[Sentences ]Similar Incapacities | Harper's Magazine

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Similar Incapacities



Above you’ll see the prettiest of gatefold title pages of one of the most useful (out of print) books I know, The Craft and Context of Translation. As the fine print boasts, the book is a symposium on the subject, put together by William Arrowsmith and Roger Shattuck held in 1959, and put forth in 1961 by The University of Texas Press. Only 1500 copies of this lovely and useful book were printed, and it seems that a wise publisher would reprint this volume of essays by Shattuck, Arrowsmith, Kenneth Rexroth, Richard Howard and others.

The benefit of this gang approach to the subject is how it expands our idea of the discipline. Not only will a reader come upon translations one hadn’t heard of (it was in this book, twenty years ago, that I first came upon the sacred name “Christopher Logue”), but also problems one hadn’t realized one had. Denver Lindley’s essay, “The Editor’s Problem,” begins: “The whole subject of translation, for those who are professionally involved in it, is a potpourri of hesitation, exasperation, compromise, headache and occasional thrills and satisfactions. From the editorial side of the desk, these difficulties bear a different weight”—which weight Lindley goes on to measure.

Measuredness is the mood of the book, a series of discourses one reads for pleasure because of the fineness of the various writer’s styles. Richard Howard, for example contributes “A Professional Translator’s Trade Alphabet.” For the letter ‘I’, Howard gives us …

ISOLATION: See Other Translators.

… whereunder we find:

OTHER TRANSLATORS: I have never had the opportunity of discussing my work with other translators. As I suggest in Articles of Faith, I believe I am unable to read French writing in translation fairly, and I suspect other translators of similar incapacities where I am concerned. Even so, however, I am curious about my confreres. Though I know a number of scholars, many editors and even one or two reviewers who have done translations, I do not know any of the men and women of my profession. I often wonder about them—do they have as paranoiac a sense of me as I of them? What would we have to say to each other at a party, not to mention a panel?

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