in the two cultures effect selection of books for translation? What historically were French criteria for the “littérature de prestige” that was deemed worthy of translation? The discussion does make some reference to political movements and their influence on literary systems — the growth of interest in Latin American ideologies from the 60s onward, or the pivotal role of the Catalan Seix Baral house in publishing minority points of view. Nonetheless, a more ample discussion of how ideological, class and colonial attitudes influence the circumstances of translation would enrich this analysis.

Chapter 5 is given over to empirical analysis of translation strategies gleaned from a wide and impressive spectrum of translations. This micro-analysis, largely of structures and linguistic functions, constitutes the body of the book. The author uses a long list of procedures such as punctuation, capitalization, introductions, footnotes, register, nominalization, verbs and tenses, omissions and additions etc., to demonstrate how translators of Hispanic works attempted to make them acceptable to French readership. In Chapter 6, this description of procedures is applied to three specific works: ¿Quién mató a Palomino Molero? by Mario Vargas Llosa (translated by Albert Bensoussan), Concierto barroco by Alejo Carpentier, (various translations), El llano en llamas by Juan Rulfo, translated by Michelle Levi-Provencal and by Roger Lecot. This extensive micro-analysis of translation procedures is, on the whole, worthwhile but on times one gets the sensation that examples are provided to satisfy the theory that the translator must rewrite to evoke the reality of the receiver. As well, the analysis is belaboured and there is some repetition, (the reader flags by Chapter 6) — this could have been avoided with a good edit.

The conclusions the author draws from her detailed analysis are fundamental and of interest to translators working from Spanish to French or to any other language, for that matter. Hispanic language and linguistic ideology allow for a much greater degree of ambiguity than what presumably is acceptable to French readership. Hence translations into French tend to imbue the text with a logic, clarity and rationality that were not necessarily in the source text. As the author points out, this can lead to loss of “vivacity”, and on a deeper level, represents a complete change in the literary sensibility evoked by the text, i.e. ambiguity and lack of logic form part of the Hispanic literary imagination, but this must be “written-out” by the French translator to ensure that the text can be received by French readership. On the very level of syntax, Spanish allows for great flexibility and ambiguity while the French language and ideology dictate a discourse of functional order. Systematically, the author shows how translators aim, to varying degrees, to present a well-structured text that evokes a sensibility and reality accessible to the French reader’s perception.

The author also provides a myriad of examples of how French translations have typically homogenized and “enobled” the varieties and levels of Spanish language texts. Hispanic linguistic culture is generally more plural and less concerned with register or “noble” language than French culture (notoriously). This of course poses serious problems with the translation of Latin American literature. Many examples are provided to demonstrate how French translators have frequently taken recourse in abstract and literary lexical choices, for example, giving the French text a more “elevated” and frequently less oral style than the Spanish original. The author does, however, mention the fact that in recent years, as French has become more plural in its linguistic ideology, translations from Spanish into French have more varied linguistic resources upon which to draw and the traditional “traduit du castillan” gives way to “traduit de l’espagnol”. This empirical part of the book is also rich with examples of cultural references, adaptations and transformations — an Argentinian couple snacking on chorrizo ends up eating frites in the French translation — the translator’s justification being that chorrizo, an ordinary snack in Argentina, would evoke exoticism to a French reader and betray the author’s intention to describe a quite ordinary day.

To conclude, the author makes some meaningful comments on the study of translation strategies as a way of demonstrating the literary system of a national culture, particularly with regard to its acceptance of other cultures. The wider hope is that in our globalizing world, translations can be seen as equal to works of national literature and as vectors of cultural and intercultural understanding — a true opening up to the Other.