"Leo Tolstoy wrote the opening of his Russian classic, War and Peace, not in Russian but mostly in French. The opening line—the very first words of the book—is in French, not Russian: Eh bien, mon prince (“Well, my prince”). Douglas Hofstadter therefore wonders how best to translate War and Peace into French. Should the opening passage stay in French? Or does that destroy the effect? If not French, perhaps English? What about translating the book into English? Just the fact that we have to wonder whether keeping the French in French is the best way to translate French into French shows how tricky translation can be."

— Joel M. Hoffman, And God Said

"“Out of sight, out of mind” sounds as if it might be paraphrased as “blind idiot,” but of course it cannot. Yet many translations of the Bible make this sort of basic mistake when they render ancient Hebrew into modern English."

— Joel M. Hoffman, And God Said

"There is something maddeningly attractive about the untranslatable, about a word that goes silent in transit."

— Anne Carson, from “Variations on the Right to Remain Silent“ (via itgivesitthew)

(via proustitute)


I’ve learned, from working with translators over the years, that the original novel is, in a way, a translation itself. It is not, of course, translated into another language but it is a translation from the images in the author’s mind to that which he is able to put down on paper.

Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire.

But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire.

It feels, in short, like a rather inept translation of a mythical great work.

The translator, then, is simply moving the book another step along the translation continuum. The translator is translating a translation.


— Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours and By Nightfall

(Source: sociologicalimagination.org)