Saturday, March 14, 2009

More Metaphors

A few weeks ago, I was teaching a class on the history of translation theory. So many different metaphors were mentioned during our discussion of material about Sir John Denham and John Dryden. I will name some of them here.

  • Transfusion. In the sense of an alchemical reaction, transfusion was a fairly common metaphor some centuries ago, though perhaps the word today would make us think instead of a blood transfusion. In either case, the idea of infusing new spirit and new life into something applies.


  • Shell and kernel. Latham gets a across a similar idea (i.e. of preserving the general meaning if not the exact wording) with his comment "I used the freedome of a Translator, not tying myselfe to the tyranny of a Grammatical consruction, but breaking the shell into many peeces, was only carefull to preserve the Kernell safe and whole, from the violence of a wrong, or wrested Interpretation." (as quoted in Venuti's excellent The Translator's Invisibility).


  • Clothing. This is a very common metaphor. Rider (also cited in Venuti) used this metaphor: "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." In other words, you use the author's material but refashioned and reshod.


  • Tight-rope walker/dancer. In the introduction to his translation of Ovid's Epistles, Dryden wrote: "'Tis much like dancing on ropes with fettered legs. A man may shun a fall by using caution, but the gracefulness of motion is not to be expected, and when we have said the best of it, 'tis but a foolish task; for no sober man would put himself into a danger for the applause of escaping without breaking his neck."
  • 7 comments:

    David McDuff said...

    One could maybe also mention the "nuts and bolts" metaphor which has become popular during the last few decades, particularly in the context of translation workshops.

    Since literary translation isn't an exact science but a rather uncertain process combining elements of creative writing with linguistic skill and knowledge, it sometimes causes anxiety among those who would like it to be more clearly definable. A metaphor that derives from the world of machines and Meccano and characterizes translation as the assembly of parts using nuts and bolts is therefore found reassuring. Is this a reflection on the modern age, perhaps?

    B.J. Epstein said...

    Thanks for your comment, David. The influence of modern technology on translation metaphors is indeed interesting.
    Best wishes,
    BJ

    Anonymous said...

    I enjoyed this post very much, yet it seems it could use a tad proof-reading. Pretty cool, though!

    B.J. Epstein said...

    Anonymous, are you referring to the archaic English? If so, that is the correct spelling.

    Best wishes,
    BJ

    Anonymous said...

    No, I am referring to repetition of "Transfusion” and the following paragraph twice. Very interesting post anyway!

    Best of luck.

    Jan Valenta said...

    In the 1960s, Czech theorist Jiri Levy wrote that translating literature was similar to acting. I cannot remember the exact quote, but the general idea was that translation, like acting, includes a strong interpretative component, and it is subject to a set of cultural and esthetic norms. Not exactly a metaphor, I know, but might be of some interest.

    B.J. Epstein said...

    Thank you for your comment, Jan. The book "Performing Without a Stage" by Robert Wechsler looks at this metaphor, too.

    Best wishes,
    BJ