The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice

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In a lucid, pioneering volume, Willis Barnstone explores the history and theory of literary translation as an art form. Arguing that literary translation goes beyond the transfer of linguistic information, he emphasizes that imaginative originality resides as much in the translation as in the source text-a view that skews conventional ideas of artistic primacy. Barnstone begins by dealing with general issues of literalness, fidelity, and originality: with translation as metaphor, aesthetic transformation, and re-creation. He looks as well at translation as a traditionally stigmatized genre. Then he discusses the history of translation, using as his paradigm the most translated book in the world, the Bible, tracing it from its original Hebrew and Greek to Jerome's Latin and the English of Tyndale and the King James Version. Citing the way authors intentionally mistranslate for religious and political purposes, Barnstone provides fascinating insights into how, by altering names in the Gospels, the Virgin Mary and Jesus cease to be Jews, the Jews are turned into villains, and Christianity becomes an original rather than a mere translation. In the next section Barnstone analyzes translation theory, ranging from the second century B.C. Letter of Aristeas to Roman Jakobson's linguistic categories and Walter Benjamin's Task of the Translator. The book ends with an aphoristic ABC of translating.