Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Faulkner and Translation

Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

Faulkner and Translation

Article excerpt

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Every language offers its own reading of life.

- George Steiner, After Babel (498)

All of the essays in this special issue, Faulkner: Beyond the United States, deal with the complex subject of literary translation. Until very recently, the translator has been, if not entirely invisible, somewhat removed from the center of academic and intellectual discourse, the work of translation understood at best as a rather straightforward kind of labor and at worst as a form of betrayal. "Traduttore traditore" goes the famous riposte of the Italians in the face of the flourishing of French translations of Dante in the sixteenth century. That something is always "lost in translation" is a commonplace. But translation can also give back: as George Steiner has noted, "it can provide the original with a persistence and a geographical-cultural range of survival which it would otherwise lack," "it can make a general force of texts written in a local tongue," "it can illuminate, compelling the original into reluctant clarity," and it can "reveal the stature of a body of work which had been undervalued or ignored in its native guise: Faulkner," Steiner observes, "returned to American awareness after he had been translated and critically acclaimed in France" (416).

Translations of Faulkner appear very early. Hans Heiberg's Soldatens Sold (Soldiers' Pay) appeared in Norwegian in 1932, René-Noël Raimbault's and Henri Delgove's Sanctuaire in French in 1933, and Maurice-Edgar Coindreau's Tandis que j'agonise (As I Lay Dying) was published in 1934. Also in 1934, a Russian translation of "That Evening Sun" was published. In 1935, Franz Fein's Licht im August appeared in Germany. By 1961, according to James Meriwether, Faulkner had been translated into 29 languages; and Marie Liénard, in 1999, identified more than a dozen additional languages into which Faulkner's work has been translated. Faulkner himself shows some interest in the subject - he translated four poems by Paul Verlaine in 1920 for his university newspaper, The Mississippian. And, in Go Down, Moses, he gave Gavin Stevens one "serious vocation," which was "a twenty-two-year-old unfinished translation of the Old Testament back into classic Greek" (271).

Stevens's "serious vocation" has not been taken very seriously. Many have agreed with Cleanth Brooks that it "has no scholarly value" (94). Michael Grimwood observes that, at the time Faulkner wrote the words, Stevens's twenty-two years of working on his translation are "the approximate number" of Faulkner's years as a published author and suggests that Faulkner, like Stevens, may hope to "recapture the lost Word of some divine truth" (269). In "The Task of the Translator," Walter Benjamin - the most famous proponent of the idea of a lost "Word," a "pure" or "true" language - argues for the kinship of languages as "fragments of a greater language" (78), one in which "language and revelation are one without any tension" (82), and it may be that Stevens's project does take its spirit from such an idea, but, if so, for Grimwood, the project "is quixotic and doomed to failure": "Were [Stevens] to succeed in resurrecting the dead words of Scripture, even fewer people would be able to read them properly, in classic Greek, than have actually been able to read Faulkner's own, American Greek" (269). Yet, contemplated in the light of the idea of a "pure" language, "reading properly" - for Stevens, and to some extent for Faulkner - may be something quite different from what Grimwood has in mind; and one might justifiably complicate the conclusion that Stevens's project is "quixotic and doomed to failure" by reminding ourselves that the idea of a pursuit of an original perfection, always beyond reach, is not infrequent in Faulkner's corpus, nor entirely useless, however "doomed to failure" it might be. Failures, in Faulkner, can be splendid.

What is translation? Roman Jakobson defined it as "an interpretation of verbal signs by means of some other language" (139). …

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