The purpose of this article is to trace the recurrent metaphor of ‘illusion’ in translation studies. Starting with the pioneering work of Jiří Levý titled The Art of Translation (Umění překladu ), the optical metaphors for the subject matter of studies on translation reflect an ambiguity about the ontology of translation studies. Yet, this ambiguity does not remain in the theoretical sphere and apparently, translates into the very practices of the publishers. Prefaces and critiques by publishing houses and the translators’ footnotes in the paratexts suggest an ever-increasing demand for translations that ‘mirror’ the source work. In this respect, the back translations of ethnographic works and semi-ethnographic travelogues provide fertile ground for exploring the boundaries of conceptual determinism in translation theory. After an inquiry on the shifting points of reference between translation norms and illusion, this descriptive study analyzes the Turkish translation of An Englishwoman in a Turkish Harem (1915), a semi-ethnographic work pointing to other works of dubious origin. By considering this translation that is claimed by the publishing house to have been transferred almost unmediated as a product of back translation, the present study illustrates the underlying stance of the seemingly divergent points of view on designations and metaphors for translation (i.e., illusion) in terms of translation studies as an autonomous field of ‘proper’ social science. Hence, this study ultimately aims to reveal that the ambiguity about the concept of translation overlooks the underlying ontology(ies) of science of translation.
illusionistic translation, descriptive translation studies, metaphors of translation, translation studies ontology