Thursday, December 14, 2006

If the Clothes Don't Fit...

We’ve looked at various metaphors for translation, and most recently that was the clothing metaphor.

Lawrence Venuti, one of the major critics of “invisible” translators (i.e. that “fluency” is not necessarily the major criteria we should judge in translations), also refers to translation as clothing.

He wrote: “The translator is no stand-in or ventriloquist for the foreign author, but a resourceful imitator who rewrites the original to appeal to another audience in a different language and culture, often in a different period. This audience ultimately takes priority, insuring that the verbal clothing the translator cuts for the foreign work never fits exactly.”

Clearly, his idea that the clothing doesn’t fit, relates to the idea of visibility. You generally don’t notice someone’s clothes if they are neat, clean, fashionable, and well-tailored. We can compare that to invisible translation; it serves a specific purpose and is unobtrusive. But you would notice clothes if the clothes are dirty, out of style, and ill-fitting. That is visible translation. You are aware of the lack of fit, even if it is just slightly off. You, as the reader of a translation that doesn’t fit exactly, probably feel a little uncomfortable, and your attention is drawn to the very fact of the translation.

What’s interesting is that Mr. Venuti suggests that it is the translator’s concern for the target audience that ensures that the clothes don’t fit and that the translation is visible, whereas others might argue that it is the translator’s faithfulness to the source text that does that.

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