Sunday, April 25, 2010

Our World Without Translation: or alternatives

“Translation not only plays its important traditional role as the means that allows us access to literature originally written in one of the countless languages we cannot read, but it also represents a concrete literary presence with the crucial capacity to ease and make more meaningful our relationships to those with whom we may not have had a connection before. Translation always helps us to know, to see from a different angle, to attribute new value to what once may have been unfamiliar. As nations and as individuals, we have a critical need for that kind of understanding and insight. The alternative is unthinkable.”
-- Edith Grossman

"Despite these imperfections, the Septuagint is a watershed in Jewish history. More than any other event in Jewish history, this translation would make the Hebrew religion into a world religion. It would otherwise have faded from memory like the infinity of Semitic religions that have been lost to us."
-- Richard Hooker

"[R]eading literature from other countries is vital to maintaining a vibrant book culture and to increasing the exchange of ideas among cultures. In this age of globalization, one of the best ways to preserve the uniqueness of cultures is through the translation and appreciation of international literary works.... Unfortunately, only about 3% of all books published in the United States are works in translation."
-- Three Percent

"Each generation needs its own translators. While a fine work of literature never needs updating, a translation, however wonderful, gathers dust. Reading Pope's Homer, we hear Pope more than Homer. Reading Constance Garnett's Tolstoy, we hear the voice of late-19th-century England. We need to go back to the great works and bring them into our own idiom. To do that we need fresh minds and voices. For a few minutes every year we really must acknowledge that translators are important, and make sure we get the best."
-- Tim Parks

"[W]riters in the Renaissance were acutely aware of the debt they owed translators. It was a great age of international literary cross-fertilization, thanks to English translators of Petrarch’s sonnets and Montaigne’s essays, and the work of innumerable other continental poets and sages. In comparison, readers in Canada and the United States today are strikingly insular. In the United States, only 2% to 3% of books published each year are literary translations. (In Western Europe and Latin America, that number is anywhere from 25% to 40%.)"
-- Philip Marchand

"        Attention is a task we share, you and I. To keep attention strong means to keep it from settling. Partly for this reason I have chosen to talk about two men at once [i.e., Simonides of Keos and Paul Celan]. They keep each other from settling. Moving and not settling, they are side by side in a conversation and yet no conversation takes place. Face to face, yet they do not know one another, did not live in the same era, never spoke the same language. With and against, aligned and adverse, each is placed like a surface on which the other may come into focus. Sometimes you can see a celestial object better by looking at something else, with it, in the sky.
        Think of the Greek preposition πρός. When used with the accusative case, this preposition means 'toward, upon, against, with, ready for, face to face, engaging, concerning, touching, in reply to, in respect of, compared with, according to, as accompaniment for.' It is the preposition chosen by John the Evangelist to describe the relationship between God and The Word in the first verse of the first chapter of his Revelation [i.e., his Gospel revealing the Word in translation]:

πρὸς θεόν

'And The Word was with God' is how the usual translation goes. What kind of withness is it?
         I am writing this on the train to Milan. We flash past towers and factories, stations, yards, then a field where a herd of black horses is just turning to race uphill. 'Attempts at description are stupid,' George Eliot says, yet one may encounter a fragment of unexhausted time. Who can name its transactions, the sense that fell through us of untouchable wind, unknown effort--one black mane?"
-- Anne Carson


Jane said...

Thanks for these great quotes - i've got to write a language policy paper so they are a great stimulus to my thinking

J. K. Gayle said...

Jane, Which language(s) are you using? I'd love to read your language policy paper, especially if you're translating it also!