Page 88 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 16

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
Hebrew into English is of a very different order. In the latter
case the process becomes more of a transmutation than a trans-
lation, in which such fixatives as exist can only be the elusive
qualities of the style and spirit of the original. Such elements
as vocabulary, idiom and sentence structure must be poured
wholesale into the crucible, melted down and then re-cast into
an entirely different mould.
In order to accomplish this far from easy task, the translator
must first steep himself thoroughly in the original. He must
attempt an intuitive identification with the purpose and methods
of the author, and with the style and spirit of his writing. Only
when the original has been utterly absorbed into his being can the
translator begin the process of squeezing his material into its
new form. But by then two important changes will have taken
the first case the difference in language structure will
have left its imprint on the form and content along the lines out-
lined above. And perhaps even more importantly, the material
will have passed through the prism of the translator’s own mind
and acquired an additional element in the process.
All translation is commentary to some extent. Just as an
original work of art is a product of the artist’s attitude to his
experience, so any translation of a literary work inevitably ac-
quires a new perspective and a fresh coloring from the translator’s
own mind. There is, in fact, a common element in the process
of original writing and in that of translation. The difference
lies in the fact that creativity in translation is limited to the field
of language, while the other ingredients, such as plot, drama,
characters, ideas, background and so on, are predetermined.
Nevertheless, what finally emerges is a new creation whose literary
value will depend almost as much upon the translator as upon
the author of the original.
The Real Test of a Translation
That a translation ought not to read like a translation is a
generally accepted criterion which, although correct as far as it
goes, is only part of the story—and even this criterion is all too
often woefully ignored. The real test of a translation of a literary
work lies in its capacity to evoke a mental and emotional reaction
which approximates that aroused by the original itself. The
verbal closeness of the translation is less important than the
atmosphere it creates. What really matters is the ability to re-
capture the essential spirit of the original.
On such criteria, the painstaking and deliberate attempt to
render each individual detail may well defeat the ultimate pur-
pose. Indeed, translations from Hebrew into English are fre-
quently marred by an over-conscious cleverness in the translation
of particular words or phrases, which interrupt the smoothness
of the flow. Far from heightening the overall effect, they serve