Volume 12, No. 2 
April 2008


Jinghua Zhang


Front Page

Select one of the previous 43 issues.


Index 1997-2008

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
In the Beginning Was the Alphabet
by Jan McLin Clayberg

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Working for Translation Agencies as a Freelancer: A Guide for Novice Translators
by Lucja Biel, Ph.D.

  In Memoriam
In Memoriam: Margareta Ugander: 1944 - 2008
by Gabe Bokor
In Memoriam: Donald T. ("Ted") Crump: 1939 - 2008
by William B. Cramer

  Translation Theory
The Bottom of the Iceberg: The Explicitation of the Implicit in English-Ukrainian-English Translation
by Oleksandra Liashchenko
Linguists and Culture Experts at a Crossroad: Limitations in Formulating an Experimental Translation Theory
by Salawu Adewuni, Ph.D.

  Translator Education
Documentación para la localización de software
Núria Vidal
Essential Activities in Translator-Interpreter Training
by Dr. Eduardo González
Derecho y traductología en la formación del traductor jurídico: una propuesta para el uso de herramientas de formación virtual
Esther Monzó, Ph.D.
Personality-Oriented Principles in Teaching Languages in Today's Russia
Karina Yu. Kolesina, Sergei G. Nikolaev

  Scientific and Technical Translation
Aspectos textuales de la patente
M. Blanca Mayor Serrano, Ph.D., Natividad Gallardo San Salvador, Ph.D., Josefa Gómez de Enterría Sánchez, Ph.D.

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
Translating Culture-Bound Elements in Subtitling—An Example of Interlinguistic Analysis: a scene from Scent of a Woman
by Elisa Armellino

  Literary Translation
Images, Imagination and Image-Gestalt in English-Chinese Literary Translation
by Jinghua Zhang
Problems of Rendering Linguistic Devices in Rumi's poetry
by Mahmoud Ordudary

  Arts and Entertainment
Performatives in Ying Ruocheng's Translation of Teahouse
by Ren Xiaofei and Feng Qinghua

  Sports Translation
Football Is Coming Home to Die-Hard Translators
by Luciano Monteiro

Del discurso al cuerpo: La técnica Alexander en interpretación
Marta Renau-Michavila

  Translators' Tools
To Upgrade or not to Upgrade
by Jost Zetzsche
Translators’ Emporium

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Letters to the Editor

Translators' Events

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Literary Translation

Images, Imagination and Image-Gestalt

in English-Chinese Literary Translation

by Jinghua Zhang
Department of Foreign Languages, Xi'an Technological University, Xi'an, China 710032

Abstract: The purpose of this study is to discuss images, image-gestalt, their relations as well as imagination involved in dynamic interaction between the translator and literary texts. In the aesthetic progression the translator is required to perceive the images. Only by using the translator's potential imagination can the translator determine a unified grouping and actualize image-gestalt. And by this translating process, the Chinese translated version vividly represents the similar artistic images, contour, tone and feelings of the original literary text.

Key words: Images; image-gestalt; imagination; actualization

1. Introduction

he purpose of this study is to examine the dynamic interaction between the literary text and the translator's imagination, and to discuss how to actualize image-Gestalt, the integration of images, which greatly effects aesthetic harmony in the translated versions. At present translation studies focus much attention upon the subjective role of the translator and his indispensable mental processing. Translation studies have shifted their interest from translational research to translatoral research, and from prescriptive methodology to descriptive methodology (Jenny Williams & Andrew Chesterman, 2002). Also, translation has shifted from lexical or sentence rank to a larger unit. Up to the early 1970s, linguistically oriented translation was merely a process involving the substitution of a sequence of equivalent units. Even in Nida's functional equivalence (1964), individual sentences are generated with little regard for the sentences around them. Nevertheless, after1970s translation studies focus on discourse analysis and text comprehension. The text is taken as a holistic whole instead of atomistic, fragmentary units. Snell-Hornby has clearly stated (2001:28), "even if the term gestalt linguistic is used in only a few individual studies, the holistic principle itself has become increasingly dominant in the study of language over the last few years, and in recent translation theory it is of primary importance."

2. Image Actualization and Imagination

A piece of literary works is usually composed of a series of images. The transition from the images into target-language exponents would produce more effective and equivalent translations than item for item replacement. It is therefore indispensable for a good translator to comprehend the text in various manifested aspects through aesthetic actualization of the images. During this kind of translating process imagination is actually involved in the image actualization.

As for images in translation, Andre Lefevere (1992) has claimed that the translators should rewrite images created by the writer. The images are the keys to the literary text, and under the pretext of searching for the images, the translator may distance himself from getting involved in the linguistic confinement and then reach dynamic correspondence in the translated versions. Traditionally it was claimed that a faithful translator performs an item-for-item exercise with the assumption that meaning resides fully in the phonic-semantic element of a code. However, such a mechanical substitution of the translated version usually doesn't appear as a faithful reproduction of the original text or an acceptable sample of target language.

In the narrow sense, image is a metaphor, a symbol, or a figure of speech. Image in this study refers to the formulation of a non-existing object or character mentally created from the original text under the author's psychological perception and imagination. Evidently, the translator's imagination is an aid in creating visual images traced out of the whole text or sub-texts. "The meaning of the literary work remains related to what the printed text says, but it requires the creative imagination of the reader to put it all together"(Iser, 1978:102). The images in the literary texts simply refer to mental pictures, influenced by the author's moods or feelings, which need to be evoked and reproduced by the translator's imagination. Occasionally, the translator is unconsciously concerned about expressing visual images, although he insists upon getting the exact arrangement of words to express attitudes, ideas, and even moods.

3. Image-Gestalt and Images

As for imagined images, they could be single and separate, or they could be some mental perception as a whole. In this view, both correlation and differences exist between images and image-Gestalt.

3.1 Correlation between Image-Gestalt and Images

Images, perceived from the original text, are not atomistic and fragmentary but related to each other in accordance with the shared theme, contour or mood of the original text. This convergence of images into a united group or a whole is considered as image-Gestalt. Let's simply say the correlation between images and image-Gestalt is a certain kind of relevance between the parts and the whole. Nevertheless, the whole is more than the parts. It is for this reason that what emerges in the translator's imagination is not the atomistic and fragmentary sub-images but the integration of these parts or image-Gestalt.

3.2 Difference between Image-Gestalt and Images

On the one hand, image-Gestalt is constituted of consistent and harmonious integration of individual sub-images; on the other hand, each individual sub-image is dependent on the mentally formulated whole. Therefore, the translator will feel confused to decide which one to assign a priority in order to shape the target text: to formulate an image-Gestalt and base the parts on the whole, or to base the image-Gestalt on the parts. Certainly, it is the former, i.e., it is the image-Gestalt first and foremost that determines literary translation.

Image-Gestalt, the consistent unity of the sub-images as a meaningful whole, implies not merely the representation of an object, but that of a certain scene, a certain character, or an event as a whole in the literary text. Besides, strikingly, image-Gestalt influences the parts because of its gestalt qualities. The school of Gestalt psychology put forward the principle that "the whole is more than the mere sum of its parts, and an analysis of the parts cannot provide an understanding of the whole."(Snell-Hornby, 2001: 28) In the process of constructing image-Gestalt, what can be perceived from the parts is determined by the intrinsic laws inherent in the whole or image-Gestalt. The intrinsic laws are mainly stressed for overall qualities, such as moods, tone, contour and atmosphere. It is these gestalt qualities that exert a great effect on the role the parts play in the artistic unity. A common example of this phenomenon is that we identify an individual by a certain air he has and no particular sign can determine what we feel as a whole. For another example, by integration of all the sub-images, rather than their direct and simple composition or addition, we feel a kind of melancholy grace of "Wuthering Heights" and the tender sensitivity of "Jane Eyre". The integration greatly exceeds the simple addition of the parts and inversely influences the parts.

In a word, what the translator needs to perceive and imagine in the translating process is image-gestalt that is integrated out of sub-images instead of fragmentary images. Only in this way can the translator recreate a transparent text with the same aesthetic effect. Think about the following example, Ex.1.


Geogiana, who had a spoiled temper, a very acrid spite, a captious and insolent carriage, was universally indulged. Her beauty, her pink cheeks, and golden curls, seemed to give delight to all who looked at her, and to purchase indemnity for every fault. (Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre)

Version one:

乔治亚娜有被宠坏了的脾气,有非常毒辣的恶意,有吹毛求疵的傲慢态度,却受到普遍的宽容她的美,她的微红的面颊和金色的卷发,似乎使所有看她的人都欢喜,而且切缺陷人家都不计较了。(李霁野 译)

Version two:

乔奇安娜脾气给惯坏了,凶狠毒辣,吹毛求疵,蛮横无礼,大家却都纵容她。她的美丽,她的红喷喷的脸蛋和金黄色的卷发,似乎叫所有看着她的人都感到愉快,都能因此而原谅她的每一个缺点(祝庆英 译)

Evidently, due to the failure in the experience of the gestalt quality involved, version one fails in conveying a consistent emotion of the original text, that is, Jane's hatred and dissatisfaction when she is unfairly treated. From the underlined phrases in version one, we can conclude that it transforms Geogiana in Jane's mind into a naughty girl who needs sympathy or care, for her "fault" inspires people to love her. But from version two we can experience the holistic emotion and the equivalent image, the integration of Geogiana's beauty and fault. In harmony with "a very acrid spite, a captious and insolent carriage", her "fault" is so resentful as to cover her beauty.

4. Imagination and Image-Gestalt Actualization

From the above discussion, apparently, image perception for a translator is a holistic process based on his linguistic and comprehensive knowledge, and imagination is actually involved in the translating process to supplement image-actualization. The aesthetic experience does not arise from language without any perception because language remains what it is. Nevertheless, it has a certain power to stimulate imagination. And by imagination the translator can get access to the formulation of image-Gestalt integrated out of the sub-images. Otherwise, the literary text becomes abstract, empty, and dull, which can prevent the translator from reproducing a similar aesthetic experience in the translated version.

Imagination is so magic and powerful that something non-existent could arise vividly in people's mind as a whole. It is for this reason that "imagination for the literary translator is the assistant operation of bringing together of elements which are not equivalently connected and organized"(Jiang Qiuxia, 2002, 218). As a translator, he may imagine great mountains, calm rivers as well as roaring seas. He may be happy when feeling the moon in "Last Festival of vernal moon, the blooming lanterns bright as moon. The moon above a willow tree, shone on my lover close to me."(Xu Yuanchong, 1990: 147) On the contrary, he may also be sad when feeling the moon in "How long will the full moon appear? Wine up in hand, I ask the sky." (Xu Yuanchong, 1990: 197) The same image contains different gestalt qualities corresponding to different image-Gestalts. Therefore, before the process of translation, the translator should read the literary texts again and again until in his or her mind vividly imagines some lively character, scene or event, just as Zhang Jin (1994:67) says, "The translator must observe the life the original text describes, with his soul and faculties. He must see, hear, smell, touch and feel the images condensed in the original text."

In the translating process, there exists some dynamic interaction, between the text and the subjective translator. And through imagination the translator participates in image-Gestalt actualization, even though he sets his work on selecting the so-called "optimal equivalent" from the diverse "potential equivalents" in the target language. The following translations can exemplify the power of imagination involved in image-Gestalt actualization.


The village of Marllot lay amid the northeastern undulations of the beautiful Vale of Blackmore or Blackmon aforesaid, an engirdled and secluded region, for the most part untrodden as yet by tourists or landscape painters, though within a four hours ' journey from London. (Tomas Hardy: Tess of d' Urbervilles)

前面说过的那个美丽的布雷谷或布莱谷,是一处群山环抱,幽深僻静的地方,虽然离伦敦不过四个钟头的路程,但是它的大部分,都还不曾有过游历家和风景画家的足迹。马勒村就在它东北部那片起伏的带的中间。(张谷若 )

Ex.2. transfers the image-Gestalt in logic, more acceptable to the target language readers, despite the fact that its lexical progression is not in compliance with the original. Obviously, when a mental image is visualized, the relation between Blackmore and Marlott is clear. The translator can imagine a whole "scene" in which Marlott is located. Based on this mental picture, he can easily change the syntactic pattern of the original and reproduce the visual image of the spatial Marlott.


The sky, now overcast and sullen, so changed from the early afternoon, and the steady insistent rain could not disturb the soft quietude of the valley; the rain and the rivulet mingled with one another, and the liquid note of the blackbird fell upon the damp air in harmony with them both. (Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca)

"天空这时黑云密布,阴阴沉沉,和下午三四点种的不大一样,雨又不住地下着,但这却惊扰不了山谷的静谧;雨声和溪水声交融在一起,画眉的婉转的曲调在湿润的空气中回荡着,和雨声、溪水声相 应和。"(张今,19943334

This translation offers the target text reader an equivalent experience, or the melody of silence perceived from the original. Only by imagination and holistic experience can the translator visualize the picture, hearing all the sounds as if present at the scene. In this case, in addition to his linguistic knowledge, he can recreate the mental image and provide the vividness of the original through "the sounds of rain and rivulet".


The heroic female character which ladies admire is a more glorious and beautiful object than the kind, fresh, smiling, artless, tender, little domestic goddess, whom men are inclined to worship . (William Thackeray: Vanity Fair)


This translation results from the image-Gestalt actualization rather than an item-for-item replacement. The translator imagines a whole scene, in which the heroic female character and the little domestic goddess exist, what they are, and how men and ladies think about them. In other words, he grasps the image-Gestalt and recreates the harmonious aesthetic images acceptable to the target readers.

5. Conclusion

Since literary works are characterized by aesthetic experience of the reader, literary translation becomes different from other kinds of translation. On the one hand, in terms of the mental image, it refers to image-Gestalt, the integration of parts or sub-images, actualized from the literary texts. On the other hand, image perception is naturally involved in the translator's work and participation of creative imagination. With imagination the translator gains access to the image-Gestalt actualization. From these two aspects, the conclusion is drawn that literary translation is a dynamic holistic process of the interaction between the translator and the text. This study is to emphasize the role of the translator as an active subject and to improve the translator's awareness of creative imagination, for imagination is a power to evoke the integration of parts and supplement image-Gestalt actualization. Hopefully, we can carry out more applicable methods to improve the study of aesthetic progression in literary translation.


Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre [M]. http://www.eshunet.com

Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield [M]. http://www.eshunet.com

Hardy, Thomas. Tess of D'urbervilles [M]. http://www.eshunet.com

Iser, W. The Art of Reading: a Theory of Aesthetic Response [M]. The John Hopkins University Press, 1978.

Lefevere, A. Translation, Rewriting, and the Manipulation of Literary Fame [M]. Routledge,1992.

Thackeray, William. Vanity Fair [M]. http://www.eshunet.com

Snell-Hornby, Mary. Translation Studies: An Integrated Approach [M].Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press,2001

Williams, Jenny & Chesterman, Andrew. The Map, A Beginner's Guide to Doing Research in Translation Studies[M].  Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing, 2002.

姜秋霞. 文学翻译的审美过程格式塔意象的再造[M].商务印书馆,2002.

徐渊冲(). 唐宋词一百五十首[M]. 北京大学出版社,1990.

喻云根. 英美名著翻译比较[M].湖北教育出版社,1994.

张今. 文学翻译的原理[M].河南大学出版社,1994.