Anxieties of influence: The voice of the first translator in retranslation

Kaisa Koskinen and Outi Paloposki


A defining feature of retranslation is that a previous translation exists, and this earlier text has a first translator. In this article we argue that the figure of the first translator exerts an influence in the retranslation process, and all retranslators are forced to develop a stance towards the predecessor. Taking Harold Bloom’s notion of anxiety of influence in poetry as a starting point, we look at two cases of retranslation that share the same famous first translator, Pentti Saarikoski, analysing how and where the voice of this first translation can be heard in the retranslations. According to Bloom’s taxonomy, there are six modes available to poets. Applying the same taxonomy to our two retranslators, we find that they have resorted to different modes. What remains constant is that the figure of the first translator is an unavoidable function of the retranslation process and needs to be taken into account both by the retranslator and by researchers studying retranslations.

Table of contents

Definitions of retranslation are often based on the idea that we are talking about two (or more) independent texts, only related to each other via the source text. However, a close reading of individual examples of first and subsequent translations soon reveals that there are often subtle links between them. If one wants to use translations as windows to their particular time or context, or if one wants to study the individual styles of translators, other kinds of data may be more reliable. Some retranslations are indeed passive: they are produced without any direct [ p. 26 ]contact with or even knowledge of an existing earlier translation (Pym 1998, 82), but it is safer to assume that unless proven otherwise, retranslations are always in one way or another a response to an earlier one, that there is a dependency relation between them (Frank 1989, Paloposki and Koskinen 2010).

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