Translating Postcolonial Literature

In Translation, history and culture, Susan Bassnett and Andre Lefevere (1998:11) posit that translation is never innocent: “there is always a context in which the translation takes place, always a history from which a text emerges and into which a text is transposed”. The translation of postcolonial literature plays a crucial role in rewriting and disseminating African countries’ histories and worldviews beyond their borders, as Michael Cronin (2003:70) suggests:

Translation makes us realise that there have been and are other ways of seeing, interpreting, reacting to the world ... Once the core beliefs and values of a culture are consigned to writing, they can literally be transported to wherever the people professing that culture find themselves.

Translating postcolonial literature in its cultural diversity also keeps minority languages and cultures alive, and reveals the wells of knowledge hidden in them (see Spolsky 1998). Cronin (2003:74) suggests that even if imperfect in execution, translation offers the potential to access these varieties of understanding.

According to Tymoczko (2000:24), challenges in translating postcolonial texts can be ascribed to the marked linguistic features and conveying unfamiliar aspects of the source culture. Bandia (2008:6) suggests that the translation of hybrid texts call “for translation strategies and theories which can account for the layering of cultures and discourses in the postcolonial text”, which implies that translators understand these elements in the source text (ST). Similarly, Klinger (2015) proposes that translators’ strategies depend on their understanding the symbolic and iconic uses of linguistic hybridity in the ST.

Bassnett and Lefevere (1998:4) contend that different types of texts require different translation strategies, and that translation decisions are the result of (assumed or explicit) negotiation among the initiators, who not only want the text translated, but also want it to function in the receiving culture in a meaningful way. According to Assis Rosa (2012:87), research into literary translation often shows a trend of normalising or standardising strategies (see also Venuti 1995; Lane-Mercier 1997;

Toury 2012). Toury’s (2012:303) “law of growing standardisation” posits that textual relations in the original are often modified, sometimes to the point of being ignored, in favour of habitual options offered by the target repertoire. Therefore, notions of correspondence between ST and TT are discarded to accommodate TT norms (Toury 2012:61). By contrast, (Toury’s 2012:310) “law of interference” posits that ST linguistic features are transferred to the target text, especially if the ST originates from a more prestigious language or culture than the TT.

Bassnett (2014:42) notes that from the 1960s onward, debates have revolved around issues such as whether words in minority languages should be retained in European-language narratives with or without glosses or notes. Eugene Nida (1964/2012) and Mona Baker (2018) offer strategies for translating exotic words and other forms of non-standard language. Basically, translators either choose a target language equivalent (domestication) or transfer the ST word with or without an explanation (foreignisation) (see Venuti 1995). Retaining the exotic word is a means of transferring the exoticising and defamiliarising functions of language that characterise postcolonial literature (see Forsdick 2001). To accommodate readers, translators often include appendices (with maps, glossaries and historical information), prefaces discussing the cultural context of the work and explanations embedded in the text or presented as footnotes (Tymockzko 1999:22).

Antoine Berman (1985/2012:241-249) criticises the use of domesticating strategies, arguing that they deform the original. Berman’s examination of what he calls deformations in translated literary texts led him to deem them unethical. He categorises twelve types of deformations (Berman’s ‘negative analytic’). Influenced by Schleiermacher (1813/2012), Berman believes that “the proper ethical aim of the translation act is receiving the foreign as foreign”. Without referring in particular to postcolonial literature, he warns against the effacement of vernaculars and the injury that it inflicts on the textuality of prose works when translators “exoticise” words by italicising them, or worse, by using a target cultural equivalent. Although Berman does not mention the translation of indigenous words, it can be deduced that, for the theorist, domesticating them would constitute disregard for the ST. After all, the writers could have translated these words themselves into the coloniser language, had they so wished.

Venuti (1995:306) similarly defends foreignisation, arguing that “the translated text should be the site where a different culture emerges, where the reader gets a glimpse of a cultural other”. For this reason, throughout the 1990s, the foreignising strategy advocated by Venuti seemed to provide the answer to literary translators endeavouring to reveal this Other. Venuti’s work fueled debates on ethical practices in literary translation, and his concepts of foreignisation and domestication reopened discussions around fidelity.

Venuti’s (1995:306) argument that the translated text should be where readers glimpse the cultural Other had a significant impact on literary translation, especially in the translation of postcolonial literature. However, as Karpinska (2016:338) points out, the reality is that external factors often force a compromise:

The notion of foreignisation and domestication is strictly connected with the cultural hegemonies and postcolonial translation; the power relations and positions of the cultures in the polysystem determine how far the translator can proceed with foreignisation or domestication until it becomes unacceptable.

Power relations (Lefevere 1992) and the position of the literary work in the target polysystem (Even-Zohar 1990) influence translators’ decisions as to how much to domesticate or foreignise their translations. Often the market’s criterion of short-term profitability leaves translators with little choice but to domesticate the TT. This choice in turn impacts target audiences, who also play an important role, an aspect highlighted recently by Fernández Ruiz et al. (2019), and which they call the ‘fourth space’. Unlike Bhabha’s (1994) ‘third space’, the fourth space is not related to identity but rather is associated with interpretation and representation. According to Fernández Ruiz et al. (2019:63), this space is an “epistemological metaphor located in the postcolonial global imaginary, which represents a country or society with a very limited connection to or experience in a given colonial situation”. Therefore, according to Fernández Ruiz et al. (2019:63):

Readers are never impartial onlookers, and the collective representation of postcolonial literature within the fourth space will, in most cases, imbricate with their country’s history. That is, as members of a given society, readers are conditioned by the time frame they live in and fully immersed in shared social and cultural values. Hence, even if fourth space readers should approach postcolonial texts in an honest and impartial way, they actually approach them from their acquired set of values and, in a more individual perspective, from their personal experiences and ideology.

As primary readers, translators also belong in the fourth space and therefore approach postcolonial texts from their own set of values, thereby producing translations influenced by their own cultural perspectives, which in turn evoke other interpretations in the reader.

Fernández Ruiz et al. (2019:64) regard translators as key agents in the process of creating meaning since their interpretation conditions the final representation created by the target reader. However, they favour domestication strategies, which, they argue, help African authors earn

Translating Linguistic Hybridity and Indigenous Words 167 a place in mainstream literature. They propose that translators should aim at producing a “sound translation” which helps the target reader understand cultural features in the text (Fernández Ruiz et al. 2019:67). They support the present tendency (when translating a text from a dominant culture—in their case, US fiction—into less dominant cultures) to avoid using paratexts to explain cultural elements. Instead, they advocate that translators should strive to solve everything within the text by employing suitable strategies and techniques, and argue that should translators accommodate foreignising strategies, such translations will be labelled as exotic reading and be marginalised in the target literary system (Fernández Ruiz et al. 2019:67). In an interview with Rodríguez Murphy (2015:151), Bandia also advocates in-text translation solutions, cautioning against “turning African literature, African art and aesthetics, into something didactic and cumbersome that distracts from the reading experience” by including too much supplementary explanatory material. However, according to Hernández (2007:44-45), translators’ decisions to domesticate

affect the configuration of images and social constructs projected by that text onto the readers’ minds during the reception and interpretation processes, most of all because those elements, lexical or otherwise, that the writer chooses to insert from the national language are a means to represent the more local and evocative aspects of his/ her reality, precisely those that are less familiar to the average nonnative reader ... The absence of African words ... eliminates the need to open new mental spaces for the culturally bound elements represented ... by the native words.

The decision to domesticate or foreignise also depends on whether the translator/publisher considers the purpose of the TT as entertaining or as didactic, e.g. in literary studies at universities. If both purposes are intended, then a combination of foreignising and domesticating strategies may be required. Blommaert (2013) acknowledges that finding the right balance to deal with the richness and plurality of postcolonial cultures is difficult, but not impossible. In an interview with Ana Bajanca (2009:92), Brookshaw, who translated several of Couto’s works including A varanda do frangipani, concedes this tension: “I think that the translator should not try and upstage the author, even if I see no harm in responding to the original play on words with an equivalent in English, even if the translation is, on the surface at least, somewhat loose.” However, it is often the editors or the ST author who make the final decision on how texts should be translated. After all, as Gideon Toury (2012) suggests, translation involves negotiation; hence, any approach has a price.

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