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01/25/2018

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Twitchelmore

I'm not here to disagree about care toward translations of prose, but I think we do worry too much about the precise wording, as if there is a Platonic realm of 'the thing itself', thereby creating an aura around 'the language its author actually used', which then leads to angel-on-a-pinhead fuss over the original word and its potential meanings.

Thomas Bernhard dismissed translations of his works as completely different entities, yet his prose is distinctive for its use of blocks of prose and repetitions of words, which lends itself to translation so long as the translator can capture the music of the rhythms and the local and overall structure. The individual words are not so vital.

Worrying about the translation would then be more like worrying over interpretations of a piece of music – say, to use one of Bernhard's favourites, Glenn Gould's 1950s version of the Goldberg Variations and his 1982 version. They both have the same tune, as it were. Perhaps there are larger questions to be asked about what music and literature are as things in themselves – with translation as a worthy entity in itself – rather than treating the original text as a fetish concealing its magic if only we could find the key.

Daniel Green

Speaking for myself as a critic, I'd rather have the individual words as well as the structure and the music of the rhythms. Obviously if I'm reading a translation, I can't have it. I'm not at all comfortable with the idea of a translation as a "different entity" (again as a critic). I want to be able to trust the translator's interpretation, although in the end I'll have to settle for form and music. But doing without the precise wording is missing out on something that's not trivial.

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