9 may. 2006

To see the original as superior to the translation is a kind of superstition, according to Borges. It's like seeing the original as a sacred text and seeing all translations as inferior copies of it.

On the other hand, only a worthwhile text really stands up to translation at all. In other words, many of the questions we need to ask only "work" if we assume some value in the original text.

What if we saw two versions of the poem, in different languages, and weren't told which was the original and which was the translation? Then we would have to judge each one on its own terms. Maybe the "translation" would end up seeming crappy, or maybe not. It would kind of depend.

The corollary of this is that we would demand more from translations, not less. That is, we wouldn't allow the "translation excuse" any more.

3 comentarios:

Henry Gould dijo...

Do you know the context of that Borges statement, Jonathan? Just curious. Was it in one of his fables?

It's hard to believe he wasn't speaking tongue-in-cheek somehow.

On the other hand, it makes sense if you believe in Perfect Translation, or speaking-in-tongues. In that case the original replicates itself perfectly, morphs perfectly into other languages. & the translator is just a medium for something the poet has done in a meta-language in the first place.

Jonathan dijo...

His Charles Eliiot Norton lectures at Harvard provides one instance of this idea, which is repeated throughout his work. The book is titled "This Craft of Verse."

Gawain dijo...

I think Broges essay on translations of the Arabian Nights is instructive here: in Arabic literature, the Arabian nights have a distinctly middle-brow position: they are entertaining tales written none too well. The literary excellence of some of the European translations makes the Arabian Nights high brow literature to us, he writes.