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the Complete Review
the complete review - translation


The Scandals of Translation

Lawrence Venuti

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To purchase The Scandals of Translation

Title: The Scandals of Translation
Author: Lawrence Venuti
Genre: Essay
Written: 1998
Length: 189 pages
Availability: The Scandals of Translation - US
The Scandals of Translation - UK
The Scandals of Translation - Canada
  • Towards an ethics of difference

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Our Assessment:

B+ : polemical tract, but addresses many important issues

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. B 14/3/1999 Graham Robb

  From the Reviews:
  • "The shortcomings of this book are not Venuti's alone. His range of reference is impressively wide. He conveys large amounts of detail with a pleasant urgency. The problems are those of any institutionalized philosophy that claims to promote global change." - Graham Robb, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Lawrence Venuti's book promises and delivers the scandals of translation. This is a relatively compact book; much more could be written about the subject. But Venuti does an excellent job of covering many of the significant issues regarding translation. It is an important book because, as Venuti points out, translation is, in so many ways, marginalized, and people pay little attention to it and are not well-informed about it. Translation is so prevalent that it must be addressed, and it should be considered every time one takes a book that has been translated in hand.
       Venuti's subtitle -- "towards and ethics of difference" -- and his jargon-laden writing can be off-putting, as can some of his political argument. Nevertheless, there is a great deal here that is of value, and it is relatively easy to cut through the tendentiousness.
       Venuti offers a useful survey of the many problems (and scandals) of translation. Among the issues he addresses are those of authorship (the translator rarely considered as making an authorial contribution to the text), copyright law, "the pedagogy of literature", philosophy, and the global cultural implications of translation and how it is viewed.
       A translator himself (mainly from the Italian), Venuti offers a wealth of information that should fascinate those that have never concerned themselves with issues of translation. Among the titbits offered is the information that the English translation of Umberto Eco's bestselling The Name of the Rose in fact omits twelve pages of the original, cuts that influence our reading of the book. Similarly, Venuti examines Japanese literature translated into English, finding that publishers and translators in effect conspired to show only one aspect of Japanese literary culture by translating only a few authors who are not necessarily representative of Japanese literature. Kawabata, Mishima, Tanizaki, and later Abe and Oe were, for a long time, the only representatives of Japanese literature made accessible to English-speaking audiences. Extensively translated, it was made to seem that that was all there was -- a situation that has only recently changed.
       Other translation examples include Kundera's famous meddling with his texts, very well explained (since Kundera himself puts his own not quite objective spin on his doings). One of the few interesting cases Venuti misses is Peter Høeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow: Venuti mentions the book, but only its British title, Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow. The book was, famously, translated twice, as American publisher's Farrar, Straus Giroux commissioned a second translation, not being satisfied with the British one (published by Harvill).
       Venuti uses one of his own translations -- of the work of I.U.Tarchetti -- as a useful case-study, explaining his approach to translating these essentially gothic stories. Venuti's language should not put off the reader -- "to indicate the element of near-parody in Tarchetti's romanticism, I increased the heterogeneity of the translation discourse by mixing more recent usages" -- as it becomes fairly clear what he means and, more importantly, most of the examples speak for themselves. (Regarding Tarchetti he regrettably fails to mention that one of Tarchetti's pieces is, in fact, a copy (an unattributed translation) of a piece by Mary Shelley, leading to a curious conundrum of authorship and re-translation. Venuti has written about this elsewhere.)
       One of the shocking facts revealed here is how little foreign literature is translated into English. The statistics are astonishing, especially in light of the fact that in most languages English is the most-translated language (i.e. English language works are translated into the native tongue more than those from any other language). Venuti also correctly points out the many implications of not translating works, often using his favourite word, "marginalization".
       How the rare foreign bestseller achieves success in America is also discussed in an interesting section analyzing Italian author Giovanni Guareschi (of Don Camillo fame). Venuti examines translation and reception in other countries, with his examples from China being especially illuminating (as foreign texts are refashioned within a Chinese framework).
       Venuti is particularly critical of copyright law, marginalizing the translator and limiting the incentive for translation generally. Many of his points are correct. Certainly, it would be advantageous to increase the incentive for translators to bring new works into a language (and be properly rewarded for any resulting success). However, his proposed remedy seems unworkable. Venuti suggests that an author's copyright for a foreign text should be limited (to five years, he suggests), and that if no translation has been issued in that time the first translator to take a shot at it should get the exclusive translation copyright for the work -- but only for as long as the translation remains in print. Among the difficulties is that in this age it is easy to keep a book "in print", and, more significantly, there is little protection for the author from bad translations. (Admittedly there is little such protection under the current system either.)
       Perhaps the most important suggestion is Venuti's call to raise awareness of translation. Students (and others) reading books in translation should understand what it means to read a book rendered anew in a different language: how translation reflects and contrasts with the original, what choices are involved in making a translation and why specific ones were made, etc. It is something we firmly believe in: where possible, the complete review addresses questions of translation in its reviews; one must, indeed, always be aware of them.
       There is no question that translation, in all its aspects, must be better understood. Venuti's book is an important contribution to that end. Certainly recommended.

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The Scandals of Translation: Reviews: Lawrence Venuti: Books translated by Lawrence Venuti under review: Other books under review about Translation:

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About the Author:

       Lawrence Venuti received his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He has translated a number of works, and teaches at Temple University.

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© 1999-2014 the complete review

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