Friday, November 24, 2006

A Translation Metaphor

I always enjoy reading metaphors or other descriptions that involve translation in some way (both metaphors that depict translation and those that describe something else using translation), because they offer a view of what people think translation is. One day it might be interesting to study these metaphors and see how the sense of translation has changed over time.

For example, last month, I mentioned Alistair Elliot’s idea of translation as powdered eggs. Henry Rider, in the preface to his 1638 translation of Horace to English, offers a very different metaphor, that of translation as clothing:

“Translations of Authors from one language to another, are like old garments turn’d into new fashions; in which though the stuffe be still the same, yet the die and trimming are altered, and in the making, here something added, there something cut away.”

I’d thought of translation as many things before, but I hadn’t thought about it as “old garments,” and though I like Mr. Rider’s metaphor, I don’t really agree with it.

Do you have favorite translation metaphors or descriptions?


shoko said...

In what way don't you agree with Mr. Rider's metaphor? I'm just curious to know, since I don't think I agree, either, but I can't quite put my finger on it at the moment.

Brett Jocelyn Epstein said...

Well, I think it is one of those metaphors that sound good, but don't capture the truth of the object described.
First of all, why are the original documents "old garments"? This metaphor, I think, suggests that original texts are worn, old-fashioned, etc. and that they need to be fixed up, and turned into new, modern styles. Modernization is not generally wanted or needed in translation.
Also, if translators are changing the dye and the trimming on the "clothes," and are adding and cutting here and there, those are pretty significant changes that imply more liberty on the part of the translator than we are accustomed to thinking is acceptable these days.
So I think the attitude towards the texts and the task is a little off-putting to me, and also doesn't really jibe with our modern view of translation.
What do you think?

Best wishes,

shoko said...

I thought it over some more since my comment and you've hit the same two points I arrived at. This metaphor seems more fitting for a modern reinterpretation of a classic or something along those lines.

I tried to think of clothing metaphors for translation that worked better for me. One was creating a copy of one garment using different materials. Using different materials might require compromises on how a garment is structured in order to achieve the same look. The other was creating a women's equivalent of a men's outfit or vice versa. Different needs must be met, but they have to accomplish the same effect (equally comfortable, professional, etc.). Good metaphors are hard to come up with. ^_^;

Brett Jocelyn Epstein said...

Yes, you're right about it being difficult to find good metaphors! I like the concept of clothing as a metaphor; one of my professors suggested that the text to be translated could be the body, and the translation is an outfit that is changed slightly, depending on the language and culture. A related concept is that of the warm, cozy quilt, put together out of other materials, but that makes a translation sound a bit too much like a patchwork job.

Best wishes,

Jess said...

Clive Scott, writing about poetry translation, talks about it being like borrowing a dress which doesn't fit quite right and you are not allowed to alter it, so you have two choices: either make little adjustments and try to make it fit as best you can, or "proclaim its ill-fittingness a new fashion which others might profitably follow." He writes that if we want to glorify the source text (the dress) then the latter option is better!

I think it is a great metaphor, though obviously follows on from what you have been saying...

(but then again, he is obviously male, and has never had to wear an ill-fitting dress!)

B.J. Epstein said...

Thank you for your comment, Jess! I hadn't heard that metaphor before, and find it quite interesting that it was a man who came up with that. I am not sure I agree with it, though it's another one that sounds good!

Best wishes,