Madeleine Kasten is a guest at the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society.
Over the past few years I have become increasingly interested in the art of translation. Much of the literature we read in the course of our lives comes to us via translations, a fact which we too often take for granted. Unfamiliarity with the source language may even induce us to look upon a translation as an original in its own right. Indeed, the practice of literary translation, especially when it is expanded to include the ‘freer’ categories of imitation and adaptation, has yielded many texts worthy of being enjoyed for their own sake. However, recent developments in the fields of literary and translation studies have made it possible to question the relationship between a source text and its offspring on other than purely aesthetic grounds.
As Julia Kristeva and others have taught us, literary works never exist in a vacuum. Rather, they are part of a dynamic cultural network in which one text may evoke the presence of many others. It is up to the reader – and, I would add, the translator – to pick up these resonances and create her own text, thereby subverting the tradition which would posit the author as the source of all meaning. But how do translations like the Ovide Moralisée or Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film adaptation of Arabian Nights actually contrive to translate meaning back into their sources? More generally: what are the cultural and ideological stakes involved in translation’s two-way process of meaning-making?
My interest in these and related questions stems from my research in the field of (literary) allegory, the ancient art of ‘speaking other’, where a text is typically designed to hold its own translation between its lines. Here, too, the role of the reader is crucial, as is shown by the intricate connection between the genre of allegory and allegorical reading.
Well before the advent of deconstruction, Northrop Frye argued that all literature is to some extent allegorical in that it requires interpretation. Over fifty years before Frye, Charles Sanders Peirce had already claimed that interpretation is merely another word for translation. The project which I am currently working on will comprise a number of case studies in which I focus on the constantly varying relationship between these three terms: (literary and intermedial) translation, allegory, and interpretation.
Kasten, M.J.A. (2007). ‘In Search of 'Kynde Knowynge': Piers Plowman and the Origin of Allegory (Costerus New Series, 168). Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi.
Kasten, M.J.A. (2010). "Labouring in Reason's Vineyard: Voltaire and the Allegory of Enlightenment". In: Otten,, Willemien, Vanderjagt,, Arjo, Vries, de, Hent (Eds.), How the West Was Won: Essays on Literary Imagination, the Canon and the Christian Middle Ages (Brill's Studies in Intellectual History), 188. , pp. 101-116. Leiden: E.J.Brill.
Kasten, M.J.A. & Gruenler, C. (2011). “The Point of the Plow: Conceptual Integration in the Allegory of Langland and Voltaire”. Metaphor and Symbol (26:2), pp. 143-151.
Kasten, M.J.A. (2012). Translation Studies - Vondel's Appropriation of Grotius's Sophompaneas (1635). In: Bloemendal, J. & Korsten, F.W.A. (Eds.), Joost van den Vondel (1587 - 1679): Dutch Playwright in the Golden Age (Drama and Theatre in Early Modern Europe), Vol. I. , pp. 249-269. Leiden & Boston: Brill.
Kasten, M.J.A. (2012). “Wor(l)ds at Play: Gadamer and the Dynamics of Literary Translation”. In: Kasten, M.J.A., Paul, H.J., Sneller, H.W. (Eds.), Hermeneutics and the Humanities - Hermeneutik und Geisteswissenschaften, pp. 198-216. Leiden: Leiden University Press.
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