This page offers an abstract and a visual record of the second lecture in the Close Relations series.

It is a real pleasure to chair this session on a date that marks International Translation Day, and have a major name on Translation Studies giving the second lecture in the series Close Relations – the CETAPS Lectures on Literature, Culture, Theatre and Translation.

The overall purpose of this new annual lecture series is to prompt major academics in the Humanities to interrogate strands in western imaginative production from early modernity to postmodernity. And this purpose is signally well served by Lawrence Venuti, currently Professor Emeritus at the College of Liberal Arts, Temple University.

Lawrence Venuti is a name that most, maybe even all in this audience are bound to be familiar with – in your likelihood you will have his books on your shelves, cite them and recommend them to your students. And this because Lawrence Venuti’s work has impacted and helped shape the field of Translation Studies at crucial moments in the rise and development of this discipline. His The Translator’s Invisibility (1995; 2nd ed 2008) is the source of insights, concepts and phrases that have gained widespread currency in our field. Other books, such as The Scandals of Translation (1998) and Translation Changes Everything (2013), have likewise shaped scholarly and professional discussions. And, as editor of the successive editions of The Translation Studies Reader (3rd ed., 2012) he has provided us with a major tool for ensuring we remain familiar with a wealth of historical and current texts that delineate the discipline with critical clarity. He is also a translator – from Italian, but also French and Catalan.

His lecture today is entitled ‘On a Universal Tendency to Debase Retranslations; or, The Instrumentalism of a Translation Fixation’.

Lawrence Venuti

On a Universal Tendency to Debase Retranslations; 

or, The Instrumentalism of a Translation Fixation

Some readers prefer an earlier translation in which they encounter a source text, particularly a canonized work, over later versions of the same text. The decisive encounter is so compelling as to establish an enduring attachment that entails denigration or outright rejection of later versions. Insofar as the attachment suggests obsessiveness, it can be called a fixation.

The readers’ responses share features that transcend membership in specific linguistic communities and cultural institutions: they value a high degree of readability, which is construed as an indication of greater equivalence to the source text. Here the readers reveal their assumption of an instrumental model–i.e., an understanding of translation as the reproduction or transfer of an invariant contained in or caused by the source text, an invariant form, meaning, or effect.

The fixation can be illuminated by considering the network of intersubjective relations in which the preferred translation is first encountered. Cases recorded or represented in literary texts enable a more incisive account of the various conditions that shape the reader’s experience: John Keats’s poem, “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” (1816) and Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Pnin (1957).

These texts disclose an identity-forming process that can be deepened with Jacques Lacan’s concept of the “object a.” The instrumentalism that underpins the fixation deserves consideration because it would in effect deny or stop cultural change, innovative interpretation, the very practice of translation.


Discussion period