Steiner Chapter 4 The History of Translation

Breughel detail
The Tower of Babel, detail, Breughel

Steiner, Chapter 4

Claims of Theory Periods in translation

  • from classical times until 18th century – translation more a version in a new language and not a word for word translation but rather what is the gist of something and then re-express it in one’s own language. What are the assumptions behind such a theory of translation? Dryden, Horace, Cicero
  • Theoretical and hermeneutic inquiry—Translation set within the questions of theories of language and the mind—develops its own vocabulary and method. People writing about the hermeneutics of translation are also practitioners–Schleiermacher, Schlegel, Humboldt.
  • Machine translation – attempts to map relations between formal logic and models of linguistic transfer
  • We are still in the hermeneutic moment, because he claims of the discovery of Benjamin’s paper (1923) which appeals to a universal notion of language, revitalizing the arguments of the ChomskyistsWhat about the realm of World Literature?
  1. 251—Should there be any passage from one tongue to another? Religious and psychological doubts about this—Kabbalah, Kafka, can one utter the knowledge of God in a mortal tongue?

But ironically much of the need to translate has come from Christianity’s need to translate the Gospels. Language should not prevent you from salvation.

Translation also seen as the “intertraffick of the mind”—a language community wants to enrich itself from outside

  1. 262 Not everything can be translated. Theology and gnosis posit an upper limit—not everything can be translated now—there is no unwobbling pivot from which we can view the world and history

Registers of translation—common matter and recreative transfer from one literary philosophic or religious text to another

  1. Literal
  2. “faithful but autonomous restatement” (266)
  3. “imitation, recreation, variation, and interpretive parallel” (266)

Difference between Dolmetschen and Übersetzen

Dolmetschen- refers to interpretation using both literary and contextual views of a text to come up with a translation. Not just translating- interpreting.

Übersetzen- This refers to translation/translators. This focuses on finding word-to-word equivalencies.

Goethe’s three phases of translation

  1. 277  First order of translation acquaints the target culture with the foreign culture in the latter’s own terms. Imperceptible entry of the foreign into our domestic vocabulary—Luther and his stress on the everyday.

– This is done in the hopes that translated text will then translate into the foreigner’s lives.

  • Appropriation through the surrogate: native garb placed on foreign form – could this be a parody?

– This refers to new/translated ideas acting as replacements for old ones- one example being the teaching of Christianity to foreigners in terms of their own religious views.

  • Metamorphosis and entelechy will lead to a perfect identity between original and translation. The translator has to create a tertium datum.

-implies a full understanding of the meaning in a foreign text.

  • Jakobson—interlingual translation is a translation which is infinitely regresses/progressing
  • Transmutation is a recoding, a placing of one sign into another system—systems of signification- allows us to figure out the meaning of words in relation to things other than other words. Uses pictoral representations as a way of gaining more accuracy.
  • Can we theorize about translation? Can we produce models?
  1. 300 In significant measure, different languages are different, inherently creatively counter-proposals to the constraints, to the limiting universals of biological and ecological conditions. They are the instruments of storage and of transmission of legacies of experience and imaginative construction particular to a given community.”

– This addresses the idea that when removed from a native context, certain words are never the same. There are plenty of theories that attempt to reach a conclusion about which approach to translation is best, but if context is lost, meaning is damaged.