Monday, November 28, 2011

McCrum on the surge

The dream of a true universal language is in the end dependent on perfect translation. Aside from the lessons of Babel, the history of the Bible istelf [sic] offers other cautionary tales, particularly this year – the 400th anniversary of that great cathedral of language, the King James Bible. The anniversary has proved to be both a cause for celebration and for reflection on whether there can ever be an ideal or final version of such a work. Isn't every new rendering bound to reflect the social and cultural context in which its translator works?
-- Emphasis added. To answer his question -- well, yes; though for "bound to" read "privileged to", with all the implications thereof. This quote is taken from Robert McCrum's essay reflecting on the "worldwide upsurge in demand for English versions of foreign bestsellers" in The Guardian. The word "surge" in my ear has a distinctly liquid register, as in the . Maybe this is a proscriptive metaphor, since I'd much rather see the flow of literature be cyclical -- as in the hydrological cycle, where the medium (here, letters) is by rounds gathered and distributed, homogenized and partitioned, made liquid and made vapor -- rather than linear, with texts flowing only ever down from their sources (in the different mountains of various homelands) into the ocean, sinking, until the source peters out. Pardon the flight of fancy; this contributor was reading The Agony and the Ecstasy all this holiday weekend, and he is now sodden with sentimentality.

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