Norms, Polysystems and Ideology: A Case Study
Keywords. Translation, ideology, norms, polysystems, Bakhtin, Hong Kong
Since the early 1990s, the ‘cultural turn’ in translation studies has seen increasing attention being given to the relation between translation and ideology. If we follow Thompson’s (1990:7) definition of ideology as “the ways in which meaning serves, in particular circumstances, to establish and sustain relations of power which are systematically asymmetrical”, then ideological analysis should focus on how symbolic forms such as texts are used within specific social contexts, and we should ask whether the meaning constructed by symbolic forms serves to reinforce or contest relations of domination. If we accept that
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research on the relation between translation and ideology is underpinned by the study of the social uses of texts, then the influential paradigm based on norms and polysystems and developed by Itamar Even-Zohar and Gideon Toury can be said to suffer from several weaknesses. First, as Gentzler (1993/2001:12021) has noted, Even-Zohar’s efforts to formulate laws of translation actually run counter to his emphasis on the diverse and dynamic nature of his object of study. Like Even-Zohar, Toury is intent on finding laws of translation but, as Hermans (1999:92) has suggested, this quest, assuming that translation is “an immanent category” or that all translations can be reduced to “a common denominator”, is at odds with Toury’s historicist stance which assumes that a translation is “what counts as translation whenever and wherever”. Second, related to the search for laws of translation is Toury’s (1995:16) overemphasis on “regularities of behaviour”, to such an extent that his discussion “documents the conformity, not the exceptions” (Gentzler 1993/2001:130) and stresses “stability rather than change” (Pym 1998:115). Third, as Gentzler (1993/2001:121) has observed, Even-Zohar’s analysis accords little attention to “extraliterary” factors and rarely “relates texts to the ‘real conditions’ of their production, only to hypothetical structural models and abstract generalizations”. Hermans (1999:118) has also noted that since “actual political and social power relations or more concrete entities such as institutions or groups” are largely ignored, the stakes and the competing individuals or collectives become “invisible” in Even-Zohar’s analysis. And finally, Toury (1995:2) recommends that the researcher “refrain from value judgments in selecting subject matter or in presenting findings”. But, as Venuti (1998:29) has pointed out, insisting on a value-free methodology will only blind the researcher to “the wider cultural impact that translation research might have”.