Do translators have the same impact as an author purely through manipulating language? Is the author a divine Maker or is he a mere transporter of a story, which exists beyond themselves? If so, do translators have the same function through providing an understandable reading of the same recollection of events? Is the reader then the ultimate prism of reality for a literary work?
The function of the Author does not perform further than the realm of their text. Not only is the “I” created with the text, but it is also an arbitrary character to the reader’s experience. Words are the only building blocks of a text, creating “a fabric of quotations, resulting from a thousand sources of culture.” The character of the author as presented within the walls of a literary work is unnecessary in rhetoric and does not truly impact its structural integrity. Following this thought, the translator serves the same purpose but has an understanding of multiple discourses, a wider comprehension of the matter. Before translation though, the work of a translator is that of being a reader – allowing themselves to experience the text as per its initial intention, all while weighing out the impact of the chosen language and assessing the importance of further semantic choice. Even more for translators, the information is considered through a linguistic and grammatical standpoint.
f we follow this idea in Barthes’s text “The Death of the Author” of the rejection of authorial intent and presence within a text, then the reader is the ultimate destination and “maker” of a text’s meaning. The reader interacts with the author in a similar way to a tenant’s interaction with the architect of their residence – while utilizing what the architect created, the tenant will make their own home from it. The architect makes something without the knowledge of how the final lodging with its knick-knacks will look like, and the tenant adapts and uses it without the awareness of the architect’s idea.
A translator, however, is arguably even more than that. A translator is a past tenant of the home, one who inspects the building’s structure and all its bricks, and transfers it for other tenants to use, ones that could not before. By rebuilding the home for other tenants, adapting source to target, a translator perceives “the potential dispositions to language encompassed in the envisioned audience for the translation.” So not only do translators have to go through the role of a reader of a source text, an author of the translation, but also have an extended understanding of the target reader as well. Like a game of telephone, as the translation reaches the target reader, the translator takes on the role of an author and would, through theories of literary criticism, ultimately vanish. The new tenant does not think about the past ones, neither about the new home those have built for the newcomer to enjoy and experience.
In modern day, the author is generally considered when assessing their given piece of writing. But why, if the translator takes on both the role of an author and a reader, are they hardly taken into account when discussing literature, and any text for that matter? Why do translators not leave a mark, but are rather only a bridge between the original and the translation built for the spread of the author’s word? The expectation of translators to be “self-effacing, invisible even” is damaging to the craft, but more so to those reading the target text, since the final readers devote “little time to the experience of those who did the translations.” Turned into a commodity, the translator resides in the shadow of the author, maintaining an all-knowing connection with an unknowing reader. The tenant then continues living in the remodeled building, the one the architect constructed, unaware of who built it.
Barthes, R. (1986) “The Death of the Author,” in R. Howard (tran.) The Rustle of Language. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc., pp. 49–55.
France, P. (2012) “Translators and their worlds,” Translation and Literature, 21(3), pp. 295–298. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3366/tal.2012.0084.
Gonzales, L. (2018) “Translation Moments as a Framework for Studying Language Fluidity,” in Sites of translation: What multilinguals can teach us about digital writing and Rhetoric. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, pp. 10–25.
AUTHOR: Tsveta Georgieva, translator and transcreator at SLSP Ltd.