✓✓ Read Receipts: The Task of the Translator

A photograph of a book entitled, Typewriter Art.

I recently did an interview with Winfried Heininger for Paper Journal, a native German speaker. Throughout our chat he kept apologising for his English, and I had to remind him that it ought to be me apologising–his English is better than my German. It took me years to understand that unless an interview is live on TV or Radio, people are rarely as articulate as they appear in words. The process of transcription, aided by glasses of lager, smooths out the errs and pauses. Fragments become whole, repetition becomes singular. But the result isn’t the reduction of language, instead the single piece of writing becomes the hands of many people, the interviewee and interviewer, the sub-editor, the editor. The entire process is one of translation, not simply from German to English, but from spoken to written, and draft to finished piece.

  • The question of whether a work is translatable has a dual meaning. Either: Will an adequate translator ever be found among the totality of its readers? Or, more pertinently: Does its nature lend itself to translation and, therefore, in view of the significance of the mode, call for it? The Task of the Translator (PDF) by Walter Benjamin. More often than not I end up reading something by Benjamin. This essay posits translation as an art form by itself, rather than simply the pairing of foreign words to make something understandable.
  • We might resign ourselves to this fact – the inescapable limits of what’s sayable – but in fact a great many minds have sought to construct a perfect language, one that carves reality at its joints Who needs a perfect language? It’s already perfectly imperfect. The idea of ‘pure language’ appears in Benjamin’s essay. Translation becomes the process of moving between languages and their difference, rather than the quality of simply expressing a single concept.
  • There is exactly one language on Earth whose present tense requires a special ending only in the third‑person singular. I’m writing in it. I talk, you talk, he/she talk-s – why just that?. English is not normal. This article is a little older, but it answers a number of questions, and in turn questions some basic principles, that many people hold of the English language—its unique flexibility, et cetera.
  • I used to work for an editor who would settle arguments by handing me a copy of H. W. Fowler’s ‘Dictionary of Modern English Usage,’ an office bible that — like the actual Bible — was often cited more than read. A Guide to Writing Guides. I don’t yet own a proper writing guide. I’m at odds as to whether they’re practical given the changeability of English, or whether they’re politically correct given they almost invariably cultivate and reinforce class distinctions.
  • I had to force my eyeballs over a lot of this. But, as a former editor myself, I readily concede its value, and not just for J-school students. Look, writing is hard. It’s like some vile, incurable disease. The Value and Virtue of Good Writing (Rule No. 7: Don’t Be a Bore). This review of Harold Evans’ Do I Make Myself Clear: Why writing well matters captures the problem with guides, they curtail rather than guide, they reduce language to dull formulae. There’s value in cutting cliches, but I wouldn’t always go as far as George Orwell’s rules in Politics and the English Language.
  • They trained to communicate the Christian message in what for the time was a revolutionary new style: borrowing techniques from the orators of classical antiquity and from contemporary preachers who gave sermons in colloquial languages rather than Latin, they appealed openly to the emotions of their hearers. Martin Luther’s Burning Questions in the New York Review of Books. With this year representing the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, it’s worth remembering that the power of this document came from the bootleg translations made by sympathetic students.
  • The CCBA team was careful not to delete any of the original Brandon programming, creating a duplicate version of the site that annotates all additions and ensures that broken or obsolete code would no longer be executed. The Guggenheim Just Restored Its First Web Artwork. Here’s How. on Artnet News. There’s a cliche that code is poetry. Code is poetry in the sense that most poetry is bad, and the good stuff is copied endlessly. The process behind conserving / rewriting / fixing and modifying this website is fascinating though.