Transferring words and ideas from one language to another has always been a puzzling and difficult matter for those involved in it. For centuries, English-speakers and translators have dealt with these difficulties by enforcing, through professional codes of ethics and through publishing contracts, what Lawrence Venuti calls "the translator's invisibility," as chronicled in his book by the same name. By evaluating translation solely on the transparency and fluency of the target language translation (that is, by making a translation not seem like a translation), English translators and audiences assured that translators remained faithful to original authors' intents, or so they thought. Contemporary linguistic theory, namely poststructuralism, has changed the way we think about language and has suggested that meaning is created just as much in the mind of the audience as in the hands of the author. Translation adds a third locus—that of the translator—in the creation of meaning, and many contemporary translation scholars promote a recognition of the inevitable intervention of translators.

Ann Patchett's 2001 award-winning novel Bel Canto explores the way translation functions in contemporary global society. Through the microcosm of the novel, the main character, a professional translator named Gen, suggests that the acceleration of globalization that has contributed to the recent increase of translation and translation studies has also made the idea of the translator's invisibility obsolete. Instead, he finds that the linguistic awareness of his audience allows him a visibility for which his professional translation training has left him poorly equipped. To deal with his visibility, Gen must find new ways of creating responsibility in his audience and better ways to achieve ethical translation. Unlike Venuti's framework of translators who must one-sidedly demand attention and force breaks in tradition, Bel Canto suggests a cooperative re-evaluation of tradition that cautiously assesses translation strategies in terms of both the translator and the audience. In the spirit of global communication, Bel Canto presents translation as a multi-dimensional communicative situation that, with deliberate changes in the promotion of ethics, can enable international understanding and serve as an example of productive evaluation of tradition.



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Humanities; English



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translation, Bel Canto, Ann Patchett, Lawrence Venuti, invisibility, code of ethics