Book reviewTranslation and Taboo DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1996. xix + 232 pp. ISBN 0-87580-209-5 (cloth) $ 35.00/ 0-87580-571-X (paper) $ 18.50.
Reviewed by Péter Dávidházi
Table of contents
Translation and Taboo is an irregular, undisciplined, inconclusive, yet inspiring book. It resorts to psychoanalysis, as the title's allusion to Freud's Totem and Taboo makes us expect, to highlight some powerful hidden inhibitions that have restricted and regulated the practice and theory of translation from ancient times to the present. These [ p. 378 ]inhibitions are said to be residual manifestations of an ancient anathema (more like a taboo than an explicit ban) on translating sacred texts and thereby exposing the closely guarded secrets of mystery religions to the touch of the unworthy Other. The internalization of this prohibition conditioned an ideosomatic reflex that has survived the emergence of a dominantly rational ego and is still encoded in our subconscious, forcefully precluding certain attitudes to translation and making even the exciting world of recent translation studies a domain of repressions, dogmatism and witchhunts. In spite of the issues now being broached and discussed for the first time, "the same old exclusions still lock into place when someone deviates from established theoretical norms and must be branded either a heretic and booted out or dismissed contemptuously as a misguided novice, a dilettante, a surface skimmer" (p. x.), and the most tenaciously prevailing exclusionary drive is a notorious attachment to the dualistic axiom of non distributio medii: translations must be either source-oriented or target-oriented, foreignizing or domesticating, and if you choose the wrong one or dream about any other (third) possibility you are damned. The author himself testifies to irritated academic responses to his previous book, The Translator's Turn; yet in his preface he promises to stick with "the anecdotal, the experiential, the excursional, the centrifugal" to bypass the taboo-ridden clichés of current translation studies, and asks the reader to give a sympathetic hearing to his dissenting argument. "I hope you'll read this book in more or less the same spirit as I wrote it, in process, without a clear sense beforehand of where I'll be taking you, and above all without an exclusionary ethos that precludes certain assumptions or questions in advance" (p. xvii).