Unsettling Translation: Studies in Honour of Theo Hermans

Edited by Mona Baker

Copyright Year 2022

ISBN 9780367681968

268 Pages 18 Illustrations

Will be available open access in June 2022

This collection engages with translation and interpreting from a diverse but complementary range of perspectives, in dialogue with the seminal work of Theo Hermans. A foundational figure in the field, Hermans’s scholarly engagement with translation spans several key areas, including history of translation, metaphor, norms, ethics, ideology, methodology, and the critical reconceptualization of the positioning of the translator and of translation itself as a social and hermeneutic practice. Those he has mentored or inspired through his lectures and pioneering publications over the years are now household names in the field, with many represented in this volume. They come together here both to critically re-examine translation as a social, political and conceptual site of negotiation and to celebrate his contributions to the field.

The volume opens with an extended introduction and personal tribute by the editor, which situates Hermans’s work within the broader development of critical thinking about translation from the 1970s onward. This is followed by five parts, each addressing a theme that has been broadly taken up by Theo Hermans in his own work: translational epistemologies; historicizing translation; performing translation; centres and peripheries; and digital encounters.

This is important reading for translation scholars, researchers and advanced students on courses covering key trends and theories in translation studies, and those engaging with the history of the discipline.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements & Credits

List of Figures and Tables

List of Contributors

Chapter 1: On the Folly of First Impressions: A journey with Theo Hermans

Mona Baker, University of Oslo, Norway

This chapter traces the trajectory of my engagement with the work of Theo Hermans and some of the ways in which it impacted my intellectual and personal development over the past three decades. It focuses on specific areas of his scholarship that liberated translation studies from its traditional preoccupation with static concepts and neat systems of categorization, and highlights the cultural inclusivity and critical self-reflexiveness of his vision for the discipline. Two major thematic strands running through his prolific scholarly output are identified and discussed in some detail. The first focuses on the translator’s voice and subject position, and foregrounds the active, pervasive presence of translators in the text. The second details some of the ways in which translators can nevertheless be written out of the picture through various processes of authentication that endow the translated text with the authority of an original at the same time as removing all traces of its creator.

Section 1: Translational Epistemologies

Chapter 2: Translation as Metaphor Revisited: On the promises and pitfalls of semantic and epistemological overflowing

Rainer Guldin, Università della Svizzera Italiana, Switzerland

The traditional Western view of metaphor as a poetically and rhetorically creative but secondary ornamental form of representation was radically questioned only in the course of the twentieth century. This theoretical shift can also be detected in translation studies, especially with respect to the use of translation as a metaphor in its own right. In addressing some of the discursive tensions implied in this shift, this chapter focuses on Antoine Berman’s writings about the relationship between translation and metaphor, and the use of translation as a metaphor in other disciplinary areas. Concerned that a metaphorical use of translation might endanger its uniqueness as a practice and a way of thinking, Berman distinguishes between a restricted and a generalized use of the metaphor of translation and attempts to draw a clear line between them by using two different but intimately related words: traduction for the restricted and translation for the generalized use. However, as Theo Hermans’s work has shown, these terminological border skirmishes call for a less defensive and more open-minded strategy. Reimporting the expanded metaphorical use of translation into translation studies could enhance theoretical awareness of the metalanguage of translation and initiate a productive shift in terminology.

Chapter 3: The Translational in Transnational and Transdisciplinary Epistemologies: Reconstructing translational epistemologies in The Great Regression

Rafael Y. Schögler, University of Graz, Austria

This article explores the intricate relationship between translational, transnational and transdisciplinary epistemologies. I argue that even though translation is present in transnational and transdisciplinary knowledge-making, an epistemology based on translation as a practice of knowledge-making needs to go beyond its apparent ubiquity. I support my argument by using the political anthology Die große Regression (Geiselberger 2017) as a case in point. Conceived by an in-house editor of the German publishing house Suhrkamp, this multilingual collection of essays addresses current societal and political developments, with an explicit transnational readership in mind. Published simultaneously in English, French, German and Italian and later translated into many other languages, the collection offers transdisciplinary perspectives presented by a diverse range of scholars, journalists and public intellectuals. This chapter locates translational moments in the transnational and transdisciplinary approaches chosen in this anthology within the translators’ textual and paratextual choices and discusses the strategies adopted in translating social and political concepts. Despite translation being a defining characteristic of the anthology and of transnational and transdisciplinary forms of knowledge-making in general, and even though translation has established itself as a master trope of theory building, translational ubiquity is not accompanied by critical reflection on translation as a practice of knowledge-making, a prerequisite to the elaboration of critical epistemologies of translation.

Chapter 4: Translation as Commentary: Paratext, hypertext and metatext

Kathryn Batchelor, University College London

The idea of conceiving of translations as paratexts to original works is not one that has received much attention in translation studies, conflicting as it does with views of translations as creative works in their own right. However, interrogating this suggestion, and in particular its connections with other types of textual transcendance identified by Gérard Genette, offers a springboard for a fresh discussion of the nature of translation and its relation to literary criticism. In this chapter, I suggest that the key to opening up an exciting and innovative  role for translation as commentary lies in conceiving of translations as hypertexts rather than as paratexts in Genette’s model. While Genette himself holds back from exploring the considerable productive potential of such a conceptualization, I demonstrate its power by examining Jacques Derrida’s practice of speaking, teaching and writing ‘dans l’épreuve de la traduction’ (through the trial of translation). Taking Derrida’s Spectres de Marx with its four translational hypertexts of Shakespeare’s Hamlet as an example, I suggest that the commentary-generating power of translation is at its greatest when multiple translations are held together through a process of adjoining, making visible the ‘same-ly disparate demands’ of the original text.

Section 2: Historicizing Translation

Chapter 5: Challenging the Archive, ‘Present’-ing the Past: Translation history as historical ethnography

Hilary Footitt, Institute of Modern Languages Research, University of London, UK

Since the turn of the century, interest in translation history has grown considerably, with special issues of journals appearing, greater dialogue between scholars from different traditions taking place, and dedicated book series being launched. Two persistent questions mark these debates – what is the purpose of translation history, and where exactly is its disciplinary location? Underlying such concerns is an often anxious interrogation of the uses (and possible abuses) of historical methodologies. This chapter argues that approaches borrowed from historical ethnography may begin to broaden the debate by directing attention away from finality towards materials – the hybrid resources at our disposal – and away from the questioning of disciplinary identities towards a search for innovative ways in which to express our findings. Drawing on examples from conflict and post conflict situations, the chapter advocates challenging the archive by recognizing the opportunities offered to scholars by the contingency and transversality of potential resources. It further calls for imaginative forms of ‘present-ing’ the past “as it was actually experienced … in its ordered and disordered natures” (Dening 1994:5). Translation history practised as historical ethnography, the chapter will demonstrate, can make a distinct contribution to both translation studies and the study of history.

Chapter 6: Friedrich Wilhelm IV’s Tailor and Significance in Translation History

Christopher Rundle, University of Bologna, Italy

On 3 April 1849, after a year of revolution in Prussia, the Frankfurt parliament offered Frederick William IV of Prussia the imperial crown of Germany. He refused, saying that he could not “pick up a crown from the gutter” and would only accept it if offered to him by the German princes (Taylor 1945:86-87). Rickert (1896) remarked that while this was a significant event in the political history of the nation, no one was interested in the tailors who made Friedrich Wilhelm IV’s uniforms. The historical significance of Friedrich Wilhelm’s tailor was then taken up and discussed by Meyer (1902), Weber (1906) and later by Veyne (1984). Drawing on this discussion, this chapter reflects on how these ideas on historical significance might apply to the history of translation and how notions of significance in translation history can impact the way we select our materials and shape them into a narrative. I argue that it is important for translation and interpreting historians to reflect on their practice as historians, as well as translation and interpreting scholars. In as much as they engage in historical research, the theoretical and methodological issues they have to deal with are the same as those that historians have been debating for as long as history has existed as an academic discipline. Understanding historical significance, I suggest, can ultimately help make historical research on translation more interdisciplinary and more relevant to historians outside translation and interpreting studies.

Section 3: Performing Translation

Chapter 7: From Voice to Performance: The artistic agency of literary translators

Gabriela Saldanha, University of Oslo, Norway

Hermans’s (1996) notion of the translator’s voice, subsequently developed into a model of translation as reported speech (2007, 2014), constitutes one of the earliest and most important contributions to discussions of the translator’s presence in the text. Whereas his model applies to all forms of translation and interpreting, this chapter specifically focuses on the translation of artistic texts – mostly, but not exclusively, literary writing. I explore the connections between Hermans’s theory and theories of artistic representation and argue that, when dealing with literary texts, the translator’s voice becomes an artistic performance. A conceptualization of translation as, specifically, a performance art makes it possible to locate literary translation within existing art theories that have so far excluded it. In particular, anthropological theories of art such as Gell’s (1998) complement Hermans’s theory and offer a powerful model for understanding how translators’ literary performances extend the agency of the work of art beyond the confines of authorship.

Chapter 8: Gatekeepers and Stakeholders: Valorizing indirect translation in theatre

Geraldine Brodie, University College London, UK

The translation of dramatic texts for performance in the English language frequently takes an indirect route: a mediating text – a literal translation – is employed, and sometimes specifically commissioned, for a target language writer to create a performance text. This chapter explores the roles of the stakeholders in this process, investigating how the distinct elements of their contributions to the performed text are reflected in contractual agreements and fees. Stakeholders are not understood as restricted to the source playwrights, translators and target text writers, but instead as also including theatrical and literary agents, theatre practitioners employed by the producing and commissioning theatre companies, and potentially additional funding institutions. Drawing on a project that involved commissioning four first-time literal translations of contemporary Dutch-language plays into English, the study charts the extent to which stakeholders become gatekeepers of the people, processes and products of translation in theatre. I interrogate the variations in contractual terms and practitioner fees in UK theatre translation, and what they indicate about the valorization of the different roles in the translation process, and argue that the examination of gatekeepers and stakeholders in theatre translation sheds light on issues of ownership and profession that have implications for a wider theorization of indirect translation.

Chapter 9: Media, Materiality and the Possibility of Reception: Anne Carson’s Catullus

Karin Littau, University of Essex, UK

Anne Carson’s work is emblematic of changing attitudes to translation, to the book as medium and artefact, and to matter more generally. In Nox (Carson 2010b) she makes visible something that is rarely practised or theorized: namely that it is books and texts – outside and inside – that get translated, transformed and transmediated with every new translation and repackaged edition. This chapter explores how Carson’s bookish and media-conscious translation of Catullus contributes on the one hand to a wider understanding of the materialities of translation and, on the other hand, to an expanded notion of translation that is operative across the boundaries of the linguistic, textual, visual and medial. To this end the chapter builds on Theo Hermans’s concept of translation as manipulation (1985c) and takes materially what was already implicit in this concept: it shows the extent to which manipulation, as its Latin root in manus suggests, is linked to manufacture and in the case of Nox made concretely palpable by Carson’s translatory practice.

Section 4: Centres and Peripheries

Chapter 10: Dissenting Laughter: Tamil Dalit literature and translation on the offensive

Hephzibah Israel, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

This chapter highlights the political function of comedy as a device that interrupts dominant politics of marginalization, shifting attention beyond the formal elements of source and target texts, and beyond the reductive question of whether humour can be carried across languages, to the polemic, social and political functions of comedy. Drawing on contemporary Tamil Dalit literature, in particular Bama’s Karukku (1992) and Caṅkati (1994) and the anthology Dalit Ilakkiyam: Eatu Aupavam (2004), it demonstrates how black humour, scatological and non-standard Tamil are employed to disrupt entrenched hierarchies of Tamil literary taste and challenge the social and political oppression of Tamil Dalits. English translations of these works of fiction painstakingly convey the grotesque, antagonistic nature of this writing in order to offend their target audiences in a different way. Most Anglophone, especially Indian, readers belong to the ‘perpetrator’ sections of society and are therefore in the extraordinary position of empathizing with Dalit characters even while becoming aware that they themselves are targets of Dalit satire. The chapter argues for widening the study of translating comedy, defined not as humour but as a powerful and satirical political tool of resistance and radical questioning for writers, translators and their respective audiences.

Chapter 11: Gianni Rodari’s Adventures of Cipollino in Russian and Estonian: Translation and ideology in the USSR

Daniele Monticelli, Tallinn University, Estonia

Eda Ahi, Writer and Translator

Literature played an important role after World War II in effecting the ideological transformation of citizens of the communist countries of Eastern Europe into the so-called Homo Sovieticus. Although original Soviet literature, especially in the form of socialist realism, was at the forefront of this development, translated literature also became an important arena of ideological struggle. The Adventures of Cipollino, an allegory of class struggle and revolution by the Italian communist writer Gianni Rodari, was translated in the early fifties – at the height of the Cold war – into the different languages of the Soviet Republics and quickly became one of the most popular children’s books in the USSR. It also became a popular school text and was widely adapted into many different artistic forms, from ballet to animated film. This chapter compares the Russian translation of Cipollino published in 1953 with the Estonian translation published in 1960 to investigate the complexity of the Soviet polysystem and its diachronic evolution, including the tense relations between the centre (Russia) and the periphery (Estonia) of the Soviet Empire and changes in Soviet politics after Khrushchev’s 1956 denunciation of Stalinist crimes. The aim is to develop a discourse on translation as “a cultural practice interacting with other practices in a historical continuum” (Hermans 1999:118) in order to reveal its “formative role in history” (ibid.:144).

Chapter 12: Retranslating ‘Kara Toprak’: Ecofeminism revisited through a canonical folk song

Şebnem Susam-Saraeva, University of Edinburgh, Scotland

This chapter offers a close reading and retranslation of a Turkish folk classic from the twentieth century. The song’s lyrics draw on the trope of the generous and bountiful earth, seemingly with no end to its resources – a trope generally associated in the West with that of ‘Mother Earth’ and the patriarchal, capitalist oppression and domination of both nature and women, which is heavily criticized by ecofeminist scholars, among others. The song, however, is also rooted in Anatolian mysticism, which runs counter to the artificial split between nature, God and humans associated with the ‘Western’ tradition. The objective of the contribution is to offer an ecological and feminist translation of this poem through the lens of ecofeminism, and in the process, expand the relevance of this particular theoretical framework geographically and temporally.

Section 5: Digital Encounters

Chapter 13: Debating Buddhist Translations in Cyberspace: The Buddhist online discussion forum as a discursive and epitextual space

Robert Neather, Hong Kong Baptist University

Recent research in contemporary Buddhist studies has evinced a growing interest in how Buddhism is constructed and performed in the digital space (Grieve and Veidlinger 2015), and how such online spaces intersect with or challenge traditional spaces of Buddhist practice in the offline context. One area within this Buddhist cyberspace is that of discussion forums, which play an important part in constructing particular discourses surrounding the Western reception of Buddhism. These discursive spaces incorporate a complex mélange of doctrinal positions, textual competencies and levels of Buddhist practitioner experience. This chapter examines one discussion thread within the larger Dharma Wheel Buddhist forum, in which participants discuss translations of the Lotus Sutra. Approaching the forum as a community of practice (CoP), it analyses the ways in which authority and expertise are performed by the various discussants, and how particular projections of Buddhist identity are used to advance or contest claims as to the doctrinal or soteriological authenticity of given translations. The chapter further examines the position of the chosen translation discussion thread within the broader CoP, and concludes with reflections on the relationship between the forum as discursive space in its own right and as epitextual space that is both liminal to and shapes interpretation of the sutras it references.

Chapter 14: Intelligent Designs: A corpus-assisted study of creationist discourse

Jan Buts, Boğaziçi University, Turkey

Drawing on a specialized subcorpus of Christian creationist publications that forms part of the Genealogies of Knowledge Internet corpus, this chapter documents the textual positioning of creationist authors in relation to the natural sciences. The corpus-assisted analysis focuses on referencing strategies such as Biblical and scholarly citation, and on concepts such as evidence and truth. It is accompanied by a discussion of the textual strategies on which creationists draw to gain the upper hand over their perceived adversaries, adherents of evolutionary theory. The aim is to illustrate how creationist texts establish both opposition and correspondence between the verses of scripture and the findings of scientific research, and to explain this phenomenon with recourse to Hermans’s assertion that equivalence is ultimately declared rather than inferred.

Chapter 15: Subtitling Disinformation Narratives around COVID-19: ‘Foreign’ vlogging in the construction of digital nationalism in Chinese social media

Luis Pérez-González, University of Agder, Norway

This chapter focuses on subtitled vlogs published by Western influencers on Chinese social media at the behest of the Chinese authorities. In particular, it explores the role these vlogs play in promoting official narratives about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a media ecosystem characterized by restricted access to foreign content and the absence of public debate on matters pertaining to the image that China attempts to project abroad, foreign vlogs, I argue, are deployed to secure the alignment and acquiescence of social media users with official discourses and policies, against the backdrop of ongoing propaganda offensives on social media. Drawing on the concept of strategic narratives developed by international relations scholars, the chapter examines how the circulation of subtitled media content provides Chinese netizens with sensemaking devices that facilitate the negotiation and forging of shared meanings about their country’s place on the international scene, ultimately contributing to the entrenchment of digital nationalism. Analysis of the body of danmu (bullet comments) posted by viewers of the vlog chosen as a case study reveals that the parochialism of Chinese social media platforms like Bilibili allows political elites to capitalize on mundane affectivity, whether genuine or confected, in order to promote allegiance to official strategic narratives without the need for deliberation in the digital public sphere.

Name Index

Subject Index


“This is a rich collection of interventions which speak to the most current and urgent questions in Translation Studies: from material culture to the question of agency, from ecotranslation to the role of transdisciplinary and transnational approaches in the Humanities. That contributors do all this while engaging with Theo Hermans’s work is the best possible testimony to the originality of his thinking and the legacy of his scholarship.”

Loredana Polezzi, Stony Brook University, USA

“Theo Hermans is one of the most prominent figures in the disciplinary history of translation studies. He has been a key player in institutionalising the field but also an independent critical voice against excessive institutionalising, promoting a view of ‘a splintered discipline, a de-centred and perhaps ex-centric field of study that must learn to speak several tongues, recognizes the contingency of theory and seeks to make its own uncertainties productive’ (Hermans 2006:9). This collective volume edited by Mona Baker, another likeminded critical thinker, is a testament to this vision, and the many chapters by prominent TS scholars expand on Hermans’s ideas and unleash productive uncertainties in ways that capture the reader’s scientific imagination and create a desire to reread his entire oeuvre.”

Kaisa Koskinen, Tampere University, Finland