translation, not as autobiography but autography

It’s hard to choose, but this may be my favorite quote from Michael Hofmann’s translation essay “Sharp Biscuit,” found in his recent essay collection, Where Have You Been? Hofmann tackles translation theory like a true poet—instead of digging deeply into philosophical ideas of translation, he gives us image after image, metaphor after metaphor in an attempt to describe what he does when he translates. (There’s a beautiful image there of poetry translations with facing-page originals being like a spider’s captured, wrapped up prey (the translation) just waiting to be consumed by the awaiting spider (the original), which is connected to it by innumerable tiny threads.) And, like a poet, he endlessly fusses over the language, openly admitting that he probably makes it a little more Hofmannesque in the process. This quote speaks to just how much of Hofmann is in his translations. (The entire essay is available here.)

After this essay, I read the book’s opener, which is on the legendary correspondence of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. I think the takedown of Lowell one finds therein must be one of the gentlest and most subtle of the irascible Hofmann’s career. And it’s a beautiful essay. After those two, there are 28 more left. I already feel as though I’ve received an education.



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Are you sure, Scott? Hoffmann’s “takedowns” of Stefan Zweig and Richard Flanagan are among some of the most preposterous middle-aged throat-clearing I’ve ever read in the LRB. He seems incapable of relishing emotion or subtlety, both as a reader and as a writer. And I’m not buying the ostensibly poetic bona-fides of the freshman comp style sentiment you underlined. In other words, I’d love to see you defend the man in more detail, if at all possible. :)

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