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This report is taken from PN Review 92, Volume 19 Number 6, July - August 1993.

'The Translator as an Intermediary Between two Cultures' Michael Hamburger
This talk was given in Amsterdam in March 1993 for the Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature.

Comforting though it could be for a translator to think of himself as a sort of ambassador or cultural attaché in the affairs of this world, I must begin bydistancing myself from the advertised title, which I did not choose. For me, both the operative terms in it - 'intermediary' and 'cultures' - open a wasp's nest of reservations and doubts.

The very notion of a national culture is a relatively recent one, going back only to the late 18th century; and it is a mainly German notion, accepted - with qualifications - only a hundred years later in other countries, such as Britain. Even then the British notion of culture remained quite different from the German one. That is why in Britain there has never been such a thing as Kulturpolitik. What Britain exported or imposed on other peoples was a way of life, not a body of products or values vested in works of art or philosophy and including literature. One reason for that is that there has never been a consensus in Britain as to what might constitute a single culture representative of the nation as a whole. One is much more aware of a great diversity of cultures, beginning with the religious and sectarian differences and extending to regional differences - which are even ethnic differences, amongst other things - and class differences. ...

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