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Hugo Friedrich On the Art of Translation
Hugo Friedrich On the Art of Translation Translated by Rainer Schulte and John Biguenet In a rather disturbing way, literary translations continue to be threatened by the boundaries that exist between languages. Thus, the art of translation will always have to cope with the reality of untranslatability from one language to another. Actually one could say that, in a poetic sense, the art of translation is affected by lan­guage boundaries in proportion to the shades of subtlety of the original and the demands translators place on themselves. Natu­rally, translators want to do justice to their own art by accommo­dating the literary demands on language of the original text. Trans­lators find themselves constantly restricted by those language boundaries and by the pressing necessity to remain, as closely as possible, faithful to the original text. Even though the scope of my subject is rather limited, I would like to outline the larger framework within which questions con­cerning the art of translation should be discussed: Is translation something that concerns the cultural interaction of an entire nation with another? Is translation just the reaction of one writer to an­other? Does translation resurrect and revitalize a forgotten work, or does it just keep a work alive to satisfy tradition? Does transla­tion distort the foreign in an old work under the pressure of spe­cific contemporary aesthetic views? Do translators pay close atten­tion to the differences inherent in languages or do they ignore them? Does the translation create levels of meaning that were not necessarily visible in the original text so that the translated text reaches a higher level of aesthetic existence? What is the relationship between translation and interpretation: when do the two meet and when does translation follow its own laws? These are some of the questions that fall within the larger context of literary transla­tion. In Europe, literary translation has been known since the age of \the Romans; translation shows how the literature and philosophy, of the Romans gaines strength from their Greek models. Ennius' attempts to transplant Greek texts into Latin were at that time still acts of submission that caused awkward lexical Graecisms to enter /into the translations. Later, however, translation from the Greek came to mean something else for the Romans: The appropriation of the original without any real concern for the stylistic and lin­guistic idiosyncracies of the original; translation meant transfor­mation in order to mold the foreign into the linguistic structures of one's own culture. Latin was not violated in any form, not even when the original text violated the structure of its own language by deviating from normally accepted conventions through the in­vention of neologisms, new word associations, and unusual stylis­tic and syntactical creations. The theoretical underpinning of this attitude can be found in the writings of Cicero, who, with respect to his own translation of Demosthenes, wrote: I translate the ideas, their forms, or as one might say, their shapes; however, I translate them into a language that is in tune with our conventions of usage (verbis ad nostrum consuetudinem apis). There­fore, I did nor have to make a word-for-word translation but rather a translation that reflects the general stylistic features (genus) and the meaning (vis) of the foreign words." [De Optimo genere oratorum] During the early Christian period, Saint Jerome adopted these sentences almost verbatim. On the occasion of his Latin translation of the Greek Septuagint, he formulated his views on the art of translation in a treatise (in the form of a letter addressed to Pam-machius) entitled De optimo genere interpretandi. Once again it is the target language, Latin, that dictates the rules. It "reproduces the peculiar features of a foreign language with those features of one's own language" (proprietates alterius linguae suis proprietatibus explicaret). A few lines later, we find the following statement by Saint Jerome, which sounds even in his words like a declaration of power by a Roman emperor: "The translator considers thought content a prisoner (quasi captivos sensus) which he transplants into his own language with the prerogative of a conqueror (iure victo-ris)." This is one of the most rigorous manifestations of Latin cul-tural and linguistic imperialism, which despises the foreign word as something alien but appropriates the foreign meaning in order to dominate it through the translator's own language. Furthermore, the Romans developed another concept con-cerning the theory and practice of translation that can easily be seen as an extension of the one mentioned above. Translation is seen as a contest with the original text (certamen atque aemulatio —Quin-tilian). The goal is to surpass the original and, in doing so, to con-sider the original as a source of inspiration for the creation of new expressions in one's own language—yet, never to the degree of exaggerated deviation from common usage that might occur in the original text. From this second type of translation - enrichment of language by surpassing the origin - logically follows a third approach. This approach is based on the premise that the purpose of translation is to go beyond the appropriation of content to a releasing of those linguistic and aesthetic energies that heretofore had existed only as pure possibility in one's own language and had never been materi-alized before. The beginning of this premise can be traced back to Quintilian and Pliny; it was to become the dominant characteristic of European translation theories of the Renaissance. Its most strik-ing hallmark is its effort to "enrich" (enrichir, arricchire, aumentar). Again, one does not move toward the original in this case. The original is brought over in order to reveal the latent stylistic possibilities in one's own language that are different from the original. Perhaps the most striking example of this way of thinking about translation theory is the rendering into French by Malherbe of the Lucilius letters of Seneca at the turn of the seventeenth cen­tury. Hardly anything remains of Seneca's stylistic features. His short unconnected sentences with their somewhat idealistic lacon-icisms are dissolved and transformed into a totally different style that until then had been unknown or little known in French liter­ature. Thus, we are confronted with the rather astounding phe- nomenon that, through a translation totally opposed to the spirit and the stylistic characteristics of Seneca's language, a new type of prose is introduced into modern French. Where Seneca writes short sentences that border on obscurity, where he juxtaposes his formulations almost like blocks of stone, Malherbe creates chains of sentences, conversational connections and interactions, logical sequences, and explanations of meaning. He ranks ideas according to their major and minor importance, and he repeats the same con­tent each time in a different form. The uncertain, often chaotic, yet always colorful richness of previous French prose characteristic of writers like Rabelais, Bonaventure des Periers, and Montaigne be­gins to disappear and the beauty, precision, and politeness of clas­sical French writing begins to emerge. This form of writing took root as the result of a translation in which the translator felt free not only to appropriate the content of the original texts but also to create a style in opposition to that in the source language. Thus a new style of writing emerged, of which La Bruyere was later to say that its well-balanced forms and transparency sufficed to lead to the natural creation of ideas.The above-outlined variations on the conception of translation as an act of "carrying over" support the theory that translation is an interaction between two literatures and their respective cultures in which the source language continuously appears in opposition to the target language. Nietzsche continued to affirm—or perhaps better said, Nietzsche once again affirmed—translation as an act of transformation when he wrote, in The Gay Science, "Indeed, at that time translation meant to conquer." Yet, in the meantime, beginning with the second half of the eighteenth century, a totally new type of translation and of trans-lation theory emerged that ran parallel to the increasing tolerance of cultural differences. This tolerance manifested itself as a sense of history, which meant the recognition that a diversity of European languages existed, that each one of these languages had its own laws, and that it was necessary to reduce the artistic, intellectual, or any other rivalry between languages and give equal standing to all languages. These insights are most particularly applicable to lexical, semantic, and syntactical incongruities between languages. This in­congruity generally surfaces most conspicuously in those moments when the creative forces of language begin to be employed. Indeed, the problem of untranslatability has always been present. An ex-ample taken at random is the comment made by Dante (Convivio) that, of necessity, the poetic glimmer of the original is lost in trans-lation. The theoreticians of the Renaissance were also familiar with this problem; they considered it a lesser problem, however, which could not be separated from the creative ambition of the translator and which at the same time did not interfere with the envisioned creation in one's own language. But it is only in the eighteenth century that the problem begins to be discussed in a systematic manner and placed in the larger context of historical and linguistic thinking: in France by Diderot and d'Alembert and in Germany by Schleiermacher and Wilhelm von Humboldt. The immediate reaction was a sense of resignation: there is no such thing as an adequate translation; at best, one can hope for some tentative approximation. Respect for the spirit of the original source-language text seemed to make all attempts at translation il-lusory. Yet this sense of resignation did not last very long. It was recognized that, despite the lexical and syntactical differences be-tween languages, an affinity existed among their internal structures. This affinity surfaces more conspicuously in literary translation than in simultaneous and consecutive translation or even in the erroneous equivalents of dictionaries. Thus, the respect for the for-eign was followed by the courage to move toward the foreign—yet obviously not with the argument of iure victoris. The affinity between the internal structures of languages in­deed makes it possible to adapt linguistic subtleties of the target language to its foreign original. This kind of adaptation happens in the area of style, whereby style must be understood, in the con­text of rhetoric, as the total art of language (elocutio), but even more as the heights and depths of language (genera). The attitude that the translator displays toward the individual stylistic characteristics of a work indicates whether the translator will yield to the original text or conquer it, whether he will stop at acknowledging the dif­ferences between languages or whether he will move toward a pos­sible rapprochement of styles between languages. The latter was established as the norm for the art of translation with the works of Schleiermacher and Humboldt: a movement to-ward the original, perhaps even a changing into the foreign for the sake of its foreignness. Schleiermacher expressed that idea in the following way: whenever an original text demonstrates great strength of style, it not only is nourished by the inherent possibilities of that language but also surpasses that language as "an act that can only be created and explained by the very nature of the original language." This theory of translation also acknowledges a difference between lan­guages. More importantly, however, it establishes a distinction be­tween language as reality (Gegebenheit) and language as act (Tat), that is, style. The latter has to be understood—in a totally nonclass-ical sense—as the disparity between the actual national language and the individual creation of language. Thus, the translator is en­joined "not to leave the reader in peace and to move the writer toward him, but to leave the writer in peace (i.e., untouched) and move the reader toward the writer." The translator should write in a language "that not only avoids common daily usage (just as the original source language avoids it) but gives the impression of lean­ing toward the foreign sensibility." In other words, all the power is generated by the original. This power becomes the creative impulse of the translation, which escapes from the daily usage of language in the same measure as the original has done. The creative stylistic power of the original has to become visible in the translation; it even has to regenerate itself as the creative force of style in the target language. Similarly, Humboldt claims that a stylistic trans­plantation of the source language into the target language must take place, and he points to the danger of underestimating the level of style. "Ambiguities of the original that are part of the essential character of a work have to be maintained. . . . One can't afford to change something that is elevated, exaggerated and unusual in the original to something light and easily accessible in the translation." The demands that Schleiermacher and Humboldt make can no longer be omitted from any subsequent theories of the art of trans­lation. Yet current practitioners of translation rarely follow these theories. This is especially true for translators who are themselves distinguished writers. Often writer-translators practice the oppo­site mistake: instead of maintaining the style of the original, they elevate it. And if we follow the premise that all power comes from the original, then we must also accept the notion that the stylistic features of the translation should conform to those of the original, even when the original text is written in an ordinary or lower-class style. Starting with the middle of the eighteenth century, Greek and Roman rhetorical devices became an integral part of the theory of translation, devices that classical antiquity had never applied to translation theories. This practice signals the apex of translation theories in the time after classical antiquity. Can one afford to ig­nore these theories? . . . [We omit the second part of the speech, in which Friedrich discusses Rainer Maria Rilke's translation of the fourth sonnet of Louise Labe into German.]
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