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It is convenient to sit on a hilltop and look down at a battlefield and the commotion and ensuing chaos of battle, watching which party will come out unscathed or broken, and “directing” the battle from a distance or the comfort of leisure and ex post facto, suggesting how the battle should be conducted. It is also more convenient to criticize, after the battle is over and all players have gone home or been dead and buried, not by the survivors but the spectators and observers.

Most modern and naive critics of any kind of human endeavour in any field do exactly that. Translation critics are not different. In fact, next to Karate critics, they are the worst. And here we are talking about the full range of critics, from the most brilliant and scholarly to the most deranged and stupid. Each time, their criticism rather than critique, comes down to likes and dislikes. “Oh! I don't like this translation, and that translation is bad”, and “Yes, this translation is wrong, and the translator should have done it this way or that way”. All that commotion without providing meaningful justification or reasoning for their emotional response to one translation or another. Granted that translations, especially of literary works, appeal to the emotion rather than the intellect, such criticisms verge on the insane and stupid, with a deluge of views and opinions about how and what a translation should be. And funny enough those who criticize lack the command of either or both languages, so much so that even when they suggest alternatives, these alternatives are endemically flawed at various levels of rendition, revealing how shallow and erratic their knowledge is.

After decades of translation studies by the big wigs and the small wagging tails, the innovators and the regurgitators, we still encounter this kind of baloney. No scientifically based translation analysis is provided to explore the translation strategies adopted by a certain translator and the raft of constraints that dictated these strategies—linguistic, cultural, temporal-spatial, and so on, and why a translator chose a certain rendition. Without backing up your criticisms, yours is just an opinion that lacks validity, whether you like a translation or you don’t.

The question that remains for you to ponder on is whether a translation has achieved its purpose within the acceptable range of approximation. Cherry-picking and looking at fragmented pieces of a jigsaw, while missing the big picture, without providing valid alternatives is as the old proverb says, “war by binoculars is easy”.

© 2020 Ali Darwish. All rights reserved.

A Prologue to the book Disruptive Translation (forthcoming), by Ali Darwish

Eugene Matti, Josephine Kourieh-Shaheen, Iman F Riman, Ruba Hammami, Hafsa Omar, Reem Sabry, Suzanne Reda Al Haouli Fran Martin, Ron Wolters, Hussein Daaboul

Translation: Emotional Response by Dr Ali Darwish

Wednesday, 8 July 2020 READING TIME: 3 MINUTES