The Age of Translation

Early 20th-century Concepts and Debates

by Maria Lin Moniz (Volume editor) Alexandra Lopes (Volume editor)
©2017 Edited Collection 254 Pages
Series: passagem, Volume 11


The collection of essays by eleven TS researchers focuses on translation in the first half of the 20th century, a period of political and social turmoil in Europe. The collection concentrates mainly, though not exclusively, on the Iberian Peninsula, addressing relevant questions, such as censorship and dictatorial regimes, power, war, the role of women in society. It seeks to shed new light on the concepts, debates and practices of the time, as well as to showcase both translatedness in its many guises (translation, adaptation, pseudotranslation) and its conspicuous absences. The contributors discuss, in different ways and using various methodologies, the omnipresence of translation in «the age of the extremes».

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of contents
  • Introduction. Against monolithism – the 20th century as the age of translation
  • Part 1. Concepts & practices in 20th-century translation
  • “Double-voiced words”: from Bakhtin’s heteroglossia to heterolingualism in writings by hyphenated authors (Cristina Roquette)
  • The philological underpinning of Translation Studies in Spain and Portugal (José Antonio Sabio Pinilla)
  • The Iberian absence: translations of Modern Greek literature in Europe during the first half of the 20th century (Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez)
  • Part 2. Translation, power & conflict – Imagining Others in times of hostility
  • Salazar translated: on translation and power under the Estado Novo (1933–1950) (Teresa Seruya)
  • Theatre translations censored in Portugal (1929–1945) (Zsófia Gombár)
  • Bound by translation: Portugal and Brazil in the first half of the 20th century (Ana Teresa Marques dos Santos)
  • The experience of World War I in Portugal through translation (Maria Lin Moniz)
  • Dispatches from Berlin: news translation in the golden age of foreign correspondence (Elisabeth Anita Möckli)
  • Part 3. Engendering literature through translation
  • Intersecting identities and censorship: translating Brigitte for/by the Mocidade Portuguesa Feminina (M.P.F.) in the 1940s (Marta Teixeira Anacleto)
  • “A woman’s place is in the home”? – Portuguese translations of studies on the condition of women and guides of good conduct (1910–1950) (Sónia Martins Pereira and Maria Teresa Cortez)
  • Toccata & Fugue. On authorship, translation & originality (Alexandra Lopes)
  • Contributors
  • Subject Index

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Introduction. Against monolithism – the 20th century as the age of translation


“It is not the literal past that rules us, save, possibly, in a biological sense. It is images of the past” (Steiner 13) – George Steiner’s powerful assertion at the beginning of In Bluebeard’s Castle is an apt description of the present volume. The Age of Translation. Early 20th-century Concepts and Debates seeks to discuss the ways in which the first fifty years of the past century have shaped the conceptions and misconceptions, discourses and practices, possibilities and interdictions in the fields of literature, communication and culture.

Albeit very diverse and at times apparently disparate, the eleven essays in this collection share the common claim that translation is conceptually and pragmatically central in any mapping of the 20th century. Hence the title. It chooses to accentuate the fact that the 1900s have witnessed an explosion of translations, not only in the sheer number of translated books, articles and other textual evidence, but also, and perhaps more significantly, in the pivotal role translation began to assume as a metaphor, a conceptual and/or analytical tool at the heart of humanities and social sciences. Doris Bachmann-Medick has discussed this “translational turn” in a number of articles, reflecting how the impact of translation as a conceptual category is able to shed light on liminal spaces that would otherwise remain obscure.

In the emerging knowledge society, translation is more than just a medium of cultural contact or a procedure for intercultural encounter. It can also become a model for disciplinary linking where the individual disciplines make themselves as susceptible as possible to connections to other areas of knowledge and explore their “contact zones” […]. In contrast to the “smoother” category of interdisciplinarity, the translation category has the advantage of explicitly addressing the differences, tensions and antagonisms between disciplines or schools of thought. (Bachmann-Medick 37)

The “translational turn” in social sciences and the humanities has been anticipated by a growing difficulty in thinking cultural phenomena in a monolithic framework, as society grew more and more complex in its make-up, and cross-cultural communication and experience came to inhabit most Western cultures. In fact, in the 1900s, communities could no longer be described in terms of a monolingual monoculture Two world wars, gender and race struggles, the colonial experience and the slow demise of European empires, all conspired to put an ← 7 | 8 → end to an overall perception of cultural homogeneity. Gone was Friedrich Schleiermacher’s dream of the early 1800s of an indissoluble bond between one’s identity and one’s language: “every man is in the power of the language he speaks and all thinking is a product thereof” (Schleiermacher 145). The “immobile one-place one-language one-culture” (Rushdie 98) experience would be replaced in the 1900s with mobility, diversity and plurality in many distracting, conflicting and creative ways.

The possibility, as well as often the necessity, of being-in-transit overrode the overall sense of territoriality, and culture and language became at once more visibly plural and partial. Technology (radio, television, faster means of transportation, etc.) and the first waves of immigration in large numbers made the world at once smaller and multiple. Thus, translation came to “contaminate” the experience of everyday life in an overwhelming myriad of new ways. Cities became “contact zones”, i.e., “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power” (Pratt 34). The reciprocal influence of space, identities and culture had a twofold consequence: (a) an explosion of stories and (b) an increase in liminal spaces within communities. As Homi Bhabha puts it, “[t]he ‘locality’ of national culture is neither unified nor unitary in relation to itself, nor must it be seen simply as ‘other’ in relation to what is outside or beyond it. The boundary is Janus-faced and the problem of outside/inside must always itself be a process of hybridity” (4), and he argues further that “[t]he ‘other’ is never outside or beyond us; it emerges forcefully, within cultural discourse, when we think we speak most intimately and indigenously ‘between ourselves”’ (ibid.).

Both the explosion of stories and liminality turned translation – itself a form of dialogue and mobility – into an everyday practice. To a significant extent, the 20th century changed the traditional borders between “us” and “them” in a twofold gesture that encompasses a measure of internalisation (the other is within perceived borders instead of outside) and a radical correlation – alterity and identity as necessary correlates. Paraphrasing Stuart Hall, identities have always been unstable, psychically, culturally and politically (Hall 1987). Instability results from their contingent and relational nature: “Who I am – the ‘real’ me – was formed in relation to a whole set of other narratives” (ibid. 44). The concept of “narrative” or “story” is of paramount importance as more and more, and more diverse, identities claim the right to agency and voice. Stories constitute modes of making sense of the world, the self and the other(s), as “all identity is constructed across difference” (ibid. 45). Stories matter. Stories change depending on who tells them. Arguably, the ← 8 | 9 → 20th century became the locus of dissonant polyphony, as cities developed into “sites of encounter and gathering, and languages are part of the mix” (Simon 2), where “[t]he Other remains within constant earshot”. As such, “[t]he shared understandings of this coexistence change the meaning of translation from a gesture of benevolence to a process through which a common civility is negotiated” (ibid. 7). Hybridity and border-crossing, negotiation and translation became an integral feature of citizenship in 20th-century Western world, as the experience of “contact zones” became pervasive – Pratt suggested as much in her 1991 article when she put forward the proposition that the term could be used “to reconsider the models of community that many of us rely on in teaching and theorizing and that are under challenge today” (Pratt 34).

In light of all this, thinking about the twentieth century in translational terms may well constitute a Sisyphean task. This volume focuses mainly on the first half of what the historian Eric Hobsbawm has labeled “the age of extremes”. In the scope of fifty years the world underwent two world wars, revolutions – most notably, the Russian revolution –, dictatorships of various nature, censorship, torture, but also advances in technology and knowledge. As Hobsbawm stresses, there were three major transformations throughout what the historian calls “the short twentieth century” (which is still shorter in this volume, as most contributions focus on the years from 1900 to the 1950s): (1) the end of Eurocentrism or the American triumph over Europe, with the consequent “Americanization” of the world, particularly after World War II; (2) the gradual globalization of the world; and (3) “the disintegration of old patterns of human social relationships” (14–15). All these transformations have impacted on communities and individuals, as well as on the arts with the emerging culture industries.

As “the age of mechanical reproduction”, to quote part of Walter Benjamin’s famous essay, the early 1900s has presented many challenges to art and art theory, as well as to translation and translation theory. While making artworks available for larger numbers of people, mechanical replication made acceleration and quantity, i.e., mass production, possible. Famously, Walter Benjamin (1935) and Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1944), among many others, have reflected – at times, nostalgically – upon the meaning and the impact of this possibility for the redefinition of art. However much they ended up disagreeing, all three scholars shared the inevitable conclusion that “reproducibility” changes the perception and enjoyment of the artwork. “[T]hat which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art”, Benjamin claimed (221), while Horkheimer and Adorno actively lamented the absence of art in the ← 9 | 10 → much maligned culture industries which they see as the triumph of capitalism over art – entertainment and reproducibility wiping out the possibility of art by imposing on it the criterion of “sameness” (Horkheimer and Adorno 106, 116–117, 148–149).

As the essays in the present volume show, the first half of the 20th century harbours many a contradiction: utopianism and repression; revolution and terror existing side by side with pacifism and progress; the rise of capitalism and the emergence of communism; sophisticated levels of culture coexisting with unexpected forms of barbarism; technology both allowing for many an advance in the living conditions and facilitating death by the millions; colonialism and empires cohabiting with, and rejecting as absurd, the first independence movements and migration flows; a class-based and gender-exclusive democracy flirting with and being threatened by dictatorships of various kinds; different avant garde movements developing alongside the more “commercial” culture industries, etc. Particularly striking for translation is the technological (r)evolution that allowed for important social transformations in the habits and values of Western societies.

The essays in this collection echo some of these contradictions, focussing on war and propaganda, gender and (the dissemination of) literacy, censorship and its impact on erudite and popular forms of literature and translation. The eleven authors of different origins and intellectual backgrounds reflect on how social and political events, ideological assumptions and stereotypes, prejudices and new ideas both shaped and were shaped by translation.

Arguably the 21st century is the heir of the convoluted and fragmented experiences of the first five decades of the 20th century, and this makes the period under study all the more compelling at a time when new forms of terror and propaganda are emerging, and the rise of fear, hatred and political distrust is unmistakable.


The volume is divided up in three parts, each focusing on a particular area of interest in the period of time under analysis.

Part 1. Concepts & practices in 20th-century translation. Early 20th century is the site of a rich conceptual and theoretical history. The intellectual history of the time is perhaps best understood as a trajectory, as the majority of key players in the field were forced, by circumstance or choice, to move from their place of origin – Benjamin, Auerbach, Spitzer, Jakobson, among others, have complicated ← 10 | 11 → the conceptual map of translation theory in diverse but unmistakable ways, as they have experienced the challenges of instability and eventually displacement. Arguably, the experience of both literal and symbolic existential “elsewhereness” has shaped the theoretical fabric of their writings on or around translation. Mikhail Bakhtin, on the other hand, has been very influential in the recognition of the dialogic and polyphonic nature of narrative, and as such of great importance to translation.

The contributions in this section discuss, directly or indirectly, the instability and mobility that inhabits both translation theory in the 1900s and the “explosion” resulting from industrialisation and gradual dissolution of classic literacy, of translations, theories, cross-cultural dialogues and misunderstandings. All three essays approach the complex cartography of translations and translators, with particular emphasis on the Iberian Peninsula, from different perspectives and intellectual traditions.

Considering that any literary text, and particularly texts by hyphenated authors, does not express a single voice or point of view, and as such is heteroglot, Cristina Roquette discusses the relevance of Bakhtin for contemporary literary and translation theories, as well as for the analysis of literary texts produced by migrant writers. Roquette highlights the complexity of the translator’s task when rendering texts by bilingual and/or bicultural authors, as they produce a textual fabric that often includes interference (a form of translation?) from their heritage language in the dominant language. The author discusses the concepts of “heteroglossia” and “heterolingualism” and reflects on the opportunity of applying them to the Portuguese translation of Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa, a Canadian writer of Portuguese descent.

Discussing translation from a philological standpoint, José Antonio Sabio Pinilla provides an overview of translation studies in the Iberian Peninsula, from early 20th century to present day. The author focuses on didactics, language politics, institutionalisation of translation and translation teaching and early efforts by philologists to gather disperse initial information in bibliographies and catalogues. Sabio Pinilla makes a case for the greater interaction between translation studies and philology, arguing that the former has significantly profited from attention to detail and tradition major philologists have shown in the course of the 20th century.

The last contribution in this section ponders the role translations of Modern Greek texts into Western and Eastern-European languages in late 19th and early 20th centuries. Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez compares and analyses the data ← 11 | 12 → collected from several bibliographical databases, giving evidence of differences concerning not only the translations from Modern Greek into Western and into Eastern-European languages in general but also into Iberian languages in particular, namely into Catalan, Spanish and Portuguese. He further attempts to explain the (near) absence of translations of Modern Greek authors in the Iberian space in the first half of the 20th century, thereby laying bare power structures and the emergence of communities of interest that may, or may not, promote translation from a particular geography and/or language.

Being very diverse and coming from different sets of concerns and conceptual backgrounds, all three contributions showcase, when read in sequence, the polyphonous expansion of translation in contemporary thought. Redefining comparative literature, Emily Apter sums up the role of translation and translation theories as follows:

A new comparative literature, with the revalued labor of the translator and theories of translation placed center stage, expands centripetally toward a genuinely planetary criticism, extending emphasis on the transference of texts from one language to another, to criticism of the processes of linguistic creolization, the multilingual practices of poets and novelists over a vast range of major and “minor” literatures and the development of new languages by marginal groups all over the world. (Apter 10–11)

Translation becomes pivotal for the shaping, as well as for the understanding, of present-day literature, and it is therefore an essential part of literary studies, and comparative literature. By highlighting prismatically different angles of translation in the 20th century, the contributions in the present volume put translation as an event in evidence. As an event of multiple consequences, “translation becomes the name for the ways in which the humanities negotiates past and future technologies of communication, while shifting the parameters by which language itself is culturally and politically transformed” (ibid. 11).

Part 2. Translation, power & conflict – Imagining Others in times of hostility. Fraught with dissension, conflict and wars, the first half of the 20th century is a textbook example of how cosmopolitanism and nationalism, power struggles and conflicting ideologies, fear and creativity can share and shape a given time-space, to use Doreen Massey’s concept (2005). The five essays in this section deal in-depth with different incarnations of power, ideology and propaganda in the early 1900s, against a background of political repression and censorship, thus showcasing how “it is becoming increasingly important to explore the specific situation in which institutions of power have had an impact on translation activity and the resulting impact that translations have had on the development of culture” (Gentzler 197). ← 12 | 13 →

Both Seruya and Gombár concentrate on translation processes and products under Estado Novo (1930–1974) in Portugal. Teresa Seruya reflects upon a topic that has scarcely been discussed in-depth so far, namely the translations of political speeches and documents from Portuguese into several foreign languages. These translations resulted from an institutional plan to disseminate the regime’s ideology and justify its course of action abroad, and consequently to make palatable and/or reinforce political positions that were being questioned as obsolete on the international level (colonialism and later colonial wars, repression and censorship, among others). The main corpus of Seruya’s study comprises Salazar’s speeches translated into several foreign languages under the tight supervision (and revision) not only of the official propaganda and censorship services but also of Salazar himself.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (March)
Translation Studies Translation history Translation theories Censorship World War I Gender
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 254 pp., 1 ill., 9 fig., 9 tables

Biographical notes

Maria Lin Moniz (Volume editor) Alexandra Lopes (Volume editor)

Maria Lin Moniz holds a PhD in Translation Studies. She is a translator and a researcher of the Centre for Communication and Culture, Universidade Católica Portuguesa. She is co-coordinator of the project «Intercultural Literature in Portugal 1930–2000». Alexandra Lopes is assistant professor at Universidade Católica Portuguesa, and a member of the Centre for Communication and Culture. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the journal «Communication & Culture». She is a translator as well as a TS researcher.


Title: The Age of Translation