Peeter Torop's Total'nij perevod and the New Tartu Semiotics

George R. Rueckert, University of Washington

The Tartu School of Semiotics began a new era in its history with Estonian independence in 1991 and with the death of its founder Jurij Lotman in 1993. The past decade has seen a consolidation of Lotman's legacy. At the same time, a new generation has begun to emerge from Lotman's shadow. In the year 2000, the European Journal for Semiotic Studies published a special issue devoted to the "New Tartu Semiotics." The issue's contributing editors included Peeter Torop, a native Estonian who trained at Tartu and has inherited Lotman's role as the head of a reorganized Department of Semiotics. Torop's work, published in both Russian and Estonian since the early 1980s, has explored a wide range of semiotic problems in literature, music, film, and theater. Among his major interests is the field known in Russian as perevodovedenie. This paper will briefly introduce Torop's 1995 book Total'nii perevod—or Total Translation—as representative of new trends at the Tartu School after Lotman. The paper is divided into two sections. The first explains the underlying premise of Torop's book: that new developments in semiotic analysis make it possible in principle to describe every form of translation activity as a process of semantic transfer. The second section describes the universal model for translation activity that Torop attempts to develop.

Torop's book relies on the premise, in circulation since the 1960s, that "the ways in which the process of translation is realized...are the same for every form of text." Roman Jakobson helped to initiate a "semiotic turn" in translation studies when he moved beyond the study of linguistics, strictly speaking, in order to distinguish between interlingual translation, on the one hand, and intersemiotic translation (or what he called "transmutation") on the other. Jakobson saw a difference between the interpretation of verbal signs by other verbal signs (within or between languages) and the interpretation of verbal signs by non-verbal ones (for example, between literature and film). As George Steiner comments: "A 'theory' of translation, a 'theory' of semantic transfer, must mean one of two things. It is either an intentionally sharpened, hermeneutically oriented way of understanding the totality of semantic communication (including Jakobson's intersemiotic translation or transmutation). Or it is a subsection of this model with specific reference to interlingual exchanges." In Totalnij perevod, Torop agrees in principle with Steiner that a "total" theory of translation is the more instructive, simply because (as Steiner put it) "it argues the fact that all procedures of expressive articulation and interpretive reception are translational, whether intra- or inter-lingually."

Working from this premise, Torop attempts to create a universal model of the translation process in culture. He builds this model on four types of translational semiosis, that is, on four main parameters within which the process of semantic transfer takes place: 1) textual translation, 2) metatextual translation, 3) inner- and inter-textual translation, and 4) extratextual translation. In brief, the first parameter, textual translation, is translation understood in the usual sense of the term—the transfer of meaning from one complete text into another. To prepare for his discussion of textual translation, Torop includes an overview of the traditional problems of translation criticism, history, and theory. The second parameter, metatextual translation, is the translation of a complete text, not merely into another text, but rather into a culture as a whole, a process that includes such metatextual elements as articles on the author and his work, reviews, advertisements, public readings and performances, citations and allusions—all those things that supplement the translation and contribute to an image of its original in another cultural context. The third parameter, inner- and inter-textual translation, arises from the fact that "pure" texts do not exist, but that every creator of a text relies on his own internal system of poetics, related in turn to external sources, both, either, or neither of which may be reproduced in the process of semantic transfer. Finally, the fourth parameter, extratextual translation, considers the transmission of a text by means of both linguistic and non-linguistic codes, i.e., those cases in which the process of translation alters not only the text but its very nature (for example, when a novel in verse like Eugene Onegin is developed into an opera or film). By briefly critiquing Torop's book, and by relating it to his most recent work on the subject, the paper will introduce some major trends within the New Tartu Semiotics, the continuation of Lotman's legacy today.