Factoring the Agency of Patronage in the Production of Meaning: The Evolving Landscape of Literary Translation Practice

Factoring the Agency of Patronage in the Production of Meaning: The Evolving Landscape of Literary Translation Practice

Debora Biancheri (National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2832-6.ch010


In this chapter, the evolution of Heaney's reception in Italy will be linked to the development of normative behaviors within the publishing industry sector. Therefore, a fundamental aspect highlighted by the present analysis is the connection between the evolution of the publishing sector's policies and agendas and the translation strategies employed to introduce foreign literature onto the Italian market. In this sense, it is argued that the prerogatives of publishers have direct bearing on the nature of Heaney's representations in Italy and thus the impact that his poetic legacy can potentially have on the Italian cultural paradigm. Patrons and practitioners are on the one hand assessed as the objects of cultural evolution, but they are also called into question as agents affecting it, to the extent that they directly influence translation practice and have control of the mediums through which complex literary endeavours such as Heaney's enter the Italian market as a cultural product ready for consumption.
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Translation has been studied as a means of creating culturally significant images of the Other since Friedrich Schleiermacher drew attention not so much to untranslatability but to translation as such as a problematic process.1 Subsequently, the connection between translation and culture has entered the debates amongst the Romantics,2 and since then translation has increasingly become the object of observation and (self-)critical reflection. One of the most interesting contributions in terms of shifting the focus from language to culture is Even-Zohar’s work on polysystems and translation norms (1978), followed by Toury’s a few years later (1980). Polysystem theories are concerned with the norms at work in the translation process and are amongst the first to place hermeneutic value on conventions. In this sense they can be seen as anticipators of the “cultural turn” in translation studies famously enunciated by Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere (1990/1995), as they effectively propose treating translation as a cultural rather than a linguistic transfer. Accordingly, they look at the text as an “integral part of the world” rather than as an isolated specimen of language.3 Fundamentally the focus is shifted from individual items to a web of interrelated meanings, which measure their relevance only within a larger context. It is a critical perspective that recalls what, in other theoretical contexts, has been labelled an “integrated approach” to translation, and it gives prominence to the “global” vision of the text (Karamanian, 2002, para. 8). This “holistic” view of translation is relevant to setting up a theoretical framework that can be fruitfully employed in the analysis of the discrepancies existing between the potential reception of literary works “at home and abroad” and therefore how the significance of given literary texts can evolve synchronically by way of their “afterlives” (Benjamin, 1923/1996), fostered by translation activity. Such critical approach stresses the role played by the time, space, and socio-political situation in which texts are constructed, and it insists on the cultural constraints posed by the receiving context in terms of domestic history, politics, tradition, conventions, and ideology.

This chapter aspires to an awareness of all these critical developments within the discipline of translation studies while approaching the case of Italian translations from poet Laureate Seamus Heaney as a narration of “otherness,” thus implicitly interrogating the epistemological boundaries defining the extent to which the “other” can be known. Nonetheless, as Frawley points out:

There is information only in difference so that translation is a code in its own right, setting its own standards and structural presuppositions and entailments, though they are necessarily derivative of the matrix information and target parameters. (Frawley 1984, quoted in Venuti, 2004, p. 216)

This implies that the terms of intelligibility and modalities of introduction of foreign texts into a system are usually dictated by the linguistic and cultural context of reception, because, for a translation to be effective, the identity of the source culture must be articulated in ways that are recognizable and accepted by the target culture. Hatim and Mason sum up some of the most important aspects of translation by listing what is involved as follows:

At least, an understanding of the cultural and experimental worlds that lie behind the original act of speaking or of writing […]. Secondly, an understanding of the potential of the two semiotic systems in terms of their image making. Third […] a making intelligible of the linguistic choices expressed in the message. Fourthly an opportunity to explore the social psychological intentions of the originator of the message matched against one’s own. Lastly, a challenge to match all of this with our appropriate response in our semiotic and linguistic system, and our culture. (Hatim and Mason, 1990, p. viii)

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