On the Subjectivity of the Translator

by Li Youzi


Abstract: Translation is a very complex communicative act. The translator plays an indispensable and irreplaceable role in it. It is the translator who translates the elites of foreign literature into his own language and introduces them to his compatriots. The translator conducts the code-switching between two different languages, reproduces the content and spirit of the source text into the target text. The translator also presents a vivid picture of the exotics and ensures its survival after hundreds of years. As a result of the translator’s labor, the readers’ horizons are widened and the indigenous culture and language are enriched. Nowadays, the translator’s status as the subject of translation has been widely acknowledged. However, the translator’s identity and role as a creative subject is not recognized from the very beginning. On the contrary, it has experienced a long process. The translator has moved from behind the curtain to the forefront and has become a visible subject from an invisible ghostly presence as people’s knowledge of translation activities deepens.

This thesis aims at studying the subjectivity of the translator. It starts with a review of the traditional translation theories on the function of the translator, and shows how these theories reduce the translator to the status of a faithful servant, a mere conveyor of information and an invisible medium. The paper then focuses on the studies of the translator in the contemporary framework of theories, which attempt to bring the translator out of the shadow. Since the 1980s, there appeared a deconstructionist school in Translation Studies. Its representatives are Jacque Derrida, Paul de Man and Lawrence Venuti. They have introduced some key concepts of deconstruction into the Translation Studies, posed great challenges to the traditional translation theories and opened up many new perspectives for Translation Studies. According to them, translators are the creative subjects and translations are the afterlife of original works. The status of the translator and translated works has been greatly enhanced. Translations not only enjoy the same status as the original works, but also ensure the survival of the latter. Translators are no longer considered as inferior to the author, but are considered as the creative subject. Until then, translators have moved to the forefront and assumed their subjective roles. The subjectivity of the translator has become an important issue that draws many scholars’ attention. They have studied this issue from various perspectives and offered a lot of keen insights on it. The paper tries to retrieve the translator's lost subjectivity, his or her decision-making in translation process and participation in the creation of the literary works.

Theoretically speaking, Hermeneutics confirms translators' creativity, for its basic notion is that understanding means creative interpretation of a text. That is to say translators are not just passive receptors of the source text, but meaning-providers whose translation products will be interpreted by target readers. Hermeneutics emphasizes translators' active interpretation of literary texts. According to this theory, the translator is not a passive recipient of meaning but an active and creative agent in the making of meaning. Translators cannot be excluded from their fore-understanding structure in the complex process of interaction with the source text. Inevitably translators will feed their own beliefs, experience and attitudes into their processing of texts, so that any translation, to some degree, will reflect translators' own mental outlook and their idiosyncratic features despite the impartial intention. This opinion will be further expounded in Chapter Ⅲ.

This thesis applies the basic notions of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics—fore-understanding, prejudice and fusion of horizons to justify the reason and room for the translator’s subjectivity. The author of the thesis holds that translators can and will inevitably manifest their subjectivity in their products in the process of conveying the source text’s content and style. Literary translators are indispensable subjects in the translation process. They act not only as receptors and manipulators of the source text but producers of a target text in a new cultural system. In this sense they can be viewed as a special kind of authors, and consequently their style can be seen as a special kind of authorial style.

The fourth chapter is a case study of the six different translations of a poem by Meng Jiao, a poet in Tang dynasty. By comparing these six versions, the author hopes it will help further the understanding of the subjectivity of the translator and confirm that translators, as the subject of reception, always interpret the source text from their own perspectives, derive different information from their interpretations, make their own judgments and concretize those indeterminacies in the source text. It is just this subjective concretization that results in different translations of the same source text.  

The last chapter summarizes the discussions above in an explicit way and comes to the conclusion: the subjectivity of the translator has become a prominent issue in contemporary Translation Studies and the study of it can help improve our understanding of the subjectivity of the translator, the understanding of the nature of translation and the role played by translators in translation.

Key words: Translator, Translation Studies, The Subjectivity of the Translator.




For a long time, traditional Chinese and western Translation Studies have tended to consider the source text as the “absolute standard” in the judgment and evaluation of a translation work. As a result, translators should try their best to reduce their subjective involvement and “reproduce in the receptor language the closest natural equivalent of the source-language message, first in terms of meaning and second in terms of style”. (Nida, 1982: 55) Therefore, the notion of equivalence has been put forward as the fundamental criterion in western Translation Studies and translation criticism. This is also the case with China. In 1897, Yan Fu set down the triple translation criteria of “Faithfulness, Expressiveness and Elegance,” (Xin Da Ya), which influenced the development of translation practice and theory for almost half a century after it came into being and it still exerts great influence on contemporary TS. From the classical viewpoint of translation, the “ideal” translation “should be like a completely transparent pane of glass through which people can see the original without being aware of anything intervening.” But, the translator also faces the dilemma of reconciling faithfulness and adaptation, spirit and letter—the four requisites set forth in the view that an original is reproducible without transformation, language differences notwithstanding. More modern views of translation, though bound by the fetters of equivalence, have expanded through their recognition of the transformative and productive powers the translator exerts in his translation.

In their introduction to the collection of essays Translation, History and Culture, Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere dismiss the kinds of linguistic theories of translation, which, they say, ‘have moved from unit  to unit, but not beyond’ (Bassnett and Lefevere, 1990:4). Also dismissed are ‘painstaking comparisons between originals and translations’ which do not consider the text in its cultural environment. They focus on the interaction between translation and culture, on the way in which culture impacts and constrains translation and on ‘the larger issues of context, history and convention’ (ibid.: 11). Thus, the move from translation as text to translation as culture and politics is what Mary Snell-Hornby terms ‘the cultural turn’. Translation is considered as a rewriting of an original text. Rewriting is manipulation, undertaken in the service of power and can introduce new concepts, new devices and genres and the history of translation is the history also of literary innovation, of the shaping power of one culture upon another. The question of the translator’s supposed non-interference, or the translator’s invisibility in the translated text now faces great challenges since all translations must undergo various kinds of transformation or rewriting in the process of translation. As a result, the translator has moved from his original marginalized role to a more prominent position and orients the translated text towards a specific group of readers in a certain linguistic and cultural environment. The translator’s subjectivity has become apparent and attracted increasing attention from the academic circles. Lawrence Venuti studied the translator’s situation and activity in contemporary Anglo-American culture and held that translators should adopt the foreignizing strategy, or ‘resistancy’ (Venuti, 1995:305) in translation in order to make visible the presence of the translator by highlighting the foreign identity of the ST and protecting it from the ideological dominance of the target culture.

The subjectivity of the translator highlights the status and function of the translator, but it is also different from the irresponsible or abusive rewriting of the original text.           

The subjectivity of the translator regards translation as an interlocution and puts the translator on an equal footing with the other two participants, namely the source text writer and the target text reader. Such a status enables the translator to give full play to his initiative under related conditions without being either servile or domineering. The weak points of it lie in the fact that it is still lacking in microscopic elaborations and detailed analyses of telling examples. All this may give rise to the operational gap between theoretical framework and translation practice. These weak points pose new directions for further study.

Some points have to be made clear.

1 The subject of translation is a rather controversial issue and no consensus has been reached on this issue yet in translations studies. The author of this thesis holds that the translator, as the most important factor in translation, is the subject of translation.     

2. The abbreviations that would appear in the thesis are as follows:

Translation Studies         TS

Descriptive Translation Studies    DTS

target language                TL

target culture                  TC

target text                     TT

source language                SL

source culture                  SC

source text                    ST






Chapter 1: The Role of the Translator in Traditional Chinese and Western Translation Studies  

In a broad sense, translation is not of single subject, but involving three parties. The trinity subject in translating is author, translator and reader. Of course, the translator is most important because he assumes double identity as receptor and disseminator, that is, receiver of original information and creator of target text. However, the problems in translation methodology have resulted in a stereotyped way of thinking that privileges the source language and the author.

Traditionally, translation is defined as an objective, mechanistic, transparent process in which the translator acts as a mere transmitter of words, decoding and attempting to convey their understanding of the author’s meanings and intentions.

1.1 The Traditional View of Translation

Translation was once held in slight esteem and regarded as a parasitical and secondary art. Such a hard situation for translation was summed up by Hilaire Belloc as follows:

The art of translation is a subsidiary art and derivative. On this account it has never been granted the dignity of original work, and has suffered too much in the general judgment of letters. This natural underestimation of its value has had the bad practical effect of lowering the standard demanded, and in some periods has almost destroyed the art altogether. The corresponding misunderstanding of its character has added to its degradation: neither its importance nor its difficulty has been grasped. (Bassnett, 1993:138)

 Translators have enjoyed a similar status in China’s translation history. Translators were known in ancient China as ‘tongue men’(舌人) or ‘imitating officers’ (象胥). Confucius (551-479BC) once disapproved of his king’s intention to study translation, which he despised as ‘petty business’ (小辩) confined to diplomatic affairs to be assigned to ‘inverse tongues’ (反舌)  who ‘transmit the words’ (传言). As translation was not treated with due respect, it’s not hard to imagine the translator was also despised.


1.1.1 ST-Oriented Translation Theories

 To make things worse, the traditional translation theories are all ST oriented. Gideon Toury once defined ST-centered theories as follows:

 They consider translation from the point of view of its being a reconstruction—in general a maximal (or at least optimal) reconstruction—of ST (i.e., the formalization of ST’s systemic relationships), or even of SL, in TL, in such a way and to such an extent that TT and ST are interchangeable according to some preconceived definition of this interchangeability. (Toury, 1995: 35)

In traditional cognitive thinking, ST is the object of the translator’s cognition, and the task for him or her is to endeavor to clear away the obstacle in the process of cognition and realize the agreement between ST and TT. Language is purely instrumental for the translator to represent the original intention and meaning in ST, therefore; Translation Studies should be centered on the nature, criterion, and skills of translation.

 Above all, the priority of ST and the author in Translation Studies is brought by Reader-Text Dichotomy epistemology philosophy, a kind of dualistic epistemology, according to which ST is the object for cognition and the first task in translating is to remove the obstacle for cognition. In this view, the language merely mirrors the objective world and therefore those stands in opposition are ST as the object and the reader (here referring to the translator) as the subject. The author or ST becomes master and inviolable while the translator or TT servant and dominated.

 Another reason for ST’s superiority may be that the earliest recorded translations were religious. In the West, many problems in translating arose in the translation of Bible, which was regarded as the transmission of God’s order. To be faithful to the sacred Bible is the origin of the long-dominating faithfulness complex of translators. Under “God’s inspiration”, the Bible translator’s function is equal to that of a missionary. Tan Zaixi points it out in his The Science of Translation:

 In depicting and discussing the translation of the Septuagint, both Philo and Augustine followed the tradition of the Letter of Aristeas (c.130 B.C.), added and emphasized ‘divine inspiration’ in the interpreting of God's message. In their view, because the seventy-two translators of the Septuagint were “possessed” with their mission and were fully inspired by God, they were able to produce a translation so exact in meaning to the original that it seemed to be the result of dictation ‘by an invisible prompter’. Therefore the translators were no longer translators but had become ‘prophets and priests of the mysteries’. In other words, the process of Bible translation is a mystical process that can only be explained by an invisible Supreme Power and understood by those who can be inspired by God, e.g., priests and theologians. To some extent, these mystic views on Biblical translation should be regarded as a logical result of the strong Western belief in a personified almighty God. For according to this belief man cannot accomplish anything without the guidance and help of God. (谭载喜, 2000: 334-335)

Similarly, the early stage of Chinese translation was mainly translations of religious scriptures. Buddhism was transmitted from India to China as early as the first century A.D., an event with far-reaching influence on the development of Chinese thought and culture and of Buddhism itself. It brought in Indian culture, introduced new ideas of reincarnation, karmic retribution, and the release of Nirvana and exerted a lasting impact on Chinese philosophy, religion, art, literature, music, and architecture. As a result, Buddhism greatly enriched the traditional Chinese culture. After that, it took on a new look and flourished. For a thousand years, faithfulness to the Buddhist doctrine had been regarded as the first principle that translators should follow. A telling observation by the late Qing scholar Liang Qichao(1873-1929) suggests that Buddhist scriptures were the first foreign texts to be treated with respect, because Buddhist culture at that time had attained a status ‘comparable’ to that of China. In translating Buddhist scriptures, there exists a long-standing dispute between the wen school (文派) and the zhi school (质派) over the appropriate way of translating the Buddhist scriptures. The former school insists on rendering the Buddhist scriptures in an elegant way, while the latter insists on transmitting the contents of the scriptures in a simple and unadorned way.


1.1.2 The Debate of Literal vs. Free Translation in China

How to best convey the meaning in ST faithfully to TT? What deserves most to be mentioned is the distinction between ‘literal’ and ‘free’ translation, one of the oldest controversial issues in both Chinese and Western translation theory. In practice translators also realize that faithful reproduction of formal source-text qualities is not enough, and sometimes they need to adjust their translation to the target audience’s taste and capacity of the audience for accepting foreign things. Hence the debating of translation strategies focuses on literal translation (keeping the original form at the cost of the content) vs. free translation (altering the forms to preserve the content).

The discussion has a long history. In the early stage of translation in China, the discussion of literal translation vs. free translation was the core theoretical issue. Zhi Qian in Han Dynasty translated about thirty volumes of Buddhist scriptures in an extremely literal manner, which made his translation hard to understand. He proposed to keep the literal meaning and supposed that good translator of the Scriptures should render the texts comprehensible without loss of meaning. Dao’an during the Sui dynasty also advocated strict literal translation of the Buddhist scriptures. He said that “translation should follow the source closely without missing a single word, and change nothing except for inverted word order”, though he himself didn't know any Sanskrit. In his opinion there were five losses incurred by the original and the three difficulties in translating the Sanskrit scriptures into Chinese.

As the first recorded attempt at a theoretical discussion of the issue of translation, this “first article to open up the art of translation in China” (Qian Zhongshu) indicates a leap from the perceptual to the rational stage of cognition of translation. The five losses are actually changes Dao’an identified in the Chinese translation of Buddhist scriptures. Besides listing the losses and difficulties referred to above, Dao’an made clear his own principles of translation in this preface and in his Preface to Vibhasa (Piposha xu). Opposing the earlier tendency to translate Buddhist scriptures in the light of Taoist concepts as represented by the use of the Geyi(格义) method and concluding explicitly that “Geyi used in the old days often deviates from the doctrine”, he insisted on a textual translation of the original, agreeing with Zhao Zheng (赵政),the official supervisor of the translation center, that while the style of sutra, like it or not, was a matter of the original instead of the translation (meaning that the translator did not assume the responsibility of the style of the original text), a translator was to blame if he failed to render the message thoroughly.

Kumarajiva (鸠罗摩什) during the early Tang dynasty was on the opposite side and advocated a complete free translation method for the sake of elegance and intelligibility in the target language. He emphasized the accuracy of translation, and therefore applied a free translation approach to transfer the true essence of the Sanskrit Sutras. He makes a famous remark, saying that literal translations “from Sanskrit into Chinese could never capture the flavor of the original style, even though the main ideas can be more or less conveyed. It is like feeding a person with food already masticated by another, which not only has lost its taste, but might cause nausea”. Kumarajiva is generally viewed as a “sense” translator. Xuanzang in Tang Dynasty, with his own translation practice, combined the advantages of both Dao’an literal translation-respect for the form of the source text-and Kumarajiva’s free translation, aiming to achieve the middle course, and developed his epoch-making translation criteria that translation “must be truthful and intelligible to the populace”. Actually, beneath the surface differences of the above discussions lies a shared awareness that there are two basic approaches to translation, namely, the “literal” vs. “free”.

This conflict continues into modern and even contemporary Translation Studies but it takes different forms. For example, the well-known scholar and translator Fu Lei put forward this point of view: “resemblance in spirit (神似) rather than resemblance in form (形似).” In the preface of one of his translations, he wrote: “As a product, translation is like imitating a picture. What is more important is the likeness of spirit not resemblance to the original one.” Another Chinese translator Qian Zhongshu borrowed the Buddhist term and put forward his “transmigration theory” (“化境”论) for literary translation. For him, a literary translation is like the act of transmigration in which the soul or the spirit of the original text remains in the target text even though its carrier, the language, has changed. Whatever forms these theories take, the final purpose of translation is to make TT faithful and smooth and ST is still in the dominance, and the translator has to create within limitation. Fu’s “神似” (resemblance in spirit) may be regarded as the ultimate requirement for literary translation. Qian’s requirement for literary translation was so high that he himself had to admit that it was impossible to transmigrate everything of the original text to the target language, and that perfect transmigration of the original text into the target language was just an ideal. The debate of “神似” vs. “形似” or “化境” can find resemblance in later debate of functional or dynamic equivalence vs. formal equivalence. All of the theories can be still regarded as expansion or continuation of the debate of literal vs. free translation.


1.2 The Traditional Translator

In ST-oriented studies, a translator should be objective, and free from the tyranny of subjectivity. This view neglects the participation or subjectivity of the translator and requires him only to dance to the author’s tune. As a result, Translation Studies at first required much of the translator's practical skills and finally led to a dream of the exact equivalence between ST and its translated version.

1.2.1 The Translator as a Faithful Servant

Once in a disadvantageous position, the translator could do nothing but reproduce even the word-order of the original or follow the original to the letter. As the translator is secondary in the hierarchy, what is expected of him or her is faithfulness to ST or the author in one way or another. Traditional translation didn’t pay enough attention to the translator, and it seems that the sole task of the translator is to faithfully convey the content from ST to TT.

Translators are considered as servile lackeys to the authors. For instance, John Dryden maintains that translators should follow suit whatever the original author does and he compares them to slaves who toil in the master's field, and whose harvested gains belong to masters. Yang Jiang(杨绛)a well-known Chinese writer and translator, also holds the similar view. She says that translators are at the source text’s command and they cannot make their own decisions. They have to attend to two lords at the same time: one is the source text; the other is the target readership. (杨绛, 1998:66) (…因为一切得听从主人,不能自作主张。而且一仆二主,同时伺候着俩个主人:一是原著,二是译文的读者。)

From early Buddhist translation to translation of Western literature in the modem era, being faithful to the original has been regarded as “the primary responsibility of the translator” (谭载喜2000b: 338-339)

Throughout the translation history of both China and the West, countless metaphors have been used to describe the required faithfulness on the part of the translator. A kind of “marital” agreement is used to describe the relationship between the ST and the translator. Since the ST is supposed to be authoritative and unchangeable, the only side that is bound by the wedding vow of faithfulness is the translator. Besides, there are also various terms used to refer to the concept of “fidelity”, such as “loyalty”, “faithfulness”, “accuracy”, “truth”, “equivalence” and “correspondence”. In western translation theory, Horace, who made the earliest mention of translational “fidelity”, has equated fidelity with literal translation, namely, to “render word for word with the faithfulness of a translator”. The same view is also held by Cicero (106-43 B.C.), who once taken word-for-word faithfulness as the function of a translator:

If I render word for word, the result will sound uncouth, and if compelled by necessity I alter anything in the order or wording, I shall seem to have departed from the function of a translator. (Nord, 2001:4)

In China, the earliest reference to “fidelity” in translation was made by Zhi Qian in his Preface to Fa Ju Jing (《法句经序》,224 AD), in which he quoted Laozi, a Chinese philosopher of the Late Spring and Autumn period, as a comment on translation: “Beautiful words are not faithful, and faithful words are not beautiful”. (美言不信,信言不美。) It is interesting to note that Zhi’s borrowed antithetical statement in the third century on the concepts of “faithfulness and beauty” in translation was to find a remarkable resemblance to a Westerners’ idea about the practices of the seventeenth-century French school of belles infideles represented by d'Ablancourt. According to one of his critics, his translations were rather like beautiful women: they were beautiful, but not faithful (谭载喜, 2000b: 338-339).

However, most translators at that time agreed that in order to keep fidelity to ST, the TT’s beauty can be ignored even at the cost of its readability. Faithfulness becomes the highest judge of a translated version, which was once believed to be the characteristic of the translation of such famous Chinese translators as Zhu Shenghao, Fu Lei and Yang Bi and others. At the same time, however, we cannot help giving the same high appraisal to “unfaithful” translators such as Yan fu and Lin Shu. Consequently, whether a translated version is good depends on its closeness with ST. Translation is even defined as word-for-word fidelity to the ST. The status of the translator is subordinate, servile, secondary and even neglectable. The norm of the ‘faithful translator’ insists that translators reproduce originals completely and accurately, without addition, deletion or distortion. It calls on translators to be discreet to the degree of self-abnegation for the sake of keeping the original’s integrity.

Likewise, the over-emphasis on the translator's faithfulness is also based on the dichotomy between ST and TT or the author and the translator. As a matter of fact, there is no clear line of division between them.

1.2.2 How to Be Faithful

In traditional Translation Studies the questions are all “how we should translate” or “what is the correct way to translate” and the like. In other words, translation techniques, principles or criterions preoccupied the attention of translators. In the west, American translator and theorist Alexander Fraser Tytler put forward three principles of translation:             

Translation should give a complete transcript of the ideas of the original work.

Style and manner of writing should be of the same character with that of the original.

Translation should have all the ease of original composition.

Obviously in Tytler’s opinion, the focus of the translator’s attention is ST and the aim of translation is the production of an equivalent effect that transcends linguistic and cultural differences. Noteworthily, researches on translation techniques and translation principles account for almost the sum total of traditional Chinese Translation Studies. In China, Qing scholar Yan Fu proposed the famous and time-honored tripartite principle of translation, namely, “faithfulness, expressiveness and elegance”(--)which takes faithfulness as No. l principle.

“Expressiveness” is the same in the sense with the term “fluency” in Lawrence Venuti’s vocabulary. Although Yan Fu freely added to or deleted from Huxley’s philosophical work, and for a time it appeared that he was privileging expressiveness over the other two principles, his translation thoughts have stood on the side of fidelity to the original. He observed that it was not the right way of doing a translation to leave room for the translator to re-create. In so doing, Yan falls squarely within the tradition of the majority of Bible translator-theorists in the west, for whom faithfulness, or respect for the source text, was to be defended as a virtue. Following on Yan’s steps there appeared the criteria of “loyalty and smoothness” and the like. Later writers such as Lu Xun and Qu Qiubai also attached importance to faithfulness. Lu Xun advocated strict literal translation so as to be more faithful to the original text; Qu Qiubai contends that translators sometimes have to sacrifice part of the “intelligibility” in order to achieve “faithfulness”.


1.2.3 The Invisible Translator

Besides, the inferiority of the translator in traditional theories is also revealed by the idea of the translator’s invisibility, which means the translator will make the ideal translation as a piece of completely transparent glass through which one can see the original, and make the translated text reads as if it had been originally written in that original language. Lawrence Venuti, representative of the Deconstructionist School in TS, has described this phenomenon in the Anglo-Armenian history of translation as follows:

The translator’s invisibility is also partly determined by the individualistic conception of authorship that continues to prevail in Anglo-Armenian culture. According to this conception, the author freely expresses his thoughts and feelings in writing, which is thus viewed as an original and transparent self-representation, unmediated by transindividual determinants (linguistic, cultural, social) that might complicate authorial originality. This view of authorship carried two disadvantageous implications for the translator. On the one hand, translation is defined as a second-order representation: only the foreign text can be original, an authentic copy, true to the author’s personality or intention, whereas the translation is derivative, fake, potentially a false copy. On the other hand, translation is required to efface its second-order status with transparent discourse, producing the illusion of authorial presence whereby the translated text can be taken as the original. (Venuti, 1995: 6-7)

As Venuti pointed out, translators become invisible and therefore subordinated in translation. The translator is thus subordinate to the author, who decisively controls the publication of the translation during the term of the copyright for the “original” text, currently the author’s lifetime plus fifty years... The translator’s authorship is never given full legal recognition because of the priority given to the foreign writer in controlling the translation—even to point of compromising the translator’s rights as a British or American citizen. (ibid.: 8-9)

The transparent translation and the invisibility of the translator, can be seen as a mystification of troubling proportions, an amazingly successful concealment of the multiple determinants and effects of English-language translation, the multiple hierarchies and exclusions in which it is implicated (ibid.: 16)

1.2.4 Conclusion

From the faithfulness through equivalence to invisibility, the translation theories have concentrated on SL without much consideration of the translator, the executer. The deficiency of these ST-oriented theories is revealed in the endless debate of literal vs. free translation in China and equivalence issue in the West; their definition, relevance, and applicability within the field of translation theory have caused heated controversy. It seems impossible to reach an agreement on these notions. As a matter of fact, one important cause of this situation is the ignorance of the translator as a subjective, creative and visible individual in a particular historical context.

Traditional theories always seek to establish a methodology that is universally applicable to translation, thus ignoring the translator as an individual with subjective judgment and creativity. This actually indicates that ontological issues are insufficiently explored in translation theories; there is a lack of philosophical recognition of the being, the position and the function of the translator in intracultural and intercultural translation.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Chapter   The Role of the Translator since the Cultural Turn in Translation Studies

The cultural turn in TS in the West after the 1970s brought about new dimensions and approaches. The target-oriented approach, resulting form this shift, foregrounds the cultural identities and roles of translators in the translation process. Therefore their subjectivities as well as cultural and aesthetic tendencies have become necessary and important research projects for translation researchers. Recent debates on translation have focused more and more on exploring the relationship between what is termed ‘translation’ and what is termed ‘original’. Those debates are, inevitably, also linked to questions of authority and power. One line of thought has traditionally seen the translation as a betrayal, an inferior copy of a prioritized original. Another line of thinking focuses instead on the translation, and in recent years we have seen Derrida and others rereading Walter Benjamin and celebrating the translation as the ‘after-life’ of the ST, its means of survival, its reincarnation. Indeed, Derrida suggests that effectively the translation becomes the original (Derrida, 1985). This view is entirely credible if we think of the terms in which most readers approach a translated text. When we read Joyce or Homer, if we have no English or Ancient Greek, what we are reading is the original through translation, i.e. that translation is our original.

The shift of emphasis from original to translation is reflected also on the visibility of the translator. Lawrence Venuti calls for a translator-centered translation, insisting that the translator should inscribe him/herself visibly into the text (Venuti, 1995). Barbara Godard argues that a feminist translator should ‘flaunt’ the signs of her manipulation of the text, her ‘woman-handling’ strategies. André Lefevere maintains that translations should be termed as ‘rewritings’ in order to both raise the status of the translator and get away from the limitations of the term ‘translation’. And people gradually find that translation is far more than mere transfer between two languages. In fact, it involves a lot of factors behind or beyond words, such as literary, historical, cultural and ideological factors. Such awareness has become widely accepted especially in the past decades when Translation Studies developed at a high speed. Absorbing new observations of other social and cultural sciences, Translation Studies is gradually turning into an independent discipline.

2.1 The Cultural Turn in TS

Since the 70s and 80s in the 20th century, a group of literary translators, like Holems, A.Lefevere, Bassnet, Venuti, has questioned the linguistic approach and advocated Translation Studies should develop as an independent academic discipline. Postmodern theories, including deconstructionism, feminism and postcolonialism, mushroomed in the field of Translation Studies.

Translation is understood as more a cultural rather than a linguistic transfer, and the act of translation is no longer a “transcoding” from one context into another, but an “act of communication”. Hans J. Vermeer has argued that translation is first and foremost a “crosscultural transfer”. Thus, the translator must not only be bilingual but effectively bicultural as well. The Translation Studies in descriptive perspective are more concerned with the “function of the target text” rather than the “prescriptions of the source text”, and tend to answer such questions: What can the translation version do? How can they circulate and arose echoes?

With the “cultural turn” in Translation Studies, proper and increasing attention has been paid to the external subjectivity of the translator, who not only influences translation by his or her visual field, choice and thinking, but also participates in and contributes to the construction of a national culture. The target-oriented approach, resulting from this shift, foregrounds the cultural identities and roles of translators in the formation of it. A number of Translation Studies scholars have therefore taken a “cultural turn”, focusing on the “external politics” of translated literature, and account for “the macro-factors involved with the function of the literary system”, for the constitutive factors involved with any cultural event.

Translation Studies also turn to the discussion of the relationship between translation and TC, especially the impact of translation on target culture. Last but not least, the “cultural turn” in Translation Studies approaches translation as an activity powerfully affected by its socio-political context and the demand of the translating culture.

2.2 Two Schools of Translation Studies that are of Relevance in Enhancing the Translator’s Subjectivity.

2.2.1 The Cultural School in TS

Many TC-oriented translation theories and schools are formed in the “cultural turn”, and among them most influential are the polysystem school represented by Itamar Evan-Zohar and Gideon Toury and the manipulation school by André Lefevere, Susan Bassnett and Theo Hermans. Polysystem theories provide the theory framework for TL-oriented Translation Studies, while manipulation theories offer a new perspective for the cognition of translation. Developed in the 1970s, Polysystem hypothesis was originally designed mainly as a theoretical framework for the descriptive study of literature and language in their cultural context.

The school of Polysystern stretched the study of Early Translation Studies, and they believed Translation Studies should be put in a lager literary, social and cultural frame. Itamar Even-Zohar and his colleague Gideon Toury presupposed translation literature was part of the target literature and put forward Polysystem Theory and important concepts of translation norms, inaugurating a new-brand dynamic paradigm of literary translation study. This school of theorists broke through the boundary of language in their study. Israeli scholar Gideon Toury gave a wide definition of “a translation will be any target language text which is presented or regarded as such with the target system itself, on whatever grounds.” He has directed attention from the vexed notion of equivalence and focused instead on the factors governing the choices that determined the relation between source and target texts. In Toury’s words: “norms…determine the (type and extent) equivalence manifested by actual translations” (Toury, 1995:61). Equivalence has thus effectively been sidelined and demoted. In the traditional approach equivalence was posited as both the aim and precondition of translation: every translation was thought to strive to attain equivalence, and only those renderings which achieved equivalence of the required kind to a sufficient degree could be qualified as translations. In Toury’s empirical approach it is used to mean “any relation which is found to have characterized translation under a specified set of circumstances” (Ibid.:61), or, more fully, equivalence is “a functional-relational concept” standing for “that set of relationship which will have been found to distinguish appropriate modes of translation performance for the culture in question”(Ibid.: 86)    

These two translation schools emphasize the role of the translator in the translation process and the visibility of the translator. The characteristics of the new translation theories can be concluded in two points: firstly, translators are active participants. Secondly, the focus has moved from ‘meaning’ itself to the meaning-producing field. Therefore, translation becomes a “cultural digestion”, cultural intermediate and a bridge both unites and marks the separation between two cultures. It takes place between two cultures and two languages.


2.2.2 The Functionalist School

Functionalist translation school is chiefly represented by German scholars Hans J. Vermeer, Katharina Reiss, Justa Holz Manttari and Christiane Nord. The school holds that translation is a particular variety of translatonal action based on source text. Any translational action, including translation itself, is an action. Any action has an aim or purpose. The Skopostheorie brought forth by Vermeer is the most important functionalist translation theory. According to this theory, the prime principle that any translation should observe is “skopos rule”: the skopos (purpose) of any translation is going to fulfill decides the whole translating process. A skopos is essential to translation and it plays a direct and decisive role in what translation strategies a translator will adopt to fulfill his aim in the whole translation process. The target texts based on the same source text permit big differences due to their different given purposes. Here the translation standard is not merely the traditional principle of “being equivalent to the source text”. When equivalence rule is invalid, adequacy becomes the standard of the translation process instead. Skopostheorie sees equivalence as one of the expressive modes of adequacy. The functionalist translation theories cast off the fetters of equivalence theory by using “skopos rule” as an overall principle in translation and placing translation in the frame of action theory and cross-cultural communication theory. In this sense, the functionalist theories broaden the scope of translation theory studying and infuse new meanings into translation.

Linguistic transformation is only on the surface, and what lies beneath may be to provide new literary text to TT readers on literary level, and new discourses to TC on cultural level so as to support or subvert the dominant ideology.


2.3 The Influence of Deconstructionism on the Translator’s Visibility

 Poststructuralism has in fact initiated a radical reconsideration of the traditional view of translation theory. Largely through commentaries on Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Task of the Translator”, poststructuralist thinkers like Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man explode the binary opposition between ‘original’ and ‘translation’ which underwrites the translator’s invisibility today. They do not proceed by elevating the translation into another original and tuning the translator into an author, but instead question the concepts of originality and authorship that subordinate the translation to the foreign text. They argue that what makes the foreign text original is not so much that it is considered the coherent expression of authorial meaning, but that it is deemed worthy of translation, that it is destined to live what Benjamin calls an ‘afterlife’ in a derivative form like translation: “Translations that are more than transmissions of subject matters,” writes Benjamin, “come into being when in the course of its survival a work has reached the age of its fame…The life of the originals attains in them to its ever-renewed latest and most abundant flowering”. A translation canonizes the foreign text, validating its fame by enabling its survival. Yet the afterlife made possible by translation simultaneously cancels the originality of the foreign text by revealing its dependence on a derivative form: translation does not so much validate literary fame as create it.

Deconstructionism further affirms the importance of translators theoretically and thus frees translators and translated texts. It questions traditional assumptions about certainty, identity and truth, asserts that words can only refer to other words, and attempts to demonstrate how statements about any text subvert their own meanings. “The critic claims there is no meaning to be found in the actual text, but only in the various, often mutually irreconcilable, virtual texts constructed by readers in their search for meaning”, Rebecca Goldstein says. A further radical attack on the authorship of the original comes from Derrida, who, in his essay “Des Tours de Babel” (1985), plays with ideas of original and translation. “The source text, according to Derrida, is not an original at all, it is the elaboration of an idea, of a meaning, and in short it is in itself a translation. The logical consequences of Derrida's thinking about translation would be the abolition of the dichotomy between original and translation, between source and copy, and hence an end to the view that relegates translation to a secondary position. ” (Bassnett, 1993:151)

Deconstructionism thus gives reasonable explanation to the creative translation and rethinking to the translator's faithfulness. Philip Lewis's notion of “abusive fidelity” is influential in Translation Studies, which entails risk-taking and experimentation with the expressive and rhetorical devices of language, supplementing and giving ST renewed energy. Creative translations also get as popular as those faithful ones. Take Linshu as an example. People find a lot of mistakes in his translation of foreign novels, and yet his translation enjoyed great popularity among readers. It is obvious that translators’ inspiration and creation play an important role in translation, which in this way revives the original literary work. Deconstruction is not the final goal but a necessary process, in which the old theories are shattered and new concepts are built. The death of the author moves the translator further away from the reader-text dichotomy and towards the translator’s visibility.


Chapter   The Subjectivity of the Translator

3.1 A Brief Review of Subject and Object in TS

3.1.1 Elaboration of the Relationship between Subject and Object in TS

Since Descartes proposed his famous maxim of Epistemology “I think, therefore I am”, subject and object have been divorced from each other; henceforth, studies on the relationship between subject and object became the main theme in philosophy; moreover, Epistemology with metaphysics as its backbone pushes the opposition between subject and object towards maximum intensity. Under such a guiding principle, subject conquering and manipulating object has become the melody of modern science and technology, which can be viewed as the great contribution to humanity and society, especially, to natural science; however, such a philosophical view is erroneous when applied to all humanity sciences.

As to TS, which is no doubt a branch of humanity science even though it is not an established discipline, the relationship between subject and object is rather complex. Obviously, translator, text and reader are three major factors involved in translation; yet, does translating refer to a process of conquering or manipulating of the sort? It is only too simply-minded to answer “Yes”. In translation, the translator in question is a subject, who understands, interprets and verbalizes the source text, which, therefore, seems to serve as his object; however, the source text acts as “the spokesman” of the “silent writer”. The source text depicts a world that is seen through the writer’s eyes or mind, not a realistic world as it presents to us directly. From this point, the source text is not an absolutely “pure object”; yet, it is an intentionalized object addressed by Hussel, or it is on behalf of an “implied subject”writer. As to readers, which can be represented by an individual or a group, meanwhile, they are the indirect targets the   translator works for because in the translation the translator presumes the                                                                                                               

Readers’ “horizon of expectation” and assumes the implied readers’ reception level, interest and artistic inclination, and takes the “present” situation into consideration; therefore, readers are objects, too. Consequently, in translation the tense opposition between subject and object is relieved; additionally, intersubjectivity is formed between the three factors, that is, the translator is to negotiate with the source text (spokesman of the writer) and the reader on an equal footing instead of recognizing and conquering the other two.


3.1.2 Subject Seen Through the Theory of Power and Discourse in TS

However, we have to accept such a reality in which all kinds of struggles and all forms of hegemony prevail in the present world due to disequilibrium of development in politics, economics and cultures in different nations; As a result, a complicated relationship between the translation elements exists, which could have been considered purified by some researchers. Habermas once said that, superficially, communicative understanding resides in harmony; but as a matter of fact, that communicative harmony is overshadowed by all kinds of powers so that the communicative process is fraught with oppression as well as inequality.

Translation is an interpersonal communication, in which the translator, who represents the powers he lives in, communicates with the writer, who represents the powers he lives in. The two powers stand on unequal footing, with one central and dominant and the other marginal and manipulated. Michel Foucault, a well-known French thinker, uncovers such inequality in interpersonal communication with insight and gives it a profound description, from which the New Historicist thought is stemmed, and which is the key to open the door of human society, and meanwhile, this is the “guiding principle” to realize translation in an all-round way.

 Therefore, many researchers propose that translation studies should be examined under a macro-context of socio-history, in which translator’s subjectivity may be influenced by all kinds of powers and discourses including culture, social system, ideology, ethics and religion. The translator, as the subject of translation, is at once manipulating and manipulated.


3.2 The Definition of the Subjectivity of the Translator

A new trend in contemporary Translation Studies concerns with the subjectivity of the translator. When it comes to the 1970s, the Cultural Turn appears in Translation Studies, especially influenced by the manipulation school, the subjectivity of the translator has become more prominent. André Lefevere pointed out that “Translation is, of course, a rewriting of an original text.” The translator, as the manipulator of the SL text, is undoubtedly the subject of translational activities. As a matter of fact, many Chinese TS scholars have written articles on the subject of translation and haven’t reached a consensus on this issue. Yang Wuneng (杨武能) thinks that the subjects of literary translation are writer, translator and reader; Xu Jun (许钧) classified the subject of translation in two categories: the broad sense and the narrow sense. The former refers to the author, translator and reader, while the latter is confined to translator. Zha Mingjian (查明建) and Chen Daliang (陈大亮) hold that translator is the subject of translation and Chen gives further explanations why the translator is the only subject of translation.(陈大亮, 2004:2) The author of this thesis holds that the subject of translation is the translator. Once we have settled this question, it will be more convenient to discuss other issues. Translating is an undoubtedly subjective activity and the translating subject cannot be elided or eliminated. First, translation begins with the translator's reading of ST, hence his or her interpretation of ST. Interpretation needs a viewpoint and hence a subject-position. Secondly, as a process of text-production, translation requires a choice such as of strategies, linguistic expression, and there is no such thing as a neutral utterance, and thus the translator's utterances are necessarily slanted, revealing a discursively positioned subject. In fact, subjective creativity constitutes the principal aspect and determines the nature of translating.

Translating, as a process, inevitably involves the two steps of understanding ST and expressing what is conveyed in the original with the target language. In such a process, the creative cognition of a translator plays a decisive part, and his or her subjectivity is not just restricted by the ST. This can be at least revealed in: 1.His attitudes towards the original text; 2. His personal experience, judgment standard, values and views; 3. His target culture and target readership consciousness. 4. His intention, self-determination, initiative and creativity and so on.

The translator’s subjectivity is mainly concerned with the subjective agency or consciousness of the translator and it actually includes two aspects: first, it refers to the translator’s subjective interpretation of the source text with regard to the source text; second, it refers to the translator’s personal translation activities with regard to the target text. The most obvious difference between the translator’s interpretation of the source text from that of an ordinary reader lies in that the former has a direct purpose of translating the ST into TT using the TL as the tool and bearing in mind the possible demands of those target readers. The translator’s translating activities are also different from any other subject’s creative activities: he must base his translation upon the correct and appropriate interpretation of the ST. That means he must subject his translation to the scrutiny of the ST and cannot adapt or delete some parts of the ST at his will. The dual nature of the translating activities determines the dual nature of the translator’s subjectivity: on the one hand, as a subject, the translator can choose whatever method, style he likes in translating the ST; on the other hand, he is subject to various constraint in producing his translation, such as ideology, poetics.

Based upon the above analysis, we can sum up a definition of the subjectivity of the translator: the translator’s subjectivity refers to the subjective agency of the translator reflected in the translating process in order to achieve his translating purpose. Its major characteristics include the translator’s cultural consciousness, aesthetic tendency, creativity and judgment standards, etc.


3.3 Hermeneutics as the Philosophical Basis for the Translator’s Subjectivity

3.3.1 A Brief Introduction of Hermeneutics

Hermeneutics, in a broad sense, is a theory or philosophy about understanding and interpretation of the meaning of texts. The traditional hermeneutics began with the interpretation of the Bible, and, after a long period of development, in which appeared the methodological hermeneutics represented by F. E. D. Shleiermacher (1768-1834) and Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), entered its modern period, the mark of which is the ontological hermeneutics practiced by Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). At the beginning of the 1960s a more systematic modem philosophical hermeneutics was brought into existence by Hans-Georg Gadamer, one of the most important contemporary representatives of hermeneutics, who published his magnum opus Truth and Method in 1960, which has generally been recognized as the index of the establishment of the modem philosophical hermeneutics. The basic proposition of Gadamer’s hermeneutics is that an individual with a comprehensive mind always starts his understanding with a certain prejudice; even a historian cannot comprehend the history by making himself an individual living in the past times; his present and historical factors would constantly join in the hermeneutic activity and influence the understanding itself. Gadamer sees art as a non-cognitive and historical activity of understanding, and regards the existence of a work as a historical process in which it unfolds itself boundlessly to the future. For him, understanding is the interaction between the subject and the object in the communication of the present and the past; interpretation is not the passive duplication of the text but a ‘productive’ effort, which gradually reveals the truths of the text in the interaction between the subject’s ‘legitimate prejudices’ and the object. He emphasizes the dynamic role of comprehenders and thinks that the meaning of the work of art is just the sum total of all interpretations undertaken by different comprehenders on different conditions at different times; as far as understanding is concerned, the meaning of a work is inexhaustible. In short, for Gadamer, ‘Not occasionally only, but always, the meaning of a text goes beyond its author’. (Gadamer, 1979:264)

  Gadamer with his emphasis on the link between the text and the reader as a major part of the chain of ‘author-text-reader’ has attached much importance to the openness of text and the active role of a reader in the reading process. Gadamer argues that the reader’s interpretation of the text can and should surpass the author’s intended meanings.


3.3.2 The Aesthetics of Reception and the Subjectivity of the Translator

  The aesthetics of reception, in a strict sense, can be thought of as a part of hermeneutics, or as the latest development of both hermeneutics and phenomenology, though the remarkable difference exists between the two: hermeneutics is mainly a philosophical theory while the aesthetics of reception, a more strict literary criticism.

  The aesthetics of reception was developed by some scholars at the University of Constance in Germany during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and soon swept across the whole European and American literature circle. Its main representatives are the five professors of the Constance School, among whom Hans Robert Jauss (1921- ) and Wolfgang Iser (1926- ) are the two most original theorists.

  The main viewpoints of the aesthetics of reception was all-round expounded for the first time in the lecture delivered by Jauss in 1967, with the well-known revised title as ‘Literary History as a Provocation to Literary Scholarship’. This lecture has generally been recognized as the theoretical program of this movement and marks the birth of the aesthetics of reception.

  Depending upon hermeneutics and particularly influenced by Gadamer, Jauss advocates a novel approach to literary history. This approach, in his opinion, requires satisfying the Marxist demand for historical mediations by situating literature in the larger continuum of events while retaining the Russian Formalist achievements in the realm of aesthetic perception. He says that such a new approach can only be successful in depicting a process when it takes into account the interaction between text and reader and thereby to exclude the reception of literary work. The name Jauss gave to this innovative approach was Rezeptionsasthetik (i.e. the aesthetics of reception), which can be understood as a part of the shift in the study of literature from a preoccupation with authors and texts to a concern for reception and reading.

  For him, the central task of the aesthetics of reception is to establish a new approach to literary studies, which, in his view, should unite the textual reception history with the reader's present aesthetic experiences. He maintains that the understanding of the previous readers is not lost or neglected by later readers, but rather sustained and enriched in a chain that stretches from initial reception to subsequent generations. Therefore, past meanings are an integral part of present practices, and the reception of the individual work across time is part of a larger process and coherence of literature.

 Iser, by contrast, adopts his basic model as well as a number of key concepts from phenomenology, especially from Roman Ingarden (1895-1970), the world-renowned Polish phenomenologist. He has been concemed primarily with the phenomenological analysis of the response mechanism for reading existing in the individual text and how readers relate to the text.

 The aesthetics of reception has the same feature as hermeneutics practiced by Gadamer and Riceour and as phenomenology of Ingarden in that it also speaks favorably for the stress on the text's openness and the importance of the role of the reader’s participation in reading, so much so that it regards the reader’s reception as an underlying factor of the text’s literary evolution in its meaning and as the text’s innate driving force. Jauss and Iser are both concerned with a reconstitution of literary theory by drawing attention away from the author and the text and focusing it on the relationship between text and reader. Yan Fu and Lin Shu’s Translation Activities

Two cases in point for the application of the basic theories of aesthetics of reception to TS are Yan Fu and Lin Shu, two most famous translators in contemporary Chinese history. One important reason for Yan Fu's success as a translator is that his choice of source texts and his style are based on the desires and expectations of their intended or implied readers. Yan Fu's choice of style in the target language won him many readers. He brought forward the principle of “elegance” and translated in classical Chinese which had become the language of the elite and which was still in use in all publications, official or otherwise. He also rearranged chapters and paragraphs so they would be consistent with the style of presentation and organization of ideas founded in the Chinese classics. This is because the implied readership for his work was mainly scholar-bureaucrat and even gerentocrat, who were learned and familiar with classical Chinese.

Yan Fu was thus able to appeal to government officials, who at the time played an important role in national politics, and won their support. As a translator with a definitive intention, he was very selective as to what to introduce immediately to the Chinese. He selected Evolution and Ethics for translation with the purpose of making the Chinese aware of the fact that the biological law of survival of the fittest was applicable to social development and historical evolution and warning them of the danger of possible elimination. His translation of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations also revealed his belief that capitalist economic and political thought then functioned as an irresistible law, as well as his intention to find in Smith’s theory a basis for developing capitalism in China. Similarly, his translation of J.S. Mill’s Logic aimed at introducing the methodology of modern natural science, so as to advocate the method of induction and to oppose apriorism. Yan Fu put in explicit terms the standard or principle of translation: faithfulness, expressiveness and elegance, yet from time to time his translations, especially the early ones, have been accused of being unfaithful, first as a result of his abridgements, changes and strong personal intrusion as indicted by comments and elaboration mixed with translation, then as a result of sacrificing accuracy to elegance indicted by his use of the classical Chinese language and classical Chinese syntax. When judged in its historical context, his way of translation was not altogether inexcusable. First, it was determined by its readership. Yan Fu’s intended readers were none other than those old literati who were well-read in Chinese classics. To make his translation respectable to those old literati, he had to resort to classical Chinese and the classical Chinese writing style. To make those readers understand and appreciate Western learning, he used traditional Chinese concepts from time to time for the translation of terms of Western learning also because he did not think it advisable to coin many new terms. Before the coming of New Culture Movement (新文化运动), Western learning could never have gained such popularity among Chinese literati in such a short time if it had not been for these translations, which more or less followed the geyi method as used in the translation of Buddhist scriptures many centuries before. This is also the case with Lin Shu. As a versatile translator, he produced translations of over 170 Western literary works in thirty years or so. The source materials for his translations include dramas, prose, and mostly novels. Exquisite as his language was, his translations were full of errors and notorious for additions and deletions. Like Yan Fu, he used classical Chinese for translation. Unlike Yan Fu, who had a good command of English, he was ignorant of any European languages, and the method he employed was quite similar to that used in the early stages of translating Buddhist scriptures when a given scripture was first interpreted into Chinese before being written down into Chinese character. However, Lin Shu knew quite well for whom he translated. His intended readers, like Yan Fu’s, were Chinese literati who, believing their own literature was supreme in the world, had not been exposed to Western literatures. If we approach Lin Shu from a perspective beyond the quality of his translations, we will see that his contribution to the development of Chinese literature was really epochal. It was with Lin Shu that translation became a phenomenon of literature and literary translation has been dominating translation activities ever since. Lin initiated the drive to translate Western literature and many Chinese who later became pioneers of the New Culture Movement and his opponents were influenced by his translation. Guo Moruo (郭沫若) once said that Lin’s translation of novels had a decisive influence on his own way of writing.


3.3.3 Hermeneutics and the Subjectivity of the Translator

Hermeneutics has long been combined with Translation Studies. It concentrates on the issue of understanding what is being said in a literary text, and it sheds new light on considering the process of interaction between literary texts and receptors.

Etymologically, the term hermeneutics originates from Greek, which means interpretation, clarification and translation. In Greek myth, Hermes, the messenger of God, is in charge of transforming what is intelligible into a form that human intelligence can grasp.

Hermeneutics as a discipline began in the 16th century, with the principles of biblical interpretation as its theoretical basis. Later it came to be regarded as a general theory of interpretation that could be applied to all types of texts. In terms of this theory, understanding is ubiquitous, for it is a prerequisite process inherent in all human activities, and above all, in literary theory and translation practice.

In the 20th century, Hermeneutic took on a new feature of philosophical ontology because of Heidegger's efforts. And it is Gadamer, the founder of philosophical Hermeneutics, who ushers literary criticism into a new phase of emphasizing the significance of readers and brings about the boom of reader-oriented theories. Gadamer argues that the historical and temporal situation of an interpreter can never be excluded from Hermeneutics. He also insists that the perceiver is not passive but active in the process of understanding. Seen in this light, the role of translator as reader is not a passive recipient of meaning but an active and creative agent in the making of meaning.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

 Hermeneutics attaches due importance to the historical background of the interpreter, which opens a new way to examine translation. Gadamer argues that a literary text is not a finished self-sustained unit of meaning. Readers’ participation is indispensable if the ultimate significance of a text is to be realized. “No interpretation can be final. Understanding is a constant play between the interpreters and the text.” (Bunnin, 2001:436) Hence an inescapable relativity and indeterminacy are introduced into the process of interpretation. Seen in this light, there is no absolute authoritative original meaning.

 The process of translation can be explained by the Hermeneutic notion. Translators first act as receptors and naturally savor the source text from their own perceptions. Then they render a literary text into the target language according to their own comprehension of the text. Last their end products will be interpreted by readers in the target culture. In this sense, to read a translated text is to interpret what has been interpreted by translators. In the process of interpretation the translation inevitably carries the translator's subjective color; accordingly it gives rise to various stylized versions of a single source text.

  It is George Steiner who combines philosophical Hermeneutics with Translation Studies and forms a systematic hermeneutic translation theory. He puts in the preface to After Babel“To understand is to decipher. To hear significance is to translate.” Steiner maintains that it is utterly impossible to duplicate the original meaning in the target text, because translation involves the translator’s as well as the reader’s interpretation of the target text. Steiner’s well-known hermeneutic model of translation includes four “hermeneutic movement” of trust, aggression, incorporation and restitution”. As Steiner points out, each act of reading a text is in itself an act of translation, i.e. an interpretation. Unavoidably, translators feed their own beliefs, knowledge, attitudes and so on into their processing of text, so that any translation will, to some extent, reflect translators’ own mental and cultural outlook, despite the impartial intentions”. (Hatim, 2001:11) That is to say, the translator’s historical background and subjectivity will become traceable in the target text. All these factors may help shape a translator’s style. Fore-understanding and Prejudice

  Fore-understanding, put forward by Heidegger, is a basic concept in Hermeneutics. According to him, it is precisely our being-in-the-world with its presuppositions and prejudices that makes understanding possible and feasible. The structure of fore-understanding consists of fore-having (vorhabe), fore-sight (vorsicht), and fore-conception (vorgriff). Fore-having refers to something that an interpreter possess before he reads a text, in other words, it stands for the cultural and historical background of an interpreter. Fore-sight means the established opinions before one approaches a text. Fore-conception is more concrete and specific linked with the above two elements. It means some pre-occupied postulations.

 Actually fore-understanding is a kind of cognitive structure of an interpreter, which submerges in the process of comprehension. It pervades the activity of understanding just like consciousness and sub-consciousness advanced by modern psychoanalysis. Although it is hard to identify, its influences are destined to penetrate into the process of understanding. No one can enter a text without any previous cognitive structure.

In accordance with “fore-understanding”, Gadamer invented the concept of “prejudice” (vorurtiel). It refers to the judgment and orientation of an interpreter formed under a certain historical condition. Gadamer believes that prejudice belongs to historical reality and it is produced by tradition. It not only demonstrates the conservation of history but also embodies man's openness to history. Everyone is embedded in a certain historical situation and possesses prejudice. The historicity of an interpreter is not a hindrance to understanding but a condition of hermeneutic motion. Gadamer declares in his book, Philosophical Hermeneutics, that it is our prejudice that manifests our existence. He also holds that prejudice is man's openness to the world. He maintains:

 “Understanding is not a process of duplication but of creation. It is safe to say that as long as man is the doer of understanding there exist different interpretations.” (夏镇平,1994:280) Furthermore he claims that prejudice is not an obstacle or limit to understanding, but by serving as our orientation to meaning, it is the basis for the possibility of understanding.

  The author of the thesis believes that the concepts of fore-understanding and prejudice can be borrowed to better examine the process of translation, for they offer insight into the role played by translators and emphasize translators’ creative labor, subjective color and unique charm. Translators serve not only as intent readers but also as meaning-providers in a new chain of reception in a new cultural environment. Different translators possessing different fore-understanding structures start communicating with the source text from their own perceptions and end up in a diversity of versions. Being immersed in a particular culture and society, translators can never be divorced from their historical background, not only certain general settings as class, nationality, social system and value system, but also more specific ones as sex, age, literary competence, life experience, aesthetic taste or even sexual preference. All these factors are associated with fore-understanding and result in a translator's uniqueness.

  With individual specificity, different translators may adhere to different translation standards and utilize different translation strategies and approaches. They enjoy a high degree of freedom while reproducing the predetermined original message in the target language, for they can operate a new linguistic system. They can resort to their idiolect, the language of their habitual use, with its personal peculiarities of grammar, lexes, syntactic structures and rhetorical devices. “Their idiolect at once incidentally express their own style.” (Newmark, 2001:138) Furthermore, when they handle culture-loaded words and cultural phenomena, they can also employ their own unique methods according to their specific purposes. The fact that translation is an inter-lingual and inter-cultural communication activity provides much space for translators to make their style visible. Fusion of Horizons

  “Fusion of horizons” is another central concept advanced by Gadamer. It is a key to the activity of understanding. Horizon refers to every person’s and every text’s pre-determinacy and openness brought about by “fore-understanding” and “prejudice”. Gadamer argues that different historical situations lead to different horizons, and different individuals own different horizons, which are not closed but open. An interpreter keeps interacting with a text in order to broaden his/her horizons and form new horizons. The fusion of horizons occurs between the past experience that is embodied in the text and the interest of its present readers.

Gadamer argues that all interpretation of past literature arises from a dialogue between past and present. Our attempts to understand a work will depend on the questions which our own cultural environment allows us to raise. Our present perspective always involves a relationship to the past. Understanding is a process of fusing one's present horizons with a text's past horizons, subsequently new horizons are produced and they surpass the previous two horizons. That is to say, the authentic understanding involves receptors' creativity of a text.

 This is just the case with literary translation, which is an art of recreation. Obviously it involves the translator's creative interpretation and representation of the source text. The historical and social situation determines translators’ present horizons. Translators then communicate with the source text and fuse their present horizons with its past horizons, only to form diverse new horizons or different interpreted meanings.

 This thesis points out that the literary translation, in its nature, is a process of aesthetical recreation which is basically completed through the translator's interpretation. The interpretation is the soul of the literary translation. The whole process of translation (in its narrow sense) consists of the two procedures of information reception and information release. By saying that the translation is the interpretation, we mean that the translation as a whole is the interpretation. This is embodied in the following two facts: (A) the interpretation pervades the whole translation process, for both procedures of information reception and information release are completed through the translator's interpretation. The main differences between the interpretation in the first procedure and that in the second one lie in that the former is the basis of the latter while the latter is the concretization and fixation of the former, the former is multidimensional and multidirectional while the latter, for a specific translator, is merely one of the many possible interpretations made in the first procedure, i.e. the interpretation that the translator regards as the most appropriate or the most valid of all; and B) the interpretation is embodied in each scale of translation. The interpretation pervades all the three scales of translation, i.e. the scales of linguistic translation, thinking translation and cultural translation. Recreation

Literary translation is an art of recreation and reproduction. Actually almost “all the first-class translations amount to creations.” (刘重德, 1991:12) However what on earth does recreation mean? When and where does it happen?                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Philosophical Hermeneutics believes that recreation happens in the dialogue between receptors and texts. It holds that “prejudice” is the basis of recreation. (吕俊,1999a) Recreation occurs in the process of constant interpretation or interaction between translators and texts. Different translators may derive various interpreted meanings from the dialogue owing to individual prejudice. The derived meaning is not identical with the intended meaning of the author but something new brought about by the mutual communication. Consequently translation is a complex process illuminated by translators' subjectivity and initiative.

 According to Hermeneutics there is no definite prescribed interpretation about a text for the following two reasons. Firstly, as what has been shown before, different interpreters are innate with different fore-understanding and are bound to produce diverse "fusion of horizons." Secondly, literary texts frequently contain blanks and indeterminate parts that only the reader can fill. That is to say, any text is not a stable, closed construction but an open unit which calls on the readers' active participation. Wolfgang Iser, one of the founders of reception aesthetics, regards the text as “a network of response-inviting structures", which predisposes readers to read in different ways. It is these blanks and indeterminate parts that provide translators with a huge space to exert creation.

 Since there is no self-sustained meaning of a literary text owing to the relative, dynamic and endless process of interaction, it is not bold to say there is no authoritative original meaning, accordingly being a part of the original meaning, the original style is not absolutely authoritative and definite. Translators give birth to "after-life" of the source text according to their own interpretation in the target language, and naturally their style co-exists with their interpreted meaning.

  Every reading of a text is a unique, unrepeatable act and a text is bound to evoke differing responses in different receivers. In literary translation the process of interpretation is most evident. The translator's interpretation of the source text is but one among infinitely many possible readings. In addition the openness of literary texts permits various interpretations at once. The openness of texts makes the criteria of faithfulness impossible to put into practice. It is interesting to observe that in history translations based on the most personal interpretation are often the,ones that become most famous.

  “Translation means creative treason.”(谢天振,2000:137) This saying sings high praise of translators' creative efforts. Literary translation is a tough project since the translator aims to convey the original artistic charm and aesthetic value, in the words of Mao Dun (茅盾), “Literary translation is to reproduce the original artistic images in another language so that target readers can be inspired, touched and aesthetically entertained in the same way as one reads the source text.” (文学翻译是用另一种语言,把原作的艺术意境传达出来,使读者在读译文的时候能够象读原作时一样得到启发、感动和美的感受。) In order to realize this demanding goal, translators must grasp the original aesthetic value through thorough reading and researching. Apart from bi-lingual proficiency and bi-cultural competence, they should resort to literary insight and aesthetic sensitivity. They should also take the target reader's expectation of horizons into account. In this sense, their recreation is by no means a simple copy of the source text but a different kind of writing task.

Operating the target language, translators can make full use of every level of language, namely semantic, lexical, syntactic properties, or rhetorical devices. Paragraphs, sentences and words form the basis which underlies style. Translators enjoy a high degree of freedom in recreation so long as they fulfill the task of transferring the original message. Hence translators' style can be seen as a special form of authorial style. Their style can been infiltrated into the fabric of the target text, such as in the formal-markers (linguistic preference such as diction, sentence patterns, etc) and non-formal markers. (aesthetic preference, literary competence and personal cultivation )That is to say, translators have much room for the development of their style based on the reproduction of the original style.                                                                                                                                

Chapter A Case Study: A Tang Poem

The translator has to conduct a careful study of the original as a reader before translating in written form, but he or she, as a reader with the special mission or an elucidator, is different from general readers. The translator's understanding of ST is inescapably universal, historical and creative as Gadamer points out. In the reading process, the translator needs to maneuver his literary abilities such as emotions, volition, aesthetics, and imagination, thus concretize the unsettled point or blank point in the evocative structure of ST. During the dialogue between ST and him or her, the translator adjusts his or her own pre-structure to the structure of ST and hence achieves the fusion between the two fields of vision. Till now, the text meaning has been completely constructed. In the elucidation process, in ST the translator unearths the connotation and aesthetic values, analyzes the literary values and social significance. With that, the translator is involved in the course of language transformation, which is more creative than mechanical, for he or she endeavors to convey from ST to TT not only the basic information but also the poetics and culture.

 Translation is not a process of precise reproduction of meaning from one language to another but a process of the translator's interpretation, presenting one's own understanding of the meaning by such means as active reading, construing, paraphrasing and explaining.

 The following is six translated versions of a Tang poem popular with the Chinese people.






The Song of the Wandering Son

      In tender mother's hands the thread

      Made clothes to garb her parting son.

Before he left, how hard she spun,

How diligently wove; in dread

Ere he return long years might run!

Such life-long mother's love how may

One simple little heart repay?

                                   —— W. J. B. Fletcher


Sung to the Air: “the Wanderer”

Thread from the hands of a doting mother

Worked into the clothes of a far-off journeying son.

Before his departure, were the close, fine stitches set,

Lest haply his return be long delayed.

The heart——the inch-long grass——

Who will contend that either can repay

The gentle brightness of the Third Month of Spring.

                                    ——Amy Loweller

A Traveler’s Song

The thread in the hands of a fond-hearted mother

Makes clothes for the body of her wayward boy;

Carefully she sews and thoroughly she mends,

Dreading the delays that will keep him late from home.

But how much love has the inch-long grass

For three spring months of the light of the sun?

                                ——Witter Bynner

Wanderer's Song

The thread from a fond mother's hand

Is now in the jacket of her absent son.

As his departure came near, closer and closer was the stitching,

Her mind fearing that his return would be delayed and delayed.

    Who says that the heart of an inch-long plant

    Can requite the radiance of full Spring?

                               ——R. Kotewell & N. Smith

Song of a Roamer

        The thread in a kind mother's hand

        A gown for her son bound for far-off land,

        Sewn stitch by stitch before he leaves

        For fear his return be delayed.

        Such kindness as young grass receives

        From the warm sun can't be repaid.

                               ——Xu Yuanchong

              The Wandering Son’s Song

        The thread from my dear mother's hand

        Was sewn in the clothes of her wandering son.

        For fear of my belated return,

        Before my leaves they were closely woven.

        Who says mine heart like a blade of grass

        Could repay her love's gentle beams of spring sun?

                                ——Sun Dayu

                                      (王文斌, 2001:56)

This is a famous Chinese poem written by Meng Jiao in Tang dynasty. In this Chinese poem, the poet vividly expresses a mother’s love towards her son through several concrete images familiar to every Chinese. The words used are very simple and the feeling contained is rather intense and can arouse strong resonance in the heart of every Chinese reader who reads it. However, once rendered into English, these six versions take various forms due to their translators’ different interpretations and reproductions of the poem.  


4.1 Image Projections

Images are of special importance to poetry. Image projection means, when reading a text, readers will form an image in their mind of what is described in the text. So initially a literary text presents images to readers. These images will be projected on the mind of readers of different horizon/fore-understanding, and because they are of different horizons and fore-understanding, these projected images would not be perceived as the same. Then, when the translator starts to present images in the translated text, he can only present images perceived by his own mind, thus the images in the translated text will inevitably bear the mark of the translator. On account of different aesthetical and cultural backgrounds, different translators may form different images in their minds when they first encounter the literary work written in SL.                                                                                                                                                                                              This will certainly affect their renditions of it into TL and some of them can be mistranslations due to the translators’ ignorance or misunderstanding of the images that are heavily loaded with cultural connotations. In Chinese, “游子”refers to a man who travels in a place far away from his home and yearns to be back. Fletcher renders it as “her parting son”, Lowell as “a far-journeying son”, Xu as “her son bound for far-off land” and Sun as “her wandering son” while Bynner and Kotewell & N. Smith mistranslate it as “wayward boy” and “absent son”. “吟” is a type of poem, and is interpreted as “sung to the air” in Lowell’s version and “song” in other five versions. As to the style of the poem, only Fletcher and Xu take rhymes and rhythms into account, the other four translators all choose the free style. And there are several misinterpretations that are perhaps caused by translators' unfamiliarity with Chinese culture. In Chinese, “三春”refers to three periods of Spring, namely the whole season; Lowell misinterpreted it as “the Third Month of Spring”. “寸草” is only a vague description of short grass, whereas Lowell and Bynner make it very concrete as “inch-long grass” and Kotewell & N. Smith by “inch-long plant” and actually “” doesn’t equals “inch” in measurement. The image “寸草心”was also rendered differently in three texts as follows: the heart of an inch-long plant, young grass, and heart like a blade of grass. With these different images in the translated texts, more facets of the image“游子”are revealed to target readers, and this is done through translator's active interpretation.

Different image projections in translation are countless; here the author just wants to give a glimpse of translator’s subjectivity in this respect. The translations of “密密缝”in the poem are also varied. Fletcher translates it as “How hard she spun, how diligently wove”; Loweller translates it as “The close, fine stitches were set”; Bynner translates it as “Carefully she sews and thoroughly she mends”; Kotewell & Smith translates it as “The stitching was closer and closer”; Xu translates it as “Sewn stitch by stitch”; Sun translates it as “They (clothes) were closely woven”.


4.2 The Infusion of Emotions

David Bleich argues for the recognition of the subjective character of critical interpretation and points out: “Interpretive knowledge is neither deduced nor inferred from a controlled experience. Rather, it is constructed from the uncontrolled experience of the interpreter.” (Zhu Gang, 2001:196) Nominally, critics and its audiences assume interpretive knowledge to be as objective as formulaic knowledge. The assumption of objectivity is almost a game played by critics, a necessary ritual to help maintain the faith that if criticism presents its knowledge in the same form as the exact sciences, it will have the same authority. The way we actually treat interpretive knowledge, therefore shows that it is subjective, that it is not a formulation of some unchanging “objective” truth, but the motivated construction of one’s mind. The major activities in the history of literary study are acts of naming, that is, of identifying values and making judgments of values. These values are subjective. If a literary text is to be anything beyond a piece of “sense data” it must come under the control of a subjectivity; either an individual’s subjectivity or the collective subjectivity of a group.

Naturally, the work of literature is also an object. But it is different from most objects because it is a symbolic object. A symbolic object is wholly dependent on a perceiver for its existence. An object becomes a symbol only by being rendered so by a perceiver.

The lines in a Chinese poem embody both overt and covert meanings. The former are fixed and easy to recognize while the latter are full of indeterminacies and leave much room for interpretation.       In rendering these meanings, different translators also employ various strategies. Take the last two lines of this poem as an example. “谁言寸草心,报得三春晖。”  Literarily, it means how can the little piece of grass repay the generosity of the sunlight in Spring. Its implied meaning is: one can never repay his mother’s tender and selfless love.  However, in translating “三春晖”, different translator infuse their respective emotions: Fletcher translates it as “lifelong mother’s love”; Xu translates it as “Kindness…from the warm sun”; Sun translates it as “her love’s gentle beams of spring sun”. In translating “慈母”, Loweller uses “a doting mother” instead of “a tender mother” or “fond-hearted mother”. According to Collins CoBuild Dictionary, “doting” means “loving someone and unable to see his faults”. Obviously, this runs counter to what the poet intends to express in his poem. In this way, the translator concretizes the image of kind, fond-hearted Chinese mother into a mother who spoils and indulges her own child, thus losing all the tenderness and selflessness of the love that a mother cherishes towards her child. Therefore, it shows that as to the same Chinese poem, six translators, with their respective aesthetic background, can produce six different versions. This is a common phenomenon in literary translation. Translator’s subjectivity is revealed in the final product because they put their own understanding into the indeterminacy and concretization in ST.


4.3 Observing Perspectives

As stated above, Gadamer uses “horizon” to refer to “the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point” (Holub, 59). Since a text has a horizon, it can be safely concluded from Gadamer’s definition that a text is of a particular vantage point. But when readers of different horizons/fore-understanding come to read the text, they have their own vantage points. The vantage point they adopt may not be the same for all, like in the translation of 《游子吟》. Xu and R. Kotewell & N. Smith adopt the vantage point of the third person, that is, an observer’s perspective, which shows a kind of neutrality and objectivity, while the third translator Sun uses the first person pronoun, which shows a kind of involvement and attachment. The result is vastly different. By adopting the first person pronoun, Sun draws the target readers much closer to the text, and this effect is achieved by translator’s active interpretation. However, in the first two translations, readers do not feel as close to the poem as in the third one. This kind of interpretation occurs very often, especially in the translation of poetry, because poetry is known for its vagueness, in other words, poetry leaves much space for the translator’s interpretation of this kind.


Chapter    Conclusion                                                                                           

So far detailed analyses have been made on the subjectivity of the translator. According to traditional translation theories, translators have seldom enjoyed the kind of recognition and respects that literary writing enjoys. They are regarded as craftsmen whose job is to seek linguistic “equivalence”. No wonder they are devalued as slaves toiling in the field whose painstaking gains belong to their master, the writer of the original, whose authority has been extremely admired.

They are expected to produce transparent texts in which they are invisible. Therefore translators’ subjectivity and creativity, existing in the shadow of the authority of the source text, have been repressed and overlooked. So is the visibility of translators’ style.

 Translators’ status has been greatly enhanced in contemporary translation theories. They are viewed as subjective agents of rewriting and creation, who provide the after-life of the source text whose survival depends on the target text. In this sense translation products become new texts in its own right. Within this framework, we can better examine translators' subjectivity, which can be viewed a special kind of authorial creativity.

 According to Hermeneutics, translators are active providers and participants of meaning-generalization. They cannot be excluded from their fore-understanding structure in the dynamic process of interaction with the source text. Inevitably translators feed their own beliefs, knowledge, attitudes and so on into their processing of texts, so that any translation will, to some extent, reflect translators' own individual background and personality. In addition, a translator, being the doer who practically operates two languages, can make himself visible by infiltrating his personal linguistic preference between the lines if he bears persistent guidance of certain translation criterion and employs proper techniques, making full use of the target language. Therefore the translator's subjectivity comes into being.

 With the growing number of studies on aspects of translation by philosophers, literary and cultural historians, sociolinguists and literary theorists, the interest shown by contemporary scholars in a variety of disciplines is a further sign of the growing significance of translation, and of the increasing interdisciplinarity of work in Translation Studies. The stereotyped way of thinking in traditional studies is changing in modern perspectives. Yang Xiaorong concludes as follows:

  Contemporary translation theories have been able to present a dynamic and multi-dimensional perspective on translation criticism, thus making it easier to explain different criteria of evaluation. Such a perspective also backs up the philosophical approach to the problem of translation criteria in that it calls for due attention to be paid to the interaction between different factors functioning in the shaping of a translation and to the balance and harmony between these factors that a translator has to achieve in his work.(杨晓荣,2001:11)

The process of translation is a creative one, which acknowledges influence, contradictory currents, and choice in its heart. The complexity of the choices a translator makes and the multiplicity of positions from which he or she may write suggest a process of translation that is neither transparent nor complete. Rather than the old notion of the translator as "a servant or an invisible hand mechanically turning the word of one language into another", the new image for the translator is subjective, creative and visible, who "forges in the smithy of the soul".

It is hoped that this thesis may shed some light on the recognition of translators' subjective creativity so as to raise translators' status. It is inevitable that translators are bound to make their subjectivity visible in their translations. So long as the reproduction of the source text is guaranteed, recognition and esteem should be presented to translators' subjectivity. The subjectivity of the translator has become a prominent issue in contemporary Translation Studies and the study of it can help improve our understanding of “the subjectivity of the translator”, and help further the understanding of the nature of translation and the role played by translator in translation.










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Li Youzi is currently a postgraduate student majoring in Translation Studies in Nanjing International Studies University in China.

E-mail: liyouzi2001@sohu.com  Mobile Phone13913362717  Postal Code : 210039