Date: Mon, 2 May 94 16:05 EST
From: George Aichele <email@example.com>
In partial answer to Bob Schaibley's questions:
George Steiner, who wrote a marvelous book about translation,
Ugh. George Steiner has always impressed me as speaking with seeming
authority on areas about which he knows nothing, such as Generative
Grammar in AFTER BABEL, so I would take anything he says with several
shakers of salt, if not the whole container.
argues that the best translation is one which stands
in tension with the original & thereby reveals the "salutary
strangeness" (389) of it. Steiner views language as slippery &
Yes, but does he recognize the difference between ambiguity and
vagueness? As far as I can see, ambiguity is much more prevalent that
vagueness, and is typically resolved by the linguistic and pragmatic
context very quickly, except in cases where the pragmatics supports
multiple interpretations (as in Stanley Fish's example: ``Is there a
text in this class?'') or where the author is either careless or
actively playing on the ambiguity.
The strangeness of the text is not its meaning --
rather the opposite, I think. Insofar as translation makes the
text familiar, it fails.
This sounds dreadfully pretentious, to be frank.
A similar point is made in Walter
Benjamin's essay, "The Task of the Translator."
I think the line between translation & paraphrase (if there is
one) is very unclear.
How about: a paraphrase is something which only aims to preserve the
propositional content of what it is paraphrasing. A translation not
only aims to preserves the propositional content, but also tries to
preserve other aspects of the original, such as word order, meter,
assonance, alliteration, puns, figure of speech, etc. No translation
can meet all these criteria at once, of course, since for any
particular actual text, they will often pull in contradictory
directions. However, a good translation does aim to balance them all,
even though a perfect balance is, in the general case, impossible.
Exact translation is impossible,
My favorite example of a translation which deviates literally from the
source but is still a wonderful translation: In Aristophanes' ``The
Birds'', one of the characters explains that the birds deserve to be
worshipped as gods, since the swallow (?) and her father existed even
before the earth. Hence, the poor bird was faced with a quandry when
her father died; finally, she hit upon a solution and buried him
beneath the feathers at the back of her head [kephale:]. At this
point, the straight man of the play pipes up, saying: ``And thus, even
today, heroes are buried at Kephalai.'' In Arrowsmith's translation,
the bird buries her father under her tail feathers and the shemp pipes
up with: ``And so this was the origin of Asbury.'' It's the same
(rather bad) joke, turned quite literally on its head, and a dynamite
translation, to boot.
- From: George Aichele <firstname.lastname@example.org>