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.