24 September 2008

On Steiner

(Continuing with the idea of using this space to keep track of my reading...)

Cursory reading notes on George Steiner's After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation, Chapter Four: "The Claims of Theory":

~ p. 250: Novalis has a part in the idea that "all communication is translation". I wonder how this links to German romanticism and, by extension, George MacDonald?

~ p. 251: These readings of I Corinthians 14 and II Corinthians 12:4 are specious at best. I see no prohibition against translation here.

~ p. 253: "Traditionally, the weight of the argument bears on poetry. Here the welding of matter and form is so close that no dissociation is admissible." I'm reminded of Eliot's essay, "The Metaphysical Poets"...and what Massimo Bacigalupo had to say on the matter:
"I find that the more unambitious the approach the better. Quasi-poets should not use translation as a means of expressing their poetic souls. The closer you look into an original the more poetry you find — even in a translation."
(This is shortly to become my MO... And hey! I could probably find this issue of The Paris Review at the university library.)

~ p. 256: Translation as an act of redemption: "As the Fall may be understood to contain the coming of the Redeemer, so the scattering of tongues at Babel has in it, in a condition of urgent moral and practical potentiality, the return to linguistic unity, the movement towards and beyond Pentecost."

~ p. 257: "It underlies the subtle exaltation in Walter Benjamin's view of the translator as the one who elicits, who conjures up by virtue of unplanned echo a language nearer to the primal unity of speech than is either the original text or the tongue into which he is translating."

~ p. 261: Translation as a unifying force: "Moreover, it established a logic of relation between past and present, and between different tongues and traditions which were splitting apart under stress of nationalism and religious conflict."

~ p. 262: Goethe to Carlyle:
"Say what one will of the inadequacy of translation, it remains one of the most important and valuable concerns in the whole of world affairs."
p. 262: "And speaking out of the isolation of the Russian condition, Pushkin defined the translator as the courier of the human spirit."

~ p. 263: "The argument against translatability is, therefore, often no more than an argument based on local, temporary myopia. Logically, moreover, the attack on translation is only a weak form of an attack on language itself."

~ p. 264: Translation transcends logic: "The defence of translation has the immense advantage of abundant, vulgar fact. [...] Translation is 'impossible' concedes Ortega y Gasset in his Miseria y esplendor de la traducción. But so is all absolute concordance between thought and speech. Somehow the 'impossible' is overcome at every moment in human affairs."

~ p. 264: "The argument from perfection which, essentially, is that of Du Bellay, Dr. Johnson, Nabokov, and so many others, is facile. No human product can be perfect. No duplication, even of materials which are conventionally labelled as identical, will turn out a total facsimile." Of course, Borges explored this idea thoroughly in "Pierre Menard, autor del Quijote" (in English as "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote"). Somehow I think he had his tongue firmly planted in his cheek as he wrote it.

~ p. 291: "The translator seeks to exhibit 'what is already there'."

~ p. 308: "Poets can even smell words."

~ p. 309: "We know next to nothing of the organization and storage of different languages when they coexist in the same mind. How then can there be, in any rigorous sense of the term, a 'theory of translation'?"

~ p. 311: "An error, a misreading initiates the modern history of our subject. Romance languages derive their terms for 'translation' from traducere because Leonardo Bruni misinterpreted a sentence in the Noctes Atticae of Aulus Gellius in which the Latin actually signifies 'to derive from, to lead into'. The point is trivial but symbolic. Often, in the records of translation, a fortunate misreading is the source of new life. [...] The logic comes after the fact. What we are dealing with is not a science, but an exact art."

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