Speaking in tongues (J.M. Coetzee on translation)
Thread poster: A Hayes
A Hayes
Australia
Local time: 12:12
Jan 28, 2006

Below is the introduction and last two paragraphs of an unsettling cover story from today's Review (The Australian)

J.M. COETZEE — The Nobel laureate on the traps of translation

Drawing on his experiences with translators, Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee identifies some of the practical difficulties involved in the craft of translation.

‘In the Italian version of Dusklands, a man opens a wooden crate with the help of a bird. What I wrote was that he used a crow, that is, a crow bar’

Translation seems to me a craft in a way that cabinet-making is a craft. There is no substantial theory of cabinet-making, and no philosophy of cabinet-making except the ideal of being a good cabinet-maker, plus a handful of precepts relating to tools and to types of wood.
For the rest, what there is to be learnt must be learnt by observation and practice. The only book on cabinet-making I can imagine that might be of use to the practitioner would be a humble handbook.

[This essay also appears in the latest edition of Meanjin (volume 64.4, Tongues: On Translation), www.meanjin.unimelb.edu.au and will be included in a coming book Translation and the Classic (Oxford University Press). Copyright J. M. Coetzee]


[Edited at 2006-01-28 15:07]

[Subject edited by staff or moderator 2006-01-29 02:32]


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A Hayes
Australia
Local time: 12:12
TOPIC STARTER
link to the article Jan 29, 2006

http://tinyurl.com/ayygv

BOOKS of mine have been translated from the English in which they are written into some 25 other languages, the majority of them European. Of the 25 I can read two or three moderately well. Of many of the rest I know not a word; I have to trust my translators to render fairly what I have written.


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Aurora Humarán  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 23:12
English to Spanish
+ ...
Food for thought... Jan 29, 2006

(From the article)

This leads to my final question: Is there a high road (a highway) to excellence in translation, and might that high road be provided by a theory of translation? Would mastery of the theory of translation make one a better translator? There is a legitimate branch of aesthetics called the theory of literature. But I doubt very much that there is or can be such a thing as a theory of translation - not one, at any rate - from which practitioners of translation will have much to learn.

Translation seems to me a craft in a way that cabinet-making is a craft. There is no substantial theory of cabinet-making, and no philosophy of cabinet-making except the ideal of being a good cabinet-maker, plus a handful of precepts relating to tools and to types of wood.

For the rest, what there is to be learned must be learned by observation and practice. The only book on cabinet-making I can imagine that might be of use to the practitioner would be a humble handbook.

[...]


Thanks for a GREAT article, Ale!


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A Hayes
Australia
Local time: 12:12
TOPIC STARTER
my pleasure - Jan 29, 2006

Aurora Humarán wrote: Thanks for a GREAT article, Ale!


I'm glad you enjoyed it


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Speaking in tongues (J.M. Coetzee on translation)

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