Translating Fear – Translated Fears

Understanding Fear across Languages and Cultures

by Teresa Maria Seruya (Volume editor) Maria Moniz (Volume editor) Alexandra Lopes (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection 222 Pages
Series: passagem, Volume 16


Fear seems to be at the heart of both present-day and past forms of anger, an anger that is produced in and by discourse and in and through translation. It seems to be spreading globally, so much so that we are now living in the age of anger. Fear is a hot topic on the agenda nowadays, both in the news and in academia. The present collection of chapters by ten TS researchers focuses on the relationship between translation as an ambivalent practice and fear. The chapters deal with various discursive practices and disciplines within different contexts: geographical (Middle East, Lampedusa, France, and Portugal); political and historical (the Portuguese dictatorship and its censorial regime, the colonial war); and literary translation (poetry, novels, and dark literature).

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Translating fear – Translated fears: An introduction
  • Part 1. Othering fears: Translation in times of political duress
  • Translating the Middle East: From the exotic to the crazy dog (Abderrahman Boukhaffa)
  • Translating fear in contemporary children’s and juvenile literature: Today’s migratory phenomenon and the emergence of new literary sub-genres (Maria Amélia Cruz)
  • Fear(s) of (in) translation: The case of censorship during the Portuguese Estado Novo 1934–1939 (Teresa Seruya)
  • Fears of war propaganda: Censorship in Salazar’s Portugal in time of war (Zsófia Gombár)
  • The translation of fear and the fear of translation: Rendering the colonizers’ fears during the Portuguese war with Africa for English and French speaking audiences (Dominique Faria)
  • Fear and loathing in Angola: On a translation of Lobo Antunes’s O Esplendor de Portugal (Marisa Mourinha)
  • Part 2. Imagining fear in translated literature throughout time
  • On dark or terror literature translated in Portugal in the 20th century (Maria Lin Moniz)
  • The taming of Jane and Bertha: Translating madness and fear in Portugal in the 1940s and 1950s – Preliminary findings (Alexandra Lopes)
  • Voltaire’s fear (or the utopian experiences of Candide’s translation in Portugal) (Marta Teixeira Anacleto)
  • Portuguese translations of François Villon’s Ballade des pendus: Herculano de Carvalho, Jorge de Sena and Vasco Graça Moura (Maria dos Anjos Guincho)
  • Contributors
  • Series index

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Teresa Seruya, Maria Lin Moniz and Alexandra Lopes

Translating fear – Translated fears: An introduction


Fear is a pervasive human experience, and as such is widely and diversely represented in various discursive practices: from the political to the literary. It is at the heart of both present-day and past forms of anger, an anger that is produced in and by discourse and in and through translation.

Our 21st century seems to have been born into an age of global crisis, conflict and violence. The media continuously show and report the reactions of enraged crowds, dissatisfied with their governments, angry with their leaders. Terrorism, waves of migration, authoritarianism, (political and religious) persecutions, financial frauds, natural disasters, social inequalities and now, at the dawn of the century’s third decade, the Covid-19 pandemic, all represent events/facts and characteristics of our time that fully justify the book by the Hindu novelist and essayist Pankaj Mishra, published in London in 2017, entitled Age of Anger with the eloquent subtitle A history of the present. As anger spreads globally, it often seems to result both from and in fear and/or disenfranchisement. Political, economic, literary, cinematic, artistic narratives about fear are thriving; feeding on anger and a sense of powerlessness that seems to inhabit present-day experiences of the world. The ongoing pandemic only acts to increase and reinforce those fears: of contagion, of illness, of unemployment, of the future, disclosing the vulnerabilities of societies, of democracies, of many ways of living.

Within this context, translation often plays an ambivalent role and is itself a battleground for different purposes: at the service of identity and warmongering, on the one hand, and embodying a promise of mediation and (re)conciliation, on the other. This is, however, nothing new. Historically, translation has been a heterogeneous locus, where both utopian peace efforts and the exertion of violence (co)exist, and hence such becomes a practice that often mirrors and/or shapes fear. Highlighting how translation has contributed to shaping (and fighting off) fears in the past may help us better understand how translation embodies a double-edged activity, as both translation and untranslatability ←7 | 8→have been deployed as potential (and at times very effective) ways of silencing others or of resisting hegemonic practices.

In the Call for Articles published, the editors of the present volume aimed to discuss whether, and how, fear can be verbalized and translated – i.e., carried across continents, languages and cultures – and how different discursive practices (re)produce fear and violence. As culturally produced, the fear of other(s) can, arguably, be read as a form of externalizing experiences of displacement and unbelonging and translating a nostalgia for stability as fixidity.


The first section of the volume – Othering fears: Translation in times of political duress – starts out with an essay by A. Boukhaffa (Translating the Middle East: From the Exotic to the Crazy Dog). The author revisits the Orientalism denounced by E. Said (the biased, partial and false image that the Western, even post-colonial, scholars have built of the Middle East) in order to highlight the connivance between disciplines such as historiography, anthropology and translation and Western colonialism, as far as depictions of the Middle East are concerned. Native societies are correspondingly translated by Western anthropology through a discourse shaped both by “Eurocentric rationalism” and by the conventions and stereotypes of the Western academic reasoning which, according to Boukhaffa, lie far distant from the self-perceptions of Middle Easterners. The same accusation is made against historiography, against the “Orientalist historians” who appropriate local history according to a “European frame of thought.” The target here becomes Bernard Lewis, a very influential author and historian but severely criticised in the Arab world, even in the prefaces of translations of his works into Arabic.

With such a background and based on several authors, Boukhaffa elaborates the thesis that a new geopolitical climate emerged following the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the Western democracies were deprived of a credible rival. Islam and Muslims then became the best candidates to replace the communist ideology because, according to those democracies, they are the real, radically different Other. Particularly in the wake of 11th September, when the “symbolic cohesion” of modern societies (Baudrillard) had to be restored, there was nothing better than the meta-narrative of terror. Boukhaffa’s title was inspired by a quotation from Hoggett who, in 1992, wrote about the fear caused by a sense of catastrophe haunting us as if some crazy dog. According to Boukhaffa, it is precisely translation that keeps the crazy dog in the distance while creating and feeding fear.←8 | 9→

He refuses to insist on either the concept of fidelity in translation or the metaphor of translation as a creator of bridges. Based on Mona Baker, the author agrees that translation and interpretation are “part of the institution of war”. In the same vein, despite providing no factual examples, he is very critical of MEMRI (the Middle East Research Institute) that, by means of their translations of Islamic texts aimed at a global English-speaking readership and across several types of media, especially the audiovisual, has largely contributed to maintaining the fear of the “Islamic threat” (i.e. of the crazy dog) and thereby perpetuating a negative image of the Middle East always in association with an ideology of terror.

In the study by Maria Amélia Cruz, we move to the present-day topic of migrations and their effects on children and young people. The author elaborates this topic around two kinds of literature: the IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) project aimed at migrant children and novels in which young immigrants describe their experiences of emigration and integration in their host societies. Based on these two cases, the author is able to discuss the emergence of new literary subgenres as well as the necessity of rethinking the concept of translation. The current context of international migrations, in which children and young people represent 14 % of migrants, clearly evokes fear as a central experience among this group forced to leave behind that familiar to them and cope with new and different worlds.

The “silent books” project (in which images prevail or there are no words at all, except for those in the title) was launched by IBBY for refugee children from Africa and the Middle East arriving at Lampedusa but has now already spread worldwide. Cruz explains this art of visual storytelling in which the image carries the narrative responsibility which, on the other hand, requires the visual literacy of young readers. Nevertheless, wordless pictures contain a strong narrative power that elicits the reader’s active collaboration. It is the reader who eventually builds his/her own narrative, observing and interpreting, filling-in the empty spaces among the visual elements. In this case, the reader simultaneously becomes author and mediator/translator as he/she mentally translates the sequence of images before him/her into his/her own language and culture.

The second section of this study analyses four adolescent novels, all with real authors involved in their production. In an autobiographical mode, they tell us about the fate of young migrants from Pakistan, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, fleeing from misery, violence, war, in search of their identity in self-reflection, but including a critical vision of their time and their own traumatic histories of migration, fears, cultural change and the process of integration in their new societies.←9 | 10→

The heroes of such narratives are simultaneously real authors and the narrators of their stories but with the collaboration of adults as mentioned on the covers of these books. According to the author, this collaborative work can be considered an act of translation in the sense attributed by Michael Cronin who, among other authors, claims that “the condition of the migrant is the condition of the translated being.” Amélia Cruz concludes her study by bringing the two cases together as regards intentionality and meaning.

The next two contributions lead us into the 20th century history of Portugal under dictatorship (19261974). During this period, the Estado Novo regime (19331974) officially established censorship to control national and foreign publications as well as cinema, theatre and radio. In the first part of her study, Teresa Seruya refers to several fears around translation, an activity pervaded by ambiguities, contradictions and paradoxes. Firstly, it is the author who may fear misinterpretations of his/her text but then it becomes the reader who may or may not trust translations. In the meantime, it is the translator who fears not being faithful to the original and/or not pleasing his/her readers. The insecurities and vulnerabilities of the various actors involved in any translation are simultaneously varied and constant. Additionally, censorship, in a dictatorial context, is surrounded by ambiguities because, as an instrument of control and surveillance, it fears the power of books and free thinking and expression while nevertheless allowing, à contrecoeur, the development of strategies to bypass this. The corpus of this study gathers the reports about foreign books, their actual or prospective translations, seized by the political police PIDE and presented to the Book Censoring Commission between 1934 and 1939. This commission, through its Director, decided whether the book would be admitted or banned or whether eligible for publication following cuts. There was a report issued for each work analysed by the Commission and it thus proves easy to grasp whether or not the values of the regime supported by the censor were met, attacked or otherwise jeopardised by the book in question. The author focuses on what she terms the regime’s fears, displayed in the arguments applied by the censors to ban the “circulation” of both translations and imported originals in French, Spanish, German or English: out of fear of antifascism, of cosmopolitism, of communist propaganda, of anticolonialism, of women’s emancipation, of birth control, of free sex and erotism, of criticism against the Catholic Church, among others. At the same time, both the banned books and the texts by the censors provide relevant information (however incomplete) about the multiple interests of Portuguese readers.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (August)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 222 pp., 1 fig. col., 4 fig. b/w, 12 tables.

Biographical notes

Teresa Maria Seruya (Volume editor) Maria Moniz (Volume editor) Alexandra Lopes (Volume editor)

Teresa Seruya is retired Full Professor of German Studies at the University of Lisbon. In recent years, she has been working in Translation History. She coordinates the project Intercultural Literature in Portugal 1930–2000. A Critical Bibliography at the Research Centre for Communication and Culture Studies. She is a literary translator. Maria Lin Moniz holds a PhD in Translation Studies. She is a translator and a researcher of the Centre for Communication and Culture and a coordinator of the project Intercultural Literature in Portugal 1930–2000. A Critical Bibliography. Alexandra Lopes is Associate Professor at Universidade Católica Portuguesa, and she is currently the director of the Centre for Communication and Culture. She is a translator as well as a TS researcher.


Title: Translating Fear – Translated Fears
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224 pages