04 October 2010
Lost in Translation
I am in the middle of reading Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus", an armchair guide to New Testament textual criticism and the problems of translation. But in the recent 'Lord's Day' New York Times (aka yesterday's) comes a lovely Op-Ed piece by a flesh and blood living Pulitzer Prize winning writer, Michael Cunningham ("The Hours" and "By Nightfall"). Read this wonderful exerpt and pretend St. Michael is a candid and honest author of one of the 'sacred' books of the New Covenant writing about its writing and hopeful translation. Italics are mine. Mr. Cunningham's entire Times piece is a delight. Illustration left: Ji Lee/NYTimes
"Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire. "But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire. "It feels, in short, like a rather inept translation of a mythical great work. "The translator, then, is simply moving the book another step along the translation continuum. The translator is translating a translation."