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The Poetics of Translation

The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice

Willis Barnstone
Copyright Date: 1993
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 314
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  • Book Info
    The Poetics of Translation
    Book Description:

    In a lucid, pioneering volume, Willis Barnstone explores the history and theory of literary translation as an art form. Arguing that literary translation goes beyond the transfer of linguistic information, he emphasizes that imaginative originality resides as much in the translation as in the source text-a view that skews conventional ideas of artistic primacy.Barnstone begins by dealing with general issues of literalness, fidelity, and originality: with translation as metaphor, aesthetic transformation, and re-creation. He looks as well at translation as a traditionally stigmatized genre. Then he discusses the history of translation, using as his paradigm the most translated book in the world, the Bible, tracing it from its original Hebrew and Greek to Jerome's Latin and the English of Tyndale and the King James Version. Citing the way authors intentionally mistranslate for religious and political purposes, Barnstone provides fascinating insights into how, by altering names in the Gospels, the Virgin Mary and Jesus cease to be Jews, the Jews are turned into villains, and Christianity becomes an original rather than a mere translation. In the next section Barnstone analyzes translation theory, ranging from the second century B.C.Letter of Aristeasto Roman Jakobson's linguistic categories and Walter Benjamin's "Task of the Translator." The book ends with an aphoristic ABC of translating.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16078-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Part 1 Introduction and General Issues

    • 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-14)

      With the fall of Babel, God dispersed the word, gave us tongues and the solitude of difference, and also the impossible but pleasurable duty to repair our separation. After the destruction the deity implicitly challenged us to look up again and rebuild the tower of another Babel. The act of translation is the other Babel, that impossible tower. From its high observation circle, the eye glances back an instant, uncertain, through time’s distorting glass and then glares ahead, in a new distorting mirror, to see the ever-changing places where new Babels will temporarily be reconstructed.

      Some think the oral or...

    • 2 Problems and Parables
      (pp. 15-132)

      After rounding the stormy Peloponnisos, when your ship docks at the Greek port of Piraeus you will see a frenetic waterfront speckled with little vans, some pulled by smoky motorcycles, others by small truck motors, but each bearing a similar logo boldly scrawled on the side panels: μεταφορά. The sign means transportation.

      That Modern Greek word on the van,metafora, is equivalent to Latintranslatio, from the past participle oftransferre, and both words,metaforaandtranslatio, have the root meaning of “carrying across,” their way of saying “transportation.” Yettranslatioalso means “translation,” and gave us our English word....

  5. Part 2 History:: The Bible as Paradigm of Translation

    • 3 Prehistory of the Bible and Its Invisible Translations
      (pp. 135-152)

      The tower of Babel was built on the plain of Shinar by the early inhabitants of the earth in order to reach heaven.¹ But for uninvited mortals to enter heaven was a sin. God saw danger from this trespassing herd, for “this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (Gen. 11:6). Heaven, after all, was vulnerable to human invasion, for the tower was lofty and heaven low. So Yahweh punished the intruding sons of Noah and Shem, and dispersed their word. The monolingual people of...

    • 4 History of the Bible and Its Flagrant Translations
      (pp. 153-216)

      Biblein English is from Latinbiblia, meaning “little books,” taken over from Greekbiblia, “books,” the plural ofbiblion, frombyblos, an Egyptian loan word meaning “papyrus roll,” reflecting the holy scrolls (not of papyrus, however, but of smooth animal skin) on which the Hebrew text was first recorded as strings of consonants not yet divided into single words.

      The wordbibledescribes a large book containing sacred scriptures that diverse religions and sects hold to be their own. Although the world recognizes one special book of scriptures, called in English the Bible and an equivalent word in other...

  6. Part 3 Theory

    • 5 Before the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 219-225)

      The Greeks, from whom much of our literature and theory about translation derive, have given us no surviving words about it. Our only significant documents on translation in Greek are theLetter of Aristeasand another version of the same story (probably drawn from Aristeas) by Philo, the Jewish Neoplatonic philosopher. These documents describe, in practical terms, the divinely inspired translation of the Septuagint. Indicative of Greek translations, or rather of their absence, is the fact that in the great Greek libraries of antiquity the only translations we are aware of are late translations of Hebrew and Greek religious texts,...

    • 6 Signs of Our Time: A Semiotic Slant
      (pp. 226-262)

      A commonplace semiotic definition of translation, repeated in one form or another, calls it “the transfer of meaning from one set of language signs to another” (Lawendowski, “Semiotic Aspects” 264). If this activity takes place between literate human beings, it is intersocietal and can be confused with ordinary translation. Catford gives us a useful, though less elegant, linguistic definition: “an operation performed on languages: a process of substituting a text in one language for a text in another” (Linguistic Theory1). Jakobson states succinctly: it is “the interpretation of verbal signs by means of some other language” (“Linguistic Aspects” 232)....

  7. Part 4 Practice

    • An ABC of Translating Poetry
      (pp. 265-272)

      I include this primer on the translation of poetry with pleasure and diffidence, since I dislike dogma or prescription. Why not showpreferences, to use Jorge Luis Borges’ favorite word for choice, judgment, discrimination, and taste? The ABC itself allows me some escape from a charge of inconstancy in method in that it indicates that any method is justified provided it is openly named.

      A second reason for diffidence has been a reluctance in this book to emphasize thepracticeof translation—how, for example, to translate Greek or Spanish verse or verbs into English. For many good reasons the...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 273-278)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-291)
  10. Credits
    (pp. 292-292)
  11. Index
    (pp. 293-302)