Venuti and Damrosch Reading Notes


“Translation is an inscription of a foreign text with intelligibility and interests that are fundamentally domestic…” (25)
The term interests is interesting. We haven’t study much about the potential material factors involved in translation. I wonder if Venuti will discuss that (Oh look he does later one)

Re translation are doubly domestic. Since they are also shaped by domestic concerns in regards to another translation

…strategies are shaped by the retranslator’s appeal to the domestic constituencies to various uses. (25)
Love it

Venuti argues that claims of accuracy or simple empirical superiority of a new translation are often used to hide other motivating factors be they ideological, commercial, etc.

Academic interpretations and translations have an interlinked relationship: seems to suggest that as interpretation of a text changes, new translation will be ‘needed’ to bolster the new view point. From a cynical point of view this almost seems an elabprate tautology vis a vi translation and interpretation.

Agency- one of the three issues Venuti discussion regarding the creation of value

Agency is always compromised by internalized norms, even when ‘reflexive self-monitoring is performed”, but that doesn’t remove the need for it. Agency can also be limited by force outside the translator’s control (e.g. the way that the publisher markets the book)

Intertextuality- the second issue that Venuti explores. Intertextuality is always approximate according to Venuti. There is a danger that reconstructed signifying chains suggest a one-to-one correspondence, when something has in reality been lost or added in the transfer into the source language. This is prevalent in methaphoric translation. Intertextuality also implies the various contexts that readers will bring to a work. The possibilities here are too vast for the translator to take them all into account.

History– third issue. translations are not timeless, usually they are linked strongly to the time and conditions of their production.

Venuti argues that the only effective strategy in confronting the ethical implications of these three issue is by inscribing transparently the retranslators particular situation and allowing that situation to open innovative paths for the translation.


The essay starts with an interesting example that is expanded upon and return to as the argument unfolds. The material as well as the linguistic aspects of the egpytian poem are considered. This method reminds me very much of Stephen Greenblat.

“In its brevity and its implicitly it stands as a kind of minimum of literary expression..” By demonstrating the difficulty in translating even this simple example, we can extrapolate out further the complicated practice that is translation

“It is not an easy matter, thought, to translate safely into the European universal world..” The word safely does a lot of work here. On the one hand it is a reference to the actual fragility of the papyrus. On the other hand, it suggests the dangers with which a universalizing translation is fraught.

The specifics that he engages with for several pages here are interesting, but I’m not making any big connections. Very much like the very long close reading in the middle of Derrida’s essay.

“There are limits to the extent to which a translation can or even should attempt to convey the full cultural specificity…” (419)
This seems about right to me. The example also highlights part of the reason: we don;t have the neccessary information to fully reconstruct something and fooling ourselves into believe we can truly reconstruct the recent past seems a danger. In other words, we always run the risk of thinking that we understand ‘what it was truly like’.

He takes issue with Foster’s translation (and from the few examples he give I don’t blame him) It is too modernizing and hence domesticating. Damrosch acknowledges that there can be no perfect reproduction or faithful translation, but it should do more than confirm a vision we already have of ourselves. (the ‘syrupy version of ourselves’).

“Foreignizing efforts are the translational equivalent of the contemporary championing of ethnic identity.”
I like the self-awareness to attempt to histroicize even the current moment as well as to question what those limits might be (e.g balkanization and parochialism)


Discussion Q 10-18

Benjamin’s discussion of translation seems to rely on certain arguments or beliefs that he puts forward about art and the artist. These beliefs seem to be inflected with (but not to be the same as) those of the Romantics. At the very least, Benjamin (in this essay at least) seems to acknowledge an autonomy for the work of art (and he who produces it, either poet or translator) that seems at odds with how most critical approaches consider the question today.
In a time in which, our hermenuetics is, according to Ricoeur,  one of suspicion, what do we make of the underlying aesthetic arguments in Bejmamin’s discussion? In what ways might more modern frameworks make us question Benjamin’s conclusions and suggestions? In what way might Benjamin’s essay force us to reexamine our modern frameworks?

Reading notes: Walter Benjamin

(75) “…it never proves useful to take the audience into account….the very concept of an ‘ideal’ audience is harmful…”
There seems to be a conflation of an ideal audience with any audience at all. I take his point against the former but the study of specific audiences at specific moments in time or in specific cultures undoubtedly ‘proves useful’ in almost ‘any discussion concerning the theory of art’.

(76) “It is clear that a translation, no matter how good, cannot have any significance for the original”
This sounds good but what would it mean for it to be true? to be false? What would it look like if the translation could have significance for the original and why is this so obviously (to Benjamin) impossible?

(77) “Translations that are more than transmissions of a message are produced when a work, in its continuing life, has reached the age of its fame.”
Seems mostly a tautological statement. The reader can take it or leave it but it doesn’t seem obviously correct.

(77) “Translation itself cannot possibly reveal or produce this hidden relationship…”  A lot of what Benjamin writes seems similar to the arguments I made in my paper, but this would be the major point of disagreement between us.

77-78 There seems to be a distinction drawn between ‘changing’ the original and being ‘significant’ to the original and I’m not sure I undersand what it is supposed to be.

(78) “In ‘Brot’ and ‘pain’…” Interesting example of the effects of translation: the French word becomes additionally complicated since it appears to be the English word pain.

(79) “The translator’s task is to find the intention toward the language into which the work is to be translated…” Provocative but its seems like an impossible task (which Benjamin notes later). It seems to subjective, to Romantic, and too unconcerned with the ideological traps that such an statement is blind to.

(80) “…the poet’s intention is spontaneous…” I wonder the phrasing in the German but here he clearly echoes the Romantics (namely Wordsworth). This is my big problem with Benjamin: his approach to translation rests on a conception of art that is outdated and more than a little naive.

(81) “….the translation’s language can, indeed must, free itself from bondage to the sense, in to allow its own intention to respond…”
I don’t entirely agree with his definition of the intentio (at least not as a universal) but the idea of caring more about some goal of product than either sense or literalness strikes me as a good way to frame the discussion. Subservience to methodology that is either word for word or sense for sense, seems to abdicate the responsibility a translation has to the its specific goals and contexts.

(82) “Rather freedom proves itself in its own language for the sake of pure language. ” Like the quote from (80) above, Benajmin here relies ona  concept (this time of a language) that seems overly idealized and which I have a hard time ‘buying into’ in light of the various structuralist and post-structuralists arguments about language.



Reading Notes Alter/ Dryden

(172) Begins with the note that bible translation is out of sync with other translations of ‘ancient’ texts. –In what ways? –> More knowledge of source cultures and languages has allowed translations of Greek and Latin texts that respect the foreign.

(173) Notes that KJV is canonical, but two issues arise: the English language has changed since the time of its writing and so has our understanding of Hebrew.
–Modern translations, like the KJV, are done by committee, but they read like they were done by committee. (i.e. close to the final bastardized draft of a complicated piece of legislation than a collection of religious poetry.

(174) Alter worries that modern translation are overly disambiguating, which leads to a flattening of the richness of the original. –But didn’t the King James marginalia do this as well?

(174) Agenda for translation into English (of Bible):

  1. Starts with the point of recognizing KJV as ‘ineluctable precedent’.
  2. Make it old: not overly stylized (thou and thine and whatnot), but using appropriate vocabularly and avoiding anachronism. (e.g. foe vs. enemy) I could imagine using ’embrace’ instead of ‘hug’ or seeking ‘counsel’ instead of advice. These seem to strike at the kind of ‘old’ that Alter desires, but I’m not sure I can say why.
  3. Keep it simple: advises an artful simplicity. The original text is understated using a word that carried layers of meaning and various semantic associations. A good translation will strive to reproduce this effect where possible.
  4. Be concrete. There is a preference for clarity over abstraction in the Hebrew. (e.g. seed vs. progeny)
  5. Be compact: I think this goes along with 3. Without simplicity it would be hard to be compact. Seems to favor Germanic words over Latin or Greek, which are more likely to polysyllabic.



(39) Three ‘heads’ of translation: 1) metaphrase (word for word, line by line).          2) paraphrase. Author kept in view but words not as strictly followed as sense.
3)imitation. ‘translator’ forsakes both sense and word as he sees occasion.

(40) Dryden argues that over particular attention encumbers the translator so greatly that he is unable to produce anything of grace. Suggestion that a good translator must know when to produce obscurity for the sake of ‘gracefulness’

(40) to translate poetry one must be a master of the art (poetry) as well as of both languages. Furthermore, the translator must understand not just the words of the poet, but his spirit (i.e. what makes him different from all others).

(41) More discussion of the use of latitude. Dryden here seems very concerned not simply with word for word vs. sense for sense, but for making a good product. This seems to be a focus on result over method more so than many others we have read.

(41) Bemoans the difficulty of translation, the meager encouragement and attention its practitioners receive. This, he claims, is the reason for poor translations, not a sense for sense methodology. Elevates the translator as artist more or less in his own right. The use of words like ‘Genius’ without any ‘problematizing’ make his argument seem dated, but beneath that there a real appreciation for craft.

Discussion Question

How do the views expressed in the two readings for today compare? Specifically, how do they conceive both of the process of translation (both in the linguistic and historic sense) and the role of the translator?

In my own interpretation, Luther seems to foreground the translator as singular and perhaps even genius. He doesn’t make this claim explicitly, but his highlighting of his own talent combined with his disdain for the competence of most others suggests a certain view of his own genius. Alternatively, the preface to the King James Bible takes pains to examine the need and the benefit of revision, and stresses that the translation is not a rebuke of that what comes before. Furthermore, the focus on historically grounding the process of translation seems opposed to Luther’s focus on linguistic and theological arguments.

Reading notes 10/4

For Martin Luther

“It has been charged by enemies…that the text has been modified and even falsified, which has…shocked many simple Christians” (2)

In Luther’s German the word simple is rendered as ‘einfaltig(er)’, which based on my perusals does not appear to be a word in common usage any longer. A bit of research indicates that it does mean simple but it also may have more religious connotation, given that the term for the christian concept of the Holy Trinity appears to be ‘Dreifaltigkeit’. In this way ‘einfaltig’ is perhaps (or perhaps not) much richer in the original text than as rendered here in English.

“…and so they are stealing my language from me…” (3)

Luther’s criticism of the papists ignorance of German seems to ground his rejection of their opinions on his work. There is something ironic, or at least circular in this: while they scold him poorly translating or poorly understanding the Latin, he claims they do not understand German well enough to know whether his translation is good or bad.

“No one is forbidden to do it better!” (4)

This seems like an abdication for any responsibility, ethical or otherwise, on the part of the translator. He can err without consequence, because others can fix it if they have a problem with it. I find this deeply unsatisfying.

*Note: It appears that the quotes in English are absent in the German. As far as I can recall, German uses quotation marks generally (or sometimes chevron symbols << >>) similarly to English. Here they aren’t really direct quotes but instead sayings or similar. Wonder if this is a feature of German now or just in this time. Of course, the original text would have been in a much different type face so not exactly sure how that might affect things.

(7) Repetition of “I”. We certainly don’t have the problem of the invisible translator here. Makes theological or linguistic arguments throughout but often grounds his case on his own skill or on his critics’ incompetence.

(9) “The reader can then run his eyes over three or four pages without stumbling once, never knowing what rocks and clods had once lain…”

Certainly not a translation that is interested in the foreign.

(11) “The literal Latin is a great obstacle to speaking good German.”

One wonders if Luther considers the possibility that accurate theological translation is possibly an obstacle to ‘speaking good German’ (see his later point about verseigelt vs. gezeichnet where he answers this concern)

(12-20) Gives a number of examples that justify the need for non-literal translation. There is however a conflation of language and theology, with Luther seeming to dismiss the cult of Mary as a matter of bad original understanding of the text. Given how fundamental this point is (likewise with the ‘faith alone’ point) it is interesting how Luther often seems to act as though it is a linguistic and not theological debate.

(22) discussion of the pantheistic nature of the saints. Not sure if this is theological question or if he is saying that this misapplied theology is part of a mistranslation or misreading that he has corrected in his German version.

(27) The English translation renders the Latin “Ex Eremo Octaua” as “The Wilderness”. Given the number of times German words are retained in the text, this seems an odd choice.

King James Preface

(3) “…we subject ourselves to everyone’s censure…”

This is similar to some of the points that Luther makes about the willingness people have to critique and insult even when they do not understand.

(4) “…yea, it doth specially belong unto [kings], to have care of religion…” 

Seems important to keep in mind that the preface is about translation and the issues attached to it, but it also serves as a justification for the king’s involvement in religion and for the authority he has even in the face of papist criticisms.

(5) “…the author being God…”

Almost as if to suggest that the original transcription is itself a translation.

(6) The discussion of Greek and Hebrew and when and why they were used seems a very historically grounded account. It acknowledges (though with a different vocabulary) this historical contingency of which languages ended up being used. In all it highlights a very practical approach to the issue.

(11) “… the very meanest translation of the Bible in English…containeth the Word of God, nay, is the Word of God…”

The ‘true’ meaning of the text exists in somewhere other than the words themselves and even a poor or imperfect translation is not capable of sullying the true divinity of the Bible.

(12-13) Historical account of various translations and changes made to them. A surprisingly historical and human accounting of scripture that decouples the Word of God from its particular material and linguistic manifestations.

(15) Accounting of the need for diversity of interpretations and alternatives that are included in the margins. Very interesting.

(16) “…use on precisely when we may use another no less fit as commodiously…”

Shades of Derrida

(17) “but we desire that the Scripture may speak like itself”

The view of translation here views it as almost recovering and then re-rendering some essential ‘text’ that is not contained in either language (source or target)


Discussion Questions

The text we read for today was not only translated from French to English, but also from the form of a lecture into the form of a written transcript. Given the complexity of Derrida’s writing as well as the numerous double (or triple) meanings he uses, how do we approach the text?

How much concern should we give to what is lost both in terms of linguistic ambiguity and context as well as the performative aspects of the original speech?

Reading notes 9/29/2016

p. 365 “If I dare approach this subject…it is because of this very discouragement…” Classic Derrida. Weird apologetic preamble. Capable of the most pompous forms of modesty.

p. 366 ‘…too confident in the now canonical distinction between mention and use’ I think one of Derrida’s best qualities is the way that he seems to take seriously certain idea without allowing them to pin down his own or become too ingrained. There is something to be said–particularly when it comes to something as slippery as language–of a practiced skepticism toward overly ‘cannonball’ explanations.

p. 367 Such skepticism is warranted because “the independence of the word remains a mysterious thing, precarious, not quite natural…”

p. 369 Hypothesizes about the perfectly knowledgeable translator with infinite time, but reaches the conclusion that this would amount to more of what today we would call a ‘reading’ of a text rather than a translation that accounts for the primacy of the word.

p. 370 Puts translation at the level of the word but not in a word for word or word to word, but word by word: this is interesting and at times Derrida meanders toward clarity on the point but it is hard to really and clearly see it.

p. 371 “…unintelligible economy…” Well, definitely unintelligible.

p. 372 introduces the idea of translation that enables mediation between other languages. This is interesting but also seems dangerous. It seems likely to result in the over-fitting of certain concepts or the generalization of said concepts in order to facilitate this equivalence.

p. 377 Reference to bund-in addition to being the German word for bond is this an illusion to Jewish Bundism? Or even the German-American bund? seems like just the multiple meanings that Derrida loves.

This long analysis of The Merchant of Venice seems like a whole lot of lead up for what doesn’t seem to me to be the greatest of punchlines. It’s so meandering and repetitive and yet the repetition never clarifies (as I’ve come to expect with Derrida). At the end of it all, I am hard pressed to honestly say much about the essay. There are flashes here and there of ideas that seem interesting but they don’t really hold together. I’m sure there is some generous interpretation that says this is part of the intended effect of Derrida’s speech (btw, it is incredible that this is was given as a lecture/speech; I can’t possibly imagine following this as a listener), but all in all I have mixed feelings about the piece, as I do with almost all of Derrida’s work. There is something there, but it often seems to solipsistic–entirely incapable of getting out of its own way and actually leading the reader toward a more productive understanding of translation.



Reading notes 9/27

Three kinds of translation:

  1. Intralingual (rewording) – resorts to a circumlocution, not complete equivalence.
  2. Interlingual (‘translation proper’) – substitutes messages from on language to another–not code units; entire messages
  3. Intersemiotic-  verbal signs to non-verbal signs

p. 128 Still use Ptolemaic imagery; does not imply rejection of Copernicus.

“All cognitive experience and it’s classification is conveyable in any existing language.” BOLD statement. ‘Conveyable’ is doing a lot of work in that sentence. To be conveyable does not imply equivalence, and doesn’t preclude deformation in the conveyance.

p. 129. Forgot about dual forms. Such an interesting grammatical feature.

Difference in what languages can and must convey: this is an interesting point but it seems overreaching and seems to rest on the claims further down in the paragraph that all cognitive data can be rendered verbally. This doesn’t seem obviously true to me. Language mediates and shapes much of our experience, but it clearly is not the same as cognition. There are reports of people with micro-seizures who lose language faculties temporarily. Afterwards, they claim that they were still able to think clearly, even without language.

p. 130 Masculine/feminine discussion: always curious why we call masculine and feminine ‘genders’. I mean, if you think about it, in a given language thousands of words are declined a certain way and only a handful of them refer to men, but those handful determine that the gender is ‘masculine’. Some language make animate/inanimate distinctions instead.

I wonder if the relationship is in the opposite direction of that implied by Jakobson: gender of nouns is created based on linguistic features (morphology, phonology, etc.) but the designation also hits social categories (men and women for example) and the characteristics of these categories are then reflected onto all other nouns which share their declension system.