I always get suspicious when someone uses the rejection of his own work as evidence of a larger problem, as Venuti does here. I have had translations rejected too, but I would never think to draw conclusions from that about the state of the art / culture as a whole.
After an editor with whom I was acquainted had rejected some poems, I questioned the decision. I didn’t expect the rejection to be reconsidered. No, I rather wanted to force the magazine to do what magazines rarely do: to make explicit the standards by which it judged the translations, or if not this particular submission, then translations in general. Editor X was kind enough to reply, explaining that the poems “didn’t make us feel as if the tops of our heads were taken off.” I pressed further: had Editor X ever considered that translations, by their very nature, should be judged differently from original compositions in English, or that the standard might include but should nonetheless differ from a visceral reaction that is evidently rooted in a homegrown sensibility? After all, Emily Dickinson was being quoted at me. Editor X thought my view novel and promised to give it some thought, but the conversation stopped there.I don't actually think that translations should be judged by a different standard than original poems. I belong to a belletristic tradition of poet-translators who would reject that double-standard, which is in fact pernicious. Isn't that why people hold translators in such contempt? They want to have it both ways: have their work valued as original, while being held to a much lower standard. After all, it is only a translation! Venuti also objects to the quotation of Emily, calling her "self-absorbed." (!) There is nothing about Catalan poetry that would make it less likely to cause a strong visceral reaction. What the editor meant was that these poems, in translation at least, failed to make a strong impression. I've had that problem too, with poems that I thought were strong in the original, and which I also translated well, in my opinion, but which failed to impress a few editors. I just moved on, because you can't force someone to have the same reaction you think you would have had. Translation takes place in the "domestic" realm, for people who cannot read the original, so of course "home grown" standards will enter into the judgment. How could they not?
Yet I could have taken it much further. Should an English translation of a twenty-first-century Catalan poet, I would have asked, be judged according to a concept of poetry formulated by a nineteenth-century poet in the United States? Why should we hold a poet who writes in a minor language and whose literature is underrepresented in English to a standard articulated by a poet who, after a shaky initial reception, now occupies an unshakeable position in the canon of American literature? Are the values enshrined in that canon inimical to Catalan and possibly other foreign poetries? Can a poem that took the top off the head of a reclusive, self-absorbed woman in nineteenth-century New England do the same to an anglophone reader today?
I've learned from Venuti, but he also irritates me.