In Defense of Indefensible Remarks

David Bellow on why he began to write Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

I never planned to write “the book of the course”—I was fully occupied with a biography of Romain Gary. But when in June 2009 a plump, pink-faced person offhandedly remarked at some academic party that “a translation is obviously no substitute for the original”, I pedaled straight home, sat down at my desk and dashed off a squib against that thoughtless cliché.

It struck me that other translation clichés deserved similar treatment. I sketched out short essays against “making it sound like the original”, “traitor, translator”, and “_les belles infidèles_”. It was good to get them off my chest.



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David Bellos, with an s. Channeling a little Saul there.

I feel like I’ve seen a lot of books and articles about translation recently, this one, the cahier from Sylph about translating Bellow, Lydia Davis’s essay in the Paris Review, and the articles about the rush to translate Transtomer. Great to see it becoming a more public art.

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