TENDERNESS: GENERAL COMMITMENTS OF LITERARY TRANSLATION
Keywords:czułość, difference, commitment of the translator, foreignness, tenderness, understanding
Inspired by the Nobel Lecture of the 2018 Laureate in Literature, the Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk,
the paper discusses the keynote notion of Tokarczuk's text, rendered by the Polish word czułość, as a complex
of principles that jointly constitute the commitment of the translator. The author claims that the tender translator
should work on the premise that in translation "foreignness" is taken to imply difference, without implying
lack of understanding or empathy.
The paper, inspired by the Nobel Lecture delivered by last year's laureate, the Polish novelist Olga
Tokarczuk, is an attempt to adapt the key notion of the lecture to the position and role of the translator.
The title of Tokarczuk's speech is Czuły narrator – 'The tender translator', which means much more
than the English tenderness, which Tokarczuk's translators used as the translation equivalent.
The paper argues that the many meanings of the Polish word, when taken together, describe what
are the translator's commitments. Contemporary translation theories focus upon translation seen
as a process rather than a final product. It is precisely the process-sensitive analysis that makes
it possible to reveal the competencies of the tender translator. Crucially, when translating texts produced by
'the other', they should be sensitive to the fundamental distinction between 'otherness'
and 'foreignness'. While the former calls for understanding, the latter does not imply the wish
to overcome the barriers – historical, political, social or cultural.
In his/her search for meanings, the tender translator should be aware that all translation
means interpretation, and that all interpretation is subjective by definition. The paper claims that
a significant contribution to translation studies could come from philosophical hermeneutics,
especially the theory of translation-as-interpretation as presented by the German philosopher Hans-
While translation studies focus upon cultural sensitivity of individual culturemes, the paper
argues – in agreement with cognitive theories of language – that cultural values are encoded in and
transferred by grammatical structures. It claims that some grammatical items, traditionally classified
by grammarians as 'optional', do in fact carry meanings that only the tender attitude makes it possible
to fully grasp. Two illustrations of this point are provided: the use of proximal and distal deictic
pronouns (tu and tam) to imply emotional distance of the speaker, and the singular dative reflexive
pronoun sobie used as an artistic device to render psychological experiences of characters in a theatre
play. In conclusion, the author claims that the competence of the tender translator requires that they
strive to reunite what is familiar with the non-hostile strangeness of the other.
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