The history of translation has witnessed a tension between an individualistic and a collaborative approach. From Antiquity to the Renaissance, translation was commonly practised by teams comprised of specialists of different languages. At the centre of translation teams, experts from different cultures came together to find solutions to translation problems, and the acts of reading and re-writing were commonly separated and multiplied between participants. Bistué (2013) has detailed how the demands for unity within institutions and discourses of Early-Modern Europe—such as the standardizing of language and the consolidating of faith, household, state, monarchy and Church under their respective singular patriarchs—were coupled with demands for poetic unity in action, time, place and style. Indeed, during the Renaissance, prefaces and tracts which discussed translation focused more and more upon an imputed singular act of translation. Devolving upon the individual the task which was often performed by the many allowed those writing about translation to imagine the translator to be a text’s surrogate author, at once giving the translator the daunting task of equalling the comprehension of the author in the author’s tongue and matching that author’s skill and style in another.
The Renaissance thus paved the way for a new concentration on the individual translator, who found his, and rarely her, apogee during the Romantic period. The writer as artist was idealized as the singular figure inspired with an immaterial, even spiritual, genius, and, according to Walter Benjamin’s celebrated reading, one capable of offering up fragments of an ideal language. Translation Studies broadly accepts Venuti’s argument that in the Modern period a desire emerged to efface the existence and creativity of the translator. Yet a less accepted notion is that this period also gave rise to the fabrication of the myth of the translator as a singular surrogate author. Indeed, translation has rarely, if ever, been an unmediated exchange where one person works in front of a text in isolation from their collaborators and peers, their editors and publishers, their country and its institutions.
The representation of translation as an individual action rather than as a collaborative process thus arose from an ideological imperative to unify political and legal processes, engendering ideologies that are not only linguistic but also stylistic. At the close of the twentieth century, the convergence of institutional and political imperatives (the European Union, the globalization of exchanges, the rise of international multicultural parties) and the advent of new technologies (digital tools and the internet) produced yet another shift. Currently evolving practices, such as the sharing of data, the division of tasks, the construction of translation memories from multi-author corpuses, are generating a positive reevaluation of collaborative translation work, all the while changing profoundly its professional and operating conditions.
Anthony Cordingley and Céline Frigau Manning