Friday, April 22, 2005


Logan's run, the perils of translation

Two quick notes. First: despite my jocular reference to William Logan in the previous post, he's one of the best and wittiest critics of contemporary poetry. Yes, he has a tendency to run roughshod over the stuff he despises. Reading him can be like watching an electronic bug zapper at work: no matter how much you loathe mosquitoes, you begin to feel a little sorry for them. But he's no less eloquent on behalf of the poets he loves, or likes, or reluctantly tolerates (including Geoffrey Hill, Seamus Heaney, Anthony Hecht, Gertrude Schnackenberg). If I start quoting, I won't be able to stop. Just grab yourself a copy of Desperate Measures, Reputations of the Tongue, or All the Rage. More fun than a demolition derby!

Next: I just took a look at an online forum devoted to translation (sponsored by Words without Borders as part of the PEN World Voices Festival). The moderator, Lawrence Venuti, is not only a distinguished translator but a heavy-hitting theoretician--and to some extent, the discussion is about the yawning gap between theory and practice. Venuti writes: "The previous generation of translators, those who began in the 1950s, all very accomplished, brilliant in their own ways, have not advanced the thinking about translation in the US or elsewhere because to varying degrees they have had an antipathy toward theoretical reflection." At this point I found myself furtively muttering one mea culpa after another. As a translator of the next generation, or maybe even the one after that, I'm fascinated by theoretical reflection but tend to park it at the curb once I'm actually faced with an Italian text. But I also recognize that the domesticating impulse--the itch to make a foreign text more accessible to American readers--is full of pitfalls. An intriguing conversation in any case.

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