Translation and Translation as a Weapon
- Gisèle SapiroGisèle SapiroCentre européen de sociologie et de science politique, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales
Translation is a social activity that fulfills other functions than mere communication: political, economic and cultural. Thus translation can be used as a political weapon to export or import texts conveying an ideological message, such as socialist realism. As evidenced by the promotion of world bestsellers, translation may in other cases serve economic interests. Literary translations also serve cultural purposes, such as the building of collective (national, social, gendered) identities, the representations of other cultures, or the subversion of the dominant norms in a literary field (as defined by Pierre Bourdieu), which can be illustrated by the reception and uses of William Faulkner’s novels in France in the 1930s (namely by Jean-Paul Sartre).
The study of translation has become a research field called “Translation Studies,” which underwent a “sociological turn” at the beginning of the 21st century, and was also renewed at the same time by the rise of “world literature” studies in comparative literature. While translation studies are interested in norms of translation (as defined by Gideon Toury), which may vary across cultures, especially between domesticating and foreignizing strategies, the sociology of translation and of (world) literature asks how literary texts circulate across cultures: who are the mediators? Why do they select certain texts and not others? What obstacles stand in the way of the transfer process? How are translations used as weapons in cultural struggles?
The circulation of texts in translation can be studied through a quantitative analysis of flows of translation (across languages, countries, publishing houses) and through qualitative methods: interviews with specialized intermediaries and cultural mediators (publishers, translators, state representatives, literary critics), ethnographic observation (of book fairs, literature festivals), documentary sources (critical reception), archives (of publishers), and text analysis. However, internal (text analysis) and external (sociological) approaches still wait to be fully connected.