Dissertation > Language, writing > FOREIGN > English > Translation

Analysis of Binary Oppositions in Translation from the Perspective of Deconstruction

Author JinJingHong
Tutor FengQingHua
School Shanghai International Studies University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords translation deconstruction binary opposition the original thetranslation the writer the translator
CLC H315.9
Type PhD thesis
Year 2012
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Deconstruction theory, especially the theory of Jacques Derrida, has beenexerting more crucial and non-ignorable influence on translation studies. The origin ofdeconstruction can be traced to structuralism of the early twentieth century, whichidentifies language as the basic tool for generation of meaning, following, as the basicforms of study, the principles of similarities and differences, the nature of which isbinary oppositions. What Derrida has tried to deconstruct is binary oppositions, thekey stone of logocentrism inherent in Western Philosophy. The nature ofdeconstruction is anti-authoritarianism and decentralism. Derrida, from theperspective of linguistics and semiotics, has proposed the strategy to deconstructbinary oppositions: reverse and transform the hierarchical order inherent in binaryoppositions.To deconstruct binary oppositions, Derrida introduced a term “différance,” bywhich hierarchical differences inherent in binary oppositions can be removed, thusnegating the existence of binary oppositions. Another key term of deconstruction is“intertextuality,” which defines that embodied in a text are traces of other texts andthe language of their own time and over their own history. Thus, the meaning of a textlies in the reader’s interpretation of the text.Binary oppositions also exist in traditional translation studies, which emphasizethe hierarchical rank between the writer and the translator, between the original andthe translation. In these relationships, the writer and the original occupy sacred andinviolable places, while the positions of the translator and the translation remainhumble and low. In light of deconstruction theory, the original loses its supremeauthority, while the hierarchical relationship between the writer and the translatorproves overturned.Like scholars of other disciplines of humanities, researchers of translation studies,both at home and abroad, have introduced deconstruction theory to translation studies.Kathleen Davis in her monograph Deconstruction and Translation has introduced Derrida’s theory of deconstruction to translation studies, presented herreflections on translation both in practice and in theory based on Derrida’sdeconstruction theory, and filled many gaps in translations studies, thus helping avoidsome misunderstandings of Derrida’s theory. Edwin Gentzler in his monographintroduced deconstruction theories applicable to translation from the perspectives ofMichel Foucault, Martin Heidegger, and Jacques Derrida, and expounded theoverturning of traditional translation theories due to the influence of deconstructiontheory. As for research papers written based on deconstruction studies, most scholarsin the west have done research to prove the validity of deconstruction theories fromthe perspective of deconstructing literary texts.Ever since Jiang Xiaohua’s publication of his research paper “Analysis ofDeconstructive Translation Theory” in1995, translation theory studies from theperspective of deconstruction has witnessed its boom of more than twenty years,during which translations scholars in China have developed topics of analysis anddiscussion from the following five perspectives. The first perspective lies in the factof the acceptance of deconstructive translation theories. Scholars have made analysisof deconstructive translation theories from many aspects, confirming the belief thatdeconstructive translation theories have opened up a new horizon for translationstudies. Scholars of translation theory studies have also pointed out that the nature ofdeconstruction is to reveal and clarify the nature and significance of philosophy andlinguistic philosophy. Meanwhile, many scholars have made closer analysis ofDerrida’s texts to avoid the tendency of understanding deconstruction divorced fromanalysis of representative texts on deconstruction. The second perspective consists ofefforts to deconstruct such traditional notions as “loyalty” by applying deconstructivemethods. The third perspective focuses on a dialectical argument that thatdeconstructive translation theory serves as a double-edged sword which has infusednew vitality into our domestic translation studies and which has also brought hugechallenges to our domestic translation theories. The fourth perspective constitutesinterrogation and questioning of deconstructive translation theory for its notion ofindeterminacy of meaning in the text and its nihilism tendency in signification. Scholars of this perspective have proposed that deconstruction, useful only on theabstract sphere, has no use for translation practice. The fifth perspective rests in thesolutions proposed by scholars by countering the problems raised by other scholarsthat might incur from deconstruction.Study of deconstructive translation theory has brought the following aspects ofimpact on translation studies in China: first, paradigms of translation studies havechanged top down from emphasis on practice to metaphysical studies; second,translation research has turned to a multi-cultural orientation; third, academicdiscussion of deconstruction has resulted in the awakening of the subjectiveconsciousness of the translator; and last, deconstruction has prompted Chinesescholars to do translation studies from a multi-dimensional perspective.Deconstruction theory is a complex philosophical theory; therefore, theoreticalanalysis and discussion of this dissertation are based on three representativedeconstruction theses on translation: Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator,”Derrida’s “Des Tours de Babel” and “What is ‘Relevant’ Translation?” Based ondeconstruction theory as a theoretical framework and using Lin Yutang’s novelMoment in Peking and Jin Hua Yan Yun, Zhang Zhenyu’s translation of Moment inPeking as examples of elaboration, this dissertation attempts to deconstruct the binaryoppositions, inherent in traditional translation studies, between the writer and thetranslator, between the original and the translation.In “The Task of the Translator,” Benjamin proposes that the aim of translation isto realize that ideal but unrealizable “pure language.” Only in translation practice,when different texts collide with each other, will different meanings influence andtransform each other. Benjamin believes that translation can shorten the distancebetween Man and “pure language,” and the translator is the right person who willundertake this sacred task. After translating Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator,”De Man wrote a paper, in which he expresses his idea that it is not so much to say thatthe translation comes from the original, as that the translation is the “afterlife” of theoriginal. After translating “The Task of the Translator,” Derrida also wrote a paper“Des Tours de Babel,” in which Derrida points out that the failure of translation has concealed two opposite possibilities: one is lethal, and the other is protective. In lightof Derrida, the original gains a new life because of the existence of another “original,”and thus, the original gains its “afterlife.” In “What is ‘Relevant’ Translation?”,Derrida uses the example of Shakespeare’s play of Merchant of Venice to prove that“loyalty” is simply a trap, and absolute “loyalty” is impossible. In addition, Derridahas also reinterpreted in this paper the assertion that “translation is rewriting” andreiterated his idea that a text is both translatable and untranslatable.Analysis of the above three classic theses of deconstructive translation theory,thus, reveals the following significant points for translation studies: deconstructionhas challenged the authoritative position of the original writer; argued for thesubjective position of the translator in the process of translation; proposed theconcepts that the relationship between the original and the translation is that of acontract and the translation is the “afterlife” of the original; and defended for thenotion that “loyalty” in translation is simply a utopia, thus overturning the traditionaltranslation principle of “loyalty.” Therefore, deconstructive translation theory has“decentered” the binary oppositions between the writer and the translator, between theoriginal and the translation that have long existed in traditional translation studies.In1938while living abroad in France and the United States, Lin Yutang wrotehis novel Moment in Peking, and in1939, Moment in Peking was published in theUnited States. Only half a year after its publication,5million copies ofMoment in Peking has been sold, thus, winning acclaim from Lin Yutang’s friendPearl Buck, who recommended that Lin Yutang contend for the Nobel Prize forLiterature. In1977, Taiwan published the translation of Moment in Peking, Jin HuaYan Yun, translated by Zhang Zhenyu. In2005, TV play series Jing Hua Yan Yunadapted from the translation scored the highest audience rating of China CentralTelevision (CCTV). What is more impressive is the fact that hit broadcast of the TVplay series has triggered the hit sale of both the original novel, Moment in Peking andthe translation, Jing Hua Yan Yun. Reasons for the hit broadcast and the hot sale canbe traced to the fact that Lin Yutang has a marginalized cultural identity and that thereexists intertextuality in content and language shared by both Moment in Peking and Jing Hua Yan Yun. Readers and television audience of China all know that Jing HuaYan Yun was written by Lin Yutanng and many even believe that Jing Hua Yan Yunwas originally written by Lin Yutang in Chinese. This fact then reveals the necessityto deconstruct the binary opposition between the writer and the translator. Thedeconstructive concept of intertextuality demonstrates that the translator is also anoriginal writer, because according to intertextuality, a text exists in a web woven bymany other texts. Deconstructive translation theory considers the translation as the“afterlife” of the original, thus guaranteeing the survival of the original. The fact thatthe television series hit prompted the hot sale of both the original and the translationserves as a good example to illustrate this point.Nevertheless, there also exists harsh criticism from audience of the televisionseries of Jing Hua Yan Yun, because some audience believe the television play is farfrom loyal to the original. One of the four adaptors, Yang Shanpu provides theiradaptation principles, one of which is to abstract play elements. Another adaptor,Zhang Yongchen, argues that Lin Yutang in his novel did not provide the due playstructure that the television play can follow. Play structure includes both conflictsbetween characters and dramatic changes of character’s fates, and Zhang Yongchenbelieves that “deletion, incorporation, and transplantation” all constitute efforts toconstruct the dramatic structuture full of conflicts. Therefore, director of the televisionplay, Zhang Zi’en believes that the television play has unconsciously transformed theplay from a cultural theme to a theme of ethic spirits of Chinese people.The translation is no dependant of literature, but the “afterlife” of the originaltext given by the translation. The translation has endowed the original text with newmeanings and new lives, once translation is done. The original will always berewritten during the process of translation, and every reading of the translator will be,to some degree, rewriting of the original. Therefore, the translation is not simply equalto the original, but the original depends on the translation for its survival. That’s whywe have witnessed70years after its publication Moment in Peking gained a new lifebecause of translation. In light of deconstructive translation theory, the purpose oftranslation is not to seek and demonstrate similarities, but differences, and the value of the translation depends on the degree of the displayed differences between theoriginal and the translation; therefore, the translator should try to maximize hisdemonstration of differences in translation. For the demonstration of differences,Benjamin used “pure language” to reiterate the importance of difference preservationin languages, while Derrida coined a term of “différance” to emphasize the necessityto preserve differences in translation. In Moment in Peking Lin Yutang has adoptedthe translation method of “foreignization” to preserve the characteristic expressions ofChinese language and the Chinese cultural elements and to reproduce the expressionstyles of Chinese language, so that Lin Yutang has attained his goal of disseminatingChinese culture by displaying its peculiar glamour.Examining translation history both at home and abroad, we can see that thetranslator has always occupied a marginalized place, and his change of position hasalways corresponded with the popular translation notions in his time. The translationnotion of the time has more or less regulated the translation practice. However,deconstruction theory has provided the theoretical support to help the translator, thetranslation subject, experience a shift of identity from “invisibility” to “visibility.”Deconstructionists have decentered the central place of the original writer inliterature, demonstrating that the translator is also a subject in literary creation.According to deconstructive translation theory, as the subject of the translationactivity, on the condition that the original text is respected, the translator assumes thetask of helping the original enter a target culture. Thus, a translator can activelymanipulate the original text to realize his aim of endowing the original with its“afterlife.” Deconstructive translation theory has broken down the traditional sedulouspursuit of “loyalty” in translation practice, and decentered the binary oppositionbetween the writer and the translator, thus helping the translator transform from theplace of a slave to that of an emancipator of the original.Besides Moment in Peking and other literary works, Lin Yutang has alsopublished many articles on translation theory and methods, among which “OnTranslation” is a thesis systematically discussing translation practice.“OnTranslation” has four parts. In the first part, Lin Yutang proposes his three principles on translation:“loyalty, fluency, and beauty”(“忠实、通顺和美”). Lin Yutang assertsthat in translation,“loyalty” is not enough. Without “fluency, and beauty,” themeaning of “loyalty” will be greatly discounted. In the second part, Lin Yutangdiscusses the principle of “fluency,” stating that the terms of “literal translation” and“free translation” are not proper, and proposing two concepts of “word translation”and “sentence translation.” Lin Yutang advocates the method of “sentencetranslation.” In the third part, Lin Yutang mainly discusses the principle of “fluency,”emphasizing that the translator should assume his due responsibility for his targetreaders. In the fourth part, Lin Yutang presents the principle of “beauty,”appropriately pointing out that the beauty of an article lies not in its “quality” but inits “style;” thus, in translating literary works, the translator must show the originalstyle. At the end of the article, Lin Yutang reiterates the responsibility of the translatorand the importance of the translator as the subject of translation practice.The characteristic of Lin Yutang’s cultural identity is “half eastern and halfwestern.” Lin Yutang’s translation principle and his attitude toward Chinese cultureare reflected in his introduction of Chinese culture to western readers. Therefore,integrated in his Moment in Peking is the most peculiar Chinese cultural element—theDaoist culture, which can highlight and manifest the long and splendid Chineseculture. Lin Yutang believes that only with preservation of differences in thetranslation, can the works demonstrate its energy and vitality. Lin Yutang’spreoccupation with preservation of differences is reflected in his translation of suchcultural elements as ancient Chinese poems, folk idioms, and Daoist elements inMoment in Peking. In translating these cultural elements, Lin Yutang has shown hismanipulation on both the vocabulary level and the syntactic level. In addition, as thetranslator of Moment in Peking, Zhang Zhenyu has also practiced manipulations in histranslation, such as the application of four-Chinese-character phrases.In the global context, it seems more important to promote Chinese culture and tohelp westerners appreciate and accept our culture. Lin Yutang, through his translationstrategy of “Deliveryism”(“送去主义”), has opened a window for westerners toobjectively comprehend Chinese culture. His translation strategy has not only shown his foresight in the cultural context of his time, but also revealed its positivesignificance in current cultural communication between the East and the West.Deconstructive translation theory has also triggered doubts from scholars. Ifthere is doubt of “nihilism” for Derrida’s deconstruction, it is understandable.However, we need to consider Derrida’s background. He had been living in thewestern culture, the prop of which is the Holy Bible. What is most valuable in Derridais that he does not simply describe any phenomena, but that he has tried to exploreand find the origins behind the phenomena. Therefore, the essence of whatdeconstructionists are concerned is not the superficial meaning of a text but the deepermeaning of it. Some scholars believe that Derrida’s concept of the nature ofindeterminacy of textual meaning negates the existence of texts. In fact, Derridahasn’t denied the meaning of codes. What he has denied is the single, definitive, andpreexistent meaning of any code or any text. What Derrida has tried to emphasize isthat in any specific context, the theoretical non-exhaustive nature of any meaning willnever hinder temporary determination of any meaning in certain context. Therefore,this concept will never terminate the possibility that the translator seeks the correctcomprehension of a text. For the argument that deconstruction theory has no patiencefor translation practice, our proper understanding should be that althoughdeconstructionists like Derrida have not proposed any concrete, descriptive, orcanonical translation principle, pattern, or method, and they have not discussed indepth any concrete translation procedure, what they have done is to use translation asa kind of phenomenon to expound their philosophical concepts and notions oflinguistic philosophy. Therefore, we should not expect that philosophers will tell usconcrete translation principles and methods. However, through comprehension andresearch of their concepts and theories, we can understand better and deeper thenature of translation. In addition, Derrida does not believe that the translator hasabsolute freedom in translation. He asserts that because of the “quality” and the“quantity” restrictions, the translator has no absolute freedom. Lastly, if we must findour solution to translation problems from our Chinese language and culture,“différance” appropriately speak out the meaning of the Daoist wisdom of “No Dao can be spoken out”(“道可道,非常道”).Through the above analysis, this dissertation comes to the following conclusionsthat there still exists much difficulty for deconstructive translation theory to beaccepted in China. From the introduction to deconstruction theory and translationpractice of Lin Yutang and Zhang Zhenyu as translators, we can reach a conclusionthat there exist necessity and possibility to deconstruct the binary oppositions betweenthe writer and the translator, between the original and the translation. If it provesdifficult to accept thoroughly the translation strategy of “foreignization,” the author ofthis dissertation advocates that in translation practice from Chinese to English, if thetranslator can exert more subjectivity and if more degrees of “foreignization” shouldbe adopted, more Chinese texts will find their “afterlife” in western readers andChinese culture will be further promoted and disseminated in English-speakingcountries.

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