Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Wednesday September 15, 2004

Filed under: General — m759 @ 2:56 PM

On Translation

From Illuminations, by Walter Benjamin, translated by Harry Zohn:

“If there is such a thing as a language of truth, the tensionless and even silent depository of the ultimate truth which all thought strives for, then this language of truth is– the true language.  And this very language, whose divination and description is the only perfection a philosopher can hope for, is concealed in concentrated fashion in translations.  There is no muse of philosophy, nor is there one of translation.  But despite the claims of sentimental artists, these two are not banausic.  For there is a philosophical genius that is characterized by a yearning for that language which manifests itself in translations: ‘Les langues imparfaites en cela que plusieurs, manque la suprême: penser étant écrire sans accessoires, ni chuchotement mais tacite encore l’immortelle parole, la diversité, sur terre, des idiomes empêche personne de proférer les mots qui, sinon se trouveraient, par une frappe unique, elle-même matériellement la vérité.’*  If what Mallarmé evokes here is fully fathomable to a philosopher, translation, with its rudiments of such a language, is midway between poetry and doctrine.  Its products are less sharply defined, but it leaves no less of a mark on history.”

* “The imperfection of languages consists in their plurality, the supreme one is lacking: thinking is writing without accessories or even whispering, the immortal word still remains silent; the diversity of idioms on earth prevents everybody from uttering the words which otherwise, at one single stroke, would materialize as truth.’

Stéphane Mallarmé / Crise de vers

(The Benjamin is from a copy of Illuminations I purchased exactly 12 years ago, on Sept. 15, 1992.)

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