Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Susan Sontag: who would I be without Dostoyevsky?

The very first time I raised to myself the problem of a poor translation was when I started going to the opera, in Chicago, when I was sixteen. There I held in my hands for the first time an en face translation – the original language on the left (by this time I had some French and Italian) and the English on the right – and I was stunned and mystified by the blatant inaccuracy of the translations. (It was to be many years before I understood why the words in a libretto cannot be translated literally.) Opera excepted, I never asked myself, in those early years of reading literature in translation, about what I was missing. It was as if I felt it were my job, as a passionate reader, to see through the faults or limitations of a translation – as one sees through (or looks past) the scratches on a bad print of a beloved old film one is seeing once again. Translations were a gift, for which I would always be grateful. What – rather, who – would I be without Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy and Chekhov?

from The World as India (London 2002)
St Jerome lecture on the nature of translation

The nature of translation was a central subject of interest for Susan Sontag, both in the narrow sense of interpreting a text in the one language into a different language and in the wider, philosophical sense of how reality is interpreted in a work of art.

The Russian version of this post is here, the lecture in full (highly recommend to all professional translators!) is here

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