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InExperience and UnCommon Sense in Translation

InExperience and UnCommon Sense in Translation

a lecture given by Anthony Barnett,

 

published by Allardyce Book

 

This beautifully produced little pamphlet is simply a delight and it should be acquired by anyone who is interested in the art of translation. The opening paragraph of this guest lecture given at Meiji University sets the scene for some serious debate:

 

I start off with the premise that there is no usable theory of translation other than the one that says that each text to be translated dictates, in the necessary rather than the tyrannical sense of the word, its own requirements—and that you must use your head. It is in that fresh innocence of each text to be translated, and the fresh naïvity of the translator’s approach to each text, that I have used the word inexperience in the title of this lecture.

 

The fine combination of good sense and sympathetic understanding expressed here reminds me of J.H. Prynne’s 2007 paper titled ‘Some Aspects of Poems and Translations’ in which he says that translating poems into poetic form in a foreign language is difficult in many ways and that no individual translation can be satisfactory in every direction at once:

 

There is very often a conflict between the effort to convey the meaning in a recognisable way, and the effort to communicate the formal aspects of composition, to show the shapes and patterns and energies of the writing as much as its meaning.

 

Prynne goes on to say that translation ‘is for sure a noble art, making bridges for readers who want to cross the divide between their own culture and those cultures which are situated in other parts of the world; and yet a material bridge is passive and inert, without any life of its own, whereas a poetic translator must try to make a living construction with its own energy and powers of expression, to convey the active experience of a foreign original text.’

 

Anthony Barnett is himself a translator of immense subtlety and power and I urge our readers to look for his 2012 publication of Translations which he published in association with Tears in the Fence. In that extraordinarily powerful collection we can read the entire script of Akutagawa’s A Fool’s Life as well as major poems by Roger Giroux, Anne-Marie Albiach, Alain Delahaye, Andrea Zanzotto and Paul Celan amongst many others. That volume, like this excellent little lecture, is a model of the art of fine printing and it is available from www.abar.net

 

Ian Brinton July 22nd 2014

 

 

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