Taking turns conference

Translation-related events on Reunion Island are sufficiently rare for me to get excited about whatever comes my way – I can’t afford to be fussy!

Which is why one recent Saturday morning I found myself with a few dozen other people in an amphitheatre of the Faculty of Letters and Humanities of the local University for a “journée d’étude” (literally a “study day”, but this was actually only a half-day), called Le Tournant Traductologique, literally ‘the Turn in Translation Studies‘.

Organised by the Centre de Recherches Littéraires et Historiques de l’Océan Indien (CRLHOI; Indian Ocean Centre for Literary and Historical Research), the introduction was enough to put off the most faint-hearted:

“Indissociable du tournant pragmatique en sciences du langage, le tournant traductologique s’opère au moment où les théories et méthodes de traduction visent une modélisation sémiotique des transferts culturels au lieu de se cantonner aux opérations de transfert d’un texte d’une langue dans une autre. Ce changement coïncide avec l’ouverture du champ épistémologique de la traduction à l’ensemble des sciences humaines. L’accélération du phénomène dans les années 1980 s’explique en bonne partie par les effets de la mondialisation sur les modes de communication et sur les diversités culturelles. La traduction joue alors un rôle crucial dans le rapprochement des hommes, l’échange des savoirs et des cultures. Or, l’idée du progrès et de la pacification de l’humanité à travers la médiation de l’altérité n’est pas propre à l’époque contemporaine, mais elle prend racine au XIXe siècle en Allemagne. La réflexion suivante de Wilhelm von Humboldt résume en quelques mots la problématique à laquelle sera consacrée notre journée d’études : « Tant que l’on ne sent pas l’étrangeté, mais l’étranger, la traduction a rempli son but suprême. »”
Wilhelm von Humboldt.

Wilhelm von Humboldt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

{Inseparable from the pragmatic turn in linguistics, the turn in translation studies occurs when the theories and methods of translation aim for a semiotic modelling of cultural transfers instead of being confined to transferring text from one language to another. This change coincides with the opening of the epistemological field of translation to all of the humanities. The acceleration of this phenomena in the 1980s can largely be explained by the effects of globalisation on patterns of communication and cultural diversity. Consequently translation plays a crucial role in bringing mankind together, and in exchanging knowledge and culture. But the idea of progress and pacification of humanity through the mediation of otherness is not unique to modern times, but is rooted in 19th century Germany. The following reflection by Wilhelm von Humboldt briefly summarises the problems on which our day of study will focus: “As long as one does not feel the foreignness, yet does feel the foreign, translation has reached its highest goal”.} *

The morning’s programme

Participants were mainly doctoral candidates at the University, as well as several university professors.

For me one of the most interesting presentations was actually the first, by Laurence Gouaux, a critique of Rani Mâyâ’s French translation of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni‘s “Queen of Dreams” as it covered ‘my’ languages (French and English) and had an accompanying written document.

All in all a half day very different from my typical morning as a translator; very intellectual, but it allowed me to take an in-depth look at translation, and that can’t be a bad thing.

* The rest of the quotation continues: “but where foreignness appears as such, and more than likely even obscures the foreign, the translator betrays his inadequacy”. Taken from the introduction to Humboldt’s translation of Aeschylus‘s ‘Agamemnon‘ from the Greek. In German: “Solange nicht die Fremdheit, sondern das Fremde gefühlt wird, hat die Uebersetzung ihre höchsten Zwecke erreicht; wo aber die Fremdheit an sich erscheint, und vielleicht gar das Fremde verdunkelt, da verräth der Uebersetzer, dass er seinem Original nicht gewachsen ist“.