Introduction of Professor José Lambert

Professor José Lambert. Pre- and post-destination
Looking for explanations in culture and complexity

It is a great pleasure and honor to present today Professor José Lambert as our first keynote speaker in what will hopefully become an annual event. We all know José as one of the founding fathers and leading figures of modern Translation Studies that have been flourishing throughout the last four decades or more. Initially a comparatist and a Germanist, José moved very early in his career to developing Translation Studies at Leuven University, which is known until today as a prominent center of this field. He was the founder, back in 1989, of CETRA – the International Center for Translation Studies in Leuven that has since become a powerful canonizing center: today, to be a CETRA professor actually means to be crowned an international respectable figure of translation studies. Back in the late 1980s, Professor Lambert was also the co-founder, together with Gideon Toury, of Target, the uncontested leading journal of Translation Studies to date. But it would be fair to say that all this started with the international conference José organized with colleagues in Leuven in 1976, which event (together with the second conference that followed two years later in Tel Aviv) has become a mythological milestone in the history of this vibrant ever-changing field of study. Itamar Even-Zohar was obviously also there, and so there was also a brilliant PhD student by the name of Gideon Toury – and the rest is history…

In many ways, the scholarly, as well as personal, chemistry and ties that have later developed between these three were based on their shared view of translation in the broadest sense, as a mechanism of inter-cultural contacts, far beyond what is traditionally viewed as ‘literary translation’ per se. In Lambert´s approach, it is the complex topic of intercultural relations which frames his understanding of translation, where ‘translation proper,’ as it were, is just one manifestation. I guess Polysystemic thinking became immediately obvious to him not the least in view of the very complex situation in his native country, Belgium, where you cannot avoid being daily confronted with cultural complexity. Throughout his career, José has been engaged with augmenting the scope of TS in many directions, liberating it from the niche of High Culture where it had been often pushed to, to correlate with broader social aspects of everyday life.

José Lambert is known not only as a prominent translation scholar but also as one active in Polysystem studies ever since the 1970s. Since then, young scholars in this field have owed so much to José, not only to his wisdom, but also to his encouraging support throughout the years. José Lambert is well-known of being of the kind of the generous and supportive mentors and colleagues that have ever existed – and he continues this habit with full vigor today. Although recently he has gone as far away as South America, to work in several Brazilian universities, his footprints on the Leuven academic sphere is indelible. José Lambert has raised the second generation of modern literary and translation scholarship at Leuven, with some of his former students, who either worked with him on his projects, or wrote their dissertations under his supervision, and who now carry on the work he has started in Belgium and elsewhere. Parts of this ongoing fruitful endeavor, championed by José, was published in 2006 by three of them, Dirk Delabastita, Lieven D’Hulst, and Reine Meylaerts, as an edited volume, titled: Functional approaches to culture and translation: Selected Papers by José Lambert. [1]

So, when the organizers of this meeting looked for the right person to start the POLYSYSTEM ANNUAL LECTURES, it was only natural that the first name that popped up was that of JOSÉ LAMBERT. We are all deeply grateful to him for his acceptance and for honoring us, and are looking forward to many years of future cooperation to come.

Prof. Rakefet Sela-Sheffy
Tel Aviv University

[1] Lambert, José, et al. 2006. Functional approaches to culture and translation: selected papers by José Lambert. [=Benjamins translation library, 69]. Philadelphia: J. Benjamins.

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