Analysis of the Translator’s Use of Plurality to Overcome Culture Industry in Translation of Poems: The Case of Elahi’s Translation of T. S. Eliot’s Ash-Wednesday into Farsi

Document Type : Original Article


1 MA in Translation Studies, Department of Foreign Languages, Sheikhbahaee University, Isfahan, Iran

2 Assistant Professor in English Language and Literature, Department of Foreign Languages, Sheikhbahaee University, Isfahan, Iran


Capitalism benefits from the uniformed society by suppressing individuals ’consciousness through commodifying them. Being deceived by the system, individuals get stuck in the culture industry (the mass production of cultural things in a supply-driven economy turning to a set of standardized and predictable reaction of individuals). Assuming translation of poetry as an artistic creation, that is against uniformity by nature by not following a set of prescriptive principles, this study aimed to analyze the translator’s use of plurality to overcome culture industry. To this end, creating plurality in Bijan Elahi’s translation of T.S. Eliot’s Ash-Wednesday on the basis of six features of Hassan’s catena was analyzed and traced in Elahi’s translation. Findings show that Elahi’s translation satisfied all the six items in Hassan’s list which resulted in overcoming the culture industry. The findings of this study has implications for teaching poetry translation.



In the twentieth-century the conceptual framework about translation changed dramatically. Looking for the truth and meaning of the original text or falling between the dichotomy of either beautiful translation or faithful one was replaced with the indeterminacy of meaning and visibility of the translator (Pym, 2014). Derrida (1974) undermines the notion of looking for the meaning in a text so that being faithful to the original text in translation becomes a joke. Derrida (1974) talks about the interrelationships between the source text and target text in a way that neither the source text nor the target text has superiority over one another.    

    Deconstruction holds the idea that a text has many contradictory meanings; the writer is like one of infinite number of readers, and the translator creates their own meaning. Therefore, translation is not considered as a second-handed work any longer. Translation adds meaning to the original and helps it continue living. There is no one meaning out there for a translator to get and unpack to another language; however, there are many contradictory meanings that are created the moment the text is read. This is called pluralism that could be emerged because of multiplicity of languages and discourses. This pluralism finally makes translation an impossible endeavor. Deconstruction is basically about letting the other talk. The other may simply belong to another culture or language and in translation the voice of the other needs to be heard.

   Translation is seen as an artistic creativity, as a performance on the stage.  As the director of a drama acts out an already written text on the stage, the translator performs the original text in another language (Snell-Hornby, 2006, p. 22). The text passes through the filters of the translator as an agent in the society just like when the reality passes through the lens of the artist.

   The mass production of translation and considering translation as an “industry” lead to the poor quality of translation which in turn lead to lowering the taste of individuals; consequently, individuals demand for the same sort of cultural products and pay for them. This vicious circle empties concepts such as art and artists making audiences passively uniform and the same. Most translated texts in Iran, even if they claim to be faithful, are nothing more than a list of vocabulary with their definitions (Elahi, 1984) because the translator is like a passive receiver of the message sent by the original. According to Farhadpour (2010), the existence of messy usage of language in many translations and retranslations shows absence of consciousness about past, present, and future history. Consciousness is only through the connection with the other (Farhadpour, 2010). It illustrates the need for an artistic work that makes a dialectical relationship with the other. It was noted earlier that translation is assumed as an artistic creativity. Thus, its relationship with the other can be seen both with the foreign language and, in case of this study, with the Iranian classical texts for a Persian modern reader. The paucity of work on this subject intensifies the need for studying this relationship.

    Based on the abovementioned explanations, this research addresses the questions below:

  1. What are the manifestations of plurality in Bijan Elahi’s translation of T. S. Eliot’s Ash-Wednesday?
  2. What does Bijan Elahi do to overcome the culture industry?


Review of the Literature

One of the focal points on translation studies in modern and postmodern era is on the society and social awareness. Hanquinet & Savage (2015) remind Bourdieu’s focus on the role of art in “the making of social relationships” (p. 21). Adorno (2002) believes that “an artistic work is a social microcosm, that society is most intensely active where it is most remote from the society” (p. xvii). Thus, the role of art in shaping social conditions cannot be denied. On the other hand, successful writing, is not merely a conveyor of messages but a conveyer of social content and a successful work of art expresses something more than its apparent message (Adorno as cited in Cunningham & Mapp, 2009, pp. 1-2) and the dialogue it creates in this relationship. In this regard, it has something to do with Derrida’s deconstruction, which is a way of reading that allows the other to speak (McQuillan, 2001). In this sense, every act of reading is singular and plural at the same time. It is singular because it happens only one time in only one place, it is plural because there is no singular meaning for it, the trace of other meanings is always there (McQuillan, 2001).Derrida emphasizes the hidden layers of meaning. His quote (1998) that translation is more than one language indicates his focus on plurality in writing or translating. The concept of plurality in Adorno’s can be seen in his stress on high art which is achieved through non-identity (identity in the sense of sameness) so that it becomes unpredictable and is not trapped in the culture industry.

   Horkheimer &Adorno (1997) talk about so-called culture industry, the mass production of cultural things which makes people choose or like them unconsciously; being delusional, they think that they are in charge while they are not (pp. 94-137). Adorno & Simpson (1941), as an example, differentiate between two types of music: popular music and serious music. The main feature of popular music is standardization both in form and details, so that the range is fixed and limited to one octave and one note. The details are standardized as well (Adorno & Simpson, 1941). In serious music like that of Beethoven, on the other hand, the true meaning of the piece is achieved from the context. One of Beethoven’s song starts with an outburst so that the dramatic momentum created (Adorno & Simpson, 1941).

    As another example, Adorno (1994) praising Samuel Beckett’s plays, points out that Beckett through some sort of self-alienation and its own absurdity, negates language, it means that the combination of galvanized language which is the commodity sign and the so-called pseudo-logical language is restructured in an artistic way (p. 162).

   Adorno believes that art does not copy reality, but it is an image that is depicted as reality (Melaney, 1997, pp. 44-45).

    The link between ideas of Adorno and those of Derrida is in the concept of otherness. Derrida defines deconstruction as “responsibility to the other” and urges individuals to become aware of the conservatism that tradition imposed on them (Caputo, 2000, p. 109). Derrida, in his monolingualism of the other (1998), criticizes those who seek for a single language to be dominated. Adorno, in his Negative Dialectic, believes that “the experience of otherness is part of any genuine aesthetic experience and produces a new understanding of past and present” (Melaney, 1997, p. 45). The work of art is negating what is immediate. This is the dialectical way of interpreting taken from Hegelian dialectic, but this dialectic is not positive, but negative (Melaney, 1997, p. 45).

    Bourdieu (1977) discusses the experience of otherness on a larger scale. He is against the notion of naturalization in a society. Bourdieu sees naturalization as a process of accepting power relations as natural. He argues that individuals should undo this process and seek for the origin of power (Smith, 2007). He states that “every established order tends to produce the naturalization of its own arbitrariness” (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 164). He argues that language, myth and art are kind of collective thoughts which are expressed by institutions and in their turn are reinforced both by them and also by the members of the society. These cultural products are completely confirmed because their “conditions of existence are very little differentiated.” When the immediate impression of a text is broken and the text seems no longer self-evident, the doxa will get questioned (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 167).

    In translation studies, most scholars have worked on deconstruction only theoretically. To name a few Reynold & Roffe (2003) discuss about Derrida’s ideas about translation. They collect some of Derrida’s quotations about translation to put emphasis on the importance of translation in deconstruction.  Kruger (2004) focuses on the binary opposition of translatability/ untranslatability and that something of the original has to be lost in the process of translation. Davis (2001) gives comprehensive information about the concepts stated by Derrida such as difference, trace, singularity/generality, iterability, etc.

   Few research is done on practical aspects of deconstruction.  One of the important studies conducted this issue is cited by Gentzler (1990). Gentzler (1990), in his Ph.D. dissertation, cites a research done on a practical aspect of deconstruction in translation, believing that plurality best shows the original’s transitory nature. The self-translation of Finnegans Wake by James Joyce was cited in which Joyce, by creating different accents and shifting between archaic and modern languages, using idioms and dialects and different tones, creates plurality in translation, while in the original this plurality is through using foreign languages (Gentzler, 1990, pp. 327-335).

    Meyer (2002) studied the plural aspects of Eliot’s poems including Ash-Wednesday. He states that Ash-Wednesday is a performative and not referential act, and the idiosyncratic style by Eliot creates a multiplicity of meaning (Meyer, 2002). The language, Meyer (2002) says, is not used to describe what is going on, but it is doing what is going on. He says the reader engages with the text to create meaning.

Jameson (1979) points to the main characteristics of mass culture which is repetition and blind imitation. Among the mass produced translations in Iran, looking for an outstanding translation took us to Bijan Elahi’s translations.  Bijan Elahi, a Persian translator-poet, has a number of notes on translation. He wrote them as an introduction to his own translations. They were not published as a separate book until his death. Mohsen Taher-Nokandeh, a translator from Italian language and a friend of Elahi, published them in a series of books called This Issue. Elahi’s ideas about translation contains all these aforementioned that will be talked about in detail in this work. The point here is Elahi’s consciousness about his visibility in his artistic work; his ability as a creator and his limitations as a translator.

     Farhadpour (2010) believes that translation is the true act of thinking in Iran because consciousness is achieved only through the relationship with the other. The need for an artistic work that makes a dialectical relationship with the other making the societal consciousness and not a mere passive reaction is our main concern. The relationship with the other can be seen both with the foreign language and, in the case of this study, with the Iranian classical texts for a Persian modern reader. The paucity of work on this subject intensifies the need for studying this relationship in translation.




Ash-Wednesday[چارشنبه خاکستر ], a poem by T.S.Eliotwas selected as the corpus of this study. The potentialities of this poem in merging the self with the other and the plurality desired by deconstruction makes this poem a suitable case for the research on plurality.

Between the two Persian translations available (Houshang Irani and Bijan Elahi), Elahi’s was chosen because of his accuracy and carefulness in choosing the words and his emphasis on creating a Persian poem not a second-handed original. So many endnotes and fore-notes in his translations and his ideas about translation indicate that he is conscious about translation contributing significantly to literary system of a society.  In some parts, we used Irani’s translation to show the necessity of having translations such as Elahi’s in our country. Elahi is conscious about choosing words to make the work as non-uniform as possible so that the target reader, to understand the hidden layers of meaning, needs to scrutinize the translated text.



This study was an attempt to distinguish the plurality used by the translator. The main conceptual framework of this study is Hassan’s (1986) catena of the features found in postmodern literature. Hassan’s list includes concepts and techniques such as indeterminacy, fragmentation, de-canonization, selflessness, being unrepresentable, irony, hybridity, performativity, carnivalization, constructionism, and immanence. Among these eleven items, performativity, carnivalization, constructionism, and immanence could be discussed under the rest of them. The remained six items will be separately defined and analyzed in the Results section bellow.



Using Ihab Hassan’s “catena” as a framework for this study, we analyzed the Persian translation of Ash-Wednesday from the perspective of pluralism. We proposed examples for each of the items in Hassan’s list.



Indeterminacy in a literary text is when there are contradictory meanings that carry different interpretations, and the text cannot find a solution for them. In poetry, indeterminacy is the tricks that a poet puts in front of the eyes of the reader. This need for a reader to complete the text has a direct relationship with the concept of plurality. Whenever a communication happens, the indeterminacy disappears. A text that puts a reader in a situation to only accept or reject something decreases the amount of participation of them. This is dangerous for it makes the reader predictable and achieves its intention to create reality for the reader with the help of them (Newton, 1997, pp. 195-198).

  Indeterminacy in the translation of Ash-Wednesday could be seen from two perspectives: one is looking for the gaps in Eliot’s poem that Elahi fills in. The other is looking for a gap that Elahi puts for the Persian readers in translation; therefore, it could be analyzed as a literary work independent of the source text.

  Elahi’s translation is unreadable in the sense that it challenges the reader with its highly complicated spelling and alienated patterns. The reader confronts with many gaps or silences in the poem that is supposed to fill them. Not only the Bible and Western classic texts are not familiar to the Persian reader but also the strangeness of both spelling and terms used in the translation adds to the indeterminacy of his translation; it means that the reader does not confront with the truth or concrete objects, instead they needs to participate in creating meaning in the poem which could be one in an infinite number of possible interpretations. The communication is not possible in this way, the translator does not use language as a tool to convey information; he performs in language.

  Look at the examples below:


- The Lady is withdrawn

.....In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown (part II)

....بانو وانشسته

با جبّه‌ای سفید، تا در اعتکاف شود، با جبّه‌ای سفید


    The word contemplation refers to a form of meditation in Christian culture to go beyond the mental images and to see the divine directly. Its meaning is different from the word اعتکاف in Persian and Islamic culture. اعتکاف means to isolate oneself in order not to commit sins. The same is true for the word gown which means a special long dress worn in formal situations or as another meaning worn in a medical environment; its equivalent in this translation as جبّه refers to a very simple dress worn over other dresses. جبّه is used mostly in Persian mystical texts.


- But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away

  Let the other yew be shaken and reply (part VI(

ولی صداهای برانگیخته از سرخدار که بر باد می‌رود

باشد که سرخدارِ دگر انگیزد و پاسخ گوید.


   Yew tree is planted mostly in graveyards and brings the image of death in the mind of Christian reader; but the word سرخدار as an equivalence for it does not connote the same meaning for the Persian reader (Samadi, 1964, p. 12).


   The mismatches noted above, according to Yongguo (2003), between the translated and the original poem show the unstable relationship between signifier and signified. The purpose of the translation is not to communicate Eliot’s poem but to rewrite it poetically. The relationship between this translation and the original is reciprocal and dialectic, during which a new poem is created in the guise of the original. The translator is critical to the original poem in a sense that he de-canonizes and deconstructs the original and reconstructs it in a way to create his own images, making it uncertain and indeterminate (pp. 37-44).



Fragmentariness in an artistic or literary work invites the reader to actively join in reshaping the work and building again the text’s life (Johnson, 1985). Fragmentation, Johnson (1985) argues, could be of the grammatical type as the most natural way of fragmentation to the most complicated type that is allusion. As Ash-Wednesday is a highly allusive poem, it is clearly fragmented. The way the translator encounters the allusions with which the Persian reader has no familiar background and the way he creates fragmentation in the translation was our main concern in this part.

    Fragmentariness was discussed in three levels: 1. In figurative language (allusions), 2. In form, and 3. In syntax.


Fragmentariness in Figurative language

Ash-Wednesday is a deeply allusive poem referring to Dante, Cavalcanti, Shakespeare, Bible, and several other classic works.

These allusions are either translated by Elahi himself or are referred to their available Persian translation.


Desiring this mans gift and that mans scope (Part I).

   This line is an adaptation of Shakespeare’ssonnet number 29 i.e.:

   Desiring this mans art and that mans scope

به آرزوی مایه‌ی چونین و عرصه‌ی چونان


Redeem the time, redeem

          The unread vision in the higher dream (Part IV).

The phrase redeem the time is precisely taken from Ephesians 5:15 (King James Version): redeem the time.”

کتاب مقدس : دریابید زمان را ( رساله‌ی پولوس رسول به افسسیان ۵:۱۵).

الهی: دریابید زمان را.


Fragmentariness in Form

Breaking the lines helps the visual perfection of the poem. It gives ambiguity and highlights a concept to create different effects in a poem. There exist some changes in translation in breaking the lines. The line breakage in Eliot’s poem is mostly based on correct syntactical sentences, but some lines are run-on sentences:


Terminate torment                   عشق ناکام

Of love unsatisfied                   با عذابی محدود

The greater torment                  عشق برکام

Of love satisfied                          با عذاب بزرگتر

 (Part II).


 The torment is highlighted in Eliot’s poem, while Elahi’s focus is on the word love.


Not on the sea or on the island, not                                                        نه به دریا و نه در آداکان،

On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land                 نه به خشکی، نه در بیابان و نه در آبادان

(Part V).


Unlike Eliot’s lines, Elahi’s translation is not run-on; in return, he creates a poem that each line stands independently in a way that they are grammatically correct.


Fragmentariness in Syntax

In part IV, Eliot intentionally uses a syntactically wrong sentence. It adds to the vagueness of this part (Williamson, 1966).

Who walked between the violet and the violet

Who walked between                                                                                       

The various ranks of varied green (Part IV).                               

Elahi’s sentences have no verb so his translation is syntactically incorrect in Persian as well:


آن که گام زد میان بنفش و بنفش

آن که گام  زد

میان رده‌های گونگون سبز گوناگون

به سفید و به آبی، به رنگ مریم

از چیزهای ناچیز سخنگویان

به نادانی و دانایی بر رنج جاودان

آن‌ که روان بود میان دیگران که گام می‌زدند

آن که آن‌گاه به فواره‌ها توان داد و به چشمه‌ها صفا بخشید

  What is common in all these strategies is adding endnotes. Writing eleven pages of endnotes for a seventeen-page poem is nothing but filling the gaps created by Eliot. But Elahi’s translation is still fragmented. Elahi keeps the fragmentariness, not by word for word (in the sense of doing the exact translation based on the original) translation, but his translation is fragmented and unintelligible by being semantically, syntactically, and pragmatically vague. He adds endnotes but not footnote nor any additional explanation to his translation, so the act of reading the translated poem cannot be interrupted by extra explanations. It implies that the vagueness of Eliot’s poem and its fragmented style is still present in the Persian version even if Elahi explains to his readers the reasons and the ways he translates the allusions at the back of his translation. Endnotes de-canonize the original work and remove the patriarchy of the original text because they give a new impression of the original (Spivak, 1997).



 De-Canonization is an effort to liberate literature from the power of patriarchy (in the Freudian sense). It is going to make it multicultural and to hear the voice of the voiceless. In literature, it is escaping from the stable center and deconstructing the desire of having a  definite shape (Spivak, 1997).

    In the word of Williamson (1966), Ash-Wednesday has two themes; one is Exile, and the other is turning from the world to God. Elahi changes subtly the theme structure of this part of Eliot’s poem to love, so that the Exile and turning to God can be interpreted under the shadow of love. In other words,  the themes are transformed[1] in Persian.

It can be seen in this example:


Terminate torment                                                عشق ناکام

Of love unsatisfied                                           با عذابی محدود

The greater torment                                            عشق برکام

Of love satisfied                                                با عذاب بزرگتر

(Part II).


  Based on information structure, in languages with SVO (like English) and SOV (like Persian) structure, the initial position is mostly the focus position (Czypionka, 2007). It can be seen that the word Torment is on the focus position in Eliot’s phrase, while in Elahi’s, عشق (love) is put in the focus position. Therefore, Eliot’s phrase is about Torment, but Elahi’s is about love.

   These show that Elahi does not consider himself and his translation as secondary. His insistence on creating a Persian poem (1984), not a copy of the original nor the representation of it,  proves this.

  Moreover, Derrida (1981) devotes a part of his Dissemination to preface. He believes that writing a preface (there is functionally no difference between preface and postface (Spivak, 1997), they are generally considered paratexts) is the true act of deconstructing.
  Derrida challenges the binary opposition of paratext/text and adds that paratext is an undeniable part of a work, and it cannot be supplementary or additional to a text. The preface is both impossible and inescapable; it is inside and outside of the concept.

  Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1997), in the introduction she wrote for the translation of Derrida’s Of Grammatology, talks about the preface and endnotes and states that a book with its accepted shape, like having beginning, middle, and end, just satisfies the desire of having a “true” original (p. xi). Bijan Elahi, by explaining the poem at the back of the book, denies this true original. In such a way, Elahi’s endnotes are, in a way, a practice of deconstruction. He represents this poem in a new way in Persian because it builds up a poem in another register (Spivak, 1997). His endnotes show that there is no stable end to the poem (Derrida, 1981).


Postmodernism empties the self (Hassan, 1986, p. 505), declaring the death of the subject. The Self is defined through the Other in a dialectical manner. It challenges the univocal discourses in literature, and it is in line with differences and multiplicity. The Self becomes null, and it only is a “narrative construct” and a “diversification of desires.” Postmodernism deconstructs the Self, so that there is no single truth over there for it (Quennet, 2001, pp. 172-181).

      Selflessness causes the concept of stability to be detached from the concept of self as what one thinks of oneself is an illusion (Fletcher, 2011, p. 210). Our manner of thinking naturally is on the basis of domestication, that is why the new concepts are referred to by familiar terms making the addressee not to be surprised (Pham, 2016, p. 67). Escaping from domestication in translation is done by the foreignization of the target text. The foreignness is not simply using foreign words in the target text, but it is done through a specific type of defamiliarization to emphasize its difference.

  It has been argued that the notion of selflessness has two aspects; one is removing the originality, and the other is making the present text strange to the audience. Removing the originality is discussed in the section of de-canonization. This section talks about defamiliarization in translation. As Miall and Kuiken (1994) point out, defamiliarization is accomplished in a literary text as an immediate effect of foregrounding (p. 391). The foregrounded passages make the reader slow down the reading because it “increases the difficulty and length of perception,” and this perceptibility causes a poetic language to get distinguished from every-day one (Shklovsky as cited in Miall, & Kuiken, 1994).  The research by Miall and Kuiken (1994) shows that deviation increases the perception of readers by increasing the level of difficulty of the text (p. 394).

  The deviation is generally categorized into two groups: 1. Breaking the rules of linguistic structures; 2. Overusing of normal structures (Wales, 2011).


The word کجا in the translation of Ash-Wednesday distorts the expectation by breaking the normal structure:


چون نمی‌توانم نوشید

آن‌جا، کجا که درختان می‌شکوفد و چشمه‌ها به راه می‌افتد،

چه دگرباره دران جای هیچ نیست


    Because I cannot drink

    There, where trees flower, and springs flow,

    For there is nothing again. (Part I)


  In old Persian language, کجا means که or جایی که. In this part of the translation, Elahi uses کجا in its old meaning and, by doing so, deviates from the normal use of this word. 


 In the example below, the translator’s manner of deviation is graphological.

پایان بیپایان

سفر بی‌پایان

فرجام تمام آنچه



End of the endless

 Journey to no end

 Conclusion of all that

Is inconclusible(Part II)


  بیپایان and بی‌پایان are pronounced the same but written differently. A set of paradoxes is seen in this part of Eliot’s poem, as the image of grasshopper implies death (salvation) in this context “in death neither unity nor division matters“ (Williamson, 1966). Eliot shows the unity and division in form as in endless and no end. Elahi shows this play with form in his translation in the words بیپایان and بی‌پایان, but Elahi defamiliarizes by the word بیپایان while Eliot does not. By doing so, he mingles the binary opposition of speech/writing. Just like Derrida’s concept of différance, which is pronounced the same as difference, but because of a slight change in spelling, the meaning drastically changes.


Being Unrepresentable

Being unrepresentable or representing the unrepresentable is postulated by Jean François Lyotard (1984).  Pointing to some avant-garde artists, Lyotard (1984) suggests that art is representing the unrepresentable. The pure and seemingly simplistic appearance of these arts is exactly what the art is about; their formlessness represents the unrepresentable (Lyotard, 1984). Modern literature is contentless under a unified form, so the syntax and vocabulary do not change.  Formlessness is the mark of the unrepresentable (Lyotard, 1984, p. 79).

  At the risk of being too simplistic, this part of Ash-Wednesday below, that stays untranslated in Elahi’s version, could be in a way or another a representation of something unrepresentable.


No place of grace for those who avoid the face

No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice (Part V).

    These two lines are a musical background with a rapid tempo implying hope while expressing despair (Sawyer, 2010, p. 261). The repetition of hissing S sound and buzzing Z sound plus a rhythmic pattern create an echoing effect that could not be represented in Persian. The translator translates these lines literally at the back of the book, but he calls this unrepresentability a kind of “clear disability.” This disability leads to some sort of silence in translation. Just like Malevich’s white square, which shows the unrepresentability of the October Revolution by keeping the pure feeling of joy and pain intact, this part of translation wants to keep the pure musical quality of the poem intact. These English lines in the middle of Persian sentences imply the incommensurability that each language stands on its own and respects the others’ autonomy (Sim, 2011).

In Houshang Irani’s version of this poem, these two lines are translated as:


نه مکانی آرامش‌بخش برای آنانکه از چهره اجتناب می‌کنند

و نه هنگام شادی برای آنانکه در میان هیاهو حرکت می‌کنند و صدا را منکرند


 It can be seen that in Irani’s translation, the music of the words is lost. Irani tries to represent this part but at the expense of losing the music and echoing effect.


  To represent the unrepresentable is to show the differences in languages, because communication happens only when there is a difference, not a sameness. The difference between the two languages is the incommensurability that by translation can be achieved. The untranslatable is considered as a “community of foreigners” that lack of common ground causes communication to be possible (Sakai, 2006, p. 75).



The term hybridization originally is taken from Biology, an offspring of two different species. The literary concept of hybridity is not simply a mixture of genres as it seems to be; it is a mixture of different consciousness, implying the desired effects (Wales, 2011, pp. 201-202). Simon (2001) points to some characteristics of a hybrid text: the engagement of different cultural references, the plurality of languages, mixing myth with the novel, sacred and popular, and allusions to western and eastern cultures  (p. 224).

  The idea of the hybrid text in translation, in Snell-Hornby’s (2001) reading, provokes a sense of in-betweenness where the borders are fuzzy. To hear the voice of the other, we should not stick to the conventions and norms of the target language (Schäfner & Adab, 2001). Translator brings the differences of another language to their own but in a way that it is acceptable and pleasant. The translator shows the unknown culture within a known one. Hybridity is not entering the uncommon words in the target language only (Blanchot, as cited in  Gommlich & Erdim, 2001). In general, translation is regarded as a hybrid text that mediates between the worlds of source culture and target culture or creates a dialogue between them. This mediation brings with it an amount of Otherness to the target culture (Neubert, 2001). Because of the negotiation occurred in a dialogue, the trace of the voice of the parties is left in the words or the expression told. So any discourse is a place of many voices which is called, in Bakhtin’s word, heteroglossia or in Derek Peterson’s (as cited in Greenall, 2006) word, hybrid. The authorial ownership, in this sense, is an illusion; and the relationship between source and target text in terms of similarities and differences is rethought. In translation, there always is a dialogue between the author and the translator and a dialogue between the translator and the audience that makes the translation of many voices. These voices are interacting with one another, causing the single isolated meaning impossible (Greenall, 2006).

  To show the hybridity in Elahi’s translation of Ash-Wednesday, we need to see if the voice of Elahi is heard in his translation and also if there is any interaction of foreign and similar words.

    Adding explanations to the translated poem at the back of the book is a kind of mixing the genre of poetry with the documentary. For example, all allusions are explained by the translator to make the Persian reader familiar with the origins of these allusions. Therefore, Eliot’s voice is mingled with Elahi’s, creating a hybrid text. Furthermore, it was indicated in the section of De-Canonization that the thematic structure of one part of the poem changes in translation, making the focus of the Persian version of Ash-Wednesday on “love”:


Terminate torment

With love unsatisfied

The greater torment

With love satisfied


عشق ناکام

با عذابی محدود

عشق برکام

با عذابی بزرگتر


It can be seen that Elahi’s trace is seen in all over the translated work effacing the authorial ownership:


The end of endless

The journey to no end


پایان بیپایان

سفر بی‌پایان

  These are all the marks of his dominance in the Persian translation of Ash-Wednesday. His play with the words and punctuation marks plus his accuracy in translating the poem are his efforts to make a Persian poem while having the other in mind. His visibility in translation by making the translation double defamiliarized (Gould & Tahmasebian, 2019) is another characteristic of Hybridity i.e. the relationship between the self and the other.

 He leaves a part of the poem untranslated, as it was told by Eliot in part V, which was discussed earlier in the section of Unrepresentable:


No place of grace for those who avoid the face

No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice.


Elahi, in his explanation for this part, refers to Eliot’s Waste Land in which Eliot himself, mixes several languages.



To conduct this study, Bijan Elahi’s translation of Ash-Wednesday to Persian was analyzed. All eleven features of Hassan’s catena were satisfied in Elahi’s translation which proves that his translation is plural. The distinguished feature in Elahi’s translation, as discussed in the Results section, is that he regularly keeps distance from the usual structure used in Persian language. He does not use the language spoken in every day conversations which only reports the events, but he gives a fresh and new color to the words with which the Persian readers may not be familiar. Elahi lets the cultural distance be present in his translation as well.

        Assuming Adorno’s (1997) concept of the culture industry, the way an artistic work can overcome the culture industry is by distancing from the habitual consideration of art so that the trace of the other should be seen in it and become apart from the way others are to make the audience think. Adorno thinks that when language refuses to be objectified and is not in the service of meaning, the effects it has are much like that of music; its atonality and dissonance makes it autonomous whose sounds, and not content, give shock to the audience and interrupt the smooth communication. The unintelligibility it gives to the reader makes him/her suspect the habitual and objectified (reified) intelligibility (Bruns, 2008, p.230).

   The translation under discussion is fragmented enough to give the reader the chance of participation in creating and constructing meaning. The translator’s authorial persona was absent in his translation. Adding endnotes to let his voice be heard, the translator de-canonizes the original.  He gives a new color to the poem and keeps a part untranslated because he feels unable to represent it. The differences between the original and translated terminologies indicate the shaken truth in translation offering a different perspective. He creates a hybrid manuscriptby using archaic and modern, domestic and foreign, formal and informal language at the same time. He performs in language rather than reports the events with language. All means that the poem was carefully translated. Elahi had such a great attention to choosing the words that instead of making the text clearer for the reader makes it much farther than what immediately gets to the mind. Therefore, the reader has got to stop, think and continue reading over and over again. This is precisely what Adorno considers as high art: the art that focuses on form rather than content or message and makes reader think and not to be trapped in the culture industry. These features in the translation show the importance of translation (like any other autonomous artwork) in shaping and changing the societal consciousness.



This study attempted to gain insight into the concept of plurality in translation. So the analysis of the Persian translation of Ash-Wednesday was presented. The objective of this study was finding the plural aspects of the translated poem. In translation, as Jacques Derrida asserts, the main issue is not looking for the meaning of the original or how it is codified, but instead, we look for the multiple interrelationships between the original and the translated text. Therefore, the differences, slips, and silences in translation were discussed (Gentzler, 1990, pp. 284-327).

     Furthermore, literature in a capitalist society is like a cultural commodity that serves the capitalist market (Bressler, 2007, pp. 197-198). A capitalist society benefits from the predictability of both audiences and artworks through which it sells its cultural products; that is because there exist commercial interests behind any popular artistic work (Adorno & Rabinbach, 1975, p.15). It ends with the sameness of people and artworks, and consequently, the concepts of art and artist would be emptied. This is the true concept of the culture industry that is a kind of standardization. In this situation, the task of the artist is being in a way not to be predictable and not to accept the standardization imposed on him/her but being autonomous. Adorno thinks that plurality helps overcome the culture industry.

   It was shown that Elahi’s translation of Ash-Wednesday is plural because except for carnivalesque, which is in nature similar to hybridization, all other ten features of plurality in Ihab Hassan’s (1986) list were satisfied in Elahi’s translation.  As the culture industry leaves no room for the audience to think and imagine creatively, the plurality of this translation and the dialectic it creates between the self and the other indicates that this translation is not in the service of meaning.  Accordingly, plurality makes this translation an autonomous artwork that overcomes the culture industry.


[1] Derrida (1982) regards translation as transformation. Transformation is a kind of Hegelian dialectic so that the interaction of the self and the foreign through negating each other leads to some sort of transformation or change. In this part of the poem, translation modifies the original.

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Volume 4, Issue 1
January 2019
Pages 41-66
  • Receive Date: 20 January 2020
  • Revise Date: 02 April 2020
  • Accept Date: 04 April 2020