Monday, 17 March 2008
Мысль изречённая есть ложь
No Good Boyo recently passed his driving test, and so I am reading legal biographies in preparation for his court appearance. The life and work of Sir Norman Birkett, the president of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, makes one look around Britain and ask “where have all the clever people gone?”
I was struck in particular by this passage from his diary of 29 July 1946, with reference to the Nuremberg court interpreters:
…translators are a race apart – touchy vain, unaccountable full of vagaries, puffed up with self-importance of the most explosive kind, inexpressibly egotistical, and, as a rule, violent opponents of soap and sunlight…
To this one might add “incompetent lechers, virtuosi of halitosis and inept propagandists of shopworn views”. The wretched hygiene, real and political, of the translator is a function of his irrelevance. Like religion, democracy and chocolate wrappers, he serves only to hinder progress towards one’s chosen goal.
As Adorno said:
Intentional language wants to mediate the absolute, and the absolute escapes language for every specific intention, leaves each one behind because each is limited. (1)
Translation merely magnifies the defect, as anyone who has attended an international conference for other than erotic diversion can attest.
I would propose a return to the pre-Romantic ideal of an educated person’s being master of the major cultural languages of his region. And here I stake no claims for my native Ukrainian – a language of use outside our fatherland only in conversing with minstrels and war criminals.
English, French and German would apply in our European case. One, for example, could speak in English while your interlocutor replied in French – each at his ease.
Those unable to learn these languages would hardly have opinions worth conveying to others, and the sums saved on the cabals of interpreters could be usefully spent on improving vocational education.
(1). Quasi una Fantasia, Essays on Modern Music (Translated by Rodney Livingstone), VERSO, London