I couldn’t help but be reminded, midway through the reading, of David Hume, who effectively argues against the validity of inductive logic. That is to say, he is able to make the claim that all ‘proven’ science is, in fact, not really proven at all. Just because something happened the same way the first ten times it is done, does not actually prove that it will perform the same way on the eleventh repetition. The first time I read the paper my mind was quite blown: it was a revelation to understand such a truth. And yet… science, the proving of facts through trial and observation, has moved right along and proven itself invaluable to humanity.
Steiner lists a number of different authors, translators, theorists and philosophers who have a rainbow of opinions on how relatively ‘possible’ translation actually is. A number of perfectly valid arguments against true translation as an achievable possibility are made very early in (western) human history and have never been disproved. Indeed, as Steiner highlights, a number of philosophers have even gone so far to disprove the validity of human communication all together – Socrates famously though the written word was the end of real thinking.
Yet, here we are, thousands of year later, reading and writing yet. The importance of the written word to human culture cannot possibly be overstated, and the value of translation has exponentially grown with it. Would modern society be richer without Homer? Would the English speaking world really be better off if nobody bothered to translate Kant, Goethe and all the rest because they just couldn’t capture the whole of it? Of course not. At some point the debate over a field’s legitimacy after it’s already proven its utility seems to devolve into a dog chasing its own tail. What does Steiner’s discourse really argue, besides that he’s a very clever man?