By George Steiner
In his vintage paintings, literary critic and student George Steiner tackles what he considers the Babel “problem”: Why, over the process heritage, have people constructed hundreds of thousands of other languages while the social, fabric, and fiscal benefits of a unmarried tongue are visible? Steiner argues that various cultures’ wishes for privateness and exclusivity ended in each one constructing its personal language. Translation, he believes, is on the very middle of human verbal exchange, and therefore on the middle of human nature. From our daily notion of the realm round us, to creativity and the uninhibited mind's eye, to the usually inexplicable poignancy of poetry, we're continuously translating—even from our local language.
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Additional resources for After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation
Neither italicized nor footnoted, words such as “tía” and “indiecita” are local. They are not foreign. 126 Díaz’s use of Spanish and English together is very diﬃcult to render in new languages, and indeed the text would prove diﬃcult, too, for readers of the original who are not acquainted with Spanish—or who can’t recognize Spanish at all. Díaz creates a distinction between those who can read the language—those who are in on the multilingual joke about Pura, for example, which in Dominican pronunciation sounds like puta, meaning whore—and those who are not.
Where is a park bench? Where is a lawn? What language do their denizens speak? Bolaño turns the global novel on its head by replacing the principle of expansion (a larger whole) with the principle of extraction (unclassiﬁable parts). This is one of the ways that his work, for all its attention to Mexico City, appears to resist the idea of a unique regional audience. In addition, Savage Detectives involves for several hundred pages what appear to be interview transcripts, whose ﬁrst audience, the person asking the questions, is not represented.
118 These words may have circulated, as all words have, but they do not register the trace of that circulation. Untranslatable words, on the other hand, are those for which translation is interminable. They express not the refusal of translation but the persistence of it. These words are translated from the start; they ﬁnd ways to dramatize that history; and they carry that history into the future, requiring readers to engage in translation rather than to imagine that the work, as if from a later vantage, has been translated.