You are on page 1of 25

Translation and Discursive Identity

Author(s): Clem Robyns

Source: Poetics Today, Vol. 15, No. 3 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 405-428
Published by: Duke University Press
Stable URL:
Accessed: 10/10/2008 16:09

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless
you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you
may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.

Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at

Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed
page of such transmission.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the
scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that
promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Duke University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Poetics Today.
Translationand DiscursiveIdentity
Clem Robyns
Comparative Literature, K.U. Leuven

Abstract For any target discourse, translation, as a confrontation with the

nonidentical, is a potential threat to its own identity. Via a broad definition
of translation as "discursive migration," this paper discusses the possible ways
in which a discourse may react to the intrusion of alien discursive elements.
Two basic questions function as guidelines: Does a discursive practice acknowl-
edge the otherness of intruding elements? And, does it allow their intrusion
without transformingthem according to target codes? Thus, four prototypical
stances (imperialist, defensive, trans-discursive, and defective) are extensively
discussed. Finally, this framework is applied to the conflicts characterizing the
identity construction of translation studies as a discipline in itself.

Any discourse (re)produces its own borderlines and thus defines its
own specificity with respect to other discourses. This implies that iden-
tity is always a dynamic concept, a fragile equilibrium. Translation
(in the traditional sense), as an explicit confrontation with "alien"
discourses, is only the most conspicuous instance of the continuous
conflicts which characterize the construction of identity. Although the
translation problem has already been formulated in these terms by cer-
tain scholars (e.g., Even-Zohar 1990),1 the monolithic and static con-
cepts of "text," "language," and "translation" itself that still dominate

1. In the field of sociolinguistics, similar frameworkshave been developed by Uriel

Weinreich (see, e.g., Weinreich 1966 [1953], on bilingualism and linguistic inter-
ference) and by Joshua A. Fishman (see, e.g., Fishman 1989, on ethnicity), among

PoeticsToday15:3 (Fall 1994). Copyright ? 1994 by The Porter Institute for Poetics
and Semiotics. CCC 0333-5372/94/$2.50.
406 Poetics Today 15:3

translation studies seriously hamper discussion. Therefore, in order to

study the role that translation plays in the dynamics of self-definition,
the focus of attention has to be shifted from individual texts or lin-
guistic features in translation (however "contextualized" the analysis
may be) to interference between discourses and discursive structures
and strategies. In this paper, which is only a first attempt to develop
the theoretical framework of a larger research project, I would like
to discuss the ways in which a discourse may deal with the problem
of discursive interference, as manifested in both translation strategies
and the positions taken toward translation itself.

1. Translationand DiscursiveSelf-Definition
A discourse-or to use a term which also encompasses the individual
and institutional extratextual factors, a discursive practice-defines
itself in relation, or rather in opposition, to other discourses. (The
same goes for "cultures," which may be seen as large, systemic con-
glomerates of discursive practices.) If we define a discourse as a set
of messages viewed by their producers or receivers as linked because
they rely partly on a common set of norms, the awareness of such
common codes is possible only via confrontation with their absence,
namely, with other discourses.
Thus the dynamics of discursive self-definition imply continuous
contact between discourses. Moreover, those relations are never rela-
tions of equality since they never exist in an isolated form: the complex
web of relationships created by the superposition of political, eco-
nomic, scientific, artistic, literary, and other discourses makes a perfect
symbiosis between any two discursive practices seem hardly more than
an idealistic construct.
The unequal character of interdiscursive relations, that is to say, the
fact that the construction of identity is linked to unequal power rela-
tions, implies that identity construction can be seen as ideological: in
establishing its identity, a discursive practice constructs, reproduces, or
subverts social interests and power relations. Two remarks may clarify
this thesis. First, the very fact that, within a culture or discursive prac-
tice, there is an awareness of a common identity implies that there has
also been a striving toward preservation of this identity, toward self-
preservation by the discourse.2 If identity is constructed in opposition
to the alien, interferences imply loss of autonomy and thereby loss of
identity. Secondly, the shared conventions on which identity is based
2. In "The Notion of System," Dirk De Geest (1992) links the central/peripheral
position of systemic elements to their role in systemic unity: elements interfer-
ing with other systems tend to be relegated to a marginal position. De Geest also
proposes a Greimassian "square of normativity," which allows us to describe the
normative status of (imported) elements.
Robyns * Translationand Identity 407

are often implicit. In order to make the internal functioning of a dis-

course possible, certain basic rules and meanings underlying its pro-
duction are generally taken for granted by the participants. This struc-
tured (but plural and dynamic) whole of presuppositions is what we
call "doxa."Just as the presupposition of a linguistic utterance ("When
did you stop beating your wife?") cannot be contested (unlike the de-
notation) without contesting the situation of communication itself, the
doxa of a given discourse cannot be contested (thereby making it ex-
plicit, while its efficiency lies in its implicitness) without contesting the
self-evident legitimacy of the discourse and its producers.3
Still, this is precisely one possible function of translation. It intro-
duces discursive elements from other discourses and, therefore, by
definition is a potential code violation. The simple fact that a text is
written in something other than the common language is already a
radical challenge to the conventions of a target discourse.4 Since the
awareness of common norms constitutes the basis for discursive self-
definition, the intrusion of alien, convention-violating elements is a
potential threat. Therefore, every discourse is continually forced to
determine its position(s) toward such alien elements, hence toward
translation. Different reactions are possible here, and these will be
determined in accordance with the internal and external systemic re-
lations characterizing the discursive practice in question. In this paper,
I want to discuss four types of attitudes toward translation which may
characterize a discursive practice.
In order to study translation as the "intrusion of the alien," it is
useful, even necessary, to redefine the notion of "translation" itself.
First of all, translation clearly cannot be seen in isolation from non-
translation. In other words, both the exclusion of alien elements and
their acceptance in their original form, both the "faithful" translation
and the complete transformation of a text or textual element, have to
be seen as translation strategies. To put it in an extreme way: trans-
lation may be anything between literal repetition (which, in practice,
does not exist) and intertextuality, in the broadest sense. Secondly,
since "cultures" and "literatures" are merely specific types of discur-
sive practice, there is no reason to restrict the concept of translation to
the transfer of texts or textual elements between languages (cultures,

3. I don't see "doxa" as a "structural unconscious" determining a discourse and its

producers. The ideological function of doxa lies in its hegemonic character: its
implicitness and self-evidence. But if doxa by definition excludes contradiction,
that doesn't mean that it cannot be contradicted.
4. Unless, of course, nobody can identify the linguistic codes of a certain alien text
(because nobody knows the script or the language). However, even though there
is no linguistic code violation (because no alternative is offered), the text can still
function as an alien object.
408 Poetics Today 15:3

literatures). So translation can be redefined as "the migration and

transformation of discursive elements between different discourses."
Each of those discourses can be described as occupying a position in a
larger system and as forming a system in itself.5
This "scholarly definition" is a working hypothesis, like any defini-
tion formulated by other "people in the culture." I use my concept of
translation not as an exclusive tool for classification, but as a convenient
hypothesis and in full consciousness of its historicity. The historical
context here is, of course, the questioning (which, unfortunately, hasn't
yet become generalized in translation studies) of the essentialistic and
reductive concepts of "text," "subject,"and especially "literature."
In order to pin down the positions that a given discourse may as-
sume toward "alien migration," three basic aspects have to be taken
into account. First of all, what is the position and function of the
concept of translation, or of "the alien" in general, in the various
subdiscourses of a discursive system? Is it discussed at all? Is it seen
as a problem and, if so, what type of problem? Which dichotomies
are used to characterize it, and which rhetorical devices? The sec-
ond aspect is the selection and distribution of imported elements:
Does a discourse allow intrusion, and from which other discourses?
Finally, translational strategies have to be analyzed: How and to what
extent are the alien discursive elements adapted to the implicit and
explicit rules of the target discourse? In combination, these three as-
pects should allow us to describe some basic attitudes characterizing a
discursive practice. My examples will be chosen from various types of
discourse (literary, academic, linguistic-cultural, nationalist-political,
and cinematographic) in order to show that similar mechanisms are at
work within different discourses that are usually treated in isolation.

2. Meeting the Alien: Some Basic Attitudes

In order to describe four main attitudes toward discursive migra-
tion, I would like to propose two basic criteria. First, does a discur-
sive practice acknowledgethe otherness of (potentially) intruding ele-
ments from other discourses? Does it explicitly oppose itself to "the
other"? Secondly, does a discursive practice allow the intrusion of
code-violating elements withouttransformingthem according to the tar-
get codes? An attitude in which otherness is denied and transformed
may be called imperialist, while one in which otherness is acknowl-
edged but still transformed may be called defensive.A trans-discursive
5. See Robyns (1992) and Lambert and Robyns (in press) for a more elaborate
discussion of this topic. A similar option has been suggested by Itamar Even-Zohar
(1981), but his proposal doesn't seem to have had any influence in the field of
translation studies.
Robyns * Translationand Identity 409

discourse neither radically opposes itself to other discourses nor re-

fuses their intrusion, while a defectivediscourse stimulates the intru-
sion of alien elements that are explicitly acknowledged as such. Both
defensive and defective attitudes can be called reactive, since they ex-
plicitly react against either the presence or the absence of discursive
migrations and will therefore thematize translation.
Clearly, these types are generalizations: neither a taxonomy nor
even a methodological scheme, they should be seen as coordinates for
research into specific, complex situations. Indeed, no discourse will
ever correspond exactly to a single type. It is obvious that in the cases
of trans-discursive and defective attitudes, the end result would be a
total loss of autonomy. In any case, migrations are normally partial:
only a limited number of codes will be called into question. (The force
of the reaction will depend on the central or marginal position of the
contested norms for the self-definition of the target discourse.) Nor
will any discourse ever reflect only one attitude: like any model domi-
nating a given discourse at a given moment, these basic attitudes can
(and will) be contested and eventually replaced by other ones. Very
often, as some of my examples will show, the coexistence of various
attitudes within the same discourse is itself a function of discursive
interference. Finally, it is important to emphasize that only very rarely
(if ever) will a specific attitude dominate a whole culture.As the Quebe-
cois case (see section 2.2) shows especially clearly, attitudes toward the
same foreign culture can differ widely, depending on the positions of
the specific discourses, institutions, and individuals comprising both
cultures-another argument for studying target discourses instead of
2. 1. TheImperialist
An imperialist attitude toward the other is characterized by a para-
doxical claim of, on the one hand, the irreducible specificity of one's
own identity and, on the other hand, the universality of its values.
This claim is an elaboration of the way in which canonical language
is legitimized, according to Marc Angenot (1989: 135): "Son ideologie
immanente veut que la langue canonique soit une 'forme' universelle,
adaptable a n'importe quel contenu" [Its immanent ideology demands
that the canonical language be seen as a universal "form," adaptable
to any content].7 All kinds of recuperative strategies are called upon
to hide the internal contradictions of this type of doctrine.
As one example, I want to discuss the legitimized French political/

6. For a similar argument, see Annie Brisset (1988a). However, see also Brisset
(1990), where a rather monolithic concept of "Quebecois culture" is articulated.
7. All translations of quotations are mine unless otherwise indicated.
410 Poetics Today 15:3

linguistic/cultural ideology of the universality of the French language

(implying, of course, the culture and the nation). In centralist France,
where the minister of cultural affairs is one of the main actors on the
cultural scene, this has been a state matter for many centuries, and
it still is. The following statements were recently made by Bernard
Aubert, head of the Department of Linguistic and Educational Co-
operation of the French foreign affairs ministry, in an interview with
the magazine Le Franfais dans le monde(Pecheur 1990: 26-27):
Soyons serieux. En France,vous le savezbien, la politiquelinguistiqueexte-
rieure se pense, se negocie, se publie aux plus hauts sommetsde 1'Etat....
La diffusion de la langue fran;aise a l'etrangerreste une priorite nationale
et les budgets qui lui sont affectesne baissentpas.
[Let us be serious. In France,as you well know,the externallinguisticpolicy
is conceived, negotiated, and made publicat the highest levels of the State.
The diffusion of the French language abroadremains a national priority,
and its budgets will not be reduced.]
The ideology of the universality of the French language which legiti-
mizes this policy is still rarely questioned at the institutional level: the
"Secretariat a la francophonie," created in 1986, sees its task as based
on the assumption that "la vocation de la francophonie est de ten-
dre a l'universel" [the mission of the Francophone world is to strive
for universality] (Pecheur 1986a: 23). Marc Angenot (1989: 268) de-
scribes exactly the same way of thinking as having prevailed in France
in 1889: "Les doctrinaires, les philosophes veulent bien disserter sur
l'Espece humaine, mais cette humanite n'est qu'un avatar abstrait de
la culture francaise, du bourgeois francais" [The doctrinairians, the
philosophers readily dwell on the human species, but this humanity
is only an abstract incarnation of the French culture, of the French
Of course, the universality of a language has to be based on "uni-
versal criteria." These are provided by Michel Bruguiere, an executive
of the High Committee of the French Language, in the Symposium
volume of the Encyclopaedia Universalis.8No doubts remain: "II n'en
reste pas moins que les langues ne sont pas egales entre elles, et que
toute politique doit tenir compte de six parametres obliges" [Still, lan-
guages are not equal, and every policy has to take into account six
obligatory parameters] (Bruguiere 1985: 1019b). Of those six criteria,

8. The fact that such a text appearsin a Frenchencyclopediacallingitself "uni-

versal" is eloquent enough. Actually, the Symposiumvolume is worth a study in
itself. The encyclopedia,whichpresentsitself as incontestableknowledge,never-
thelessincludesthisvolumeas a kindof surveyof the currentdebates.Meanwhile,
the credit for analyzingthe phenomenonof the encyclopediaas an overviewof
legitimizedculturalliteracygoes to Stef Wauters(1991).
Robyns * Translationand Identity 411

three could already be found in Rivarol's L'Universalitede la langue

franfaise, published over 200 years ago: the "variete humaine," the
"diffusion pedagogique," and the "richesse litteraire." The other three
are number of speakers, geographical distribution, and technological
impact. Bruguiere does try to apply these criteria in an "objective"
way, by quantifying them. However, it is interesting to see how the re-
cuperative strategies and timeless metaphors pop up. Indeed, French
ranks lower in number of speakers than Chinese and English, among
others, but since Hindi and Bengali also have more speakers, "sans
representer sur le plan international une reelle concurrence" [with-
out offering any real competition on an international scale] (ibid.), the
implication is that the importance of this criterion should not be over-
estimated. In any case, the second criterion, geographical distribution,
is used to explain why French doesn't meet the first one: French is
well represented all over the world, "seule lAsie, reservoirde l'humanite,
manque au tableau" [only Asia, the reservoir of mankind, is missing
from the picture] (ibid.); the emphasis is mine, the derogatory con-
notation Bruguiere's. Et cetera. Assigning one, two, or three points
to every major language for each criterion allows Bruguiere to estab-
lish a "hit parade" of international languages: French finishes second,
after English. In short, "l'espace d'expression francaise doit etre ...
presente au reste du monde pour ce qu'il est, c'est-a-dire un abrege du
monde" [the French-speaking sphere must be presented to the rest of
the world the way it is: a summary of the world] (ibid.: 1022a). Quod
erat demonstrandum.
How, then, is this doctrine of universality made congruent with the
claim of cultural specificity? Several basic strategies can be combined
here. The main one is to deny "the other" the status of a "valid cul-
ture": "only our culture is universally human." The other is reduced
to a barbarian or an exotic curiosity. According to Angenot (1989:
279), such a position prevailed in France in 1889: "Ce qui est universel,
c'est l'6vidence de l'inferiorite des peuples exotiques, de la superio-
rite de l'Europe et singulierement de la France, foyer de civilisation"
[What is universal is the self-evident inferiority of the exotic peoples,
the superiority of Europe and especially of France, the seat of civiliza-
tion]. This attitude is not only taken toward Africa and Asia, but, for
instance, toward Germany as well (ibid.: 137).
Today, Brugui&re (1985: 1021a-b) produces an only slightly weak-
ened version of this reasoning: "Une situation de conflit, en effet,
serait d'abord absurde: le francais est a ce point implante en France
qu'il ne saurait subir la moindre concurrence de la part du corse, du
basque ou du breton" [Indeed, a situation of conflict would first of all
be absurd: French is so well-established in France that it couldn't pos-
sibly meet with even the weakest competition from Corsican, Basque,
412 Poetics Today 15:3

or Breton]. In matters of "foreign policy," this superiority complex

naturally leads France to assume the role of "cultural guide" for the
more primitive people. In the words of historian Gustave Lanson
(1923: 1): "Elle [France] a ete le guide qui, d'un geste, entrainait les
peuples vers les routes de l'avenir, tenant le flambeau vers lequel se
tournent les autres nations, inquietes de la direction a suivre" [She
Francel has been the guide who, with a single gesture, has drawn
otherl peoples along the roads to the future, bearing the torch for
other nations, who are concerned about what direction to take].
And today? Today, the department headed by Bernard Aubert sees
its "vocation" as maintaining a "positive influence on the institutional
context in which French is taught in other countries" (Pecheur 1990:
27). To give another example: the two illustrations for Bruguiere's
article in the EncyclopaediaUniversalis (Bruguiere 1985: 1022, 1023)
nicely suggest the "civilizing force" of French culture. Both are photo-
graphs of the entrance to a similarly modern concrete building. Both
buildings are "Centres culturels francais." In both pictures young
people hang around, some entering or leaving the building. In one
picture, however, the youngsters are white; in the other, they're black.
The first photograph was shot in Paris, the second in ... Brazzaville.
As to "internal policy," an assumption of superiority leads to an
unscrupulous assimilation of the alien elements-an assimilation that
effectively denies their specificity. After describing how "we" con-
structed "our Middle Ages" out of Latin, Celtic, and Germanic ele-
ments, "our Renaissance" out of Latin, Italian, and Greek components,
all culminating in "our great classical age," Lanson (1923: 441) can't
avoid the conclusion that "la puissance d'assimilation d'une nation,
et particulierement de notre nation, est incroyable" [the assimilat-
ing power of a nation, and especially of our nation, is incredible].
Bruguiere (1985: 1024) goes even further:
En definitive, toute langue est de naturebiologique.Certainesespeces ani-
males ou vegetales se preservent seulement dans tel ou tel climat ....
D'autres s'adaptent, prosperent sous diverses latitudes. ... La langue
fran:aise a derriere elle pres d'un millenaired'adaptationssuccessives.
[Ultimately, every language has a biological nature. Certain animal and
vegetable species survive only in such-and-sucha climate. Others adapt
themselves, prospering in variousclimates.The Frenchlanguage has gone
through almost a millenniumof successiveadaptations.]
If a culture attains universality by combining specificity with the as-
similation of otherness, this suggests a strong teleological movement.
Other nations are seen as prehistorical resources for the inevitable
development toward perfection of the French culture. So it is not by
chance that Mitterand calls the French language "cet arbre superbe
qui plonge ses racines dans toutes les cultures du monde" [that superb
Robyns * Translationand Identity 413

tree that has its roots in all the cultures of the world] (quoted in
Pecheur 1986b: 27 [my emphasis]), nor that Lanson (1923: 442) can
predict that "nos descendants . . . sauront retrouver le visage de la
France eternelle. Ayons confiance" [our descendants will be able to
recognize the face of eternal France. Let us have faith].
Let me note in passing that, as a consequence of the identification
language = nation = culture, even foreign Francophone texts can
function as "alien" elements. Indeed, in his article "Notre litterature
non pas lue, mais vue par les Francais," Paul Dirkx (1990) describes
the attitude of French textbooks and of the NouvelleRevuefran(aise crit-
ics toward Belgian Francophone literature. He detects similar strate-
gies of, on the one hand, occulting the foreign nationality of highly
valued texts and, on the other hand, emphasizing the "exotic," even
primitive, features of "typically Belgian" texts. In both cases the alien
texts are seen as contributions to "the admirable development of our
French literature."

I have discussed at length the legitimizing rhetoric of an imperial-

ist attitude toward the alien without mentioning translation in the
strictest sense. One reason for this is that in an imperialist doctrine
the role of translation will not be strongly emphasized, although that
doesn't preclude its being deployed as a discursive strategy. Still, the
unquestioned "assimilation policy" makes it clear how translation will
be seen. First of all, it has to be denied an innovative function. Im-
ported elements are not allowed to dominate the target discourse, but
must be integrated through transformation. Translation is also seen
as transparency: because of the universality of the target discourse,
the understanding of the other can never be a problem. An extreme
example of this ideology is the following statement made by Fichte in
1807, during one of his Addressesto the GermanNation: "Hence the Ger-
man ... can always be superior to the foreigner and understand him
fully, even better than the foreigner understands himself.... On the
other hand, there is no doubt that he [the foreigner] will leave what is
genuinely German untranslated" (quoted and translated by Edwards
1985: 26).
In translations of canonized literature, the "transformative stand"
has, of course, been problematic since Romanticism and l'Art pour
l'Art imposed the doctrine of the unique literary text as "irreducible
otherness." However, it is clear that in practice translation strategies,
even of canonized literature, do not correspond entirely to this offi-
cial doctrine. A telling example is the first French translation of Milan
Kundera's novel Zert (1967), La Plaisanterie (Kundera 1968). In an
afterword to the second translation (Kundera 1985), on which he him-
self worked, Kundera writes that he became suspicious of the first
414 Poetics Today 15:3

translation when a journalist questioned him about the "baroque" lan-

guage of his novel. When Kundera checked the translation, he found,
among dozens of other embellishments, a sentence that meant "the sky
was blue" in the original translated as "sous un ciel de pervenche, octo-
bre hissait son pavois fastueux" [under an azure sky, October raised
its magnificent banners] (ibid.: 460).
In more popular fiction, transformative strategies are even more
frequent. Again, they are linked to larger discourse structures. To give
just one example, during the last few decades, slang, or "argot," has be-
come more or less "officialized" in France and thus has yielded to the
strict language requirements of that country. This means that French
slang, in order to become generally "accepted," first has to shed any
possible regional or foreign connotations. Just as in Anglo-American
literature, slang has become acceptable in French literature. However,
in French translations, Anglo-American slang comes into conflict with
both the norms of "official French slang" and the very strong liter-
ary requirement of grammatically correct usage. French translators
thus face some problems. First of all, any regional connotations in
the American original (especially expressions characteristic of the U.S.
South) disappear. Secondly, while characters in the original texts may
often use ungrammatical constructions, this almost never occurs in the
French versions. And finally, all of the slang terms used in the French
translations are part of a repertoire of exclusively French "standard
argot" which can be found in any standard dictionary. So it is clear
that the translation strategies applied to argot must be integrated with
a general policy of recuperation of "the popular" by standard French,
including the prohibition on references to specific regions or subcul-
This type of strategy corresponds to what Even-Zohar (1990: 50)
calls the generally "secondary" (i.e., conformist, non-innovative) posi-
tion of translated texts in the French literary system. As I have tried
to demonstrate, this discursive strategy has to be integrated with an
overall attitude toward translation and "the alien" within a discursive
2.2. The Defensive Stand
Power relations can change, of course, and otherness, instead of being
assimilated, denigrated, and hidden, can intrude as such. Generally
(i.e., if the target discourse doesn't take a defective stand [see section
2.4]), such intrusions provoke defensive reactions. This is certainly the
case with today's dominant political doctrine concerning the French
language, especially when it is considered as language and thus iso-
lated from the (still triumphalist) propaganda about French culture
in general. Terms such as "state of emergency" are used to decry the
Robyns * Translationand Identity 415

"Americanization" of French (Pecheur 1986b: 27), and the need for

a "popular front" to launch the "reconquest" is emphasized (Pecheur
1986a: 23). In Quebec, the situation is more complicated, as we shall
see. The dominant Quebecois nationalist doctrine not only presents
the Quebecois language as threatened by the English-speaking Cana-
dian majority, but also emphasizes the "cultural identity crisis" caused
by the cultural dominance of France. Therefore, defensive reactions
work in two directions.
How should we characterize a defensive stand toward the intrusion
of alien discursive elements? (For a more detailed study of defensive
discourse on the French language, see Robyns [in press].) First, a sense
of threat to one's own identity, of alienation, is expressed. In the words
of the Quebecois translator Jacques Poisson (1977: 287): "S'il est vrai
qu'une langue de civilisation suppose un minimum de consensus chez
ses usagers, detruire la possibilite de ce consensus par l'arbitraire de
la traduction et, surtout, de la traductionalisation,9 c'est ... l'essence
de la deculturation" [If it is true that a language of civilization implies
a minimal consensus among its users, (then} destroying the possibility
of this consensus by the arbitrariness of translation, and especially
translationalization, is the essence of deculturation]. In such a situa-
tion, claims of universality are no longer possible, for "the nationalist
ideology does not tolerate Quebec French being 'international.' The
use of this qualifier is revealing: multiculturalismand transculturalism
are negative values, and thus must be fought" (Brisset 1989: 13). What
will be claimed is the inviolable specificity of one's own discourse. Re-
vealing in this respect, for instance, is the complaint by Rene Etiemble
(one of the main French "language purists") that, as a result of the
"Americanization" of French advertising, "words have lost their mean-
ing" (Etiemble 1985: 107). The implication here is that a specifically
"French meaning" has always been attached to a specifically French
word, but that this natural bond has been ruptured by the intrusion
of what is not specifically French.
A discourse characterized by a defensive posture enhances its speci-
ficity by heavily emphasizing the otherness of the "alien" discourse.
What is interesting here is a general tendency in Quebec (mentioned
in Brisset 1988b: 105), especially in French-Canadian radio and tele-
vision, to anglicize all foreign names, whatever their origin may be.
Since the English-Canadian community is the main representative of
the threatening alien in Quebec, this tendency suggests an attempt to
unify all possible "aliens" under one heading.
The threatening intrusion of the alien discourse is often charac-

9. For Poisson: nontransformative translation.

416 Poetics Today 15:3

terized as an "invasion." Philippe de Saint-Robert, for instance, in

his 1985 preface to the official French Guide des mots nouveaux, states
that a language has to defend itself against "the semantic invasion"
(quoted in Calvet 1986: 25). This invasion makes the target discourse
dependent on the intruding discourse: "il peut se developper un colo-
nialisme culturel, par traduction interposee" [a cultural colonialism
can be established via translation] (Robert Dubuc and Jacques Mau-
rais, quoted in Simon 1990: 216). Etiemble (1985: 108a) cries out:
"La France colonisee, colonisee par le babelien!" [France colonized by
Babelian!]. This "colonization" causes a weakening, a degeneration of
the threatened discourse: "Tout ce que celle-ci renferme d'idioma-
tique . .. tend a devenir connaissance passive" [Each of its {the tar-
get language's} idiomatic aspects tends to become passive knowledge]
(Poisson 1977: 285). Ultimately, this leads to a corresponding degen-
eration among the language's producers: "Comment ne comprend-on
pas que l'on ne peut pas sans peril mortel pour l'esprit et les moeurs
laisser le libre-echange regir les rapports entre toutes les langues?"
[How is it possible not to understand that you cannot let free exchange
rule the relations among all the languages without mortally imperiling
mind and morality?] (Etiemble 1985: 107a).
When this sense of threat is born out of a frustrated feeling of
superiority, and especially when "representatives" of the invading cul-
ture (or of any alien group) exist within the threatened culture, it
will generally lead to racist reactions. Thus the same rhetoric will
be used against both foreign discursive elements and foreign people.
While Philippe de Saint-Robert declares war against the "semantic"
invaders, Figaro magazine publishes articles on the invasion of immi-
grant workers, and the novelist Jean Raspail writes about the forth-
coming "invasion of France and the Western world by the spear-
heads of the third world masses" (quoted in Pucheu 1985: 15). An
almost explicit incitement to racism is the link made by an illustra-
tion for Etiemble's EncyclopaediaUniversalisarticle on the "corruption"
of French by the intrusion of foreign languages. In the background
of this photograph is a billboard advertising "Un autre big boy. The
new brand of fast food. Ouverture bientot," while pictured in the
foreground is a black immigrant worker (Etiemble 1985: 108).
In this context, translation can only be viewed in a negative light:
"Le brouillage de la langue d'arrivee, envahie [!] par les habitudes et
les automatismes de la langue de depart, entraine un appauvrissement
des moyens d'expression et, en consequence, un amoindrissement cul-
turel, une deculturation" [The disruption of the target language, in-
vaded by the usages and idioms of the source language, causes an im-
poverishment of the means of expression and, consequently, a cultural
diminishment, a deculturation] (Poisson 1977: 285). Two plausible re-
Robyns * Translationand Identity 417

actions can be imagined here. First, conscious, explicit attempts can

be made to keep alien elements out. Such reactions, even legislative
ones, have occurred in France since the beginning of the eighties: "[I1
faut] imposer ... a la presse de parler, d'ecrire correctement; inter-
dire partout aux publicitaires . .. de massacrer expres les langues
maternelles.... II faut exiger des mesures dirigistes" [The press must
be compelled to speak and write correctly; advertisers everywhere
must be forbidden to deliberately massacre their mother tongues. We
have to demand stringent measures] (Etiemble 1985: 107b). The other
reaction entails transforming the alien elements in accordance with
the conventions of the target discourse so as to preserve its identity.
This is what has happened in Quebec. However, the situation there is
quite complex. The official political-administrative threatening alien
is English-dominated Canada. Since France is no political threat to
Quebecois autonomy, Quebec's administrative language can be bor-
rowed from the official French of France, making it possible to "keep
out" the official English discourse.
In literature, however, the other is not only English-speaking
Canada, but also culturally dominant France (Brisset 1988b: 93). In
terms of literary fiction, Quebecois identity doesn't seem to be well
enough developed to take a defensive stance. Therefore, translations
of novels are presented as a way to supplement Quebecois literature
(Simon 1989: 80), that is, the limited cultural repertoire forces this
part of the system to take a defectivestand.
The theatre system, on the contrary, does employ a distinctively
Quebecois feature: the local variant of French, or "Joual,"10which
is a spoken language and therefore appropriate to the theatre (Bris-
set 1989: 10). Thus, while the English-Canadian "intruder" is kept
out (almost no English-Canadian plays are performed in the Quebe-
cois theatre [Brisset 1988a: 12]), texts from France are transformed
through the use of a specific sociolect (Brisset 1988b: 100).
Thus, the analysis of the Quebecois attitude toward discursive mi-
gration shows that a "common threat" to the different discourses con-
stituting a system doesn't necessarily mean that these discourses share
the same attitude toward this threat.
2.3. The Trans-DiscursiveStand
Without completely losing sight of its specificity, a discursive practice
can consider itself explicitly as a part of a larger discursive domain:
Wie in Europa een reele taalgemeenschapwil bevorderen,die samengaat
met de vele nationale talen wier bestaansrechtniet meer bewezen hoeft te
10. As Brisset (1988b, 1989, 1990) makes clear, the necessity of opposing Que-
bec to France by means of Joual even leads to the creation of "fake"differences
between French and Joual in the Quebecois theatre.
418 Poetics Today 15:3

worden, zou er goed aan doen zich niet vast te pinnen op de aanvaarding
van een enkele Cultuurtaalmet een grote c, met al het taalpuritanismeen
het culturele elitisme dat een dergelijkekeuze insluit.
[In order to promote in Europe a real linguisticcommunity,which coexists
with the many national languages whose right to exist doesn't have to be
proved anymore,it would be wise not to stickto the acceptanceof one single
language of Culture with a capitalC, with all the linguisticpuritanismand
culturalelitism that this choice implies.] (Frijhoff1988: 728)
This is the attitude prevailing in (though not really dominating) the
"progressive" part of today's Flemish-Dutch culture. (Actually, the first
basic option of this attitude is to stop separating "Flemish" and "Dutch"
culture.) In this case, specificity is not heavily emphasized (anymore),
but is seen from a more pragmatic viewpoint. Thus, when Frijhoff
draws a parallel in the following passage between the "corruption"
(the relativizing quotation marks are his) of Latin in the late Middle
Ages and the situation of Dutch today, he clearly doesn't consider
the Dutch language a value to be protected in its own right, distinct
from the requirements of efficient communication: "Wasdeze 'verbas-
tering' in zekere zin niet de prijs die moest betaald worden voor een
sterkere penetratie en de bevordering van een grotere bruikbaarheid
als internationale contact en cultuurtaal?" [Was not this "corruption"
in a certain sense the price that had to be paid for a stronger pene-
tration and a greater utility as a language of international contact
and culture?] (ibid.: 724). A trans-discursive doctrine doesn't explicitly
consider imported elements "other" or "alien," let alone "threaten-
ing." Both foreign discursive elements and those of "local production"
are seen as equal contributions to a common goal. To quote Frijhoff
again: "Is het Europese Amerikaans van thans, juist door onze idio-
men te besmetten, niet bezig zich de status van nieuwe lingua franca
te verwerven, tamelijk los van zijn Britse zowel als Amerikaanse oor-
sprong?" [Is today's European American, precisely by contaminating
our idioms, not on its way to attaining the status of a new lingua franca,
and this quite independently from its British as well as its American
origin?] (ibid.: 728).
Thus, in the Dutch magazine OnzeTaal (Our Language), J. J. Bakker
(1987: 73) gives, in a very detached manner, a list of "respectable rea-
sons" to allow the intrusion of foreign (especially English) words in
Dutch communication, such as the absence of an appropriate Dutch
term, the quest for variety, the need for a brief term, the imitation of a
successful metaphor, and so forth. The only (common) norm seems to
be efficient communication, and the only reprehensible way of dealing
with foreign terms is their gratuitous use-precisely because this blurs
Often, such an attitude is a reaction against what is seen as "unfruit-
Robyns * Translationand Identity 419

ful provincialism": the local production is not really considered defec-

tive, but is expected to reach beyond its local context. This attitude
can be observed, for instance, in the Flemish and Dutch film indus-
try today (and, indeed, in many European film industries). It is cer-
tainly not the case that contemporary films simply imitate foreign (say,
American) models. They try, rather, to combine local elements with
some sort of "international film language." Critics displaying the same
attitude don't consider these films to be imitations, but present them
as the contributions of a smaller film industry to a larger, international
one. Still, this attitude may lead to the disavowal or neglect of local fea-
tures and products. In such a case, we are no longer witnessing a local
discursive practice establishing its position within a larger entity, but
a larger, hegemonic discourse ignoring or denigrating local practices.
The trans-discursive doctrine then becomes an imperialist one.
Again, the type of reaction seems to depend on the position of a
given discourse within larger structures. Thus it should not surprise
us that recently one of the most extreme "internationalist" proposals
imaginable was made with respect to Dutch universities. The Dutch
education minister, Jo Ritzen, suggested that English be made the pri-
mary language of The Netherlands' universities. In our terms, this
would imply cutting off Dutch scientific discourse from local "discur-
sive practices" and merging it completely with an international struc-
ture. It is not so much the proposal itself which is significant as the
reactions to it of the Dutch opinion makers and public. Commentators
in the country's two main newspapers, Volkskrantand NRC Handelsblad,
expressed themselves as cautiously favorable, as did some university
administrators (Schrauwers 1990: 23). The editors of Onze Taal con-
demned the initiative, but not on the basis of any presumed primacy of
the Dutch language; rather, they warned that certain discourse types
would disappear from the system, causing a subsequent split between
the country's intellectual elites and the general public (Redactie Onze
Taal 1990: 24). However, even this relatively moderate position was
criticized by one of the magazine's readers (Roessingh 1990: 76).
Meanwhile, a similar debate has been going on in Flanders. Al-
though quite inconsistent with actual practice, the official position
there is against the use of English in universities. This reaction is,
again, a function of the superimposition of discourses: one of the first
and foremost claims of Flemish nationalism (which is kept alive by
the universities, among other institutions, for financial reasons and
as a consequence of institutional inertia) was the people's right to be
educated in their own language.
As indicated earlier, a trans-discursive attitude is in se problematic.
Every discursive practice tends to establish its autonomy by creating
corresponding institutions, and a trans-discursive doctrine, by ques-
420 Poetics Today 15:3

tioning the boundaries, is by definition a threat to the existence of

those institutions and thereby to order and stability. It will therefore
provoke defensive reactions, which usually take the form of purism,
that is, attempts to absolutize the conventions of the threatened dis-
A second relativizing comment to be made on the "internationalism"
of the Flemish-Dutch linguistic doctrine has to do with interference
from another discourse: that of the broadcast media. Indeed, if more
and more criticism can be made of the "corruption" of the Dutch lan-
guage, it is largely due to the defensive position into which intellectual
discourse as a whole has been forced by the mass media. Intellectual
elites (not only in the Low Countries, but anywhere in the Western
world12), whose position is entirely legitimized by appeal to the age-
old authority of literate discourse as social discourse-maker, now see
their dominance threatened by the growing influence of media dis-
course, which they do not dominate and have never learned to deal
with.13 As I have already indicated, there is probably no better incen-
tive for treating age-old conventions as absolute than a threat to the
dominant position of age-old institutions legitimized by them.
2.4. The Defective Stand
Finally, a discursive practice may acknowledge that it lacks the neces-
sary components for renewing itself, for adapting to a changing social
context. It will then take a "defective" position, turning to "alien"
discourses and importing discursive elements from them (see Even-
Zohar 1978: 18).14 Since this immigration is seen as an enrichment
of the target discourse, these discursive elements will generally be ex-
plicitly introduced as alien. Since the target discourse's repertoire is
seen as insufficient, the imported elements will not be transformed in
accordance with target-discourse conventions. Translation, then, will
be viewed positively.
It is this attitude which has completely determined the evolution
of the literary subsystem of the detective novel in postwar France.

11. See, for instance, Arno Schrauwers (1986: 66), in Onze Taal, and the almost
immediate rebuttal by A. J. Onstenk (1986: 130-31), who exposes the internal
contradictions of purist discourse.
12. For instance, in the United States, E. D. Hirsch has attempted to establish an
officially sanctioned American canon of "cultural literacy." In this case, the threat
to literate discourse posed by the mass media is reinforced by the threat to white
intellectual dominance posed by the (belated and already eroding) legitimation of
ethnic minority discourses.
13. For a more extended discussion of intellectuals' defensive reactions toward
mass-media culture, see Robyns (1991).
14. I prefer the term "defective" to "weak" or "dependent," which Even-Zohar
currently uses.
Robyns * Translationand Identity 421

Again, the position accorded such a subsystem is a function of the

interaction among various discourses. Before the Second World War,
the French detective novel constituted a rather weak system: it had
a very limited tradition (mainly the late nineteenth-century feuilleton
[serial story] author Emile Gaboriau and Maurice Leblanc, the creator
of Arsene Lupin) and an equally limited contemporary production.
Most detective novels were imported from Britain and were published
in the Le Masque series, whose major authors were Agatha Christie
and Patricia Wentworth.
If the local production succeeded in maintaining any autonomy, it
was due solely to the French-speaking Belgian Georges Simenon, who
totally dominated the genre. He integrated the whodunit formula with
the French bourgeois novel of the early twentieth century and thereby
succeeded in staking out an ambiguous position between detective
novels and "serious" fiction. In his novels and those of his epigones,
the mystery took a backseat to melodrama, psychologism, and solid
petit-bourgeois values and lifestyles. Functioning as a prototype of the
French entre-deux-guerresdetective novelist, Simenon would remain for
years the favorite butt of attacks by a new generation of hard-boiled
French writers. As late as 1973, the Magazine litterairesummarized the
period before and immediately after the Second World War in the
following polemic terms:
La France?Silence ...
Simenon (Georges) regne. Depuis les annees 30. II produit. Du fini. Du
cousu main. A la virgule. Une rationannuellede Simenon.Simenonroman.
Simenon Maigret.... Du comestible,du surgele.... Des bourgeois qui
produisent pour les bourgeoisen se rassurant.
[France?Silence ...
Simenon (Georges)reigns. Since the thirties. He produces. Craftmanship.
Polished. To the comma. An annual ration of Simenon. Simenon novel.
Simenon Maigret.Edible,deep-frozen.Bourgeoisproductionfor bourgeois
tranquilizing.] (Ysmal 1973: 25)
Meanwhile, the Anglo-American detective novel was undergoing
profound changes: the dominant model of the British whodunit was
(violently) attacked by American authors, such as Dashiell Hammett
and Raymond Chandler. For the American reader of the 1920s and
1930s, in a country haunted by organized crime and institutional-
ized corruption, murders in the libraries of peaceful English country
houses had obviously lost their appeal. Hence the appearance of the
hard-boiled detective novel, which would gradually relegate the mys-
tery to the background in order to emphasize violent action scenes.
Some of those novels (by Hammett and Raoul Whitfield) had been
translated in France during the 1930s. However, they were excluded
from the genre of the detective novel by being published (with little
422 Poetics Today 15:3

success) in the collection Chefsd'oeuvredu Roman d'Aventures.Thus the

autonomy of the French "literary" detective novel was preserved.
This fragile (because static) equilibrium was shattered after the war.
The image of the United States as the victor in the war and the pro-
tector of Western Europe, as well as its economic influence through
the Marshall Plan (1947) and its cultural domination via control of the
media (with the European print and broadcast media systems still to
be reestablished), led to an unprecedented vogue of "buying Ameri-
can." The local governments attempted to curtail this influence. For
instance, after the war, France (like Italy and Spain) imposed import
quotas on American films while heavily subsidizing the local film in-
dustry. In 1949, a censorship law on comic strips was passed in France.
Although officially aimed at the moral protection of youngsters, it was
clearly tailored to American imports. However, these measures had
an effect only in areas where France could fall back on a solid local
This was not the case with the detective novel. Supported by the
parallel development of film noir, the genre took an extremely defec-
tive stance toward Anglo-American imports. As Marcel Duhamel, the
creator of the new but highly influential Serie Noire, made clear in his
1947 introduction to the first issues of his series, the new models to be
opposed to the Simenon tradition were British and American: "Nous
avons fait appel aux grands specialistes du roman policier mouve-
mente: Burnett, James Cain, Hadley Chase, Peter Cheyney, Horace
McCoy, Dashiell Hammett, Don Tracy, Raoul Whitfield, etc." [We have
appealed to the great specialists of the hard-boiled detective novel: ... ]
(quoted in Dupuy 1974: 43-44). The shift of models couldn't have
been more radical. To quote Duhamel again: "L'amateur d'enigmes a
la Sherlock Holmes n'y trouvera pas souvent son compte.... I1 reste
de l'action, de l'angoisse, de la violence-sous toutes ses formes et par-
ticulierement les plus honnies-du tabassage et du massacre" [The
devotee of Sherlock Holmes enigmas won't very often find anything
to suit him. What remains is action, fear, violence-in all its forms and
especially the most infamous ones-brawls and massacres] (ibid.). As
stated above, a defective stand treats imports from other discourses
as enrichment and therefore emphasizes their alien character. With
respect to the detective novel, an extreme form of the defective stance
occurred: the French product denied its local character and presented
itself as translated. Thus the Minuit series, created in 1941, published
only pseudo-translations. Its directors, Louis Daquin and Louis Cha-
vance, took the pen names Lewis MacDackin (!), Irving Ford, and Jack
River. Some authors, such as Leo Malet and Jean Meckert, who would
later become two of the main exponents of the French roman noir,
started out as "Americans." Likewise, San-Antonio, who would later
Robyns * Translationand Identity 423

monopolize the parody of the hard-boiled detective novel, published

his first novels in 1947 under the pseudonym "Kill Him."
Translation dominated the genre until the late 1960s: 75 percent
of the Serie Noire novels were translated. That translation was viewed
positively is hardly surprising, since the target discourse no longer had
its own models to oppose to the imported texts. It also meant that
translations could only be "faithful" to the original (i.e., to the hard-
boiled model's features), as there was simply no alternative. It would
take French authors almost two decades to develop a distinctly French
version of the hard-boiled novel: the roman noir. Gradually, the num-
ber of translations dropped (especially in new collections), and the
imported texts were, as is normally the case in France, once again
adapted.15 In the 1970s, another shift of models occurred (roman noir
became neo-polar), but this time it was initiated by the local product.
So, in 1973, the editors of the Magazine litterairecould look back on
the history of the detective novel and conclude:
II est ne en Angleterre au XVIIIe siecle, mais, dans lAmeriquedes annees
trente, il est reapparu,transforme.... Ce roman noir est venu chez nous,
traduit par la SerieNoire.Puis des auteurs francaisl'ontcompris, repris, et
nous expliquent, avec l'humourdu roman noir, ce qu'est, d'une certaine
maniere, la Franced'aujourd'hui.
[It was born in England in the eighteenth century,but, in the America of
the thirties, it reappeared, transformed.This roman noir has come to us,
translatedby the SerieNoire.Then Frenchauthors,havingunderstood and
adapted it, explained to us, with the humorof the roman noir, what is, in a
certain sense, today'sFrance.] (Redaction1973: 10)
Although it fit into a general sociocultural tendency of the postwar
period, the defective attitude of the French detective novel genre was
mainly motivated by intrasystemic needs. This is not a necessary condi-
tion: a specific superposition of discourses can also cause a shift toward
a defective stand. Wolfgang Bauer (1964) describes how the Commu-
nist takeover in China, based on a total rejection of the political/social/
cultural system, forced the entire "market of symbolic goods" to take
a defective stance toward the Soviet Union from the late 1940s to the
end of the 1950s. (This meant, of course, that the Chinese cultural
system was simultaneously forced to take a trans-discursive stance with
respect to the overall sociopolitical discourse.) An enormous trans-
lation apparatus was developed, with thousands of translations (and
retranslations!) of Russian texts produced in every field from litera-
ture to the natural sciences and engineering (ibid.: 6-12). The defec-
tive stand toward the Soviet Union even determined the selection of

15. For a more detailed study of translation strategies in this period, see Robyns
424 Poetics Today 15:3

Western authors to be translated into Chinese, as Bauer clearly dem-

onstrates (ibid.: 22-26). He quotes a 1959 group statement by Chinese
Communist scholars: "In promoting the wide establishment of Social-
ism the literature of the most advanced Soviet Socialism and Realism
fits best to our intellectual education and our continuously increasing
need for cultural borrowing" (ibid.: 18).
It would be difficult to find a more telling demonstration of some of
the main hypotheses put forward in this paper: the explicit acknowl-
edgment of "enrichment" via discursive immigration as typical of the
defective stand; the importance of power relations between discur-
sive practices; the need to study discourses instead of texts, let alone
exclusively literary texts.
3. By Way of Conclusion
If we expand the notion of translation to include the migration and
transformation of discursive elements, if we stop limiting our studies
to (literary) texts, if we see interdiscursive power relations as the main
factor in determining whether translation will be considered a "threat"
to discursive autonomy and identity, then we cannot avoid raising the
same questions about our own discourse. For one thing, applying the
same approach to both our research topic and our own discourse may
save us from the illusion of "neutral science" and, at the same time,
allow us to meet what I consider one of the basic criteria for con-
temporary cultural sciences: the maximal thematizing of historical-
contextual factors with respect to both the object and the subject of
More specifically, however, the phenomenon of identity construc-
tion seems particularly important within the field of translation
studies. Indeed, the unity and identity of this "semi-autonomous
(inter-)discipline" (Toury and Lambert 1989: 1) is not at all self-
evident. Many recent attempts have been made to integrate the vari-
ous approaches: books such as Mary Snell-Hornby's (1988) Transla-
tion Studies: An IntegratedApproach;journals such as Target (founded
in 1989); and conference proceedings such as TranslationStudies: The
State of the Art (Van Leuven-Zwart and Naaijkens 1991). Still, the
heterogeneity of those publications reveals precisely the constructed
character of the so-called discipline. Three branches of the humani-
ties form the basis of this construct: linguistics, translator training, and
comparative literature. All three have been competing for a hegemonic
position in the field and have often taken a more or less "imperialis-
tic" stance toward each other. Thus Snell-Hornby (1988) appropriates
various approaches and concepts without ever transcending the pur-
pose of vocational training in translation-perhaps in reaction to the
tendency among many translation scholars to reject the possibility of
Robyns * Translationand Identity 425

a science of translation didactics. Similarly, in their introduction to

Translation, History and Culture, editors Bassnett and Lefevere (1990:
ix) claim to be addressing translation in general, but then immediately
and implicitly restrict "translation" to literary translation. Thus the
"cultural turn" advocated in this volume often appears to be instead an
attempt to impose the models of literary translation on the discipline
as a whole.
On the other hand, the lack of a distinct identity for the "discipline"
of translation studies has often led to a defective attitude toward other
disciplines, with concepts and models thus being imported from vari-
ous other discourses.16 However, because of the need to preserve the
problematic autonomy of translation studies, these borrowings have
always been partial. For instance, the introduction of the sociological
concept of "norm" by Gideon Toury (1978) has undoubtedly had a
decisive influence on the field, but most scholars-out of a firm de-
termination to restrict translation to a binary relationship between
texts-have ignored the social-institutional aspects of the concept.
More recently, such sociocritical notions as "discourse" have been im-
ported (e.g., by Annie Brisset, among others), but again at the expense
of their institutional aspect.
So it appears that the postulated unity and autonomy of translation
studies is based on a specific "doxa" and reinforced by institutional
factors, such as translation teaching programs, although it is a doxa
that severely restricts the questions that may be raised. Indeed, the
only common ground for linguists, students of comparative literature,
and translation teachers seems to be the (interlinguistically) translated
text. Therefore, the existence of a unified discipline demands that all
other aspects (i.e., other cultural/discursive interference, discourse on
translation, institutional factors, etc.) be relegated to a "context" to
which appeals may be made a posteriori in order to explain something,
but which can never be an actual object of study.
I hope to have demonstrated here that such reductivism is unten-
able: one cannot distinguish translation from other forms of "discur-
sive migration," translation strategies from discourse on translation
and the "alien," or textual procedures from institutional strategies.
From this point of view, "translation studies" would proceed as follows:
starting from the provisional identification of a discursive practice, we
would study the ways in which that discourse constructs its identity, its
position relative to other discourses, the various types of interference
between them, the ways in which it (or any of its participants) deals
with interference, and the relations between those attitudes and the

16. A similar diagnosis has been made by Roda P. Roberts (1988) and by Dirk
Delabastita (1991).
426 Poetics Today 15:3

social-institutional positions of their advocates. This "trans-discursive"

doctrine (which was already formulated in 1981 by Even-Zohar in his
"Call for Transfer Theory") does not seek to be another "theory of
translation"; on the contrary, it questions the very possibility of an
independenttheory or discipline of translation.
Referencesand Related Works
Angenot, Marc
1989 1889: Un etat du discours social (Quebec: Le Pr6ambule).
Bakker, J. J.
1987 "Tien redenen," Onze Taal 56(6): 73.
Bassnett, Susan, and Andre Lefevere, eds.
1990 Translation, History and Culture (London/New York: Pinter).
Bauer, Wolfgang
1964 WesternLiterature and Translation Workin Communist China (Frankfurt/Ber-
lin: Alfred Metzner).
Brisset, Annie
1988a "Le Public et son traducteur: Profil id6ologique de la traduction au Que-
bec," TTR 1(2): 11-18.
1988b "Translation and Parody: Quebec Theatre in the Making," Canadian Lit-
erature 117: 92-106.
1989 "In Search of a Target Language: The Politics of Theatre Translation in
Quebec," Target 1(1): 9-27.
1990 Sociocritique de la traduction: Theatre et alterite au Quebec (1968-1988) (Que-
bec: Le Pr6ambule).
Bruguiere, Michel
1985 "Langue et culture francaises: Les Elements d'une politique interna-
tionale," in Encyclopaedia Universalis, Symposium, 1018-24 (Paris: Encyclopaedia
Universalis S.A.).
Calvet, Louis-Jean
1986 "Le Francais dans tous ses etats," Le Francais dans le monde 203: 24-25.
De Geest, Dirk
1992 "The Notion of'System': Its Theoretical Importance and Its Methodologi-
cal Implications for a Functionalist Translation Theory," in Geschichte, System,
Literarische Ubersetzung/Histories, Systems,Literary Translations, edited by Harald
Kittel, 32-45 (Berlin: Erich Schmidt).
Delabastita, Dirk
1991 "A False Opposition in Translation Studies: Theoretical versus/and His-
torical Approaches," Target 3(2): 137-52.
Dirkx, Paul
1990 "Notre litterature non pas lue, mais vue par les Francais," in Les Relations lit-
terairesfranco-belges de 1914 i 1940, edited by Robert Frickx, 13-27 (Brussels:
VUB Press).
Dupuy, Josee
1974 Le Roman policier (Paris: Larousse).
Edwards, John
1985 Language, Society and Identity (Oxford/New York: Basil Blackwell).
Etiemble, Rene
1985 "Le Babelien," in Encyclopaedia Universalis, Symposium, 105-9 (Paris: Ency-
clopaedia Universalis S.A.).
Robyns * Translationand Identity 427

Even-Zohar, Itamar
1978 Papers in Historical Poetics (Tel Aviv: The Porter Institute for Poetics and
1981 "Translation Theory Today: A Call for Transfer Theory," Poetics Today
2(4): 1-7.
1990 Polysystem Studies. Special issue of Poetics Today 11(1).
Fishman, Joshua A.
1989 Language and Ethnicity in Minority Sociolinguistic Perspective (Clevedon/Phila-
delphia: Multilingual Matters).
Frijhoff, Willem
1988 "Nationale talen, contacttalen, cultuurtalen: Lessen uit een geschiedenis,"
Kultuurleven 55(8): 722-28.
Kundera, Milan
1968 La Plaisanterie: Traduit par Marcel Aymonin (Paris: Gallimard).
1985 La Plaisanterie: Traduction entierement revisee par Claude Courtot et l'auteur.
Versiondefinitive (Paris: Gallimard).
Lambert, Jose
1987 "Un modele descriptif pour l'etude de la litterature: La Litterature comme
polysysteme," Contextos 5(9): 47-67.
1989 "La Traduction, les langues et la communication de masse: Les Ambiguites
du discours international," Target 1(2): 215-37.
Lambert, Jose, and Clem Robyns
In press "Translation," in Semiotics: A Handbook on the Sign-Theoretic Founda-
tions of Nature and Culture, edited by Roland Posner, Klaus Robering, and
Thomas A. Sebeok (Berlin/New York: Mouton De Gruyter).
Lanson, Gustave
1923 Histoire illustree de la litteraturefrancaise (Paris: Hachette).
Onstenk, A. J.
1986 "Mijn huis met auto-afdak?" Onze Taal 55(10): 130-31.
Pecheur, Jacques
1986a "Creation d'un Secretariat a la francophonie: Un front populaire," Le
Francais dans le monde 203: 23.
1986b "Francophonie: Etat d'urgence et etat des lieux," Le Francais dans le monde
201: 27-28.
1990 "Francais: Un rendez-vous et un renouveau a ne pas manquer, Entretien
avec Bernard Aubert," Le Francais dans le monde 230: 26-28.
Poisson, Jacques
1977 "La Traduction, facteur d'acculturation?" in La Traduction, une professionl
Translating, a Profession: Actes du Vlle congres mondial de la Federation Interna-
tionale des Traducteurs, edited by Paul A. Horguelin, 281-91 (Ottawa: Conseil
de traducteurs et interpretes du Canada).
Pucheu, Rene
1985 "Question d'identite: Touche pas a mon pote!" Le Francais dans le monde
195: 14-15.
Redactie Onze Taal
1990 "Engels als instructietaal," Onze Taal 59(2-3): 24.
Redaction Le Magazine littiraire
1973 "Le Roman noir," Le Magazine litteraire 78: 10.
Roberts, Roda P.
1988 "The Need for Systematization of Translation Theory," in Translation, Our
Future, edited by Paul Nekeman, 117-223 (Maastricht: Euroterm).
428 Poetics Today 15:3

Robyns, Clem
1990 "The Normative Model of Twentieth Century Belles Infideles: Detective
Novels in French Translation," Target 2(1): 23-42.
1991 "'Er Zijn Geen Waarden Meer': Populaire cultuur vandaag," in De prins
en de kikker:Interacties tussen populaire en gecanoniseerde cultuur, edited by Joris
Vlasselaers, 14-32 (Leuven/Antwerp: VAL).
1992 "Towards a Socio-Semiotics of Translation," Romanistische Zeitschrift fur
Literaturgeschichte 1(2): 211-26.
In press "Defending the National Identity: Franglais and the Francophonie," in
Kanonisierungsprozesse, edited by Andreas Poltermann (Berlin: Erich Schmidt).
Roessingh, Marius
1990 "Engels aan de universiteit," Onze Taal 59(5): 76.
Schrauwers, Arno
1986 "De veramerikaansing van onze taal," Onze Taal 55(5): 66-67.
1990 "De strapatsen van Ritzen," Onze Taal 59(2-3): 23.
Simon, Sherry
1989 L'Inscription sociale de la traduction au Quebec (Quebec: Office de la langue
1990 "Paradoxes du discours quebecois sur la traduction," Meta 35(1): 214-18.
Snell-Hornby, Mary
1988 Translation Studies: An Integrated Approach (Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John
Toury, Gideon
1978 "The Nature and Role of Norms in Literary Translation," in Literature and
Translation, edited by James S. Holmes,Jose Lambert, and Raymond Van Den
Broeck, 83-100 (Leuven: Acco).
1980 In Search of a Theory of Translation (Tel Aviv: The Porter Institute for Poetics
and Semiotics).
Toury, Gideon, and Jose Lambert
1989 "On Target's Targets," Target 1(1): 1-7.
Van Leuven-Zwart, Kitty M., and Ton Naaijkens, eds.
1991 Translation Studies: The State of the Art. Proceedings of the First James S. Holmes
Symposium on Translation Studies (Amsterdam/Atlanta: Rodopi).
Wauters, Stef
1991 "Langue, litterature, traduction dans la France romantique: Le Discours
sur la traduction dans l'Encyclopedie des Gens du Monde." M.A. thesis, K.U.
Weinreich, Uriel
1966 [1953] Languages in Contact (The Hague: Mouton).
Ysmal, Pierre
1973 "Du nouveau dans la Serie Noire," Le Magazine litteraire 78: 25-27.