30 May 2010

TSR: Benjamin, Pound, Borges

So I'm looking again at Walter Benjamin's essay on "The task of the translator" (see earlier comments). Here it's accompanied by notes on the translation, which make it clear that the translator, Harry Zohn, made some basic errors (omitting to translate a "nicht" is the grossest example), and doesn't seem to have understood Benjamin's argument. Well, I can forgive him for that, even if a second reading has made it clearer, if no more plausible. (Compared to Schleiermacher, it's lucid and limpid.) We are stuck with Zohn's translation for copyright reasons. And I noticed a tiny difference in this book. I earlier quoted this passage;

A real translation is transparent; it does not cover the original, does not block its light, [...]
Here the word block is replaced by black, which is probably just a misprint, but who knows?

Read in this context, following from Schleiermacher, it's easier to see how this piece fits into a developing theory of translation and its purposes. I think without getting hung up on the concept of "pure language", we can see that Benjamin is putting language at the centre of literary activity, including writing as well as translating. Every act of writing or translating serves to improve, extend or refine language (in general) and the translating language in particular.

By the way, one of the translation faults was the omission of a reference to "messianisch".

The piece by Pound is a typically feisty note on translating Cavalcanti.

The Borges article is on translations of the 1001 Nights. Borges values translations (like Burton's) that use the richness of the translating language and its literature. Apparently the language of the 1001 Nights is quite impoverished, and a straight translation would be dull, apart from the rudeness and the anecdotes themselves. He seems perfectly happy for translations to be improvements.

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