In my today’s post, I will add one more example of translation going beyond interlingual translation.
The text is a sociological classic—C. Wright Mills’ The Sociological Imagination (first published in 1959 and reprinted by Oxford UP in 2000). In Chapter 2, while critiquing sociological grand theory, such as Talcott Parsons’ The Social System, he, amongst other things, levels harsh criticism on Parsons’ writing style. In other words, Mills basically blames Parsons in obfuscating simple ideas: “Is grand theory, as represented in The Social System, only about 50 per cent verbiage; 40 per cent is well-known textbook sociology. The other 10 per cent, as Parsons might say, I am willing to leave open for your own empirical investigations. My own investigations suggest that the remaining 10 per cent is of possible—although rather vague—ideological use” (2000: 49). One of the devices employed by Mills to dethrone Parsons (and we are not discussing whether or to what extent Mills is better than the object of his criticisms) was translation.
In the opening paragraph of Chapter 2, Mills cites what he calls “a most eminent representative of the style” [of Parsons’ The Social System]: “An element of a shared symbolic system which serves as a criterion or standard for selection among the alternatives of orientation which are intrinsically open in a situation may be called a value… But from this motivational orientation aspect of the totality of action it is, in view of the role of symbolic systems, necessary to distinguish a ‘value-orientation’ aspect. This aspect concerns, not the meaning of the expected state of affairs to the actor in terms of his gratification-deprivation balance but the content of the selective standards themselves. The concept of value-orientations in this sense is thus the logical device for formulating one central aspect of the articulation of cultural traditions into the action system” (p. 25). Et cetera. I’ll stop here at the end of the first paragraph, although Mills cites three paragraphs. Mills concedes that Grand Theory “is well worth considering” (p. 26), but hastily adds that “the fact is that it is not readily understandable; the suspicion is that it may not be altogether intelligible” (ibid.). The goal of this unintelligibility is seen by Mills to be “a protective advantage,” but he explains that the problem is with the target audience’s reception: “…it is a disadvantage in so far as its pronunciamentos are intended to influence the working habits of social scientists” (ibid.). He analyses, quite unoriginally, the production of text as target-audience-oriented. Let us note a similarity with target-system-theorised translation (associated primarily with Toury). Mills proceeds to outline four types of readers of Parsons:
1) those claiming to understand it and liking it consider it “one of the greatest advances in the entire history of social science”;
2) those claiming to understand it but not liking it view it as “a clumsy piece of irrelevant ponderosity”;
3) to those not claiming to understand and yet liking it, Parsons’ work is “a wondrous maze, fascinating precisely because of its often splendid lack of intelligibility”;
4) finally, those not claiming to understand or like it and having the courage to say as much, know best to see that “indeed the emperor has no clothes” (p. 26).
Such situation, in order to be clarified, requires what may be compared with re-translation where the source is an idea and two texts intending to express it are translations—the first one is by Parsons, but since it’s deemed to be inadequate, a second one is attempted by Mills himself:
“To translate the example quoted at the opening of this chapter [what was page-long of which I gave you one paragraph above]: People often share standards and expect one another to stick to them. In so far as they do, their society may be orderly. (end of translation)” (p. 27).
The retranslation is concise and lucid. Its goal is to demonstrate that the idea can be expressed in two short simple sentences. The curt “end of translation” makes this abundantly clear.
Mills calls his rendering of Parsons’ text ‘translation’ explicitly. In this sense he translates not the idea but Parsons’ text. He explains that his translation is a way to answer the question: “After all the impediments to meaning are removed from grand theory and what is intelligible becomes available what, then, is being said?” (p. 27).
Note how his translation effort is contextualized: “I have already indicated my choice of example” (p. 27). As any translator, he chooses his source text with a rationale (“a most eminent representative of the style,” p. 25). Then he says: “In translating the contents of The Social System into English…” (p. 27). So, his translation is a translation of “the contents,” which corroborates my defining Mills’ translation as a re-translation—a new translation of the same contents that Parsons also attempted to translate. Both translated into English, but since Mills draws on how the contents are expressed in The Social System, he translates from English into English. He feels necessary to specify this as his readers, associating translation with interlingual translation, might wonder, into what language would he translate, if the text is already in English. Mills is facetious, rather then precise here: he is far from talking about some would term intralingual translation—what he really wants to say (and here I’m translating intralingually too—from English into English, but, unlike Mills, not so much some a theoretical idea as his intention or motivation) is that Parsons’ English is not English at all or enough.
Mills further says that he does not “pretend that [his] translation is excellent, but only that in the translation no explicit meaning is lost” (p. 27). What he means that his phrases may not be particularly elegant prose, but the contents (=idea or ideas) are rendered and not lost in translation: “This—I am asserting—contains all that is intelligible in it” (p. 27). The contents are equated with the ‘intelligible’ part of Parsons’ passage. Mills has a strategy in mind: “I shall attempt to sort out statements about something from definitions of words and of their wordy relations. Both are important; to confuse them is fatal to clarity” (p. 27). He also has a programme of actions to undertake in order to achieve his goal of probing the validity and novelty of Parsons’ theory: “To make evident the sort of thing that is needed, I shall first translate several passages; then I shall offer two abbreviated translations of the book as a whole” (p. 27).
He introduces some of his translations of passages to follow “Or in other words:” (p. 29). He may be not “altogether faithful” when for instance he decides to “help out a little because these are very good ideas” (p. 29). He may explain something in plain language but then he may “put it more sociologically, although not yet altogether so” as in “an institution is a set of roles graded in authority” (p. 30). Why is this not fully sociological is not quite clear. Perhaps, it’s Mills’ irony again: Parsons speaks sociologically—Mills, at most, speaks only “more sociologically, although not yet altogether so.” He is ready to accommodate the needs of his readers—who may not understand an altogether sociological discussion.
Mills’ verdict is that “[i]n a similar fashion, I suppose, one could translate the 555 pages of The Social System into about 150 pages of straightforward English. The result would not be very impressive. It would, however, contain the terms in which the key problem of the book, and the solution it offers to this problem, are most clearly statable” (p. 31). Mills claims that “any idea [yet another proof that he did translate an idea behind Parsons’ English], any book can of course be suggested in a sentence or expounded in twenty volumes.” He then provides two-phrase intralingual versions of Parsons’ book and of two of his own books (p. 31); then he translates Parsons’ in a four-paragraph version (pp. 32–3). So there are different types of intralingual retranslations possible. When does one stop? When one, as Mills does, can say: “Perhaps that is enough” (p. 33). So, intralingual translation in Mills’ interpretation is more of an art measurable by the translator’s inner feeling of satisfaction with his/her work.
It should be remembered, at that: “Of course we could translate more fully, but ‘more fully’ does not necessarily mean ‘more adequately…” (p. 33). As it is possible to compare source texts with their versions in interlingual translation, it is possible to compare intralingual sources and translations, but, as Mills says, “I invite the reader to inspect The Social System and find more” (p. 33). Note that, unlike in interlingual translation, here any reader can compare—we are still in the domain of one language. But why there are, according to Mills, those who do not understand Parsons’ book? He was careful to qualify his statements about such people: they do not claim to understand Parsons (p. 26). It is not a matter of language, then. His translation was necessitated by his motivation to debunk Parsons’ writing style.
This type of motivation of intralingual translation is not simply rewording in order to explain—there is another agenda here.