Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Pseudotranslations and Anti-Plagiarism

A really fascinating subject has come up in some of my recent reading: pseudotranslation. In his book Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond,

Gideon Toury defines pseudotranslations as “texts which have been presented as translation with no corresponding source texts in other languages ever having existed – hence no factual ‘transfer operations’ and translation relationships”. In other words, it is a fake translation.

But what is the point of that? Mr. Toury suggests that this is a “a convenient way of introducing novelties into a culture” and is especially useful “in cultures reluctant to deviate from sanctioned models and norms.” He also mentions that there may be times when either translation itself or else a particular type of literature has prestige, so authors try to get in on the action, as it were, by creating pretend translations. There are also occasionally political reasons behind them, and an example he gives is of a supposed Kazakh folk singer whose work conveniently existed in Russian, but never in the original language.

After reading the “excursus” on pseudotranslations in Mr. Toury’s book, I happened to read an article on looking for literary plagiarism that described a similar phenomenon, anti-plagiarism. The article said “Literary critic Terry Eagleton has written entertainingly of “anti-plagiarism,” a 19th-century literary wheeze favored by Irish critics, who pounced on poets or novelists for plagiarizing or surreptitiously translating some little-known domestic or foreign work and presenting it under their name. The trick was that the “original” work presented by the prosecuting critic was itself a forgery, written after a new work’s publication to frame an enemy.” This article then linked to Mr. Eagleton’s on literary forgery.

Although both pseudotranslations and anti-plagiarism can seem to be a kind of literary shtick, designed to get an author noticed, or even an abuse of the form, meant to accomplish a political or cultural goal, there might be times when such a style can be successful and witty.

5 comments:

Sarah Alys said...

"Pseudotranslations"!

My goodness, I think that my be the strangest and most unexpected thing I've heard in a while.

And yet, when I really think about it, it's not so hard to imagine people doing it...

Brett Jocelyn Epstein said...

Yes, I was surprised too! But maybe if it becomes a literary trend at some point, that will call attention to 'real' translation, and make people more aware of foreign literature and its translation. And that would be great! In the meantime, I won't try to pass off any pseudotranslations on my clients!

Best wishes,
Brett

Daniel said...

I imagine poems and novels running around in a meta-universe as agents and double agents, conspiring against each other, planting false metaphors, the occasional misleading comma, and character developments that turn out to be false trails upon closer examination.

Brett Jocelyn Epstein said...

Thanks for your comment, Daniel, and for the great imagery! Perhaps someone should write a pseudotranslation with the plot you described! I'm hearing spy music in my head and seeing suspicious words and punctuation sneaking around shadowy neighborhoods! Pseudotranslation noir...

Best wishes,
Brett

Brett Jocelyn Epstein said...

Yesterday I was catching up on New Yorkers and noticed a mention of a pseudotranslation!
In the combined Dec. 25, 2006 & Jan. 1, 2007 issue, in an article on Boris Vian, it transpires that Vian wrote a book in French called "I Spit on Your Graves" and claimed it was written in English by an African-American named Vernon Sullivan. Vian said he had discovered and translated it, and he then published a second book by "Sullivan." "I Spit on Your Graves" became a scandal in France in 1947.

Best wishes,
Brett