МАГ/The International Association for the Humanities     ЖУРНАЛ МЕЖДУНАРОДНОЙ АССОЦИАЦИИ ГУМАНИТАРИЕВ

Рецензия Ольги Демидовой на новую книгу по теории перевода

otherintranslationTranslating “The Other”: The Review of Burak, Alexander.“The Other” in Translation: A Case for Comparative Translation Studies (Slavica Publishers, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana, 2013)

Alexander Burak’s new book is a collection of several articles (some of which were published separately before becoming chapters of the book) and conference papers dealing with Russian-to-English and English-to-Russian translations of verbal and film texts. The book, based on a substantial corpus of works on philosophy, theory, and practical matters of translation by well-known Western scholars (Umberto Eco, Edwin Gentzler, Theo Hermans, Rachel May, Tim Parks, George Steiner, Lawrence Venutti, to name just a few[1]), presents the author’s original approach to translation and translation analysis, as opposed to the ‘aesthetic’ (also known as ‘belletristic’) one accepted in contemporary translation critiques.

As stated in the Introduction, where basic methodological problems and theoretical concepts are discussed, the book “confronts two ‘double-edged’ or ‘mirror-image’ questions, i.e., those of “the specific linguistic means, translation techniques, and cultural assumptions” used by a translator to reconstruct and/or re-express in translation the elements of the original text which seem untranslatable, being alien to foreign readers, and of the effect(s) a translation may have on “behaviors and cultural perceptions of readers and film viewers in the receiving culture” (p. 1). To answer these questions, the author offers six case studies of different translation versions of the same literary and film texts made with the help of comparative translation discourse analysis (CTDA)[2].

Burak himself defines the ‘aesthetic’ approach in translation critiques as the one ‘consisting of elegantly phrased,scholarly –sounding disquisitions on the quality of translations without sufficient reference to the originals” (p. 1) while referring to Venutti’s definition of the ‘belletristic’approach in translation criticism as one ‘whereby the critic “assigns [a translation] as aesthetic autonomy from the source text and judges it not according to a concept of equivalence, but according to the ‘standards’ by which he judges original compositions’ “ (p. 2). Illustrating the way the latter is understood and used in modern translation theory by a longish quotation from Venutti’s Towards a Translation Culture (2011), Burak offers a methodology of his own, i.e., CTDA, based on N.Fairclough’s understanding of discourse and further developed to meet the needs of translation as well as translation criticism. Burak uses N.Fairclough’s classic definition of monolingual and monocultural discourse analysis (“ an exploration of how ‘texts’ at all levels work within sociocultural practices”) extending it to translation and comparing “the textual parameters and expected cross-cultural impact of different translations of the same material” (p. 1). Thus, translation discourse is defined as “a mode of exchanging organized knowledge, ideas, experiences, and aesthetic perceptions through the medium of language as used by translators in concrete texts” (p. 4-5).

Further on Burak uses the same strategy while speaking of ‘the other’ in translation: opposing the ‘highly insightful scholarly discussions’ on the matter, since in none of the corresponding writings is the concept of ‘the other’ ‘specifically defined and considered as the core of interlingual translation discourse and the object of comparative translation discourse analysis’, he takes his cue from G.Steiner andб proceeding from it, works out his own definition of the concept. Burak argues that translations of literary works present a specific kind of cross-cultural discourse “ carried out between pairs of specific languages <…> through the medium of a translator who tries to make sense of the sociocultural ‘other’ through the prism of his or her subjectivity” (p. 1, 2). Hence, the concept of ‘the other/otherness in translation’ gains paramount importance as the core of translation discourse, featuring certain formal characteristics. Burak singles out five major ones (the linguistically and culturally alien elements of the original text; the linguo-socio-cultural personality of its author as imprinted on the text and as perceived by the translator; the translator’s own linguo-socio-cultural identity as reflected in the translation; the adjustments made in the translation to meet the prospective audience’s perceived cultural background and expectations; the adjustments in the translation made as the result of the translator’s self-monitoring and self-censoring caused by particular political and/or ideological reasons), also highlighting the Lecerclean ‘remainder’ factor as well as the ‘sociological dimension’ connected with the translator’s personality and background (educational, professional, aesthetic, etc.) (p. 3-4). The latter is termed ‘the translator’s imprint’ on the translated text as compared to R.May’s ‘the translator in the text’ and T.Hermann’s ‘the translator’s voice in the translated narrative’[3].

Each of the six chapters following the Introduction[4] deals with a specific case study, using different English and Russian texts and their coexisting translations as the source and various existing theories, approaches, and data as points of departure. Chapter 1, for instance, presents ‘Russian Hemingway’s’[5] analysis from three intersecting perspectives: A.Berman’s system of textual deformation, case studies collected in J.Milton and P.Bandia’s Agents of Translation, and the author’s own cultural as well as professional experience. Chapter 2 combines M.Gasparov’s multiple translation(s) theory with T. Grice’s concept of pragmatic implicature (also known as Cooperative Principle), on the one hand, and D.Sperber – D.Wilson’s relevance theory of communication with the concept of context as its focus[6], on the other, the combination quite logically resulting in Burak’s own concept of pragmatics or pragmatic effect as applied to translation defined as “the process and result of using specific linguostylistic means to adjust the language of the translation to the cultural and informational background and expectations of the receivers of the translationas perceived or presumed by the translator” (p. 38). In the following chapters basic translation techniques (neutralization, domestication / naturalization, foreignization, contamination, and stylization) are discussed in connection with the detailed comparative analysis of excerpts from two existing translations of Tolstoy’s War and Peace: one by A.Briggs and the other by R.Pevear and L.Volokhonsky (Chapter 3) and V.Sorokin’s Day of the Oprichnik by J.Gambrell (Chapter 5); Sorokin’s novella and its translation also bring up the problems of intertextuality and intersemiotics. Intersemiotic interpretation is further applied in Chapter 6 while discussing all (im)possible Russian translation versions of the English punk band name ‘Pussy Riot’. In Chapter 4 Burak addresses translation pragmatics while analyzing the three existing Russian versions ofSalinger’s Catcher in the Rye: by R.Rait-Kovaleva (1960), M.Nemtsov (2008), and Ia.Lotovsky (2010), arguing that it (pragmatics) embraces “the tasks that the translator sets for himself or herself consciously or, in fact, fulfills unconsciously” and “ the overall effect that he or she produces through the translation, oftentimes without realizing and / or admitting what he or she is doing” (p. 74).

Notwithstanding the above mentioned differences, all six chapters obviously fall into the same field of scholarship being introduced by the author – translation variance studies[7] or comparative translation studies. Chapter 7, though, seems to be standing somewhat apart, as it’s devoted to Russian translation theory and contemporary discussions connected with it, the author presenting a general survey of the present-day state of things[8] and a rather detailed account of ideas on translation expressed by three leading representatives of what is termed Moscow school (Moscow State Linguistic University, the Department of English Language Translation): Profs. Buzadzhi, Lanchikov, and Ermolovich. InConcluding Remarks to the chapter Burak states that even though in the past decades Russian translation theorists and practitioners have accepted some Western ideas and methodology, they still maintain the traditional tenets of the Soviet-Russian school as far as the problem of translatability (“Any text is translatable because human thinking is a phenomenon with universally comparable features” – p. 146) and the very nature of translation understood as a “high art” as suggested by K. Chukovsky quite a long while ago are concerned.

In the Conclusion, titled Negotiating Multiculturalism, the author discusses three major ways of individual or group integration into a culture (assimilation, or the ‘melting pot’ theory; amalgamation, or the ‘salad bowl’ theory; accommodation as ‘the more recent thinking on cultural identity’), advocating translation variance studies as a strategy, a channel, and an instrument to make all three models operate successfully, if not exactly simultaneously, and ensure the possibility of an ‘educated choice of a translation worth reading’ from the multiplicity of translations.


Olga Demidova, Professor, European University in St. Petersburg

[1] For a complete list see pp.1,3,4 of The Introduction as well as The Bibliography (pp.195-210).

[2] The book on the whole consists of the Introduction, seven chapters, the Conclusion, eight appendices presenting detailed comparative analysis of the translation pieces discussed in corresponding chapters and some additional data, and Bibliography.

[3] In doing so, Burak alludes to R.May’s book The Translator in the Text (1994) and T.Hermann’s article The Translator’s Voice in the translated narrative (1996).

[4] Chapter 1.The “Americanization” of Russian Life and Literature through Translations of Hemingways’ Works: Establishing a Russian “Amerikanskii” Substyle in Russian Literature – A Case Study of two “Kashkintsy” Translations of Hemingway; Chapter 2. Some Like it Hot – “Goblin-Style”: Ozhivliazh (Sexing Things Up) in Russian Film Translations – A Case Study of Two Voiceover Translations into Russian of the Soprano Series; Chapter 3. Translating Skaz as a Whole-Text realium: Five Modes of Translation (Russian-to-English) – A Case Study of Pevear and Volokhonsky’s Translation of the Parable about Two Merchants Told by Platon Karataev in Tolstoy’s War and peace; Chapter 4. Translating Skaz as a Whole-text Realium: From Skaz to Swaggering Pizzazz (English-to-Russian) – A Case Study of Three Translations into Russian of J.D.Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye; Chapter 5. Translating Postmodernism: A Translator’s Modus Operandi – A Case Study of Vladimir Sorokin’s Day of the Oprichnik; Chapter 6. Translation as a Political Weapon: Having a Riot Translating “Pussy Riot” – A Case Study of the Suggestive Translations of the Name of the Punk Band Pussy Riot in the Russian Media; Chapter 1 was first published in the journal Translation and Interpreting Studies (TIS) 8: 1 (Spring 2013): 50-72: a draft of Chapter 2 was presented at the Southern Conference on Slavic Studies (SCSS) on March 26, 2010 and the final version subsequently published in the Russian Language Journal (RLJ) 61 (2011): 5-31: Chapter 3 was originally published in the Slavic and East European Journal (SEEJ) 54: 3 (fall 2010): 453-75.

[5] Among other things, the chapter presents the history of ‘the Kashkintsy’, i.e., the leading Moscow translation school which started in the 1930s with translating contemporary American literature, as well as the analysis of the influence these translation had on Soviet literature and culture in general: “I maintain that Soviet translators collectively invented Hemingway’s, Salinget’s, and Vonnegut’s styles in Russian, thereby establishing what I call the ‘Russian Amarikanskii substyle’ within Soviet Russian literature” (p. 19).

[6] For detailed treatment of all the three see pp. 36-38.

[7] In a footnote Burak states that the term ‘emerged in the course of discussions’ he and T.Sergay had during the SCSS annual meeting in March 2010.

[8] Appendix 7 “Translation Think Tanks, Abti-Prizes, and Competitions” supplies some additional information on the topic.