Friday, March 27, 2015

Honouring André Lefevere and his Work in Translation Studies

It was on this day in 1996 when André Alphons Lefevere, an acclaimed translation theorist, lost his battle with leukaemia and passed away. We thought we'd take this opportunity to honour his life and his contributions to the academic fields of comparative literature and Translation Studies. Lefevere was born in Belgium in 1945 and studied German Philology at the University of Ghent, Belgium, from 1964 to 1968. He then completed his PhD in 1972 at the University of Essex in the UK.

Translation Studies is often considered to split nicely into three different "turns": the linguistic turn, the cultural turn, and the sociological turn. When Lefevere started his career, the discipline was firmly rooted in the linguistic turn, and the work of many academics reflected this, even Lefevere's. However, taking Even-Zohar's Polysystem Theory and the Manipulation School as a starting point, Lefevere viewed the validity of translations by taking cultural factors and the roles played by the various actors in a system into account, making him one of the pioneering scholars of the cultural turn. In fact, it was through collaborations with Susan Bassnett that André Lefevere suggested that Translation Studies required a "cultural turn".

A beautiful metaphor for translation.
Lefevere considered the art (or is it a science?) of translation as "rewriting", a practice that he likened to the refraction of light. In this metaphor the source text is a beam of light, and the translator acts as a prism, bending and manipulating the source text so that different colours, or interpretations, can be seen.

He was influential in establishing Translation Studies as an independent discipline, spending his life as an academic who sought to bring theory and practice together. At the time of his death, he was working as a professor in the Department of Germanic Languages at the University of Texas.

While nearly two decades have passed since his death, his work and input will live on as a testament to his brilliance. To find out more about his work on Translation Studies, we recommend picking up one of the many books he wrote, especially his collaborations with Susan Bassnett.