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Review of  Translation and Nation: A Cultural Politics of Englishness

Reviewer: Chaoqun Xie
Book Title: Translation and Nation: A Cultural Politics of Englishness
Book Author: Roger Ellis Liz Oakley-Brown
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Book Announcement: 12.1990

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Ellis, Roger, and Liz Oakley-Brown, eds. (2001) Translation and Nation:
Towards a Cultural Politics of Englishness (Topics in Translation 18).
Multilingual Matters, paperback ISBN: 1-85359-517-9, vi+225pp, GBP 19.95.

Reviewed by: Chaoqun Xie, Foreign Languages Institute, Fujian Teachers
University, Fuzhou, Fujian, China

Linguist List book announcement at

The cultural turn of translation studies (see e.g. Bassnett and Lefevere 1990:
1-13; Toury 1995) in the 1990s has resulted in both an increasingly better
understanding of the cultural aspects of all writing, including translation,
and a greater awareness of the role of translation in broad areas of human
culture on the other. Because of its centrality to human interaction, many
intellectual disciplines have converged on the translation as "a central locus
of inquiry" (Tymoczko 1999: 16), providing a funding of theoretical and
practical studies. And the relationship between translation and various
phenomena has been explored in the last few decades and has become a
leitmotif of translation theory. The present volume under review boasts an
endeavor to expound the translated text's historical and cultural specificity.
All the essays in this volume, as clearly set out in the introduction, "are
concerned with the cultural and political implications of translation and the
construction of English subjectivities at particular historical moments"
(p.2).This volume is a multidisciplinary study of translation couched within
the framework of culture, history, politics and linguistics.

Chapter 1, "Figures of English Translation, 1382-1407" (pp. 7-47), written
by one of the editors Roger Ellis, dwells upon the cultural and political
implications of translation in texts produced in the quarter-century before
the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel issued a ban, drafted in
1407, against unlicensed Bible translation in England. The figures referred
to in the title of this chapter are twofold: first the translators themselves
about their translations; secondly, the figures, Biblical or other, homegrown
and European, whom they cited in support of their projects (p. 8). Before
1409, there had been an important debate with regard to the possibility and
justification of vernacular translation, in which many figures had been
engaged, such as Geoffrey Chaucer, John Trevisa, the author of the so-
called Prologue to the Wycliffite Bible, and Ullerston. According to
Chaucer, the then court poet, a translator totally identified with his original,
and possessed of the linguistic means to carry it over to like-minded
readers, will grant readers immediate and unmediated access to its truth (p.
9). Chaucer argues for a distinction between the single truth of a translated
'sentence' and the variations in its 'telling'. And Trevisa, who was fellow
for a time of the Queen's College, Oxford, presents translation not simply in
terms of literary culture, like Chaucer, but rather as a part of everyday
communication. In emphasizing speech and dialogue as the condition of
translation, Trevisa is also emphasizing the provisionality of translation.
Another point worth noting is that Trevisa accepts multiple translations of
the same text, regarding them as a way of counteracting error in an
individual text. Thirdly, Trevisa is very positive about the role of Latin as
the lingua franca of medieval Europe. For Trevisa's achievements, Ellis
concludes that they are both 'hugely impressive' and 'limited' (p. 15). And
although the Prologue to the Wycliffite Bible, Chapter 15, has very close
links with the arguments of Chaucer and Trevisa, there is a subtle shift in
emphasis: where Trevisa saw multiple versions as a way of counteracting
the error in an individual text, the Wycliffite Prologue uses them
collectively as a way of guaranteeing truth.

Chapter 2, "Translating the Subject: Ovid's Metamorphoses in England
1560-67" (pp. 48-84), is contributed by another editor of this present
volume Liz Oakley-Brown. By closely examining Ovid's text produced in
the opening decade of Elizabethan rule, this essay explores the complex
transformation of the English subject as it shifted from Catholicism to
Protestantism. Although discussions about identity, representation,
subjectivity and the self in early England had been numerous, most failed
"to bring the subject of translation explicitly into the debate" (p. 48).
Stephen Greenblatt's "Renaissance Self- Fashioning", one of the most
widely cited book in this field, is no exception. The notion that translating
texts are culturally and historically significant for the construction of the
subject, in Greenblatt and elsewhere, has remained critically neglected. In
this essay, Oakley-Brown argues that English versions of Ovid's
"Metamorphoses", in particular the anonymous "Fable of Ovid Treting of
Narcissus"(1560), Thomas Peend's "Pleasant Fable of Hermaphroditus and
Salmacis" (1565), and Arthur Golding's "Metamophosis" (1567), are
arenas for complex shifts in the construction of the English subject at this
time (p.49).

Chapter 3, "Women Translators, Gender and the Cultural Context of the
Scientific Revolution" (pp.85-119), is contributed by Christa Knellwolf. By
studying the genre of popularisations of science, this chapter examines the
role of the audience in scientific publications and asks in what ways gender
figures as an element that facilitates (or hinders) the transmission of
knowledge. Through a detailed analysis of the translations of scientific
texts, including Aphra Behn's and Elizabeth Carter's versions of,
respectively, Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle and Francesco Algarotti,
Knellwolf exerts an effort to show that there are convoluted relationships
between gender, nation and knowledge, concluding that translation serves
as a forum in which stereotypes and prejudices are both challenged and

Chapter 4, "Hooked on Classics: Discourses of Allusion in the Mid-
Victorian Novel" (pp. 120-166), is written by Hugh Osborne. Sufficient
critical attention has not been paid to the use of classical allusion, or indeed
of allusion generally, in mid-Victorian fiction. The reason for this,
according to Osborne, may be linked to a prevailing view of nineteenth-
century fiction assuming that fiction of the period necessarily shies away
from self-reflexivity and deliberately intertextual narrative strategies (p.
120). And this present chapter seeks to qualify the nature of classical
allusion in the novels of Anthony Trollope in particular, a writer whose
output has long and predominantly been thought as 'realist'. Osborne
concurs with Michael Wheeler's broad definition of allusion: Allusion is
the generic term for quotations and references, and for the act of quoting or
referring (Wheeler, 1979: 2-3). However, Osborne criticizes Wheeler's
definition for failing to take into account a whole range of allusions that do
not fall under any of its categories (p.122). With regard to the various
functions of classical allusions, the author argues that classical allusion does
not merely contribute to a discourse of remembrance, whose use confirms
and reveals a formative and difinitional community of the past. It also
signifies belonging to a community of the present, the community of the
'gentleman'- a community just as pervasive, just as seemingly self-evident,
just as exclusive and crucially just as difficult to define (p. 144). For the
author, classical allusion serves as an inherently unstable signifier of a
variety of competing forms of masculine identity (p. 164). In the final
section of this essay, Osborne examines how classical allusion contributes
to mid-Victorian notions of 'gentlemanliness', and dwells on how the
assumptions about class and gender inherent in such notions were both
naturalised and challenged. Through an exploration of writings by
Trollope and other contemporaries, Osborne argues that classical allusions,
and contemporary discussions of them, become textual spaces in which
various class- and gender-based power struggles can be enacted. This
chapter draws to a conclusion that some of the most striking instances of
the interpellation of their readers by Trollope's text occur precisely at the
moment when linguistic self-effacement is ruptured, and when Trollope's
readership becomes implicated in the maintenance and affirmation of a vast
network of intertextual references which performatively operate to
construct that readership's subjectivity.

The first four chapters expounds the construction of Englishness through
translation strategies which operate within the boundaries of the nation state
itself. And the final chapter, Chapter 5, contributed by Rainer Emig, is titled
"'All the Others Translate': W. H. Auden's Poetic Dislocations of Self,
Nation, and Culture" (pp. 167-204). This essay investigates the changing
role of translation in the development of Auden's poetics. Auden used to be
an English subject living in Germany in the early 1930s. Instead of
primarily scrutinizing the technical details of his translations, Emig
concentrates on the implications of Auden's approaches to translation for
questions of subjectivity, linguistic and cultural identity. Fist, Auden starts
translating contemporary Scandinavian and Russian writers that he can no
longer appropriate as spiritual or actual ancestors. Second, he begins to
acknowledge influence as a form of dialogue, and abandons appropriation
in favor of an opening-up to positions that cannot, after all, be translated
into his established scheme of Englishness, but may be used as often
relativising, paralles. A third and perhaps the most radical new form of
translation in Auden's works entails translation between different media (p.

In the second half of this essay, Emig deals with the implications of
Auden's 'contemporary' translations and those that display what recent
German theory has termed Intermedialitaet, which translates, at best
awkwardly, into English as 'intermediality'. The very fact that Auden
chooses authors whose cultural as well as linguistic context is alien to him
indicates that there is an opening of the cultural boundaries that define and
safeguard individual as well as national identity. That translation, and the
precarious identity that it creates, and on which it simultaneously rests,
cannot be regarded without reference to their translation enables Auden to
work out his philosophical model of a reconciliation of differences that is
not a homogenization of those differences but a dialogue and negotiation
between them, one that retains and respects difference. The complexity of
modernity is largely founded on the simultaneous proliferation of these
translations of texts and context and an awareness of this discursive
explosion. Emig concludes that while his artistic ideal of reconciling private
and public remains equally problematic, Auden's works nonetheless
demonstrate a keen awareness that, within the ungroundedness of culture
and communication, translation acts both as a reminder of these contingent
foundations and as a reassurance that inside this contingency
communication can and must continue to be attempted (p. 244). In this
sense, Emig's essay fittingly rounds off the present volume under review.

To be sure, this volume delivers what it promises -- it suggests ways of
looking at the interpellation of the English subject, a subject formed
through a variety of matrices, including those of nation, gender, religion and
class, through texts that engage with translation in differing ways. The
volume tries to bring the translated text's historical and cultural specificity
into the forefront. However, the way these essays present their ideas, as I
see it, still leaves some room for improvement. And a few words are in
order here. Sometimes, if not often, the reader seems at a loss how to follow
the contributors' presentations to come to grips with their viewpoints. It
would even harder for undergraduate students, those with English as their
second language or those unfamiliar with cultural, political and historical
background in early Britain, to follow. To sum up, this book is good rather
than excellent.


Bassnett, Susan, and Andre Lefevere (eds.) (1990) Translation, History and
Culture. London: Printer.

Tymoczko, Maria (1999) Translation in a Postcolonial Context. Manchester:
St. Jerome.

Toury, Gideon (1995) Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Wheeler, M. (1979) The Art of Allusion in Victorian Fiction. London: R.

About the reviewer:
Chaoqun Xie is a lecturer and doctoral student at Foreign
Languages Institute, Fujian Teachers University in Fuzhou, Fujian
Province, China. His main areas of research interests include
cognitive linguistics, pragmatics, translation and communication.


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