Table of Contents:

Method

Bourdieu’s framework provides for the study of social phenomena by looking at the relationship between the agents involved and their social context. The method I adopted was context-based, given that I was investigating the social context of the translation activity and its influence on the actions of agents involved in the translation process. I adopted a case study method, focusing on one translation by a particular translator, as a case study enables researchers to study a particular individual, institution, product or process (Saldanha and O’Brien 2013). This method has been applied to study translation-related activities, products or individuals in real-life situations that can only be analysed or understood within their specific contexts; it is also intensive, flexible and contextual (Susam-Sarajeva 2009:40).

The focus of this research is on the roles of the translator John Reed, and those of James Currey and Keith Sambrook, who represented the African Writers Series (AWS) that commissioned and published the translation. I chose the translation of Une vie de boy because, in the context of African literary translation between European languages, Reed was one of the first translators and remains one of the most successful (Currey 2008). The data is made up of primary sources, including information from the translator and publisher, and secondary sources composed of documentary information on the context of producing the translation. The information from the translator and the publisher was collected through internet-mediated interviews and open-ended questions to the translator and the publisher via emails, to which they responded via the same means. The advantage of using this method is that participants were able to consult their records and collaborators and answer in their own time, which resulted in more detailed and thoughtful responses. The use of unstructured questions meant that the participants could provide additional material on the subject (Saldanha and O’Brien 2013), and it provided for follow-up questions to be asked; in this regard, a second set of questions was sent to the translator after he responded to the first set with the aim of extracting further information on various issues.

The responses to the interview questions were analysed using Bourdieu’s field approach to identify the position of the publisher and the translator in the literary field, their habitus, the capital they possessed, and how these factors influenced their roles in the production of the English translation.

Secondary sources were collected through a documentary method, mostly through books and internet-generated articles. They mainly dealt with the social and cultural context in which the translation was produced. Historical documentation along with critical works pertaining to the source and target text contexts were processed for information that could shed light on the author, the ST social environment, the publication and reception of the ST, and the target environment.

The African Writers Series

The interview with the publisher was aimed at identifying the social factors that constrained the actions of the AWS in selecting, commissioning and producing the translation, given the important role played by the publisher-commissioner as the person who decides what is selected for translation, who translates it and how it is published (Bourdieu 2002). I was particularly interested in the publishing agenda of the AWS, the initiation of the translation project, the choice of the translator, the translation process and the target audience response. My interaction was with James Currey, to whom I sent the questions by e-mail, and in his response he indicated that he had answered them with Keith Sambrook, who handled the contractual aspects of the project with the translator. He also referred me to his autobiography (Currey 2008) on his work with the AWS and related information pertaining to the activities of the publishing house.

From the interview with Currey, it emerged that the AWS was set up in 1962 with the goal of introducing African writers to an international audience and ensuring that European books in the educational sector in Africa were replaced by works written by Africans (Currey 2008:xv). The publisher therefore believed that there was interest in investing in African literature. Bourdieu (1996:228) contends that the illusio, the value of the game, is what draws agents to participate. The institutional agenda is usually shaped by the individual perspectives of those who work for the institution (Bourdieu 2002), i.e. when a publishing house sets itself a particular mission, it relies on employees to ensure that it is carried out correctly. In this regard, Alan Hill, who initiated the idea of the AWS, Keith Sambrook who was the first editor of the series, and James Currey, who joined the publishing house in 1967 (Currey 2008: xvii) were instrumental in the AWS’s success. These people shared the belief and passion of giving African writers a voice and exposure to an international readership.

Given that every agent in the field possesses particular capital and habitus that influence their actions, I contend that the agents working for the

Translating Une vie de boy 251 publishing house may preserve or modify its agenda if their interests are aligned with those of the publishing house. I therefore propose that while Heinemann was more interested in European books, the recruitment of Hill, Sambrook and Currey, who shared a common passion for African literature, contributed to introducing and sustaining an African agenda within the publishing house. This agenda led to a variety of African literary works being published and made available to an international audience, and contributed substantively to the growth of literary translation on the continent. This was why Reed was commissioned in 1964 to translate Une vie de boy into English for publication in the AWS.

Currey’s autobiography revealed that he had a personal interest in Africa. His family was connected to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and he himself worked in Cape Town for The New African during the period of the Sharpeville massacre and the Rivonia trials. This brought him into contact with writers of resistance to apartheid, leading him to also become involved in the anti-apartheid struggle through publishing (Currey 2008:xvii). It therefore seems that Currey’s habitus had been nurtured by the historical experiences of his family and his professional background, which shaped his perspective on colonial injustices and resistance to them. This habitus contributed to creating a harmonious relational network with the other agents Sambrook and Reed, who shared a common interest in African literature (Currey 2008). Thus the habitus of these collaborators and the illusio of publishing in Africa influenced the selection of works to be published by the AWS.

With regard to the policies guiding the selection of texts for translations and the processes involved, the interview revealed that the AWS depended on a group of advisers to decide on works suitable for translation. These advisers were usually literary critics, educators, writers and translators. What the publishers were interested in was that the translation should read fluently in English, and they also had other advisers in this regard. The AWS started publishing translations after they were told by John Reed and Clive Wake that there were remarkable books in French that were being published in France, which could be translated and published by the AWS. Reed and Wake would later become the main translators and translation advisers of the AWS, and translated works would play a major role in its success (Currey 2008:59). The roles of Reed and Wake underscore the fact that the actions of translatoragents are not limited to the textual level, as translators can initiate their own translation projects and actively select texts for translation (Baker 2006:105). It is in this regard that Heilbron and Sapiro (2007:102) have argued that the literary translators differ from other translators because they usually double as literary critics or academics, which gives them a stronger individualism in translational interactions.

Concerning the commissioning of the translation of Une vie de boy, the interview revealed that the translation was initiated by Reed himself,

who had previously translated excerpts from Oyono’s novels, and this attracted the attention of Sambrook. The interview with Reed revealed more details about the transactional aspect of the project, as it indicated that the final decision was based on a report he submitted, which convinced the publisher regarding the content and form of the novels. It also emerged that no translation brief was given to guide the translator, and there was no need for quality assessment because they trusted the translator. This highlights the extent to which a translator’s profile or symbolic capital can instil trust in the commissioner or publisher, as well as in the target audience. Had the publisher been dealing with a less experienced translator, there is a strong likelihood that the level of trust would not have been the same, and more control measures might have been put in place to guide the translation process.

The interview revealed that the reception of Houseboy was highly positive as there were excellent reviews in leading journals, good sales to public libraries and the novel was adopted in the curricula of universities in the UK, the Commonwealth and the USA. Bourdieu (2002) contends that the expected reception of a literary work is an influential factor in the publisher’s selection of a work to be translated, choice of translator, and the manner in which to present the work to the potential recipients. The immense success of the translation is an indication of the impact of Reed’s decisions during the translation process, since every translation targets a receiving audience, and the legitimacy of the translator’s choices can only be shown in a positive reception of the product by the target audience.

The reception of the translation also highlights the impact of the agency role of the translator in propagating ideology and contributing to shaping the mind-set of the receiving culture (Baker 2006, Milton and Bandia 2009). That the translation was read by a large audience implies that the ideological content of the work reached many people and gave them a particular perspective of reality that could exert an influence on them. The success of the translation can also be ascribed to the symbolic capital of the AWS. Bourdieu (1996:167) contends that when a literary work is published by a renowned publisher, the work is consecrated with all the symbolic capital that the publisher has accumulated. The AWS had therefore acquired sufficient symbolic capital to make them gatekeepers of the African literary field. The publishing house had won global recognition, prestigious prizes and produced Nobel Prize winners (Clarke 2003:164). This implies that a literary work selected for publication was likely to be a success because of the reputation of the AWS.

 
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