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Genetic Translation Studies: Conflict and Collaboration in Liminal Spaces, edited by Ariadne Nunes et al.

Reviewed by Anna Saroldi, University of Oxford

Genetic Translation Studies. Conflict and Collaboration in Liminal Spaces, ed. by Ariadne Nunes, Joana Moura, Marta Pacheco Pinto. London, New York: Bloomsbury, 2021. £95.00 ISBN: 9781350146815.


One of the key concepts of this new volume, based on the understanding of translation as process, is that ‘the original does not exist’. The reaction to such a statement is indicative of the reader’s background, and divides the two audiences that the volume would like to reach, and put in contact. For anyone coming from studies of textual criticism, and who has struggled with stemmatics as an undergraduate, this would sound very familiar. But for someone coming from author studies, heavily based on the great names of the canon or on the close-reading of their masterpieces, the notion might still be seen as provocative.

            With this book, the editors Ariadne Nunes, Joana Moura, and Marta Pacheco Pinto want to bring the notions and scholarly practices of textual criticism to a field – that of Translation Studies (TS) – that, being born from different premises, is yet to reconcile itself with its ancestors. Medieval Philology could in many ways be seen as the obvious predecessor of TS: at the end of the day, there is very little in medieval scribal practices that is not related to translation, and whoever has worked in translators’ archives knows very well the problem of establishing the source text, often through revelatory errors – nothing more Lachmannian than that! There is, however, a dual problem: most of philology does not theorise its issues in terms of translation theory, and translation studies do not have recourse to the methods of textual criticism. Two fields that, for the few practitioners of both, are evidently intertwined, are instead seen by far too many scholars as distant and, erroneously, unrelated.

            This volume has the admirable goal of bridging the gap. As it declares, it aims to bring to light what has so far been a ‘shadowy presence’ (1) of translation studies. The questions of textual criticism were there – as the introduction shows by re-analysing Toury’s research – but they went unnamed. The editors chose to adopt the label of ‘genetic’ translation studies (GTS), thus choosing to align themselves with a specific branch of textual criticism, most notably the French critique génétique, a strand of contemporary philology that has the goal of publishing all successive versions of a given text in chronological order (mostly notably compared to the Italian method of authorial philology). The book, however, adopts this notion in a very extended sense, branching out to include contributions based on different sorts of extratextual material (including private correspondence, interviews, articles, prefaces, etc.) and forms of archival research that do not necessarily have what would be traditionally interpreted as a genetic goal. This explains the huge variety and number of contributions (fifteen), all of various lengths and scope. This richness is well represented from the first section, ‘Genetic approaches to translation and collaboration’, opened by João Dionísio’s chapter. Presenting his perspective as a textual scholar, Dionísio argues for ‘the possibility of describing the writing process of medieval and modern texts alike through the same critical vocabulary’ (31), which constitutes the key point of the book. This is put into practice in Laura Ivanska’s contribution on compilative translation and de facto source texts, where key philological terms such as ‘best-text method’ and ‘collation’ are used. Ivaska shows how the translator can proceed as a copier and critical editor, employing different versions of the text (the so-called original being one among others, if not secondary as in this case) to produce their own. In the same section, Esa Christine Hartmann shows how GTS can constitute the backbone of studies on Collaborative Translation, providing the evidence to show what happened ‘behind the page’, Ewa Kołodziejczyk analyses Miłosz’s genetic dossier of ‘Negro spirituals’ translation, and at the end Elsa Pereira presents a digital-editorial approach, investigating whether the translations of an author should be included in their in digital edition (including a short practical demonstration).

            An interesting aspect that emerges from the second part of the book, titled ‘Translators’ stories and testimonies’, is how the renewed interest towards archival studies of translation is not only fundamental for GTS, but also goes hand in hand with other strands of TS focused on the personal and bodily experience of the translator: this direction, advocated by Pym in 1998, is now emerging more and more, through micro-histories of translators andTranslator Studies’ (on which the Vienna research group has just published a collected volume, entitled Literary Translator Studies). This part of the book, however, appears to be the least closely related to genetic studies proper, as the text – in any form or version – is not part of the enquiry. Archival material might be used (such as private correspondence, in Moura’s chapter on Handke’s translation theory), but the overall focus is on how extratextual material can contribute to embodiment theories of translation (Barbara Ivančić and Alexandra L. Zepter). Dominique Faria looks at the translators’ testimonies published in the journal Colóquio Letras, tracing the evolving opinions of the practitioners (somewhat similarly to The Paris Review’s Art of Translation series) and highlighting how this publication helped changing the status of translation in Portugal. At the end of the section, Marisa Mourinha focuses on Gregory Rabassa, translator into English of, among others, García Márquez, discussing his views of translation as collaboration and how he dealt with an author, Lobo Antunes, who was not interested in that kind of relationship. These entries read as exemplary in their kind, but the overall impression from the second part is that the link to genetic studies is forced, and that GTS would benefit more from preserving the specificity of its contribution and purpose, rather than pursuing such a broad scope.

            In the third section, ‘Translators at work’, the contributions vary considerably in their level of focus: some are extremely detailed and deal with a very specific application of GTS to precise case-studies, while others rather have an exploratory ambition. In the first chapter of this part, Patrick Hersant lists a number of rare and precious archives that have rich collections of translation materials, focusing on the Coindreau papers at the IMEC. Through the analysis of this material, Hersant argues for the inclusion of drafts in the sequence of translation analysis: rather than comparing only source and target text, the draft should, if possible, be included. He proceeds to demonstrate ‘how much richer and more informative the source-draft-target sequence is for the scholar of translation studies’, as it illuminates the ‘process which precipitated th[e] choice’ in the translation (168). Having the archive at his disposal, Hersant is also able to assess Coindreau’s translatory method, breaking down the features of his working practice. In the following chapters, Carlota Pimenta also focuses on a particular translator’s method, studying Castelo Branco’s chronology and amplitude of corrections to understand if he adopts different writing procedures as author or translator, and Pacheco Pinto and Nunes discuss Vasconcelos Abreu’s unfinished translation of O Panchatantra, and establish the different roles of the manuscript volumes composing it. In the same section, Karen Bennett, similarly to what Pereira was doing at the end of the first section, charts new approaches and describes how GTS could be successfully applied to research on authorship in academic self-translation.

            The book ends with a Coda, a useful summary to recapitulate what covered in the preceding chapters. The final sentence is a promising ‘TO BE CONTINUED’, and encourages us to think in which ways future publications on GTS could continue, exploring the missed opportunities of this book. GTS should expand geographically and most importantly chronologically. It would be stimulating to see research on translation studies from different methods and traditions of textual criticism cohabit and converse in the same volume (while this volume is predominantly the product of the Lisbon research group). And GTS would be able to reach its goal if translation studies could engage in a deeper relationship with the centuries-old tradition of textual criticism, as much could be gained from this encounter. Parallel research on translators, copiers, and editors, sharing methods, and vocabulary would constitute a milestone not only in both fields but in literary studies at large.