Theories of postcolonial translation

According to “Susan Bassnett”, translation doesn’t exist in a vacuum but rather in a continuum. It is not an isolated act, but it is a part of a dynamic process through which many intercultural transfers are taking place. Translation is neither a transparent nor an innocent act, because it is loaded of significations at each level, and rarely does it reflect an equal relation between texts, authors and systems.   Cultural and postcolonial theory of translation is linked to a fairly recent debate, which is born from the “Postcolonial turn” in translation studies.

This debate is still open and continues to expand steadily. Any attempt to define accurately this theory is almost impossible, and above all contradictory with its essential goal. Any presumed definition is going to prevent it from maturing as a translation theory. Through this term paper, I intend to discuss some aspects of this evolving theory without daring to cover all its sociocultural dimensions and their intricacies. Instead, I will draw up an overview of its major features at the light of contemporary theorist’s contributions.

Postcolonial theory and untranslatability of culture

Translating postcolonial literary texts has given birth to a fervent debate that creates connections between postcolonial studies and translation studies. Thus, appeared the new concept of “Postcolonial translation studies” which focuses on describing “the theory and the practice of postcolonial translation” . As for the sensitive question of translating postcolonial texts, many theorists and postcolonial authors have made their contributions, as did “Spivak”  in her essay entitled “The politics of translation”  in which she explained that the first essential task of a translator, before diving in the re-writing operation, is to penetrate as far as possible the depth of the culture to which belongs the source language.

In the same essay, she exposed the postcolonial translation issues, and condemned the initial idea that the translated version, as a copy, is always inferior compared to the original text. According to Gayatri Spivak, we need to overcome the prejudice of inferiority we used to attribute to the translated version. There is no cultural hierarchy between the translated versions and the original ones, because there is no hierarchy between the world languages. No language is minor, or inferior compared to another one.

Translation from postcolonial writers’ point of view

So, how do postcolonial writers conceive translation? Their prominent answer is that translation is an exchange between the world and the world literature. “Edouard Glissant”  states

that Translation is in itself the “Queen” of all languages in the world. It is a real creolization that concretizes the art of “Hybridity and interbreeding”. Translation is a relationship, but at the same time it is an innovation and a negotiation that needs to stay global and multifaceted. Translation goes beyond words and texts, it becomes a process of re-writing an original imaginary version of the source text.

Many theorists believe that postcolonial literature, due to its otherness vocation, internalizes the translation concept. The most common example, at this level, is “The translated man” written by Salman Rushdie. If the translator must embark on a journey between languages, the postcolonial writer who is writing in English, in the case of Salman Rushdie, has already done this mission, and studying his work must take into account that his work is a linguistic and literary expression of this voyage and this roaming. Texts which are written by postcolonial bilingual authors that Rushdie calls “Inbetweeners” create a language “Between two” and occupy a space “Between two”, “The between spaces” according to Homi Bhabha.

The same attitude is adopted by “Maria Tymaczko” , professor of compared literature at the university of Massachussetts, associates the term “Translation” with “Postcolonial writing”. She employs translation as an operating analogy to describe the postcolonial text. In her article “Postcolonial writing and literary translation”  she explains that postcolonial writing is a metaphor of translation, and she stresses its characteristic linked to the etymological meaning of the word: “Transported through”: The transport between languages is a common characteristic among postcolonial writers and translation. Maria Tymaczko believes in the possibility of studying postcolonial texts and authors at the light of the studies made in the field of translation.

Both fields, postcolonial studies and translation studies, constitute, in fact, valuable affinities from several points of view: Postcolonial authors, as well as translators, try to bring their culture in a different context. This process of transposition is not achieved without a considerable loss of significance. It is impossible to preserve in the target text every substantial feature of the original text and all the aspects related to the postcolonial author. Maria Tymaczko describes translation and postcolonial literature as “Subversive” because they are used to subvert the rules of the original literary system.

“Abdelkebir Khatibi”, a  Moroccan writer, uses the same notion formulated by “Glissant”, to argue that the best way to define the term “Translation”, and at the same time emphasizing the postcolonial writing strategies, is by saying that translation doesn’t correspond to a transfer from a language to another, but rather to the relationship maintained between many languages, at the same time, and at an extreme state of tension. Moreover, we legitimate translation whenever there is relationship, exchange, a dialogue among diverse cultures and literatures, as well as in the case of compared literature.

Translation studies are inserted in this intercultural panorama, distinguished by an extreme tension, especially in the case of postcolonial texts, most often qualified as hybrid with regard to the linguistic and cultural stratification that underly their structure. It is precisely about Translatability/Untranslatability of this double stratification inherent to postcolonial texts that we try to outline the features of a postcolonial translation. It is widely admitted that Postcolonial translation studies conducted by the chief theorist “Lawrence Venuti” has brought a continuation the translation ethics proposed by Antoine Berman and Henri Meschonic.

We can consider Berman and Meschonic as postcolonial theorists, strictly speaking, when they studied ethics of both the translator and the act of translating. Antoine Berman, certainly, is more attached to the idea “Source based translation”. He explains, in his book “L’épreuve de l’étranger”, that the essence of translation is to be an opening, interbreeding and dialogue; It must be considered as a relation, as a part connected to another thing, unless it becomes nothing. This ethical inclination to the other constitutes the core of the term “translation” in his book “La traduction et la letter ou l’auberge du lointain”. Henri Meschonic is yet more postcolonial than Berman when he writes that we have to give up the idea that translation is a “Transport” of original text to the target literature. Instead, we need to conceive it as a “relationship”, as a “shift”.