Lost and Found in Translation: Contemporary Ethnic American Writing and the Politics of Language Diversity

By Martha J. Cutter | Go to book overview

3
Translation as Revelation
The Task of the Translator in the Fiction
of N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko,
Susan Power, and Sherman Alexie

Translation keeps putting the hallowed growth of languages
to the test: How far removed is their hidden meaning from
revelation? — Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator”

“ABEL WALKED INTO the canyon. His return to the town had been a failure, for all his looking forward. He had tried in the days that followed to speak to his grandfather, but he could not say the things he wanted; he had tried to pray, to sing, to enter into the old rhythm of the tongue, but he was no longer attuned to it. And yet it was there still, like memory” (58). In this early passage from N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn (1968), Abel, a young Jemez Pueblo man, struggles to connect to his culture and identity through recovery of his native tongue. This language would allow him to pray and would show “him whole to himself” (58). Yet for the majority of the novel Abel fails to translate his English thoughts back into his native tongue. The language is there, but he cannot reach it.

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