Over the past two decades, Lawrence Venuti has proven to be an elegant and extraordinarily nuanced translator of Italian literature. His version of I.U. Tarchetti's Fantastic Tales
, for example, is a supremely readable take on that little-known master--and
an interrogation of the Gothic style, with its reflexive hyperbole and near-invisible sense of humor. Now Venuti has fixed his sights on translation itself, arguing that it functions as a kind of cultural whipping boy. "Translation is stigmatized as a form of writing," he notes in his introduction, "discouraged by copyright law, depreciated by the academy, exploited by publishers and corporations, governments and religious organizations. Translation is treated so disadvantageously, I want to suggest, partly because it occasions revelations that question the authority of dominant cultural values and institutions."
Only a lunatic would dispute the fact that translators are overworked, underpaid, and generally given the short end of the stick when it comes to kudos. But Venuti has much bigger fish to fry. In his second chapter, he documents the tug of war between translation and our romantic conception of authorship: "Whereas authorship is generally defined as originality, self-expression in a unique text, translation is derivative, neither self-expression nor unique: it imitates another text." Elsewhere he takes a whack at copyright law, or discusses the peculiar perils of translating philosophy. (His example, Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, is real doozy, given Wittgenstein's own doubts about the mere possibility of human expression.) Venuti also provides an amusing deconstruction of Giovanni Guareschi's 1950 bestseller, The Little World of Don Camillo, in which the Italian author's Communist politics were methodically siphoned from the English translation.
The Scandals of Translation is intelligent, consistently provocative, and even includes moments of indignant humor. Why, though, did the author feel obliged to frame so many of his arguments in the elephantine style of contemporary academia? "Following Deleuze and Guattari (1987)," he writes, "I rather see language as a collective force, an assemblage of forms that constitute a semiotic regime." Yikes! Venuti must be aware that this particular sort of assemblage is virtually reader-proof. Perhaps he meant to fight scholarly fire with fire, torching the academy with its own instruments. But it's a shame that this fine study of translation seems occasionally to cry out for a translator of its own. --James Marcus
....greatly contributes to the understanding of translation in many of its problematic features. This book is an excellent source of information for anyone interested in the practice of translation..Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, December 2002
...provides an extensive commentary about the practice of translation and its most problematic issues in the English-speaking world. The book's significance to scholars and non-scholars lies in the fact that Venuti is not afraid to criticize academia for marginalizing translation because it does not consider translation to be a legitimate mode of textual transformation..Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, December 2002
The fact is, this was a book that needed to be written...it hits the right target..Classical and Modern Literature
The book is well put together, and the different topics treated in each chapter build on one another to give the reader a better overall picture of the author's thesis. The book's well-defined structure and index make the content available to researchers in related fields as well as to translators. A comprehensive, up-to-date viewpoint on diverse issues related to ethics in translation. Highly recommended for graduate students, faculty and professional translators.Choice, 4/99
...this book speaks to both scholars and students with its broadly accessible but never simplistic readings. ...a reasonable, deft, and often brilliant treatment of the problematic gender elements of these most masculinist works. ...it makes them more teachable, accomplishing and important aim of her critical practice.Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 1999