Module 6: Cultural turn in translation
  Lecture 19: The Cultural Turn in Translation Studies


Andre Lefevere

The one name that is most associated with the cultural turn is Andre Lefevere's. His base was Even-Zohar's polysystem theory, but Lefevere moved away from it quite soon. Born in Belgium, educated in England and working in many languages, Lefevere was a polyglot interested in comparative literature. His theories on translation stemmed from his experience as translator; in fact, it was his firm conviction that theory should be rooted in practice, especially in the field of translation studies. His major contribution to the field of translation studies was the emphasis on the cultural component of translation activity. His most prominent works, besides numerous papers in journals, are Translation, Rewriting and the Manipulation of Literary Fame, Translation, History and Culture, an anthology co-edited with Susan Bassnett, and an edited anthology of writings on translation, Translation, History, Culture .

Lefevere's work in translation began in the 1980s with essays that he wrote on the subject. In one of them he introduced the concept of refracted texts. What he meant by refraction was “the adaptation of a work of literature to a different audience, with the intention of influencing the way in which that audience reads the work” (“Mother Courage's Cucumbers”: 235). The most obvious form of refraction, according to him, was translation. A writer's work is understood always by refractions, or through “misunderstandings and misconceptions”, according to Lefevere. He states: “Writers and their work are always understood and conceived against a certain background or, if you will, are refracted through a certain spectrum, just as their work itself can refract previous works through a certain spectrum” (234). A translation becomes a refraction because the source text is processed through the understanding of the translator, or in other words, the work is refracted through the prism of the translator. The way the text is refracted rests on extra-literary factors like the culture and society that the translator is part of. Lefevere's essay “Mother Courage's Cucumbers: Text, System and Refraction in a Theory of Literature” is an analysis of the way Brecht was translated into English to suit the receptor culture and its ideology.