Peripateticism: Polarization in Translators’ Self-Perception (Inferiority Complexes and Confidence)

A simple subway trip from Lower Manhattan to Bedford-Stuyvesant is usual the type of polarization we experience: Swanky skyscrapers and sleek retail shops give way to vacant yards, permanently shuttered storefronts, dingy liquor stores with all the items behind bulletproof glass. 

But I happened to stumble across a funny case of polarization in Mona Baker’s In Other Words, a book on translation. After skipping the introduction to read the parts relevant or potentially relevant to transposition, I just flipped through an absolutely absurd introductory.

Initially, She begins with a discussion about the difference between vocational and academic training. According to her, skilled workers receive a vocational training, execute something and don’t think about why or how they are doing it, but rather simply perform the work as if they had no brain. Academics, on the other hand, reflect on their decisions (Baker 1-2). 

She discusses all this because the translation profession has historically fallen ambiguously between a trade, art, profession or business (2) and she wants to justify an academic approach to translation with certification and testing, i.e. centralization (not surprisingly, as always with advocates of rules, she also stands to benefit from this centralization through her positions held in major translation institutions, her book and her established reputation).

Then we reach the next stage of justification where she amusingly cites the training Lanna Castellano, a professional translator, confidently recommends (mostly through imperatives) for becoming a freelance translator. Castellano advocates a nearly completely unacademic approach (only mine would be less academic) that involves our typical education, roaming about the countries whose language(s) you speak, working there, marrying someone from another nationality and then taking a postgraduate translation course. (3) (I have done all of this except taking a translation course, though I did start one in my fourth year of freelance translating and found it useless and ridiculous.)

Baker criticizes Castellano’s recommendation on the basis that it is not feasible for many aspiring translators (3) and then she returns to her analogy of medicine, which she claims is better able to cure people because of doctor’s reflective ability based on theoretical knowledge (something you only receive through academia).  That is not the only reason! To quote Baker: “Most translators prefer to think of their work as a profession and would like to see others treat them as professionals rather than as skilled or semi-skilled workers” (4).

Are you kidding me!?!?! Who in god’s name is worried about that? Only translators who have a lot of mental problems, inferiority complexes and are way, way too preoccupied with themselves. First of all: WHO CARES?!?!?! Second of all, although peripateticism strongly advocates generalizations, truths, etc., I don’t agree with this one. Certainly, translation is viewed better than being a banker or manager in the finance industry at the moment. Maybe in the artistic community, writers see translators as inferior, although literary fiction writers tend to work as waiters or journalists or produce commercial texts of some sort to earn the living not provided by their narratives. Here in America we don’t really make these distinctions between professionals and skilled or semi-skilled workers, but if we do, then translators certainly fall in the group of professionals. 

Anyway, basically, what we see in Mona Baker’s introduction is the polarization of a subsection of society, in this case, the translation community. Castellano and others cited in this introductory represent the absolutely confident translators (“translation is an art which requires aptitude, practice, and general knowledge –nothing more. The ability to translate is a gift” (3)) , who face the dissatisfied and frustrated needy. 

In one sense, however, the polarization in the translation community is very different from that of Manhattan and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Here, they are not dissatisfied and frustrated, writing long useless books in justification of their theory. No. Here, as in Russia, not only do they not think about others perception of themselves, but they live!!!

Post a Comment