Hey, I will outline some of the approaches that we can use to understand translation (and consequently ‘silence’ in our project).
I am basing myself in Philosophical/Theoretical Approaches to Translation by Efrain Kristal, the second chapter from A Companion to Translation Studies.
I will follow a different structure than the one presented by Kristal. What I will do is to outline the different ways in which different authors could answer to the Newman & Arnold’s Dilemma’. What is important from this interpretations is that the different ways in which they respond to the dilemma are as well different answers that our research question could have. Even the very own positions of Arnold and Newman are answers to the question: what is a ‘good’ translation?
As long as the different expressions that we talk about are part of a language, in the broad sense, (i.e. governed by semantic units and a syntactic structure), none of the perspectives below is limited to ‘written/verbal’ languages.
Newman & Arnold’s Dilemma
The dilemma presented did not originate with the case of Newman & Arnold, it was explicitly pointed by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Wilhelm von Humboldt, I think it illustrates very well what the issue at hand is.
Newman considered that the English Tradition’s translation of Homer was flawed. He believed it ‘naturalised Homer’, it was presenting as if he was a contemporary. For him, this missed the ‘essential’, the fact that Homer was ‘garrulous, prone to quaintness and vulgarity, that he already felt archaic in his barbarian age, that his language lacked beauty, and that his audience was gullible’ (p.32). Thus, his alternative proposed to meticulously render each detail of the original work, including Grammatical phenomena that are present in the Ancient Greek but are not present in English. For him, eliminating Homer’s oddities would mean to eliminate the world of ancient Greece
Arnold rejected Newman’s approach. For him, the aim of translation is to approximate the way in which the original text affects those who have a solid grasp of the original, to those that are not familiar with it. Homer’s Style, for expertise in Ancient Greek, is ‘plain and rapid, that he conveys ideas with directness, that he is noble’. None of these features is conveyed in Newman’s translation. Thus, regardless of its ‘literal’ accuracy, Newman’s translation is a failure under Arnold’s view. Unlike Newman, Arnold believes that translation shall focus on the general effects of the work rather than focusing on the details. The translator is ‘free’ from the original text, as long as he/she is able to convey the correct ‘affect’ that is present in the original.
For practical reasons, I shall call Newman’s view ‘Literal’ and Arnold’s as ‘Affect’.
W.O. Quine: The Indeterminacy of translation
In general terms, what Quine brings to the dilemma, rather than solving the problem is that he can be a framework for understanding the ‘why’ there is a discrepancy between Arnold and Newman in the first place and the fact that we can not ground any argument (objectively) to prefer one over the other.
Quine’s aim in ‘Word and Object’ is to undermine the notion of synonymy (sameness of meaning). To do so, he proposes the following thought experiment: ‘a rabbit scurries by, the speaker of an unknown language utters “gavagai,” but the linguist is unable to determine, on that basis, whether gavagai might be a rabbit, a moving rabbit, rabbithood, an attached rabbit part, or an indefinite number of other possibilities.’ (p.38). The behaviour of the speaker alone underdetermines the possible meanings that the utterance.
What the linguist has to do is to import his own conceptual scheme to make sense of the unknown language to make sense of the utterance. This results in ‘translation manuals’ (i.e.criteria to make judgments about a translation).
What is problematic is the fact that there is an indeterminate number of possibilities to produce such ‘manuals of translation’. And in many cases, the divergent ways to translate can be “all compatible with the totality of speech dispositions, yet incompatible with one another” (1960, 27).
This leads to the “Indeterminacy of translation”, it is to say that there is no matter of the fact that can tell us which is the correct translation. There are no abstract criteria to chose one manual over the other. (p.38). After all, it is possible that an indefinite number of manuals align with the ‘behaviour’ that we see from the person uttering the unknown language.
In this scenario, each possibility: Arnold (Affect) & Newman (Literal), are just two different ‘translation manuals’ that exclude each other, and from which we can not objectively choose one from the other.
Berman: ‘The ethics of translation’
Berman is concerned with the ‘ethics of translation’. He thinks there is more than mere communication in it. For him, Translation entails recognition and respect of the otherness. To achive this, he believes, that the translation ought to have the ‘foreignness’ of the original.
I have two points against this interpretation:
First, the question of what is exactly the ‘foreigness’ is dubious, or at least needs to be explained further.
Also, he presupposes that such ‘foreginess’ is the only way that can achieve the respect and recognition of the other. This can be easily contested.
One might be inclined to think that Berman straight away would support Newman (Literal).
However, as shown by the previous objections, it depends if one buys in the whole picture of Berman (Recognition+Foreigness) or if one does not follow the whole picture and just advocates for Recognition without necessarily entailing the need for Foreigness.
Von Herder & Schleiermacher:
Von Herder claimed that there is no equivalence between ‘the thoughts of one nation and the thoughts of another’ (p.31). For him, a Language is the mirror of a nation’s mind/spirit. In his view, linguistic differences are evidence for cultural differences.
Following this reflections, Schleiermacher proposed his view on translation. For him, the role of the translator was that of taking the reader to a foreign point of view, allowing him to “assimilate into one language the products of another language” (1992, 36).
However, Kristal highlights how Schleiermacher ‘offers no methods, practical criteria, or advice about how to translate in a way that would transfer the foreignness of the original.’ (p.32).
This view clearly aligns with Newman’s side (Literal).
Jakobson: The Same Message in a Different Code
The aim of translation in Jakobson’s view is very straight-forward, to ‘search for equivalent messages in different codes.’ (p.35). This view would clearly align with Newman too. However, I find it very problematic as I think that speaking of ‘equivalence’ in translation is a very contingent idea.
Borges: Translation as re-creation
Borges is one of the few that seems to move away from the idea that there is such a thing as a ‘correct’ interpretation of a text. On the contrary, he is an advocate for the multiplicity of new meanings that arise from a single text (Reading is writing).
He establishes that one shall not be drawn to the idea that there is a ‘perfect original’. Thus, the preference that we have for ‘originals’ over ‘translations’ is arbitrary.
In this view, the translation and the original are just two variations on the same theme. Thus, translation is the exploration on the potentialities (of a theme) that might have been overlooked by the original author. These explorations are obtained by emphasis and omission. However, there is no original
However, not every text is limited to one theme. Instead, there is an infinite number of possible themes that emerge from any given text and thus an infinite number of possible translations.
It wouldn’t be far-fetched to see this as a sort of Platonic Metaphysics. After all, Plato is one of the recurrent thinkers in Borges’ work. Thus, the theme would be the eternal/abstract/perfect/independent entity while, the original and the translation, would be the imperfect/physical/dependent/perishable manifestations of the theme.
I have my views of whether one shall stick with this ‘Platonism’. Instead, I advocate for a more radical interpretation. However, I would not extend on that here.
Borges would be able to defend both sides and would not prefer one over the other.
-Arnold, Matthew. 1914. “On Translating Homer (including F. W. Newman’s reply).” In Essays by Matthew Arnold, 245–424. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
-Berman, Antoine. (1984) 1992. The Experience of the Foreign, trans. S. Heyvaert. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.Berman, Antoine. 1990. La Traduction et la lettre, ou L’Auberge du lointain. Paris: Seuil.
-Berman, Antoine. 1990. La Traduction et la lettre, ou L’Auberge du lointain. Paris: Seuil.
-Quine, W. V. 1960. Word and Object. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
-Quine, W. V. 1975. “Mind and Verbal Dispositions.” In Mind and Language, ed. Samuel Guttenplan, 83–95. Oxford: Oxford University Press.