After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation
By George Steiner
I really enjoyed Steiner’s My Unwritten Books; he writes eloquently and eruditely about a dizzying array of topics. And I loved Hofstadter’s Le Ton Beau de Marot, which actually references this book by Steiner, which also is all about translation. I have a feeling this will be dense with academic and cultural references, and a somewhat challenging read…but it looks fascinating and well worth taking the time to decode.
It’s a seminal investigation of the “phenomenology and processes of translation both inside and between languages.” Upon its appearance in the mid ‘70s, the book “created a sensation, quickly establishing itself as both a controversial and seminal study of literary theory.”
The book is deep and insightful…going “through the history, theory and justification of translation” over the course of six sections. from the very roots of translation in speech, to the “seemingly counterintuitive diversity of languages” to a language’s sounds and expressive purpose, to the history of translation and its “triumphs and failures” and more. The final chapter, “Topologies of Culture”, sounds particularly intriguing.
It’s worth noting that Steiner is a crazy learned dude, and speaks several languages fluently — English, French, and German at a native level. So his ideas are rooted in both deep scholarship and personal experience, which seems like an ideal combination for writing a book about translation.
The included bibliography of “material which the student of translation will find of particular use” looks insanely thorough and useful; I’m always awed by these kinds of lists, in some ways so specific yet encompassing so much knowledge that I know I’ll never be able to absorb and comprehend. It’s a nice feeling — humbling yet inspiring!