East in Translation

Tradurre arabo, cinese e giapponese oggi

Bergamo, November 7-8-9, 2019

Translation was born exactly when writing systems were invented, in the remotest ages of human history. Being language a privileged means by which men give form simultaneously to themselves and to their world, translation has always epitomised the power of conveying this cognition and imagination through words. Thus, it required a name to be referred to and this led to the coinage of denominations by means of several metaphors. The debate about the nature of translation for centuries was thus concentrated on the notions of “carrying something over a boundary” or “to change something of ours with something of someone else’s”, which are some of the commonest (but not the only) meanings in many cultures (transferre, metapherein, übersetzen, yi 譯, an-naql النقل).

Among the features of a proper translation, it emerges that several cultures reckoned that a key requirement was “faith” or “fidelity”. Twenty years ago, Lori Chamberlain maintained that this concept belongs to the semantic realm of marriage and the relationship between husband and wife. Regrettably, in this metaphorical marriage, the marked term usually was gendered female. Faithfulness was required in translation in order not to cause the original text to bear an illegitimate child. The relationship between the original, source text and the translated, target text in the past was also sometimes conceived in terms of dominant ruling vs subject challenging (as Lawrence Venuti did). Then translation appears to be mapped onto the relation between hostile parties, such as warring states or fighting factions. In this case, “faithfulness” must be owed to one’s own party (the mother text, the mother tongue, the mother culture), the translator is considered with suspicion and translation is merely tolerated, provided that it is faithful; otherwise it might be censured as connivance with the enemy.

Many years have gone by and even the metaphors for translation have changed. From a conflict between battling sides or warring sexes, now translation is an open field of meeting and exchange, a third space for the involved languages and cultures to create a hybrid. Original text and translated text do possess a mutual independent status and equal position in the translational process. Scholars involved in Translation Studies limited the importance of faithfulness and reinvented and even overturned negative metaphors of the past (the Babel tower, Pandora’s vase, the feminine nature of translation) into positive and energetic symbols: translation is the way to (re)produce new meanings for the original text and to disseminate them. If metaphors are the conceptual tools by which we perceive, we get around in the world, we relate to other people, then proposing new metaphors or reaffirming different ones may in the long run influence and eventually change, for the good or for the bad, our relation with the others.

The relationship between the actors of the process of translation (the translator, the publisher/customer, the original text, the translated text) is a very intricated one, and probably not only the typological affinity but even the unceasing mutual influence and the growing integration that Western literatures, Western languages and Western cultures have undergone in the last decades may spare them misunderstandings, aporias and conflicts. Do the suspicion, which features the relations between hostile parties, and the imbalance, which infests a gender-biased marriage, creep back even stronger in the minds of the translators, of the readers and of the publishers, when it comes to non-Western literatures, languages and cultures, all the more in times, when walls are built, barbed wires are strung and cultural symbols are brandished as weapons? Is the relation between a non-Western text and its Western translation on an equal position? Or is there any further bias towards the non-Western text? Western translation studies at least ten years ago started showing interest towards non-Western theoretical traditions about translation (see the collection Oltre l’Occidente by Di Giovanni and Bollettieri Bosinelli, 2009). Translation studies, which rapidly flourished and became mature in a Western-centred academic world, recently encountered its own boundary with non-Western tradition and realised that to step over it was the only way to grow even more mature.

It is along this track of research that the Arabic, Chinese and Japanese linguistic sections of the Department of Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures of the University of Bergamo have organised the International Conference “East in Translation. Translating Arabic, Chinese, Japanese today”. Several translators, many of whom are scholars involved in the field of Translation Studies or in Literary Studies of their areas, will convene to Bergamo to discuss how the translation from the three of these languages into Italian is carried out at the end of the second decade of twenty-first century. They will discuss the state of art, the relationships between authors, translators and publishers, and the main translational issues to tackle with when translating into Italian from such linguistically and culturally faraway languages. Their goal is to check whether today these languages are in fact that much faraway as the public discourse depicts them, and no matter how far they are, how the dialogue between them and Italian is possible.