An Outline of Comparative Translation Studies: the imaginaries of translation [abstract]

a project of
Christina Bezari (Univ. of Ghent)

Riccardo Raimondo (Univ. Sorbonne Paris Cité)
Thomas Vuong (Univ. Paris-Nord)


After describing the dynamics that led to the current crisis of comparative studies and discussing the issues at stake that will be dealt with by a new comparatism (Gayatri Spivak: 2003), Gillian Lane-Mercier emphasized “The urgency to question the benefits -or the objectives- of an uncontrolled and uncontrollable interdisciplinarity. Due to the fact that it has been bridging too many gaps in the past few years, interdisciplinarity now runs the risk of an imminent and self-destructive breakdown” (Gillian Lane-Mercier: 2009).

Nevertheless, comparative literature – as well as translation studies – are disciplines that were inevitably based on hybridity and the crossing-over of networks. In that sense, both of them are seen through the prism of cultural and linguistic interactions, or through the lenses of a “theory of mobility” (Tiphaine Samoyault: 2011). More specifically, the relationship between translation studies and comparative literature reveals the complexity and risks of such hybrid disciplines while emphasizing the importance of rethinking their identity and their specific features. This was the main subject of the 11th Congress organized by the International Association of Comparative Literature (1985). In his introduction, José Lambert stressed the importance of translation as a specific field and underlined the need of an interaction taking place between the theory and history of translation and the other disciplines. It is therefore desirable to grasp translation, not only from the viewpoint of literature, but also from the viewpoint of the history of knowledge and social practices (F. Rastier: 2011; A. Guillaume: 2015; Y. Chevrel, J.-Y. Masson: 2015). It also seems necessary to rethink translation through the prism of philosophy, poetics, studies on the imaginary, and finally, to consider it as an art and not as a branch of applied linguistics.

Indeed, as argued by G. Lane-Mercier, comparative literature and translation studies are intrinsically linked because of their common centrifugal, nomadic or “cartographic” aims as well as the common logic of the intersection, the realignment and the crossing of borders. It is through such processes that these two disciplines become fields of major conflicts, but also fields of major synthesis.

In this context, we would like to try a quite simple but much needed experiment by introducing new considerations concerning the theory and practice of translation. This experiment will inaugurate a new way to “meditate on translation” as stated by Jean-Yves Masson (1999, 2013). By adopting a “cartographic” approach, we will attempt to develop new critical reflections on how to compare language practices and imaginaries. In this attempt, it is crucial to take into consideration the ways in which the imagination is involved in the “socio-symbolic elaboration of translation practices” (Antonio Lavieri: 2007, 2010). We will thus treat translation studies from the standpoint of a “genetic translation” (Charles Le Blanc: 2009), while rethinking its identity in the light of comparative studies.

Translation can also be examined through the prism of the so-called “circumstances of the imaginary production” (Laurent Van Eynde: 2005). Indeed, we can notice that in a translated text many choices derive from the translator’s creative imagination. As a consequence, the “active imagination” (Carl Gustav Jung: 1970) of the translator is, consciously or unconsciously, embodied in his linguistic, stylistic or even poetic choices.

This conception of the imagination largely echoes the doctrine of “fantastic universals” exposed by Giambattista Vico in his work the Scienza nova (1744). According to Vico, imagination is considered in relation to its link with the poetic. This doesn’t have to do with reinventing a “theory of the imagination” in the way that Paul Ricœur has shown (1986). What is important here is to examine Ricœur’s “poetics of will” (P. Ricœur: 1986) by observing a number of phenomena and experiences that are situated “between theory and practice” (P. Ricœur: 1986). Such a interdisciplinarity will enable us to overcome the intricacies of literary translation and will lead us to a more thorough comprehension of a new linguistic and socio-cultural reality, as described by Susan Bassnett (1998). Indeed, translation is a discipline that invites us all to work on our imagination and to make use of the possibility to go beyond language’s restrictive dimensions. As shown by François Vezin, when it comes to translation, language skills alone are not enough because it takes a great deal of productive imagination and in the case of translation we can go as far as to speak of a « translinguistic function of the imagination” (F. Vezin: 2005).

To conclude, in the wake of Christine Lombez (2016), we intend to take a closer look at the paratexts, the essays, the influences as well as the intertextual alliances that enrich the work and the imaginary of translators. This theoretical inspiration could eventually lead to a wide variety of analyses, methods and interpretations, which aim to create new critical tools for Translation Studies.


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