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


Gadjo Dilo said...

True, Mrs. B., linguists are anoraks; and those pretending to know sufficiently at least two different languages are like mediaeval priests, claiming to have divine knowledge that "we" cannot be allowed to share. I despise them. I despise myself. You never know what they're going to say next. You never know what's going on in their little hamster brains. Better to lock them all up in some Oxbridge college, tell them to find the Ursprache from which Basque, Welsh Romani and Plains Ojibwe are all derived, lock the doors, start the fire.

M C Ward said...

Congratulations to No Good Boyo for becoming a legal motorist. I'd advise doing an HGV licence in view of the upcoming economic downturn. A colleague of mine left TEFL to become a bus driver, and he hasn't looked back, except for a couple of bouts of mental illness.

Mrs Boyo - please excuse me for not commenting on your treatise until I have deciphered it thoroughly.

GD - your comments - a lot of arson about ;-)

Mrs Boyo said...

Quite, Mr Dilo. Eastern Europe is what happens when every little language has to have a country of its own. Romania and Ukraine are fine, but I fail to see any need for Moldova, Croatia or Ruthenia.

And please pass on my compliments to Mrs Dilo on her outfit. Oltenian, by any chance?

Mr Ward, I shall share my thoughts on Boyo's driving shortly.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Mr Ward: there's also a lot of arsin' about. I must add, this would also be an act of self-immolation on my part.

Mrs Boyo, errrr, I think it's her grandfather's old uniform from when he was a major in the Sheep's Cheese Inspection Special Patrol Force.

Congratulations on the driving Boyo! (I've been away.)

Mrs Boyo said...

Mr Dilo, your grandfather-in-law chose his career well. In the Carpathians there will always be sheep cheese that needs thorough inspection before being destroyed or sold to Moldovans.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Sheep's cheese is too good for 'em, they'd probably start trying to smoke it.