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Review of Translation and Fantasy Literature in Taiwan
Review's Editors: Malgorzata Cavar and Sara Couture
This book employs Pierre Bourdieu’s habitus-capital-field framework (e.g. Bourdieu 1990, 1992, 1995a, 1995b, 1998, 2008; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992) to explore the upsurge of fantasy literature translation in Taiwan from 1998 to present day, and discusses the socio-cultural roles played by the fantasy translators. It is targeted at scholars and students in the field of translation studies, particularly those specialized in the sociological studies of translation, but it also holds interest to those who have curiosity about fantasy literature, Taiwan studies, and Bourdieu’s theory of sociology.
The monograph consists of an introduction and five chapters. While Chapters 1 and 2 introduce the theoretical framework and fantasy literature in Taiwan, the next two chapters explore the translation field in Taiwan and the social roles of fantasy translators. Chapter 5 is the conclusion of the book.
The “Introduction” provides some background information of Taiwan’s translation practice, and then brings up two questions to be investigated in the book as well as three assumptions as starting points for the discussion. The two research questions are, first, what are the social and cultural forces behind the rise of fantasy translation in Taiwan since 1998, and second, how are the fantasy translators recognized. The three assumptions underlying the further discussion are separately talked about: first, translators in the history of China used to be invisible; second, fantasy literature used to be marginal in Taiwan; and third, the game industry in Taiwan opened up opportunities for fantasy literature as a genre to thrive there. This section also sets out the reasons why fantasy translation in Taiwan since 1998 is to be investigated.
Chapter 1, “The Sociological Turn of Translation Studies,” presents the theoretical framework employed throughout the book. First, after briefly reviewing the history of translation studies, from the early linguistic and literary studies of translation to the “cultural turn”, Chung introduces the sociological approach to translation studies and a recent trend towards translator-centric studies. Then, the author presents Bourdieu’s approach to translation studies that views translation as a social practice. Bourdieu’s habitus-capital-field framework for translation studies is illustrated here through defining and discussing such concepts as translators’ habitus, the translation field, and translators as social agents. Habitus can be defined as the socialized dispositions that maneuver people’s ways of thinking and behaving. One acquires her/his habitus from previous social experiences and in return the habitus that is acquired shapes her/his perception and behaviors. Social agents with different habitus will struggle for four types of capital (economic, cultural, social, and symbolic capital) with other agents in a given field. In this chapter, Chung not only reviews Bourdieu’s theory but also illustrates its application in translation studies. Translators with different habitus will select different texts to translate and use different strategies for translation. They struggle for all types of capital with other translators as well as other agents (e.g. publishers, reviewers) in a translation field. As with any other field, a translation field is dynamic rather than static. For one thing, translators can affect a field by accepting or rejecting its norms. For another, the interactions and struggles for power between various social agents are shaped by and at the same time reshape the field.
Chapter 2, “The Evolution of Fantasy Literature in Taiwan,” offers an overview of the evolution of fantasy literature in Taiwan from a historical perspective. The author first outlines the definitions and conceptualization of fantasy in Western literary history, where categories and key concepts are briefly discussed. Then Chung introduces the fantasy writing in Chinese history, mainly covering two literary genres: Zhi Guai (a classical Chinese literary genre that gives a prominent part to strange and supernatural stories), and Wu Xia (a popular literary genre that features martial arts). Subsequently, this chapter describes the sudden increase of fantasy translation in Taiwan from 1998 onwards and identifies factors that may directly contribute to the thriving of fantasy translation. In particular, the rise of role-playing games, the reading of fairy tales, and the development of local rental book stores all play important roles in the sudden emergence of fantasy translation in Taiwan.
In Chapter 3, “A Translation Field in the Taiwanese Market,” the author surveys the translation field of Taiwan contextualized in publishing, the literary field, and book and translation reviewing. Translation in Taiwan is seen as a field not because of its high institutionalization, but because it is a social space where various agents struggle for power and resources. After a brief introduction of Bourdieu’s framework of a publishing field, the author reviews the history of the publishing industry and the status quo of the publishing business in Taiwan. Then Chung focuses on the fantasy translation business in Taiwan and discusses the translation publishing practice of five major publishers that publish translated fantasy books. The practice includes book selection, translator selection, book editing, distribution and marketing. Finally Chung talks about two fields closely related to the Taiwanese translation field: the language culture in the Taiwanese literary field as well as book and translation review in Taiwan. In the first aspect, the language in Taiwan is very much literary-based. In the second aspect, the translation review in Taiwan is largely limited to the linguistic level, without taking social contexts into consideration.
After the study of Taiwanese translation field in the previous chapter, Chapter 4 focuses on the fantasy translators. As an active force that struggles for capitals in a given field, the social agents are creative on the one hand and restricted by social contexts on the other hand. Translators are creative in that they are able to select source texts, and adopt their own unique strategies for translation. Meanwhile, they are partially determined by the society. For instance, the Taiwanese fantasy translators are influenced by the computer gaming industry. The author conducts the interview-based case studies of three representative fantasy translators: Zhu Xue-Heng, Tan Guang-Lei and Hsu Ching-Wen. Their social habitus and professional habitus are analyzed. Due to their habitus, the style of their translation is radically different from that of traditional translation that is decisively influenced by the academic field and literary field. Their new style results from the influence of online gaming community and internet language: creation of new terms, instructive tone from technical manuals, and usage of colloquialism. Although the fantasy translation is criticized by the academic and literary reviewers, it is highly appraised by netizens, namely Internet users, and is popular with common readers. The fantasy translators have challenged the traditional norms and strived for capitals (e.g. economic resources, social power, and reputation) in the translation field of Taiwan, thus reshaping this field.
The final chapter summarizes the findings of the study and provides suggestions for further research. The book illustrates the Taiwanese translation field in relation to book market as well as translation and book reviews in Taiwan. The achievements of those fantasy translators result from their habitus on the one hand and the status of book market and the rise of online gaming on the other hand. The future research agenda pointed out by the author includes the investigation of fantasy translators’ impact on readers, the survey of the fantasy translators’ influence on other translators, and the building of large corpora.
This study is a successful case that applies Bourdieu’s sociological theory to translation studies. Using the habitus-capital-field framework, the study explores the social forces (e.g. online game industry) that bring about the rise of fantasy translation in Taiwan, and analyzes how the fantasy translators struggle for all types of capital, particularly how they earn economic interests and social recognition. The sociological perspective allows the investigation of different contextual elements of Taiwanese fantasy translation as well as the relationship of fantasy translators with other translators and other social agents within the translation field. The book shows the explanatory power of Bourdieu’s theory of sociology and broadens its application. At the same time, it demonstrates the effectiveness of a sociocultural approach to translation studies.
Although the overall research design is well-structured, there is still room for improvement in methodology. The sociological approach used in this monograph could be complemented and enhanced by textual analysis. The sociological perspective on translation studies goes beyond the language level, stressing social contexts and the role of translators as active social agents, and thus in this book it plays an essential role in revealing the social forces behind fantasy translation and the causes of fantasy translators’ reputation in Taiwan. This perspective is complementary rather than contradictory to textual analysis. The book reviewed is rather limited in textual analysis, and the analysis is far from systematic. The author illustrates the facts that these fantasy translators coin new terms, adopt instructive styles, and use colloquial language (pp. 127-128). However, she only provides several random examples for each point and does not analyze any specific texts. To combine the macro perspective of sociology and the micro analysis of translation texts, we could, for example, investigate how a translator’s habitus influences her/his strategies for translation. Chung has illustrated how the fantasy translators’ habitus is influenced by social factors, yet she does not analyze any translator’s translating strategies and styles based on systematic text analysis. Of course, even without the textual analysis, the study presented in this book has already been a successful one.
This monograph lays the groundwork for future studies. Bourdieu’s theoretical framework could be applied to the fantasy translation on the Chinese mainland, where the translation field also has a complex relationship with the publishing and literary fields. Fantasy literature and fantasy translation are developing fast on the mainland. For instance, fantasy translation has its own magazines and awards. However, they are still marginal in the literary and translation fields. As with the situation in Taiwan, the fantasy translation on the mainland is much influenced by the internet and it exerts influence on local fantasy writing. However, it seems that the fantasy translators on the mainland do not achieve the recognition as their Taiwanese peers do; compared with Taiwanese fantasy translators, they have limited power and resources. Bourdieu’s framework would make it possible to explore the fantasy translators’ habitus, their struggle for various forms of capital, their social roles as well as the contextual forces behind the translation field on the Chinese mainland.
One point that needs to be clarified is about the Chinese language reform and character simplification in modern Chinese history. When talking about the language culture in Taiwanese literary field, the author compares the evolution of modern Chinese language across the Taiwan Strait. However, the statement about the language reform and character simplification on the Chinese mainland is rather inaccurate and somewhat misleading. The author relates the character simplification to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), remarking that “[t]he vernacular Chinese transformed radically after the Cultural Revolution, for example , the writing reform of traditional characters and the change in the mode of speech and thought” (p. 99). However, the simplification of Chinese characters, which began in the early 20th century, had been largely completed before the start of Cultural Revolution. The “Scheme of Simplified Chinese Characters” was published in 1956 and the “Complete List of Simplified Characters” was published in 1964. The simplified characters in this “List” are the Chinese characters used by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) today. Note that the “Second Chinese Character Simplification Scheme (Draft)” released in 1977 was later rescinded by the government of PRC and has little effect on contemporary Chinese language. Nevertheless, this minor factual inaccuracy does not affect the author’s overall sound argumentation.
Chung has conducted the document analysis and interviews in 2006 (p. 14), and after her fruitful work during the following years, she now presents us this book. It adopts the sociological theory and empirical methodology to analyze verified aspects of fantasy translation in Taiwan since 1998. The book explores not only the dynamic, complex relationship between different elements in the translation field but also the roles of fantasy translators as social agents, and thereby it enriches the sociological study of translation as a social practice.
It is interesting that this book itself can be viewed as a result of the struggle of Taiwanese fantasy translators, as recognition won by the fantasy translation in the academic field of Taiwan. Since part of the book deals with the interaction between the translation and academic fields, the research becomes part of the body of researched material itself.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. In other words: Essays towards a reflexive sociology, trans. Matthew Adamson. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1992. Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste, trans. Richards Nice. London: Routledge.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1995a. Sociology in question, trans. Richard Nice. London: Sage Publications.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1995b. The logic of practice, trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1998. Practical reason: On the theory of action. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 2008. A conservative revolution in publishing. Translation Studies 1(2): 123-153.
Bourdieu, Pierre and Loïc J. D. Wacquant. 1992. An invitation to reflexive sociology. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Kunkun Zhang is a PhD candidate at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. His research interests include (multimodal) discourse analysis, (social) semiotics, literary stylistics, and systemic functional linguistics. As a translator, he is also interested in English-Chinese contrastive linguistics and translation studies.