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Thursday, April 20, 2017


If everything is a matter of debate, then we are essentially nowhere. We cannot even think, because we have to question every possible assertion and thus cannot make any progress.  In translation, nothing seems uncontroversial. My own views sometimes seem eccentric to me, simply because they are out of step with prevailing practices.  Yet I believe, on some level, that they should be beyond controversy.

My view is that a poet has certain stylistic features that are not open to controversy. For example, we could say that enjambment is frequent in a poet, and back it up empirically. We could say that certain poets are more concise, condensed, than others. Certain things stick out, the kind of things that would be in a parody for example.  Everyone should be able to agree on certain things.  It could be that our views are not accurate, but they are open to correction at least.

Secondly, I think that the stylistic signature should be in the translation as well. In other words, you wouldn't use end-stopped lines to translate mostly enjambed ones. Concision and concreteness should lead to concision, so that when Bly translates palabra (word) as human language, we should say he is wrong, uncontroversially.  A baroque poet demands baroque translation, a Hemingway style should be a Hemingway style in whatever language.

I know these matters actually are controversial, because translators do not do what I say they should.

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