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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Deficiency Model of Translation

The deficiency model of translation holds that the translation will be inferior to the original. A good translation is one that preserves as much as possible, minimizing the losses, but the idea of "preservation" is itself part of this model. We could call it the "preservation / loss" model, maybe. According to this theory a good translation would preserve a good portion of the original, maybe 90%.

Suppose we judged film as translations of written texts, their scripts. So then a good movie would be one in which the brilliance of the screenplay was preserved, not lost. That would be silly, though people do judge a movie as "not faithful to the book." So the f*** what? Who cares? The movie is its own thing, so why does anyone care about fidelity to some novel of the same title?

A new car loses value the minute it is driven off the new car lot. So we might say a translation is automatically less valuable because it is a translation. Say it is a 20,000 dollar work of art; the translation can only be worth 18k even if brilliant.

So the model is that the original is a sacred text of some sort. Because this model only works if we invest the original with a magical, inalterable character. Borges claims that Roy Campbell's "When all my house was hushed" is better than the line from Saint John of the Cross (of which it is a translation): "estando ya mi casa sosegada." He also says that "ars longa, vita breve" is inferior to Chaucer's "The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne." In that word "so," he finds "the very music of wistfulness."

The corollary of this, though, is that we should hold translations to a higher, not a lower standard. A translation can be inferior, equal in value, or superior to the original. Given that, it is a perfectly valid critique to say that the translation doesn't match up. Not because it hasn't preserved some value in the original, but because, on its own terms, it isn't good enough. The same way a movie can be bad, not because it fails to measure up to the promise of a screenplay, but simply because it isn't good.

It is vile lie to say that a translation is "a good poem in English in its own right," when it's not. Logically, a bad poem cannot be a good translation of a good poem.

Now this assumes that what we are looking for is not the preservation of the pre-existing characteristics of the original, but rather the creation of a text that has equal value or excellence. So my translation might be an excellent poem, but in ways vastly different from the way in which the original was a good poem. In other words, 'when all my house was hushed" does not derive its value from San Juan, or from conserving something that was there in San Juan.

I believe Wyatt and Surrey translating Petrarch felt this way too.

I believe that way people think about translation is deeply fallacious.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Greek Lorca!

See this article.

I got two new Google scholar citations today, including this and an article on Billy Strayhorn.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Gelman has died. Here is a free version of a poem by him that I did a few years ago:


Anyone can get warm
wearing the hide of a wild boar

but to satisfy a real hunger
nothing like a mother's soup.

At the table nobody imposed conditions--
bread, sometimes beer, bright-red

tomatoes, oil, the salt
that makes forgetting easy to eat.

What a spoon for the rice!
How it sang against the bowl!

What am I supposed to do with this
appetite for what was and what wasn't?

At five in the morning
streets of poverty

and language slipping by,
the sun giving grammars of peace

to the plants in the courtyard,
glimmers that left too soon.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Comp Lit

Let's do a little old-fashioned comp lit to start the new year:

Nouveau venu, qui cherches Rome en Rome
Et rien de Rome en Rome n’aperçois,
Ces vieux palais, ces vieux arcs que tu vois,
Et ces vieux murs, c’est ce que Rome on nomme.

Vois quel orgueil, quelle ruine : et comme
Celle qui mit le monde sous ses lois,
Pour dompter tout, se dompta quelquefois,
Et devint proie au temps, qui tout consomme.

Rome de Rome est le seul monument,
Et Rome Rome a vaincu seulement.
Le Tibre seul, qui vers la mer s’enfuit,

Reste de Rome. Ô mondaine inconstance !
Ce qui est ferme, est par le temps détruit,
Et ce qui fuit, au temps fait résistance.


Buscas en Roma a Roma, ¡oh peregrino!,
y en Roma misma a Roma no la hallas:
cadáver son las que ostentó murallas,
y tumba de sí propio el Aventino.

Yace, donde reinaba el Palatino;
y limadas del tiempo las medallas,
más se muestran destrozo a las batallas
de las edades, que blasón latino.

Sólo el Tíber quedó, cuya corriente,
si ciudad la regó, ya sepoltura
la llora con funesto son doliente.

¡Oh Roma!, en tu grandeza, en tu hermosura
huyó lo que era firme, y solamente
lo fugitivo permanece y dura.