Is Translation Interpretation?written by: —transubstantiation
As we know, translation metaphors abound. Some bring us closer to the truth, some confuse and confound. The nature of translation makes it difficult to understand the phenomenon, hence the countless number of metaphors which are often contradictory. On the one hand, translators are asked to be as faithful as possible, but on the other hand, they are told to never translate word-for-word. Translators are told to mirror the text often in an almost mechanical way, yet the very task of translation is itself extremely creative.
Thus, the question that really interests translation theorists is whether the translation process is a ‘primary’ or ‘secondary’ process. Is translation ‘creation’ or is it ‘recapitulation’? If, on the one hand, we assume that translation is a ‘primary’ process then the question of authorship is paramount – the translator is the ‘creator’ of the text, a ‘co-author’ of sorts. If, on the other hand, the process is ‘secondary’ then the ‘creativity factor’ is of less import and, in effect, the focus is on the source rather than the target text.
This is not necessarily an ‘either-or’ choice. Translation theorists and translator practitioners tend to favour one approach over the other often basing their judgements on the kind of text being translated, rather than on the translation process per se. The paradox within translation studies is that general theories are not always able to encompass all texts and a more detailed approach often exemplifies the true intricacies involved.
So, is translation interpretation? Regardless of whether we believe the process to be primary or secondary, it is difficult to not agree with deconstructionists who maintain that all forms of reading a text are forms of interpretation and re-interpretation and thus ‘creation of a new meaning’. If this is the case, every reading of a text (that is, every translation) can also be classified as an interpretation (or re-interpretation) of a source text in which case we can also conclude that there is an element of creation involved. If so, translation IS primary and therefore the translator is both a (co-)creator and (co-)author.