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This article is taken from PN Review 174, Volume 33 Number 4, March - April 2007.

Paths through the Labyrinth Nicolas Tredell

Translation attracts unflattering metaphors of transgression. The sixteenth-century Latinist Laurence Humphrey saw it as potential insurrection and murder which demanded every precaution to ensure that the meaning of the original 'should not be overthrown... and perish'; the seventeenth-century French translator Nicolas Perrot d'Ablancourt characterised it as beautiful but unfaithful (translations were 'les belles infidèles'); and the Italian phrase 'traduttore, traditore' figured it as betrayal. In the twentieth century, Pound turned it into lying and bad-mouthing with his substitution of 'traducer' for 'translator', a term taken up by Nabokov, who developed an especially rich repertoire of anti-translation abuse. In his poem on translating Pushkin, for example, first published in the New Yorker in 1955 and reprinted in his preface to his rendition of Eugene Onegin (1964; revised edition, 1975), translation plays Salome to the poet's John the Baptist, chatters and screeches with the tongues of primates and birds rather than men and angels, and profanes the dead. But, as the names of Pound and Nabokov indicate, the most vocal traducers of translation, the most vehement profaners of those, dead and alive, who have found paths for others to follow in the intricate post-Babel labyrinth, have been notable translators themselves: perhaps only the double or multiple agents, the shape-shifters who cross the interzones between languages, truly know the depths of their treachery, the full ambivalence of the gifts they bear.

The title of Daniel Weissbort and Astradur Eysteinsson's remarkable anthology, Translation ...


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