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La traduction au miroir

Tophoven’s dream: a prototype for genetic translation studies

Anthony Cordingley
p. 152-168

Résumés

Cet article examine un chapitre méconnu de l’histoire de la traduction : la conception et la promotion de la « traduction transparente » par Elmar Tophoven. Il retrace l’histoire de cette méthode d’auto-observation et d’analyse depuis sa naissance, à la fin des années 1960, jusqu’à l’idée (inspirée par l’« école de Tolède ») d’un réseau transeuropéen de résidences dans les années 1980 où des traducteurs travailleraient ensemble à l’application de cette méthode. Nous verrons que Tophoven entendait libérer le traducteur du cercle vicieux où le plongent l’anonymat, le manque de reconnaissance scientifique et de mauvaises conditions de travail, et que son rapport à la technologie lui a permis de tirer parti de l’avènement du micro-ordinateur. Si la « traduction transparente », faute d’être adoptée par un nombre suffisant de traducteurs, n’a jamais acquis une pertinence durable, le projet de Tophoven constitue un moment important dans l’histoire de la traduction et un chapitre fondateur dans la sous-discipline aujourd’hui connue sous le nom de génétique de la traduction.

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1The eminent German translator Elmar Tophoven (1923-1989) makes a cameo in the footnotes to the first edition of Gideon Toury’s classic Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond (1995). In the chapter “Studying Interim Solutions”, one of the earliest attempts—after Tophoven’s—to devise a methodology for the use of archival materials (pre-publication manuscripts and typescripts) in translation process research, Toury contemplates the impact of computing on this diachronic approach. He notes that while the emergence of electronic text appears to sound the death knell of such research, effacing the printed materials that are the bread and butter of archival approaches, on the other hand the capacity for micro-computers to save every draft or stage of a translation’s genesis, combined with the fact that translators are likely to make more changes than if they were committing their thoughts to paper, will in fact increase the quantity of data for the researcher. But Toury checks his enthusiasm, suggesting that because translators would be no more willing to have their electronic versions scrutinized than their paper equivalents, technological advances do not guarantee a shift in the status quo, and translators will be no more likely to care for preserving their drafts. He then adds a footnote:

In this connection, mention should be made of an idea of the late German translator Elmar Tophoven, the founder of the “Europäische Übersetzer Kollegium” in Straelen; namely, to connect all the terminals in the rooms used by the translators to a mainframe computer where all the versions they produce will be kept for strictly scholarly purposes. (1995: 185)

Toury goes on to mention Tophoven’s “preliminary studies” before registering a note of disappointment: “Other than that, very little seems to have come out of this interesting idea” (1995: 185).

2In the second edition of his blueprint for a descriptive translation studies, Toury changes the content of this footnote, with all reference to Tophoven erased. The footnote now reads:

One program which captures every keystroke has become quite popular in the last decade. I have in mind TRANSLOG (see e.g. Jakobsen and Schou 1999; Jakobsen 2006). This program can be combined with other ways of measuring human behaviour such as Eye-tracking and Electro-Encephalography, to yield much more elaborate research projects. A combination of those three methods is now being tested in a multi-national experimental project called EYEto-IT […]. (Toury, 2012: 217)

Clearly, the consolidation of empirically-based cognitive translation studies between 1995 and 2012 offered Toury a more compelling example for the potential of the computer to generate both an increase in the information for the study of a translation and “much more elaborate research projects”. Before the 1980s, translation theory was focused largely on the products of translation (texts) and the competence of translators (evaluation). Research into the translation process is regularly dated as beginning in the mid-1980s, thus skipping over Tophoven’s informal (not scientifically rigorous) experimentation, to the advent of empirical, often psycho-linguistic studies of process and performance in translation (cf. Gerloff, 1988; Jääskeläinen, 1990; Jakobsen and Schou, 1999; Jakobsen, 2006; Krings, 1986; Lörscher, 1991, 1992; Séguinot [dir.], 1989; Tirkkonen-Condit [dir.], 1991). This new landscape of translation process research is the backdrop against which Toury edits the sentence upon which his new footnote is hung. The question of whether “translators would be willing to have all the versions they have produced retained” (1995: 185, first emphasis is the author’s) becomes one of “translators willing to have their activities tapped” (2012: 217; first emphasis is the author’s), a revision that gestures towards the contemporary use of TAPs (think-aloud protocols) in empirical research, where a translator voices simultaneously or retrospectively the thought processes that inform her decisions. The shift in focus from versions, the traditional term for the production of translated texts in one’s L1, to plugging into activities, underscores Toury’s attempt to connect his own studies of translators’ papers to the observation of live, working subjects. While the translators within his sentence first “did not care to keep their drafts” (1995: 185), nearly two decades later they “did not care to keep their interim decisions” (2012: 217), which generates a further shift away from the materiality of manuscripts to the possibility of alternative media or methods that register decisions (as he details in his revised footnote).

3These revisions show Toury making subtle efforts to bring his earlier manuscript research into conversation with the newly-emerged empirical and cognitivist paradigms, sacrificing Tophoven in the process. This erasure is unfortunate because not only did Tophoven’s early document-based process research anticipate some of the methods later honed by cognitive and empirical TS scholars, but the scale of the project to which he was working surpasses the kinds of experiments seen in cognitive translation studies to date. The image that Toury offers, of a group of translators plugged into a mainframe computer that records their work, is not quite accurate. The idea was not to link together all translators working in the EÜK but to stock in a central memory bank (Speicher) their discoveries and solutions to translation problems and lexical difficulties. It was a late phase in a project that spanned three decades to foster among peers a collaborative reflection upon the specificity of their own writing. Tophoven’s dream, the goal to which he was working before his life was cut short at the age of 66, was in fact one where translators, at work or at translation residencies across Europe—like the European Translators’ College in Straelen, Germany to which Toury refers—would contribute to a global dataset by apportioning part of their working day to document and analyse their processes using his method of “transparentes Übersetzen” (la traduction transparente or transparent translation).

  • 1 . Tophoven is regularly evoked in discussions of translation in Germany, although his method does (...)

4The purpose of this article is to reintroduce into the history of international (Anglophone) Translation Studies Tophoven’s efforts from the late 1960s to 1989 to define and promote this method of translation process research1. It offers a critical analysis of the method’s strengths and limitations, charting its emergence from Tophoven’s personal practice and his collaboration with linguists in the late 1960s-1970s, into his vision of a so-called “Toledo School”, where translators would work collaboratively, producing their own translation research through self-observation and analysis. He emerges in this account as a skilful rhetorician, mobilizing myths of both singular and collaborative translation to advance his central project of emancipating translators from a vicious cycle of anonymity, lack of scientific recognition and poor working conditions. This article considers, finally, Tophoven’s relationship to technology and his response to the most significant technological innovation of his time, the microcomputer. It concludes that while his method did not ultimately achieve the level of adoption that would have guaranteed its enduring relevance, his efforts to achieve his goal remain an important moment in the history of translation and a foundational chapter in what is known today as genetic translation studies.

Transparent translation: a new paradigm for process research

5By any teaching or research metric, in the 1960s the discipline of Translation Studies was a tiny fraction of its current size, and in France, where Tophoven lived and worked from 1949, it was virtually non-existent, but a fledgling branch of linguistics. Before moving to Paris, Tophoven had served as a soldier in World War II, when he was imprisoned in France by the US army, and, after returning to Germany to finish his studies, he became lecteur in German at the Sorbonne. From 1952 he worked as a freelance literary translator, an occupation that he combined with teaching translation from 1970 when he filled the position of lecteur in German vacated by Paul Celan at the prestigous École Normale Supérieure de Paris. In the 1950s Tophoven developed a close, collaborative working relationship with Samuel Beckett, for whom he—and, later, in partnership with his wife Erika Tophoven—became the exclusive translator into German. It is for this long collaboration and its prodigious output that he is best-known today, and the Anglophone world remains largely ignorant of the fact that not only did Tophoven introduce a whole generation of (other) post-war nouveau roman authors to the German public (such as Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, Claude Simon, Marguerite Duras), and that he translated over 100 titles into French (from Molière and Rabelais to Arthur Adamov, Fernando Arrabal, E.M. Cioran, Eugène Ionesco and Claude Mauriac), but that he was also passionately and wholeheartedly engaged in working towards improving the working conditions of translators by promoting the scientific recognition of their work. Outside of the Continent, few translation scholars are aware of the pioneering translation process research that he began at a time when very little such research existed in writing or literary studies, let alone Translation Studies. His disappearance from the definitive edition of Toury’s monograph, one of the foundational texts of modern international Translation Studies, further occludes this work and its method of self-reflexive observation upon the translation process.

  • 2 . All unattributed translations are mine.

6La traduction transparente required translators to document their thought processes while translating, noting the sequence of solutions to a particular translation problem, and then reflect upon their strategies and solutions. Tophoven’s use of the metaphor of transparency differs from that of Georges Mounin (2016: 74), for whom translators are like windows that are either “clear” or “tainted/coloured”, or Lawrence Venuti, whose well-known formulation contrasts invisible, hence transparent, translators whose fluent texts hide all traces of their translatedness versus those that do not—rather, it resembles the discourse of transparency in contemporary political discourse, the making visible to the public of obscure or mysterious mechanisms that are otherwise hidden from view (Arber, 2018a: 3). It evidently suggests the opening of a window onto obscure cognitive processes (translation’s infamous “black box” problem): “The passage from one expression to another, the work of transmutation accomplished above all in the head, the representation of these subtle procedures is what one may term ‘transparent translation’” (Tophoven, 1995: 19)2. Yet Tophoven does not claim to represent all aspects of translating, rather he encourages translators to adopt a problem-centred approach, to reflect upon moments of difficulty or blockage in their translating, to note the sequence of solutions tested until a satisfactory solution is found, and then to classify and generalise the problem. As with talk-aloud protocols, which empirical research methodology acknowledges to be imperfect because the act of verbalisation already changes the nature of the object described, the absolute “transparency” of this self-reflection is never absolute or guaranteed. Yet the import of Tophoven’s method was to create an evolving and growing archive (and later, an electronic dataset) of translation process research made by translators themselves. This work towards a genetics of translation emerged concurrently with the birth of critique génétique in France, which focussed upon the material manuscripts (avant-textes) of modern authors, but—unlike Tophoven—genetic critics had not yet considered techniques of empirical process research that were emerging from the field of psychology. However, until Lebrave’s article in the 2014 issue of Genesis devoted to translation, outside of Beckett studies Tophoven’s work had not been considered within the context of critique génétique.

7In his 1974 contribution to the translation review Babel Tophoven recalls that he first heard of the possibilities for cooperation between translators in the context of professional associations in April 1965, at the International Congress for Literary Translators of Hamburg. The event made him aware of the need, firstly, to defend translators’ rights collectively and, secondly, to develop a close working relationship with the university sector, which would be crucial for the recognition of translators’ work. The conference resolved to create a college for literary translators and researchers to work together within the university system. While this college did not come to fruition, cooperation between these parties continued through the “Esslinger Gespräche”, the “Esslingen Conferences” that began in 1968.

8At the conference the following year, located at Bad Boll near Göppingen, the group of French-German translators worked with a group of linguists to reflect upon the criteria with which to analyse the translation problems that arise during the composition of a text. They focussed on some 200 notes made during a session translating Nathalie Sarraute’s novel Entre la vie et la mort. The University of Salzburg Professor of Linguistics Mario Wandruszka played an important role in this process and was to become a key influence on Tophoven’s linguistic approach to the classification of translation problems. Wandruszka had published a study of the distinctive “genius” of the French tongue (1959), and at the time he and Tophoven met he had recently completed a study into the capacity for comparative translation analysis to reveal the unique features of a given language and the limits of comparability between different languages (1969). Working with Wandruszka, the translators grouped their translation problems into a number of categories: semantic, lexicological, grammatical, syntactic, rhythmical, prosodic (Tophoven, 1974: 7). Tophoven integrated these insights into the note-taking method that he had begun while translating Beckett’s Watt in 1968, when he had underlined words of the source text with different colours to keep track of the relationships between “the play of sounds and their balancing” (Tophoven, 1973: 8). In his subsequent note-taking, he devised a system whereby translation problems were recorded onto cards that were coded with one of three colours: red for lexis or semantics; blue for syntax; green for rhythm, prosody and sound (Tophoven, Erika, 2011: 111-113). The Tophoven Archive in Straelen, Germany contains thousands of such cards made by the translator over his career, in addition to manuscripts, typescripts, letters and materials relating to the German reception of the authors he translated. This invaluable resource for genetic translation research remains underexploited, and although it is not the purpose of this article to provide such an analysis of any one text, an example will illustrate Tophoven’s self-reflective method.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Box of cards produced by Elmar Tophoven during the translation of Nathalie Sarraute’s “disent les imbéciles” (1976). Tophoven Archive, Straelen. Reproduced with the permission of Erika Tophoven.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Colour-coded card produced by Elmar Tophoven during the translation of Nathalie Sarraute’s Vous les entendez (1972). Reproduced with the permission of Erika Tophoven.

  • 3 . I am grateful to Jonas Tophoven for pointing this out to me.

9In the early 1970s, for Tophoven, translating transparently involved noting on cards problems that arose at the time of translating. Not all these cards recorded the thought processes that led to the solution, though most contain a commentary upon the logic of the translation. The outcome of what might be termed a retrospective writing-aloud protocol, or in Tophoven’s words “translating with an open hand” (1987: 96), the cards reveal the attempts by the translator to “list the difficulties, establish the stages of their solution, accord each its weight within the organic and coherent whole, so as to draw out their reusable conclusions” (1973: 8). Cross-referenced to the text, the translator recorded his thought processes relative to a difficulty, respecting their sequence, and attributed to them linguistic categories. Of the more than 1200 cards he produced while translating Sarraute’s 223-page novel Vous les entendez, Tophoven estimates that some 50% will be reusable because they reveal the “rhetorical micro-structures” (figures) that reflect the “mechanism of the act of writing” (1973: 8). Fig. 2 shows one such example, Sarraute’s “des oreilles ennemies nous écoutent, des yeux ennemis nous épient” (Sarraute, 1996: 755) at “47/6”, meaning page 47, line 6. Tophoven’s commentary, “Parallelismus […] Assonanzen-Rettung” registers his attempt to find a parallel structure to save the assonances and so match the sonic pattern of the French, whose sharp “i”s (encircled) pierce through the soundscape like two eyes that pin their prey. The translator’s solution “belauschen… belauern…” achieves this objective with a pleasing sonority, but also with a refinement at the semantic level (hence both the green and red lines scored across the corners of the card). The standard French verb for listening, écouter, is rendered with belauschen, an eavesdropping that renders the scene more precisely. Tophoven’s other commentary upon his decision, “Muster ‘Feind hört mit’ unbrauchbar”, affirms that in this case the model or stock phrase, “the enemy is listening [to us]” is inappropriate. Indeed for the German reader this standard translation would resonate with the discourse of the Nazi regime and the Second World War, which would be entirely misplaced in the context, and particularly unfortunate in the work of Jewish author who was forced into hiding during the Vichy regime3. The translator’s discovery of this Parallelismus is but one of the hundreds of “rhetorical micro-structures” he comments upon over the course of the writing, and reflecting on the process of balancing these individual decisions, he evokes Jakobson’s notion of “dynamic synchronicity”: his cards allow him to monitor features of his translation that have implications for the coherence of the text as a whole; they allow him to coordinate the morphology, connotations, sensory factors, rhythm, musicality of his writing when he is forced to privilege one or more of these features at any one time (1973: 8); and, as a record of this process, they are like an “x-ray of interlingual metamorphoses” (1985: 144).

The translator as scientist

10Since the late 1960s, Tophoven had been staking out a bold remit for the labour of translation and its social as well as scientific value. In his 1987 article for the journal Protée, he posed the question directly: should the analysis of the data from this transparent translation be analysed by linguists or could translators themselves “harvest the fruits of their own labour, namely all that they learn—all they must learn—day after day faced with texts that present problems that at first sight sometimes appear unresolvable” (1987: 95). Jean-Louis Lebrave finds an affinity between Tophoven’s conception of translation and the nature of genetic criticism itself (2014: 55). Tophoven encouraged translators to develop a genetic mindset. He believed that by retracing the process that lead to the solution, and then by reflecting upon the reusability of the record of that process, translators would prevent the disappearance of their hard-won professional knowledge. Practising this method would contribute to the development of each translator’s scientific esprit by requiring them to comprehend the paradigmatic and generalizable aspects of translating, beyond the personal, the ephemeral or the particular. As he contemplated his notes from translating Claude Simon’s Histoire, Tophoven affirms that such documents attest to the unique experience of each translator and the capacity of each to generate new forms of knowledge that surpass their relevance to the individual. With an eye to future researchers—like today’s generation of scholars interested in translation genetics—as much as to members of his own profession, Tophoven writes that these forms of knowledge “may in the future constitute an inexhaustible collection guaranteeing an ongoing dialogue between colleagues” (1987: 99).

  • 4 . Even if Tophoven knew Dutch well enough to translate it, theoretical texts on translation in tha (...)

11It is important to situate Tophoven’s criteria for translation evaluation within their context. Arber has used Tophoven’s avant-textes to document a translator “obsessed by the orality of the text” (forthcoming) and shown that this heightened regard for the rhythm, musicality and sound of words could led him be more flexible with their semantics (Arber, 2018b). Nonetheless, his methodology for transparent translation employs the traditional criteria of equivalence when attempting to recreate meaning or poetics between source and translation. At the time, the product-focused approach remained fixed upon the diabolical problem of equivalence between source and target text comparisons (Koller, 1978; 1979; 1983: 95; 1989; Ladmiral, 1981: 393). Competence models focussed on the skills and strategies of translators, but they were theoretical and speculative for they did not rely on accumulated data or systematic observation of translators at work (Toury, 1980: 41). The new form of process research that Tophoven practised or oversaw from the late 1960s to the 1980s adapted both the contemporary models of equivalence and the contrastive linguistic approach developed by his principal scientific collaborator, Mario Wandruszka, to his unsystematized, but intuitive and practice-based (professional) view of translator competence. His linguistic categorization of translation problems in the early 1970s predates the introduction into translation studies of discourse analysis or models derived from cognitive-linguistics and socio-linguistics, and it was to remain unaffected by new linguistic paradigms, such as Juliane House’s (1977) application of Halliday’s systemic functional grammar to translation analysis. Rarely lifting its gaze from the individual, Tophoven’s approach never engaged with the systems-based approaches to translation that began to emerge in the late 1970s with the work of Even-Zohar (1978) and Toury (1980), which consider the role of translation within dynamic literary “polysystems” and interrogate not only why some texts are destined to be translated but also how they will be translated. Yet, Tophoven may have been no more or less informed of these developments than most translation specialists at the time, for as Snell-Hornby has pointed out, before Theo Herman’s important 1985 collection The Manipulation of Literature, which gathered together many authors advocating a departure from studying how the translation renders the linguistic features of its source to analysis of its function in the target culture, “for outsiders much of it [polysystems theory] remained virtually inaccessible” (Snell-Hornby, 2006: 48). That is because proceedings of the legendary conference on “Literature and Translation” held at Leuven (Belgium) in 1976 (Holmes et al. [dir.], 1978) went out of print a few years after publication, and much of this research was then published only in Dutch4 and Hebrew, or in limited edition monographs and local publications, or unpublished theses.

12One must remember that Tophoven was first and foremost a professional literary translator and a teacher of literary translation, not a translation researcher. His linguistic criteria for the assessment of translation problems were determined by personal and historical circumstances, yet he nonetheless imagined an enlarged role for the translator as a researcher of socio-cultural and linguistic phenomena, a “point of convergence between diverse disciplines” (Tophoven, 1973: 9). Such ideas, although familiar to us today through notions of the translator’s “interculture” (Pym, 1998: 181) and the idea of translation studies as an interdiscipline (Snell-Hornby, Pöchhacker, Kaindl, 1994), were nascent and largely unformulated in the 1970s and early 1980s. Furthermore, anticipating contemporary debates about the agency of the translator, Tophoven states clearly that he regards the act of translation as at once a complex “art” but also a “rewriting” under constraints (1973: 8). He affirms that his method’s critical self-reflection allows the translator “to penetrate deeper and deeper into that subtle mechanism that we call ‘the intuition’” by rendering “transparent” the translator’s literary poetics, like, for instance, when the phonic qualities of translated words are so apt as to generate a “surplus of prosodic value” with respect to their source (1974: 8).

13As early as 1973 he affirmed that the translator’s efforts to document translation processes would ideally be reproduced as marginal notes to the published text in order to facilitate comparative study (1973: 8). The product of transparent translation would thus counteract the invisibility of the translator in national or global publishing regimes and supply the published work with a new translatorial dimension. He therefore saw his method as offering a new framework with which to interrogate the singularity of the translation within the culture of reception and its traditions of literary criticism. In his 1984 discourse at the very first Assises de la traduction littéraire at Arles, France, he commented that if he were asked how he translated the particularities of an author’s style, he could point to his notes and reveal the secrets of that author’s tongue, and, indeed, “It is in this domain that the translators’ notes attain their greatest exchange value” (1985: 145). Furthermore, with its penetrating but self-critical regard, as it looks back towards the source text such visible translating fractures the authority of the original, revealing it to be contingent upon ways of reading and processes of transmission with multiple, competing significations. Not only does Tophoven’s proposition for including the translator’s own research with the published text attest to his intuitions as a genetic scholar, it shows his perception that translation can be an analytical tool to interrogate the œuvre—reversing the habitual perspective in which the translation is held to account by the authority of the œuvre—a view that has gained traction in comparative literature studies (Apter, 2006, 2013) as much as global literature studies (Walkowitz, 2015).

Tophoven’s Toledo: from myth to reality

14Toury’s 1995 monograph mentions the “Europäische Übersetzer Kollegium” in Straelen, Germany, the European Translators’ College that Tophoven set up with Klaus Birkenhauer in 1978 and which moved to its current premises in 1985. Tophoven would pass away just four years later, too early to see its flourishing into its current size, the largest residence for literary translators in the world. Straelen established a model that has been replicated across Europe, at the Collège International des Traducteurs Littéraires, Arles (France), the Casa del Traductor, Tarazona (Spain), the Collège Européen des Traducteurs Littéraires de Seneffe (Belgium), not to mention other centres within the Réseau Européen de Centres de Traduction Littéraire (RECIT), a network of residencies in locations such as Antwerp (Belgium), Sofia (Bulgaria), Berlin (Germany), Tallinn (Estonia), Balatonfüred (Hungary), Rome (Italy), Ventspils (Latvia), Amsterdam (Netherlands), Looren (Switzerland), Visby (Sweden) and Norwich (United Kingdom).

  • 5 . This idea is repeated often in speeches that Tophoven delivered, the manuscripts of which may be (...)

15Tophoven often wrote or spoke of the fact that his inspiration for his idea of translators’ residencies was the twelfth-century School of Toledo (eg. 1986: 30, 1995: 24), a multilingual centre that attracted many translators from the Muslim, Hebraic and Christian traditions, and where Don Raimondo gathered a group to translate from Arabic into Latin many important philosophical and scientific texts, including Greek texts previously lost to the West. The Toledo-Tophoven link is oft-repeated (eg. Wintzen, 1997) but somewhat romanticized, and it is certainly ironic, given that in recent years, during the period in which Tophoven’s model has gone global—see for instance the establishment of the Literary Translation Centre, in Banff, Alberta (Canada), the Dar Al-Ma’mûn residency in Marrakech (Morocco), or newly created Translator-in-residence positions at the British Library or in the USA at, for instance, the University of Iowa or Princeton—the very existence of the celebrated “Toledo School” has been proven to be a myth. Much translation happened in and around 12-13th century Toledo, but there was never a coherent school (for an overview see Santoyo, 2011). From myth to reality, the emergence of translation centres inspired by his initiative at Straelen was a source of hope for Tophoven; he believed that by using his method there and beyond, translators would collectively sustain future research and help improve their own standing (eg. 1987: 100)5. In 1987 he wrote of such efforts already underway at Straelen, underlining once again one of its principal objectives:

The files accumulated over many years, which remain unexploited, witnessed the efforts of translators to free themselves from a vicious circle, from a fatal necessity, whereby inappropriate levels of remuneration increase time pressures on work and do not allow translators the downtime they need to draw out the lessons from their own work, which would have allowed them to secure better conditions, etc. (1995: 24)

  • 6 . Personal interview with Erika Tophoven, 9 May 2019.

The use of his method was never a condition or an enforced dogma for work at Straelen, and many translators declined to participate because, with little remuneration for their work and pressure to meet deadlines, they did not have the time to participate in translation research6. Tophoven’s passing away so early in the College’s history stymied momentum for this aspect of its activities. Yet one begins to appreciate the scale of Tophoven’s vision when one considers that it has been claimed that at Straelen alone, by 2002 over 15000 texts had been translated (Giersberg, 2003), and that he was promoting the use of his method for all the translation centres emerging across Europe.

16The creation of translation residences in the image of the mythical Toledo School was the expression of Tophoven’s emancipatory program for translators.

Setting down these traces [of translation] could help free literary translators from the disgrace of the forger as much as the aura of the sorcerer. It might tear the silent majority of lone individuals from their incapacity to speak and accord them a greater right to intervene by allowing them to discover themselves. (1995: 22)

Here and elsewhere, he reiterates that the aim to emancipate the lonely translator motivates his development of both the method of transparent translation and the spaces where it can be put into practice. This characterisation of the translator may be interrogated in light of recent work done in sociologically-informed translation studies that highlights, following Latour, the “agency” that translators may exercise within their professional networks. In Bourdieusian terms, this agency is always a function of one’s habitus and for a translator this is determined, usually, by levels of capital that are less economic than cultural (education, professional standing), social (networks of contacts) or symbolic (prestige, reputation, honour, fame). As the principal German translator of a group of nouveau roman authors who had emerged by the late 1960s as one of the major literary movements of post-war France, Tophoven had earned for himself a large portion of cultural, social and symbolic capital. In particular, the attribution of the Nobel prize to Samuel Beckett in 1969 served to guarantee, validate and augment this symbolic capital—in the following year, and after Paul Celan’s death freed the post that Tophoven had been occupying temporarily since 1964, he was appointed lecteur in German at the École Normale Supérieure, the most elite grande école for the humanities in France. His embodied habitus gave him the confidence, personally and publically, to speak for this “silent majority of lone individuals”, to work towards their emancipation. Yet Tophoven was well aware, firstly, that not all translators toiled in loneliness (his own career was established in the 1950s through a practice of collaborative translation with Samuel Beckett, and he later co-translated with his wife Erika) and, secondly, that translators play an essential role within the literary field as promotors of authors and, in today’s jargon, as agents of cultural translation.

17Rather, Tophoven’s claim that his method could give a voice to “the silent majority of lone individuals” skilfully exploits a powerful rhetorical discourse around the singularity of the translator that had evolved since the Renaissance to elide the benefits of the historical practice of team translation and impose a model of singular authorship which the translator was to emulate, and that in the post-Romantic period pressured translators to aspire to an ideal of authorship based upon the myth of singular genius, which—most perversely—because it was equated with notions of originality, they could never attain (Cordingley and Frigau, 2017). On the other hand, Tophoven aimed to prove through scientifically documented and verifiable means the inherent literary creativity of the translator and thus to challenge the presumed inferiority of the translator’s writing. To render observable the complexity of the writing of translation is to allow for it to be appreciated on its own terms, as its own “art” (Tophoven, 1973: 8), and therefore to be no longer equated with models of original authorship, which, somewhat ironically in the wake of Stillinger’s (1991) work on multiple authorship in the Romantic period, have themselves been proven to wilfully occlude the dynamics of collaboration and sustain the myth of singular genius. Yet Tophoven was also a product of his time, one when the recognition of the translator’s agency had only begun. The translator’s style was not for him a research object of equal value to that of discovering the author’s style (1985: 144-45), and for the translator as researcher, “the most important point […] is to determine the particularities of each individual’s style”, by which he means that the highest goal of transparent translation is to comprehend the author’s style, to render it transparent. Attaining this goal will justify, finally, the translator’s place among the ranks of real scientists (1995: 26-7, cf. 1985).

Translating transparently and collaboratively

18In his 1987 article in Protée Tophoven reflects on the benefits of his method for future research into the processes of collaborative translation. Discussing his translating of Beckett’s Company with the author, he explains that he proceeded by typing into his computer each English phrase, then on the line below he entered Beckett’s published French translation, under which he recorded the course of his own translating until he arrived at his final proposition. He cites an example of his rendition of Beckett’s “What does this mean?” as “… was bedeutet das?” But when revising his translation with the author, who had a fine grasp of German, Beckett suggested a formulation that paid homage to Heinrich Heine, drawn from Die Lorelei, and which the translator recorded next to his own phrase: “S.B.: Was soll das bedeuten? (H.H.)…”. Recalling this process Tophoven surmises that “one can imagine that traces of the author’s interventions give a supplementary value to documents that report the processes of translation” (1987: 97). Indeed, Tophoven was perhaps the first to intuit the scientific value of recording not just the outcome but also the processes of author-translator collaboration.

19Furthermore, he saw another benefit for documenting author-translator collaboration in the use that could be made of the “protocole de travail” (1987: 97; working protocol) during negotiations with one’s editor. He notes that the record or protocol of his translation of Mal vu mal dit that was revised in collaboration with Beckett shows where Beckett objected to certain, perhaps more obvious, translations, and introduced nuances or departures that the translator would normally be reluctant to make. Tophoven generally accorded Beckett the last word in such matters, and he writes that when he sent his text to his German editor he also sent the entire protocol of the translation process. This, he affirms, facilitated the editor’s verification of his translation and served to “simplify correspondence about ‘blind spots’ or ‘unclear passages’” (1987: 89). This tongue in cheek comment acknowledges that translators can use the translation “protocol” to turn to their own advantage the editor’s inherent bias towards the author, who is often (dubiously) assumed to be the best reader of his or her own text, and thus negate the tedious and sometimes difficult requirement to justify their own translation decisions (often with someone who does not know the source language). Indeed, extending Tophoven’s logic one can see that not only may proof of the author’s intervention be called upon to justify a translation decision but the absence of the author’s censure elsewhere implicitly supports every other decision the translator makes.

Translating transparently on computers

20Antoine Berman credits Elmar Tophoven with having been “the first to perceive the marvellous potential that computing offered literary translators” (1995: 17). Tophoven was an early adopter; he integrated computers into his reflection upon transparent translating from the late 1960s-early 1970s, and he used a microcomputer from 1980. Rather than being anxious that translators would be superseded by technology, he saw the potential for computers to register and communicate the complexity of translation, to retain and share each translator’s professional knowledge and to possibly increase efficiency by allowing each to build upon the work of their peers. In his 1973 interview in La Quinzaine Littéraire, he was already imagining how to incorporate computing into the research process, sketching a vision of translators, university researchers and publishers cooperating in “a kind of international institute for literary translation”, where translators would work in residency, practising his method and recording their reflections into in “a great electronic dictionary” (1973: 9).

  • 7 . I hesitate calling each a single “banque” a file, because I do not know how the data was structu (...)

21The prospect of an electronic reference work that would make translators’ work reusable for future generations continued to develop in Tophoven’s mind over the next decade. By the early 1980s he had used a personal computer while translating Robbe-Grillet’s Djinn, when he alternated between manuscript, typewriter and computer (Arber, forthcoming), and he practised his method of critical self-reflection when translating directly into his computer Beckett’s prose pieces Company/Compagnie (Tophoven, 1983), and Mal Vu Mal Dit (Tophoven, Erika, 2011: 111-13, 227). When he turned to Sarraute’s short piece of 1972 “Le Bonheur des hommes” (1984), for each translation problem he entered the sentences or fragments of sentences from the source text into the computer; he then recorded the sequence of attempts to translate it until arriving at the final proposition; finally, he commented upon the resolution of the problem and the “lesson” derived from it (1987: 97-99). Over a fifth of these notes were judged worthy of transferring to electronic banques (banks7) that recorded words, syntagms and prosodic phenomena. It is not exactly clear how these word and phrase banks were structured—only some glossaries remain after the translation memories at Straelen were destroyed in 1989 by a fatal crash—although from his 1987 (26-7) discourse in Berlin it appears that the system he developed when translating transparently onto cards was replicated, each problem felling under one or more of his three headings (lexis, syntax, prosody). These categories were used by the group of translators who sorted and classified the hundreds of observations made during the translation of Nathalie Sarraute’s Enfance. Tophoven refers to “glossaires” and the recording of lexical features, but also to the “much more complex phenomena” of syntax and prosody, which they reduced to over 300 entries.

22Tophoven explains that in 1980 at the College at Straelen computers were used for “translators who wanted to learn from one another” (1995: 25). A kind of informal experiment was set up to translate into French the novels of the German author Theodor Fontane. The text to translate would appear on the screen and the translator would then offer a solution, which if not to his or her liking, would not be erased but rather the new solution would be recorded on the line below, and so on until the translator was satisfied. Next to the solution in a separate field the translator could add a commentary, and if appropriate the “lesson” to be learned. The program could generate a final translated text that did not contain the commentaries. The objective was to analyse the different solutions offered by different translators and it would appear that he also hoped to be able to reuse their solutions in future texts that presented the same translation problems. With palpable enthusiasm, in the same breath that he connects the “Toledo School” with the translator residencies recently set up or emerging across Europe, he calls for translators to be sponsored to “work in a permanent fashion to constitute a stock of linguistic equivalents for the benefit of all translators” (1995: 27).

The future of transparent translation and process research technologies

23Tophoven’s program for the use of technology in transparent translation remained embryonic, like the emerging technology it harnessed. Yet he was evidently working towards something that resembles the way a modern translation memory operates within a computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool. Clearly, he would be impressed by the technologies at our disposal today, and he is unique in having anticipated their potential as pedagogical tools for literary translators and as instruments to valorize the work of translation for current and future peers, as well as for translation process research. Translation memories are generally not used in literary translation today because, firstly, the translator usually aspires to produce a thoroughly new translation, and secondly, literary texts do not generally contain enough word sequences that have been used before in the past to warrant the use of a translation memory. However, they may be very useful in the case of retranslation, where a translator wants to revise an existing translation or to have it present for verification as she or he translates a new version. This does not invalidate Tophoven’s ambition, rather it shows how it was limited by the nascent technologies of his time. In fact, today’s CAT tools, and other tools that facilitate the mark-up of text, offer literary translators the capacity to record and comment on the geneses of their translations, and to share effortlessly these reflections with each other in a way unimaginable to Tophoven.

24Yet he was far from ignorant of the emerging paradigm for translation process research in the 1980s. In his 1987 article entitled “La Traduction Transparente”, he expresses his admiration for Hans-Peter Krings’ Was in den Köpfen von Übersetzern vorgeht (What goes on in the heads of translators), published only the year before, a landmark study using think-aloud protocols, which filled some five hundred pages with minute analyses of the work of eight translators working on texts of no more than two pages; Tophoven called it a “veritable ‘computer-tomography’” (1987: 26). However, the use of TAPs in translation research generated a number of subsequent criticisms. Research demonstrated that participants’ versions of what happened during their translating did not accord with what actually happened; subjects also changed their behaviour when they knew they were being observed, the tasks of translating and verbalizing interfering with one another, as well as the flow of writing; and the method offered little by way of accessing unconscious or automatic (non-verbalized) processes (see Fraser, 1996; Hurtado Albir & Alves, 2009: 69). In the chronology for process research proposed by Hurtado Albir et al. (2015: 5-7) this first phase ended in the mid-1990s with the introduction of more systematic approaches that sought to “triangulate” multiple viewpoints, combining different methods of observation, notably with the introduction of key-logging software Translog (Jakobsen & Schou, 1999), a technique that was extended by programs such as Proxy or Camtasia that capture all the translator’s activity on the screen. In this period, Dragsted (2004) profited from the development of translation memory systems to observe translator behaviour, especially the effects of text segmentation upon writing.

25In the third and now the fourth phase of such process research, according to the dating proposed by Hurtado Albir et al. (ibid.) as such techniques become more and more sophisticated, reliable and accurate, it is worth asking whether transparent translation has a place in this field at all. Or is it only a curiosity, an erased footnote from a larger story? The scientific validity of a translator’s retrospection within Tophoven’s model appears today to be questionable, if, that is, one is aiming to know what happens in the mind of a translator at the moment of writing. However, as I have demonstrated above, Tophoven pursued his method to foster better working conditions for translators; to do so, he believed they must become empowered to understand their own artistry and not remain passive subjects, forever subservient to authors, or the monkeys of more refined, scientific minds. On the contrary, he would have urged translators to adopt and master the new technologies and methodologies that have become available to researchers, imploring translators to appropriate them and to continue to translate transparently. His dream of a working-researching community of translators, communicating with each other across the borders of Europe and beyond has failed to materialize. Despite the exponential growth of translation studies, and the fashionable celebration of translator “creativity”, remuneration for literary translators has dropped in real terms from the 1970s and 80s. Industry-wide developments beyond the literary domain are pressuring translators to use CAT tools and translation memories, and to post-edit machine translation, but for translators there is no silver lining to technological advance. On the other hand, those who appear to profit most from the boom in translation process research that technology has facilitated are the researchers themselves. For the wider community of literary translators today conditions are as challenging as ever in living memory.

26In this context, it is worth remembering Antoine Berman’s definition of transparent translation:

Elmar Tophoven is finally, and perhaps above all, the promotor of a new way of translating […] Of a translating that, constantly reflecting upon itself, recording its steps, its phases, its processes, is a back-up of itself, and can thus, at once promote—for perhaps the first time in History—a fertile exchange between translators, a transmission of experience, and, beyond that, allow, also for the first time, a concrete and systematic teaching of literary translation. (1989: 9)

27Berman stresses that the value of the method’s archival function (recording processes) is dependent upon its self-reflexive function (the subject’s heightened self-understanding), a combination that opens up the potential for an enriched, productive communication and a flourishing pedagogy. Unlike Borges, who conjured up Funes, the character who could effortlessly learn English, French, Portuguese and Latin but was paralysed by his total memory—Funes “was not very good at thinking” (Borges, 1998: 136)—Tophoven never dreamed of hypermnesic sheep. His ideal translators privilege the selection and analysis of translation problems at every step, working towards their solution at once individually and in community; they refine their capacity for critical self-analysis and communication in a constant, dialogic process of self-improvement, for themselves and for the recognition of their own art.

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Notes

1 . Tophoven is regularly evoked in discussions of translation in Germany, although his method does not have wide recognition. In France his work was the focus of a 1995 issue of Translittérature; the landmark issue of Genesis in 2014 devoted to translation contained a study by Lebrave of Tophoven’s method when translating Alain Robbe-Grillet’s La Jalousie; and Solange Arber, who is completing a doctorate on Tophoven, has examined Tophoven’s treatment of particular linguistic aspects of the nouveau roman (Arber, 2016), analysed his metaphor of transparency (Arber 2018a), and explored the Tophoven Archives to detail his method of translating Nathalie Sarraute’s “disent les imbéciles” and Vous les entendez? (Arber, 2018b) as well as Robbe-Grillet’s Djinn (Arber, forthcoming).

2 . All unattributed translations are mine.

3 . I am grateful to Jonas Tophoven for pointing this out to me.

4 . Even if Tophoven knew Dutch well enough to translate it, theoretical texts on translation in that language were not well known beyond the Dutch-speaking community of researchers.

5 . This idea is repeated often in speeches that Tophoven delivered, the manuscripts of which may be consulted at the Tophoven Archives at Straelen.

6 . Personal interview with Erika Tophoven, 9 May 2019.

7 . I hesitate calling each a single “banque” a file, because I do not know how the data was structured and archived, or a database, which implies an architecture that may well be more complex than the one used.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1
Légende Box of cards produced by Elmar Tophoven during the translation of Nathalie Sarraute’s “disent les imbéciles” (1976). Tophoven Archive, Straelen. Reproduced with the permission of Erika Tophoven.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/palimpsestes/docannexe/image/6102/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 524k
Titre Fig. 2
Légende Colour-coded card produced by Elmar Tophoven during the translation of Nathalie Sarraute’s Vous les entendez (1972). Reproduced with the permission of Erika Tophoven.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/palimpsestes/docannexe/image/6102/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 353k
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Auteur

Anthony Cordingley

Anthony Cordingley est maître de conférences à l’université Paris 8 – Vincennes-Saint-Denis, actuellement en détachement à l’université de Sydney en qualité de Robinson Fellow. Ses recherches portent sur la littérature anglophone et la traduction. Spécialiste de Samuel Beckett, il a publié Samuel Beckett’s “How It Is”: Philosophy in Translation (Edinburgh University Press, 2018), dirigé Self-translation: Brokering Originality in Hybrid Culture (Bloomsbury, 2013) et codirigé Collaborative Translation: from the Renaissance to the Digital Age (Bloomsbury, 2017) ainsi que deux numéros de revue : Linguistica Antverpiensia, « Towards a Genetics of Translation » (2015) et Meta, « Translation Archives » (2021). Entre 2020 et 2022, il conduira le projet de recherche « Genetic Translation Studies » au Centre for Translation Studies (CETRA) à KU Leuven, dans le cadre d’un Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship.

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