03 August 2009

The Invisible Translator (2)

I have now read the second chapter of The Translator's Invisibility and it seems like not a bad idea to use this blog to note what's in it.

The chapter is called "Canon", and is about the way fluent translation became the standard procedure. It's organised as a "genealogy" - a term I don't think I'd come across in this meaning before. It's derived from Foucault and the method is described on page 32. I'm trying to find a short definition, to minimise typing, but can only find this:

Genealogy is a form of historical representation that depicts, not a continuous progression from a unified origin, an inevitable development in which the past fixes the meaning of the present, but a discontinuous succession of division and hierarchy, domination and exclusion, which destabilize the seeming unity of the present by constituting a past with plural, heterogeneous meanings.

There is quite a lot of that kind of language, including the often-repeated phrase "the enthocentric violence of domestication". I'm sure some of it could be avoided, but also suspect it's like theological language, where a structure of concepts and terms is developed by various writers building on each other's work, and I've skipped straight to a higher storey. Eventually the structure - like this metaphor - will collapse.

The book looks at the development in translation in the early modern period, mainly focussing on translations from Latin. So there are several versions of Virgil. It's made clear how the choices in translation serve a current political purpose. For example, Denham's translation (1656) takes out a lot of the specific references to Priam and Troy, generalising the language to talk of the King and the Court, with an obvious reference to 17th century English politics.

Catullus also comes up, where the sexual content diminishes as the 19th century approaches.

One thing that I think was missed was that most educated English readers in the times covered would have been able to read Latin. Why would they even want a translation? Does the nature of translation change where there's a high incidence of functional bingualism?

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