Cultural Imperialism in Two Persian Translations | April 2015 | Translation Journal

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Cultural Imperialism in Two Persian Translations

Cultural Imperialism in Two Persian Translations


Cultural studies in one of its sub-branches called post- colonial studies tries to find the subterfuges which are used to exploit the resources of colonized countries, esp. the cultural ones. The merger of this field with translation studies results in an interdisciplinary which tries to find out the ways by which translation has been used to exploit weaker countries culturally. Najaf Daryabandari is one of the most prolific and famous translators of Iran. Studying two books translated by him, the researcher has mentioned the signs of cultural imperialism in them and the means used to permeate them


cultural imperialism, Najaf Daryabandari, Russian thinkers, Power: a new social role


Contact between languages has made the need for translation palpable. The extent of this need depends on the similarities and the differences between these languages. Most of the translations are taken place from powerful and prestigious languages into those of less powerful ones. For example, in America only two percent of the books are translated ones while most of the books in developing countries are translations.

Soaring emphasis on translation has reflected itself both in the life of masses and in the academic world. The entrance of a lot of fields of study into this subject has evolved it into a gigantic interdisciplinary. Different experts and scientists from various academic backgrounds have tried to merge their own field of study with translation studies. Among these fields, social and human sciences esp. those regarding power and politics, have been very crucial in forming interdisciplinaries and have made themselves a fountainhead of controversial theories.

Among the important concepts studied by cultural translation studies is cultural imperialism. It is usually raised by non-Anglo-American scholars who believe that the dominating western countries try to reflect important facts as if there were no world other than west. For example, Chris Wen-Chao Li, a Chinese translation theorist, believes that western translation theoreticians ignore Chinese translation tradition while speaking about the translation theory.

Johan Heilbron says that one of the adverse ramifications of cultural and linguistic imperialism is the fact that, all over the world, researchers are introducing their products not in their own language, but in English.

The theoreticians who believe in this theory try to study how translation is used to colonize weak countries. In other words, proponents of this theory believe that translation has been plied by powerful countries which seek to exploit weaker ones culturally to impose their own beliefs, values and norms on them and, form a cultural hegemony around the world.

On the other hand, Iran has always been prone to explicit and implicit attempts of global superpowers to exploit its resources and undermine underpinning values and traditions of it by means of using different media including translation.

Statement of the problem:

Those who are familiar with cultural and academic ambience of Iran know that those theories criticizing the hegemony of western countries are usually confronted with aggression or ignorance. Because of this fact there has been little work about cultural imperialism. So, its effects or even essence are quite unknown. Lack of study in this domain has made some people think that there is not such a phenomenon.

Throughout history, esp. after the Islamic revolution there has been a great deal of attempt to affect culture of Iran. Cultural products and circles have become a target of these attempts. Amongst these cultural trends, translation has always had a crucial role. Because of the fact that in recent periods; Iranian writers have not been very successful in joining the bandwagon of genres common and popular in Europe, translators have become the main source and window to become familiar with western works and lifestyle. In Iran many works are known by their translators rather than their writers. This fact has made the translating a prestigious job and translators have had a major role in forming the cultural framework of Iran. So western powers have always been seeking ways to be in contact with Iranian translators and make them publicize western norms and beliefs.

Among Iranian translators Najaf Daryabandari has an exclusive and important role. He, with his prolific works and also communist background, has a special character which is clear in his selection of works and also his style of translating. His translated works have made Iranian society familiar with many writers and literary and philosophical schools and he himself has been one of the influential characters in contemporary state of Iran's cultural and intellectual circles.

Review of the related literature:

Cultural imperialism is seen as the cultural invasion of the powerful western countries to weaker  ones.

The whole world is becoming a cultural common market area in which the same kind of  technical product development, the same kind of metropolitan mass culture is manufactured, bought and sold (Sarmella, 1975).

Frantz fanon is assumed to be the first person who initiated the term „cultural imperialism”. He was preoccupied by the thought of imperialism, both militarily and culturally. Therefore, he tried to withstand colonization. As well as direct participating in the resistance movement of Algerians against French‟s colonization, he put forward the decolonization theory. Analyzing colonialism from a psychiatric point of view, he believed that language imperialism is one of the shameless forms of colonization leading the colonized people to think that they are inferior to the colonizing power and less human than them. (Renyate, Z.1974).

In decolonization theory, he says that in order to dissolve colonization of subjugating powers, every human should have the same portion of right and should be considered equal with other people regardless of his/her age (Sekyi-Ou, 1996).  In a speech in Columbia University, Chomsky says that the main success of Said was to put the imperialism at the center of the western civilization. He also says that because of the great influence of „Orientalism‟, literary criticism and historical writing should be bifurcated for two periods: before Orientalism and after it (Chomsky, 2003).

Chakravorti Spivak calls for a campaign against colonization through translation. She says that through translation the process of "sublaterning" has emerged and also intensified. She believes that translation has served to the purpose of colonizers. (Spivak, 2004). She believes that the task of the translator is to yielding himself/ herself completely to the rhetorics of the original text and says that ignoring this tip will lead in the loss of literacity and textuality of the original (Spivak, 2000).She also sees translation as a cultural and political practice which can bring about social change (Venuti, 2003) .

Venuti is the main current academic figure who leads his translation studies' projects based on the notion of cultural imperialism. His books act as a prism for showing the cultural aspects of imperialism and translation. Using concepts such as discourse culture and language, he tries to study phenomena like social and language imperialism. Reviewing his theories, we find out that he is totally preoccupied with marginality of some languages in comparison with the imperial domination of English, as today's lingua franca. He says that the invisibility of the translator makes the way paved for imperialism. He believes that this act is a kind of appropriation and makes the hegemony of English wider (Venuti, 2003).

He proposes that translation has been used by the dominating powers of the world to hegemonize the culture of the whole world. He also says that translation has been used to belittle non-western world. His theory „the visibility of the translator‟ and also the concepts of foreignization and domestication are mainly related to the strong belief of him which maintains that the first world countries have used translation as a kind of tool both to polish their own maligned façade and to pursue their colonization in a less palpable and tangible way (Venuti, 2000).

Foreignization is selecting a foreign text and developing a translation in line with the norms of the original. In this method, translators put everything on plate for the reader and the reader needs little effort to decipher (Venuti, 1998).

Venuti calls for a foreignization process of translation and says that it is the only way to maintain the essence of the text and make the westerners understand that there is another culture except their own which is not wild and inferior (Venuti, 2000).

One of the palpable examples of cultural imperialism is the translation of Omar Khayyam‟s poems by Fitz Gerald. In a poem to his friend, Gerald said that he had converted Khayyam‟s poems in order to make them more suitable with western beliefs. He also believed in the superiority of westerns because in that letter, he has said that Iranians are not wise enough to understand the nuances of the poetry (Munday, 2000).

Many literature and translation theorists believe that when creating an artistic work; neutrality is impossible. They say every human being possesses at least some form of belief which can be interpreted at its progressed form as ideology. These theorists say that inserting the ideology of the translator in the work is almost inevitable (Milani, 2000).

Because of the fact that this research is to investigate signs of cultural imperialism in Najaf Daryabandari‟s works, in this part of the review, we are going to have a shift from theoretical speech about cultural imperialism to Najaf Daryabandari‟s life and ideological grounds.

Daruabandary left studying when he was a high school student and went to work with English  people who were employed in Abadan. After leaving school, he dedicated his time on English learning through watching films in cinemas of Abadan. Daryabandari also, learnt English from his English colleagues and became familiar with it. According to his own interviews he has learnt English self-sufficiently and has used every text accessible to him to make his base in English more robust. (Harirchi, 1997). 

But the most important part of his life in case of our research is the time when he becomes familiar with Tude party. Tude is the most important party of Iran‟s history which had communist ideology. Many of the Iranian artists, writers, poets and translators had been a member of it, at least for some part of their lives. The party‟s artist members acted as a mouthpiece for it and promulgated its ideology in different ideological circles and among the masses.

Daryabandari says that he has begun to participate in communist activities when he was an employee of Abadan's petroleum company. Abadan's petroleum company was one of the main centers of political activities in Iran. Most of the workers of the company were either communist or nationalist. Daryabandari says that he has been attracted to the party probably by one of his colleagues. A few years after being employed in Abadan's petroleum oil company, he went to its publication office. There he gained new grounds on translation and became familiar with some of Iran's future most famous writers like Ibrahim Golestan. He himself says that the cultural ambiance of the petroleum company has had a great influence on him (Harirchi, 1997).

When he was 24, he was arrested for cooperating with Tude party and was sentenced to life imprisonment. It is worth mentioning that his imprisonment was coincided by the publication of his first work, the translation of “A farewell to arms”. In prison he has broadened his communication with intellectual members of communist parties. In prison he began to translate "A history of western philosophy‟ and translated it in one year but worked on the book for more than 15 years because he was not familiar with philosophy (Harirchi, 1997).

Daryabandari was lucky because he was released from prison after 4 years. After a period of desultory works, he was employed in „Franklin Book Program‟. This period of his professional acting his pertinent to the subject of our research and also is revealing of his character and beliefs. Some historians like Ghasem Tabrizi say that he was one of the supporters of Tude party and was its agent between Tehran and Isfahan (Tabrizi, 2013).

The founder of Franklin program was a person named Homayoon Sanatizadeh, who according to historical facts was one of the supporters of western domination of Iran. His father and maternal grandfather were from firm believers of Baha‟ism in Iran. Tabrizi makes a controversial claim. He says that Daryabandari had been sentenced to death and because of the intervention of the program‟s officials, was pardoned (Tabrizi, 2013).

Power: A new social analysis

The first book is Bertrand Russell‟s “Power: A new social analysis". This is a book which has  been written by him in the Nazi period. In this book, Russell speaks about power, its definition and kinds. Before delving into the translation of Daryabandari, a discussion about the reasons of this book‟s choosing and content seems necessary.

Russell is a philosopher whose ideas about God are quite novel. He himself says that when speaking to an audience familiar with philosophy, he is agnostic but commenting to an ordinary person, he is an atheist. Even finally, he declared himself a believer to God‟s non-existence. We know that Russell was one of the bitter critics of Marxism and Daryabandari used to be a communist. Maybe at the first glance, it seems a little strange. But if we look at different periods
in history, it will become clear that repented Marxists have been one of the main tools of the liberals to promulgate their beliefs( Russell, 1947).

The content of the book is against those governments whose ideology is against liberalism. At  first it seems that only Nazism has been lambasted but a careful looking will reveal its potential to be interpreted against all those countries which in contrast with liberalism. One of the measures taken by some translators to save the face of their favorite ideology is expunging a part which is against their ideology. In this method the translator overlooks those parts and in some cases, the disloyal translators, supplant them with other parts.

Daryabandari has used foreignizing method to translate the book. Choosing this book to  translate with foreignizing theory, willy-nilly will lead to disseminating Russell‟s beliefs. But apart from theoretical aspect, Daryabandari has done some practical works to garnish the veneer of his ideology.

One of the most interesting points in translating this book is that Daryabandari has refused to translate two final chapters of it in the first edition of the book. Although he has evaded an explicit reason for this act, but many of the critics from different ideologies and points of view, have attributed this act to his Marxist beliefs. These two final chapters are about Joseph Stalin, the communist leader of the former Soviet Union. In this book, Russell criticizes Stalin bitterly and disapproved of his totalitarianism.

“Russian thinkers”:

Another book translated by Daryabandari is “Russian thinkers” by Isaiah Berlin. Berlin is one of  the most controversial philosophy historians and intellectuals of the English speaking world.

The most attention- attracting point in his life is his cooperation with American and British  intelligence services. In different periods of time, he was used by the agents of these two services to study the then status quo of former Soviet Union and wrote reports of the condition of the Soviet Union for the national office of Britain and studied how to struggle against this currently dissolved country. His cooperation with Central Intelligence Agency in the publication of
“Encounter” a magazine supported by CIA to disseminate liberal thought in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and also to attract the intellectuals of these countries to western thought.

Throughout the book, Berlin tries to approve of those intellectuals who are for liberal- democracy and against Marxism. He tries to show that intellectuals were completely in disagreement with the Marxist regime.

It is clear that translating a book from a CIA agent who has been titled “ one of the soldiers of the cold war “and has received the title of “sir” for his services to the United Kingdom can have what pernicious effects on the cultural atmosphere of the country.

In the preface, Daryabandari has mentioned that he believes that Berlin is one of the best philosophers of the world and has hoped that this book can set an ideal way for the intellectuals of our own country. The footnotes added by the translator are in line with the overall style of the book and the translator's non-interventionist approach paves the way for the writer‟s ideas to enter into the minds of the readers.

Like the previous book we spoke about, this text is also devoid of any sign implicating sign and the translator has tried to be a neutral party and not involve himself in the text. As Venuti said, this method serves the imperial nature of the book and according to Niranjana this way of translating is at the disposal of liberalism.

This may seem strange that why a formerly Marxist translator has resorted to the translation of a work which is against his ideology. The reason is that after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many of the intellectuals belonging to different branches of the communism, seeking a new Mecca, turned their coat and tried to re-build their ruined palace of wishes by Marxism. In one of his interviews, Daryabandari says when translating a book, he wants the society to be affected by it. These sentences shows that he wants to disseminate the ideology which is his favorite. If he were not interested in the contents of the book, he had not translated them.


Munday, J. (2000). Introducing translation studies, London, Routledge.
Munday, J. (2003). Translation studies: an advanced research course, London.
Newmark, P. (1975). A Textbook of Translation, London, Routledge.
Niranjana, T. (1992). Siting Translation, Berekly, University of California press.
Venuti,C. (1992),Rethinking Translation:Discourse,Subjectivity,Ideology,London and New
Venuti, C. (1997). The Communicator, New York, Routledge.
Venuti, C. (2000). The scandals of translation, New York, Routlege.

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