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Comptes rendus

Karen Emmerich. Literary Translation and the Making of Originals. New York, Bloomsbury, 2017, 224 p.[Notice]

  • Maureen Hosay

…plus d’informations

From the title alone, Emmerich sets the tone: ‘originals’ simply do not exist. They are made. So what makes an original? Answering this particular question is the central task Emmerich’s book sets out to undertake. Throughout the book, she highlights different ways in which an ‘original’ comes into being, and shows that ‘originality’ is not an inherent quality that a work possesses, nor does it precede it. On the contrary, she seeks to show that ‘originals’ are established as such, mostly retroactively (more on that later). Although a substantial part of the book revolves around her corpus, and around the relationship between the so-called ‘originals,’ their ‘source(s),’ and their translation(s), Emmerich also addresses the effects the long-held and enduring framework ‘original—translation(s)’ has had on the agents that are part of it, including (but not limited to) authors and translators. One of Emmerich’s many strengths is her threefold career: she is a translator, a teacher in the field of literary translation, and a scholar specialized in Modern Greek literature, translation practices, and experimental translation. As such, she embodies what she seeks to encourage, namely “sustained and explicit contact” (pp. 12-13) between translation studies and literary studies. She argues that a better understanding of the sources, origins, and creation/editing/translation processes of a text would be beneficial for their study. Conversely, reinvigorating translation and bringing attention to its literary and historical value would mark a departure from the rhetoric of loss and failure from which it suffers. At first, the choice of corpus might appear extreme, in the sense that most examples exhibit very tumultuous and fragmented creation, reception, editing, and translation processes. However, Emmerich rightfully points out that “extreme is not the same as exceptional” (p. 21). This statement, which applies to her translation of Glafkos Thrassakis—“an extreme case [of translingual publication history]” (ibid.)—can surely be extended to the whole corpus. Each chapter indeed features a particularly telling example of how obsolete and irrelevant the singular notion of ‘original’ is, and how inappropriate it is to properly address the complexity of the source material’s many (translingual) versions. Throughout the book, Emmerich recounts three stories (which she calls “origin stor[ies],” p. 2) that prompted her to write the book. These three stories introduce the reader to the main concerns of the book: dispelling the rhetoric of faithfulness that is still present in (literary) translation studies and in the work of translators, calling into question the notion of stable ‘original’ and the language used to discuss translation, and ultimately bridging the gaps between literary studies and translation studies, and between theory and practice. Each story also presents the different facets of Emmerich as a translator, a scholar, and a teacher respectively. In 2000, Emmerich was hired to complete the English translation of the Greek novel Glafkos Thrassakis by Vassílis Vassilikós. She was asked to produce a “faithful rendition” (p. 3) of the 763-page novel, which would neither subtract nor add anything to the original work, while adhering to the formal constraint that the English translation be one-third shorter than the ‘original.’ Her encounter with such an editorial paradox introduces her discussion on “the rhetoric of faithfulness” (ibid.). Although standard in translators’ contracts in the UK and the US, it is a vague term that fosters an enduring misconception, namely that a translation is meant to be a semantic transfer. Instead of dwelling on the notion of ‘faithfulness,’ Emmerich simply but convincingly does away with it by dispelling the smokescreen and stating that “[t]he entire translation is a text that did not exist before: all the words are added, …

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