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This article is taken from PN Review 20, Volume 7 Number 6, July - August 1981.

The Dialectic of Translation Michael Edwards

Once the question is asked, we acknowledge the importance of translation. As practice, its powers are great. It can initiate or give direction to a writer's work, as did Chaucer's version of the Romaunt of the Rose; and it can operate extensively in a writer's 'own' productions, even the very major ones, as it operates in the Canterbury Tales. If the writer is of Chaucer's magnitude, it can also determine a new phase in a national literature. It can establish and advance a language, as Luther's Bible, Voss's Homer, the Shakespeares of Wieland, Schlegel and Tieck, made and remade German. It can infuse and orient a whole civilization, as St Jerome's Vulgate in Medieval Europe, or the Authorized Version in post-Reformation England.

In the area that concerns us here, however, the question usually is not asked. We are aware of Pound's contentions, in 'How to Read', that in English literature after the Anglo-Saxon period 'every new exuberance, every new heave is stimulated by translation', and that 'some of the best books in English are translations'; and of his criticism that 'histories of English literature always slide over translation'. Yet we still fail to discuss translation as a matter of course within our discussion of literature, and to consider translators along with writers.

As theory, the importance of translation is recognized, by linguists for the study of language; but again, rarely by literary critics for the study of literature. We hesitate to allow that, as any ...


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