Re-Arranging Translation Culture in North America: What Could Literary Translation Gain from the Music World?


  • Melanie Hiepler Simon Fraser University


Music Arrangement, Original, Fluency, Authority


Literary translation and music arrangement perform the same task: both take original texts or songs and re-work them for new contexts. In Anglo-American culture, though, the similarity ends there. The role that fluency plays in the reception of translations as opposed to arrangements reveals that, between the literary and musical worlds, audiences take very different outlooks on the relationship between an original work and its derivative work. A comparison between Lawrence Venuti’s views on linguistic fluency in translation, as presented in The Translator’s Invisibility (1995), and a case study on fluency (i.e. culturally-perceived musicality) in the arrangements of American a cappella pop group Pentatonix reveals that, where Anglo-American audiences approach translations to lock onto an original text, the same audiences view arrangements as authentic, distinct developments in an original song’s creative evolution. Having identified this problem in literary translation discourse, this paper turns to Louise M. Rosenblatt’s transactional reader response theory and Roland Barthes’ notion of the death of the author as critical frameworks for rethinking originality and the development of a text or song’s afterlife. This paper considers a different way of thinking about the relationship between readers, “original” texts and songs, and their derivative works, and goes on to suggest that Anglo-American readers would do well to take a more critical perspective on the process of translation.