2.5 Translation and power
After the 1960s, as the result of the changes that had occurred in the international relations, and when the dominant ideologies were challenged in the poststructuralist and post-colonialist era, the concept of society and power were reconceptualized. Translation studies as well saw to itself an emerging interest in power in the coming decades. During this time, many translation scholars set off to explore the issues of power and translation. The new descriptive approach in Israel to literary translation in which translation goals are linked to social and political context led to foundation of The Manipulation School in 1985 by Mc-Guire, Toury, Hermans, Lefevere, and Lambert. In their view, translation was one of the primary literary tools that dominant and influential social institutions could use to “manipulate” a given society in order to build a desired culture. The contributions of the proponents of The Manipulation Thesis triggered a change in translation studies known as “the cultural turn” in the 1990s- through such turn did not only affect translation studies but many fields in the humanities. This era was accompanied by many new movements and publishing of new works in translation studies by different scholars (see Tymoczko & Gentzler, 20002, pp. xiv-xvi for some examples and details) central to which was the issue of power majorly either to control or to resist.
Tymoczko (2006) raises a very interesting discussion about the place of translation in society during wartime and peacetime. She posits that during peacetime translation is stereotyped and dismissed as secondary activity and is considered as a job that can be undertaken by any one person with a bilingual dictionary-her statement seems a bit overgeneralized though, since many discourses such as jurisprudence still value translation as an expertise that should be undertaken by professionals- while during wartime the value of translation becomes critical and a matter of national security and survival. Her discussion can easily be linked to the issue of power and translation. In fact, during wartime, regardless of the ruling regime, dominant culture, or the overall amount of translation regularly undertaken in a country, translation is seen as a power tool that can turn the tides, meaning that correct and precise translations are required so as not to fall behind. She also believes that concerns about traitor translators also contribute to such criticality.
In contemporary views, translators are social agents with the responsibility of transferring meaning from the source language to the target one, and they have the power, if not monitored and directed by commissioners, to impose their interpretation of the text as well as their ideology through the choices they make at every level of translation, i.e. they have the power to voice their ideology over the text, “intervention of translators can be traced through the shifts they introduce into the texts they produce, including shifts in content, literary forms, politics, and ideology”(Tymoczko, 2006, p. 447). Readers of translations usually do not refer to the source text nor do they make a comparative analysis between the source and the target to see where the translator has shifted. “Once produced, translations as texts lead a life of their own, and are the basis on which people acquire information and knowledge” (Shaffner, 2004, p. 125) and that is why they can induce certain effects regardless of their source text. Translators can be, and are, active elements in the formation and alteration of cultures with their agendas, including what to translate and how to translate.
The examples of practicing translation as a source of power to make changes in a society or culture are abundant in history. Karimi-Hakkak (1999, p. 518) explains that during Qajar dynasty, translation from European languages into Persian provided Iranians with a glimpse of the Western knowledge and science they previously lacked by the end of the 19th century – the need for technology had grown in Iran because of the new inter-govermental relationships with the West – and that translation of Western literary works during this era contributed to Persian literature reform toward its contemporary form. Translation played an undeniably vital role in Iran’s modernization in the late 19th century. As the result, new gates toward acquaintance with totally new ideologies, world-views, cultures and literary genres opened onto Iran through translation, which was nothing less than a renaissance in nature at that time. Of course, aside from the constructive aspects, this was followed by a torrent of cultural and social inconsistencies the discussion of which is beyond the aims of the present thesis.
Regarding the interplay between translation and power, schaffner (2004, pp. 144-145) refers to four strategic functions which link discourse to political situations in a society and defines them from the view point of translation. These strategic functions are:
1. Coercion: controlling what texts to be translated, checking the final translation and using translation for home agendas.
2. Resistance, opposition and protest: counter-deployment of discursive strategies by translators in selecting source texts, giving voice to neglected or oppressed minorities and moving beyond the conventions defined by institutional powers.
3. Dissimulation: quantitative or qualitative control of information made available through translation or allowing specific chosen pats of texts to be available, also publishing inaccurate translations.
4. Legitimization and delegitimization: positive self presentation and negative other-presentation by using specific translation strategies.
Translation as product or process is deeply interconnected with power, and a critical analysis of a text can reveal that “where discourses meet and compete, translation negotiates power relations” (Tymoczko & Gentzler, 2002, p. xviii) and that translation can be an ideological weapon in the hands of its translator, commissioner, government, etc. for excluding the author or certain readers, constructing new social or cultural models and even directing the cognitive aspects of human life in a society.
2.6 Impact of Translation on Representation
Discussing the Rabindranath Tagore’s auto-translation of his anthology Gitanjali: Song Offering 1910, Sengaputa ( 1999: 58) mentions:
‘… Tagore deliberately chooses to write like these poets (Blunt, Davies, De la Mare and all the Victorian poets) when he translates his own poems into English. He makes adjustments to suit the ideology of the dominating culture… He fits perfectly into the stereotypical role that was familiar to the colonizer’.
Further he talks about the consequences of this translation and explores the ways Tagore’s work effected the representation of him and the colonized ”as a saint or seer from the East”. The Nobel committee refers to Gitanjali as ”a collection of religious poems”.
Sengaputa assumes that the colonizers had appointed a mission to Tagore and that was to give a representation of the colonized nation as people who are concerned only with spiritual issues. Tagore’s mission was in line with those of Christian missionaries who were trying to release the naive people ”from the bondage of tradition and history”. According to Sengaputa, Tagore as a translator supplied another basis for the existing superstructure of orientalism, ”he became the representative of the alluring ‘Other’ to the western world.”
Moreover, other scholars have investigated the translation as a representational activity, which represents an image of the culture the translated text comes from. Ovidio Carbonell (1996) in ‘the exotic space of cultural translation’ recognizes that a translator like Francis Burton furnishes of the Arabs, their culture, literature and language by translating The Arabian Nights in 1885-8 (1996: 80). He believes that there always exist the elements of untraslatability which provides room for some modifications of the originary text according to the structures of representation of the target language or culture. Through this course of representation of exotic texts a process of making sense and interpreting takes place.
Translation is an activity that bridges between cultures. ‘Any approach to a given culture always involves a process of translation’. It depends on the Western Philosophical notions of reality, representation, and knowledge (Niranjana, 1992). According to post-colonialist, including Niranjana, translation is an instrument in the hands of colonial forces to repress the colonized nations. It has been used as ‘strategies of containment’. The colonizers have used translation as a means of reinforcement the hegemonic domination. In this way the colonized gains the position which according to Edward Said is representations or objects without history. Then in the course of history this representation becomes a fact or reality. Niranjana mentions ‘Translation functions as a transparent presentation of something that already exists, although the ‘original’ is]]>
2.5 Translation and power