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Review of Translation, resistance, activism

posted December 19th, 2011

Translation, resistance, activism. Ed. by Maria Tymoczko. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010. Pp. ix, 299. ISBN 9781558498334. $26.95.

Reviewed by Julie M. Winter, Gonzaga University

This collection of essays offers examples of translation work that is resistant and/or active in nature. The goal of the collection is to present evidence of resistance and activism in the history of translation in order to begin to build a theory of resistant translation. Although the editor states that the inspiration for the collection is the theoretical work of Lawrence Venuti in this area, it is important to note that the essays themselves are generally concrete descriptions of resistant translation rather than presentations of theoretical concepts.

It would be impossible to do justice to the eleven essays here. Instead I offer a brief summary of two in order to give the reader an idea of what translation as resistance or activism looks like. In ‘Translation and the emancipation of Hispanic America’ (42–62), Georges L. Bastin, Álvaro Echeverri, and Ángela Campo highlight the clearly activist role of translation in the emancipation process of Hispanic America during in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Influenced by the Enlightenment and the French and American Revolutions, the peoples of Spanish descent sought to break from Spain during this period. Activists translated and published banned works by authors such as Voltaire and Thomas Jefferson, as well as revolutionary songs. The authors of the essay trace the history of specific translations—how they were done, where they were published, the effect that they had, and what happened to the translators—and in the process offer a fascinating account of activist translation work. They write that the texts were ‘pretexts’, that is, a way to transmit revolutionary ideas in which the translators ardently believed (61).

Antonia Carcelen-Estrada in ‘Covert and overt ideologies in the translation of the Bible into Huao Terero’ (65–86) relates how the Bible came to be translated into Huao Terero, the language of the indigenous people of the Ecuadorian Amazon, called the Huaorani. Two threads run through this essay: one is the history of how the Huaorani came to be subjugated and exploited by outsiders, an endeavor led by missionaries set on translating the Bible into Huao Terero and converting the people to Christianity, and the other is the nature of the Bible translation that was carried out. The resistance in translation in this context has to do with how the Huaorani have managed to resist outsiders and their ways and beliefs, including Christianity, while seeming to comply.

Another essay that deals with a kind of quiet resistance to outsiders by way of translation is ‘Ne`e Papa I Ke Ō Mau: Language as an indicator of Hawaiian resistance and power’ by Pua`ala`okalani D. Aiu. Authors Mona Baker, Denise Merkle, Nitsa Ben-Ari, Brian James Baer, Paul F. Bandia, John Milton, Else R.P. Vieira, and Maria Tymoczko offer additional contributions in a wide variety of areas, such as translation of erotic materials and translation in political contexts.

These novel essays offer intriguing views into a variety of time periods, cultures, and events. They tell of translators’ amazing and sometimes heroic deeds, in the process taking the topic of translation out of the purely esoteric realm. Practically speaking, one could easily incorporate these essays into a course on translation history or even into an anthropological linguistics class, but the essays are also worthwhile reading for anyone interested in translation in general.