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Jahfar Sadiq and Sukethu Research Scholars Department of Translation Studies

Jiri Levi: One of The precursors of Modern Translation Theories


Many students of translation studies know Jiri Levi(1926-1967) only through a

few articles , especially the often quoted 1967 article Translation as decision making Process .But he was one of the prominent flagstones which paved the way to the new discipline . Jiri Levi was a Czech theorist and historian of literature, who at an early age became a leading scholar of translation in Eastern Europe. The reputed Prague School tradition which developed in 1920s was to surface during the 1960 in the person of Jiri Levy who until his death at the age of 40, taught literary theory at the University of Brunn.In 1957 he brought out an anthology of Czech theories of translation , and in 1963 the book Umeni Prekladu (The Art of Translation). With this

book , which already succeeded in bridging the gap between theory and practice which discussed both linguistic and literary methods and introduced the aim of the translation as a decisive factor , Jiri went beyond the role of precursor and proved to be one of the pioneers of modern Translation Studies(22,Hornby). His material included drama translation with all the problems of speakability and performability that were to be debated in the 1990s and the one third of the book is devoted to verse translation. For Levy literary translation is a form of art in its own

right, and has a position somewhere between creative and reproductive art. He tries to situate literary translation within a general communicative theory of translation and seeks to locate the aesthetic qualities of literary works through a structural analysis in which he establishes the interplay and hierarchy of textual aspects. Levy who is fully aware that translation is a hybrid phenomenon, which is often riddled with contradiction between the foreign and the native sees it as the translators task to minimize the wrinkles caused by this state of affairs, and to put together a textual whole which will function in its new context without calling too much attention to the fact that it is a translation .He divides the translating process into three phases: understanding, interpreting, transfer. Since the translated work is an artistic

reproduction and the translation process is one of artistic creativity which, by giving a concrete form to an already existent text Levy compares it to the art of acting on the stage. In this context He applies his notion of the translation norm distinguishing between the reproductive norm, which requires fidelity as based on proper

understanding of the text and the artistic norm which requires the fulfillment of aesthetic criteria (Levy1969). For him fidelity and artistic style are by no means mutually exclusive. Translation norms are not static and absolute but always depend on their historical context, and like all artistic norms form part of their individual national culture. Levy seems to be giving the light of the cultural turn and relation of translation to the sociology or socio- cultural paradigm which has been given more chances for discussions and debates in the realm of translation studies in the contemporary status. Referring to general category of neotic compatibility which evolves of the consciousness of translation , truthfulness of figuration and probability of motivation

Levy divides translation methods into

two groups : the illusionist and the anti-

illusionist. Illusionist methods demand that the work should look like the original, like reality. this seems to be similar to what has been understood in contemporary theatre: conventional theatre tries to evoke the illusion that what is happening on the stage is reality, whereas the epic theatre of Bert Brecht with its method of alienation makes it clear that the play is only a copy of reality, thus provoking critical detachment towards the events on stage. In this way, the translator can hide behind the original (Levy, 31) and create an illusion that his translation is an original text. This illusion relies upon a

tacit agreement with the reader or spectator i.e. the novel reader knows that he is not reading the original but a an invented story but he demands that the novel should keep to the rules of the probability .in similar way the reader of the translation also knows that he is not reading the original but he demands that the translation should retain the quality of the original. According to Anti- illusionist theory, the novelist digresses from epic illusion and he discusses with his reader what he ought to do with the figure of his hero. In this way the translator also may digress from his illusion by translation by revealing his standpoint as observer, by not simulating an original work but by annotating it, or by nudging the reader with the help of personal and topical allusions (339,levy) However, even with the illusionist method, both in the translation and in theatre, everyone involved is in fact fully aware that an illusion is being created and upheld or in other worlds, the reader knows that the text is a translation, and that it at best only produces the same effect as the original. With the role of the reader Levy broached another subject that was to become a central in literary studies in the 1970s

such as the theory of aesthetic response and in translation studies from the 1980s. A literary work only has relevance as a work of art when it is read, and the reader always understands it from the viewpoint of his/her own period in time. The reception process normally ends with the reconstruction of a literary work in the mind of its reader. But the translator differs from the normal reader in that he must form an idea of the work and put this into words for another reader, and like the original, the translation only has social relevance when it is itself read. In a translation therefore, the material undergoes a change in all three subjective transformations by the act of reading: the remodeling of reality by the author, the visualization of the source text and its verbal expression by the translator, and finally the image that arises in the mind of the target reader. And this means, as was also to be stressed in the functional approaches of the 1980s, that the translator must work with the readership in mind and anticipate how his text can be visualized by them. Because of his essay Translation as a Decision Process, published in the volume To Honor Roman Jakobson in 1967, Levy is known among the Englishspeaking scientific community. Here also there are several aspects which anticipate developments of the 1980s and 1990s. From the teleological point of view Levy sees translation as a process of communication. Prunc correctly points out that with the term teleological he is already anticipating the skopos theory.(23, Hornby). For Levy translating is seen as a decision process, with moves , based on a series of consecutive situations, as in a game, for which he has an unusually pragmatic, common-sense solution:

Translation theory tends to be normative, to instruct translators on the optimal solution; actual translation work, however, is pragmatic; the translator resolves for that one of the possible solutions which promises a maximum of effect with a minimum of effort. That is to say, he intuitively resolves for the so-called Minimaxstrategy.(Levy 1967: 156)(23 Hornby) His exuberant pioneer spirit is all the more remarkable, as is the fact that his innovative ideas have in essence neither been refuted nor become outdated over the last forty years. Many of his ideas have on the contrary been confirmed as part of the raw program (in Radnitzkys phrase) of the future discipline of Translation Studies. (23, Hornby)