Thursday, March 26

Good and Evil

Posted by Shelly Holder

I have been reading for pleasure lately-- a very bad thing, I know, when homework threatens to drown me-- but my time spent in the library for research purposes usually also produces an interesting side-note that I pursue and pursue until I come home with 14 books, only two of which actually are homework. This week I have been obsessed with etiquette and manners, especially in a business or professional setting (the time for research internships has come, and I need to email professors about taking me on; hence the need for extreme politeness and nicety of manners) but found a great little book just down the way on the shelf (isn't it always like this?) called The Art of Conversation by Dorothy Muir. It talks about what subjects to bring up and which to avoid, how to move on from difficult topics, and how to initiate conversations, usually by provoking opposing views. One of her suggestions slightly horrified me: 

"Another subject which lends itself to discussion is the question of translation. People who can read a book written in a foreign language often object that one essential of a good book is its style, and this obviously is lost in translation, however good. Other maintain that as the majority cannot read foreign languages, a translation is justified because it does enable everyone to enjoy the masterpieces of other countries." (emphasis added) 

I was aware of the assertion that books lose something after translation, and I was very familar with (well, I thought it was a Plato quote, but apparently I'm wrong, and I can't seem to find the quote I'm looking for. To stave off hours of obsessive searching, I'm going to leave this disclaimer in, and go back and edit later.) 

But the Muir quote implies* there is another option- not to translate at all, because it does not reflect the original author's style! What kind of thinking was this? All the books that would be lost- Cervantes and Dumas and Marquez and my favorite poet Wislawa Szymborska. All gone! I understand I will never be fully acquainted with these author's true style, and I know first hand that my reading in French of Cyrano de Bergerac was vastly different from my later reading of the Enlgish translation (I preferred my stumbling, jerky, horrible French reading, even with the need for a dictionary after every third word), but never to know them? To be limited to English and American writers, to their perspective and their lives and their world? Never to travel beyond? Nope, not for me. I will take the translations, because as Ralph Wlado Emerson said, 

"I do not hesitate to read all good books in translations. What is really best in any book is translatable -- any real insight or broad human sentiment."

Right Now: 
What I'm listening to: "Feel Good Inc" by Gorillaz
What I want most: to finish my homework so I can READ! 

*I realize that I have completely missed the point of Muir's suggestion, and taken the use of justified to a new level in my paranoia, but that is the thought that I had when I first read the paragraph, and a interesting topic ensued.