Judith Solossy


Reflections on the Possibility of Translation

Let's not
confuse the impossible with the improbable. If something has been thought once, it can be thought again, if it could be expressed once, it can be expressed again.

If we posit that a text cannot be properly translated, we are merely saying that it hasn't been translated yet to our satisfaction.

A translation is just one possible version of the original text. But then the original text is also just one possible version of the pre-original, pre-verbalized, intended text.

What makes a work of literature translatable? With the question we enter the realm of poetry.

What is a text? Intangible imagination given tangible shape in words. But the intangible carries more content than the tangible. It is thus this intangible that makes translation possible.

Any work, whether in the original language or in translation, is just a variation on a theme.

Every written work is just one possible form of the shapeless Work in the author's mind. From this it follows that any translation is also just one possible shape of the intended Work in the author's mind. This is why several translation of the same work can be equally satisfying.

The original work is not a Bible, not even its own Bible. It's seeing it printed and bound that makes us think so. This is one of the questionable heritages of the Guttenberg Gallaxy.

Translation is form. To find the most suitable form for a translation, we must work backwards to a state before the language of the original took shape, and build from there.

: Form is the embodiment of energy. A good book is the embodiment of many different kind of energies, some belonging to the author, others to the words that constitute the text, still others to the text itself.

Every well-written work is unique and authentic, and so is every translation of it, provided that it carries over the spontaneity and authenticity of the original.

How can we tell if a translation is good? If we change it, we ruin it.

A translation can be the exact equivalent of the original work only if we render it into its own language, being careful not to change anything in it - clearly an absurdity.

Reflections on the Nature of Language

Thoughts come before the words. Otherwise we couldn't form sentences.

Beware of letting language replace experience. Which is doubly true for the translator in action.

Language at its literary best is approximative and groping. A translation at its literary best is also approximative and groping.

Trying too hard to make sense makes for dull prose.

Words can create a conceptual space independent of meaning. This is the domain where they have most to communicate to those who are willing to listen.

In the act of translation, words may become too primary. This phenomenon is one of the major obstacles to a good translation.

The whole point of signs, particularly in human language, is to represent the world beyond signs.

Words are where language and concept meet.

A word often carries more content than its meaning. This is why, ad absurdum, they have none. What they have is function.

Once imaginative matter is given shape in words, these words become the carriers of immanent tendencies. So to make the implicit explicit in translation is to work against the text as a whole.

Translate the situation, the style, the character, the intent - translate anything but the words in isolation.

Reflections on the Art of Literary Translation

Words can create conceptual space independent of meaning. The translator must dare to take the leap into this conceptual space.

Words give shape to thoughts and feelings but are not to be confused with those thoughts and feelings. The expression of thought is thus limited by the word that gives it "a habitation and a shape". From this it follows that every work of art should be understood not only as something rendered, but also as a certain handling of the ineffable.

Words are merely the raw material of content.

There are interior rhythms that pulsate through the pages of the original work. These rhythms form part of the meaning of the text. Ignore them at your peril.

In the process of translation the original text reimagines and reinvents itself in another language. One of the main triumphs of the translator is not to stand in the way of this reinvention.

Any text worth its salt has a will, and knows what it wants. Thus, keeping an eye out for what the text wants will make the act of translation much simpler and smoother flowing.

I predicate an ideal Work that existed before words and which manifests itself in and through words. Thus, in the act of translation I try, with the help of the words I choose, to reconstruct the face or essence of this ideal Work in my own language.

: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Ergo, a text is more than the sum of the words that comprise it. Forget this at your peril.

At the heart of every work there lies a secret. The greatest challenge for the translator is to find it.

Unless we respond imaginatively, we deprive literature of its imaginative value.

The contents of consciousness are ineffable. Even the simplest sensation is, in its totality, indescribable. Therefore, every work of art needs to be understood not only as something rendered, but also as a certain handling of the ineffable.

As Susan Sontag warned, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. From this it follows that literary translation is not the communication of meaning. It also follows from this that the mark of a mediocre translation is the triumph of the intellect over the spirit.

A real translation is transparent; it does not hide the original, it does not deprive it of its light.

The translator must reach back to the state of language where word, image, and sound are one.

I propose to redefine content as not something carried by a work of art, but the sum of the stuff that comprise it. This is why I say that I never let words influence me.

Art reaches its highest, most perfect and ideal form when it cannot be explained or interpreted, when it defies explanation and simplification, when the question, what is it about, cannot be answered, because it is what it is. A translation, too, reaches this state of authenticity and fullness when it does not need to justify itself, because it is sufficient unto itself.

The mark of a weak translation is that it does not communicate anything but the communication itself. The other sure mark of a bad translation is the inaccurate rendering of inessential content.

The smallest unit of reference for the translation of the part is the whole.

You cannot account for the whole by establishing the relations among its smallest parts.

The knowledge we gain through art is the experience of the form or style of knowing something. The same holds true for literature in the original language as well as literature in translation.

In literature, there is no point in signs unless there is an extralinguistic reality to signify. If this extralinguistic reality is missing from the translation, we are left with little, very little indeed.