The Oresteia

By Aeschylus; Alan Shapiro et al. | Go to book overview

ON THE TRANSLATION

In The Journal of Cardan, a meditation on (among other things) the inescapable role of impersonal conventions in the expression of personal experience, J. V. Cunningham makes several comments that illuminate for me the experience of translating the Oresteia. In a long passage about the tension in any good work of art between convention, or norms of expectation, and subjective experience, he says, “To be successful in this [artistic] enterprise is to integrate the subjectively primary, the immediate, with the objectively communicable, the mediate, to the alteration of both by their conformation to each other.” There's more than one way to apply these remarks to the act of translation. The translator could be thought of as the subjectively primary, the irreducibly unique, the immediate, and the text as the objectively communicable. By passing, so to speak, the original text through his or her very nervous system, the translator is “objectifying” his or her subjectivity even as the text itself, the objective, is colored and modified by the translator's own irreducibly unique relation to it. In a way the text is translating the translator at the same time as the translator is translating the text.

We can also think of the text in its original language as the irreducibly unique or primary, as that which is, by definition, sealed off and isolated, at least to most readers who cannot speak or read that language, just as the new language into which the text is being translated can be thought of as the objectively communicable, the mediate, as that which makes the original accessible to readers.

What is useful in adapting Cunningham's remarks to the act of translation is the recognition of a reciprocal metamorphosis between translator and text, old and new language. In the ideal translation both are transformed by their relation to each other: the strangeness of the original is made familiar enough to be available in a new language, and

-39-

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The Oresteia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Aechylus the Oresteia *
  • Editors' Foreword v
  • Contents *
  • The Oresteia *
  • Introduction 3
  • On the Translation 39
  • Agamemnon 43
  • Libation Bearers 105
  • Eumenides 147
  • Notes on the Text 189
  • Glossary 269
  • Selected Bibliography 281
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