Page 80 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Babel); from the French (Moliere, Rolland); the German
(Brecht) and English (Shakespeare’s
K ing Lear
and
Ham let) .
His essay is based on a lecture he delivered to an audience in
Jerusalem in celebration of the 80th birthday of the eminent
philologist, Professor Naphtali H. Tur-Sinai.
At the very outset Shlonsky divulges his attitude; he refers
to translation as “the pangs of this art which bears strong re­
semblance to the art of an obstacle race.” He continues, “Of all
the art forms it is the most unfortunate. . . . The question re­
mains whether translation is possible at all.”
Shlonsky maintains that the answer can be affirmative only if
translation is employed as a crucible in which the original is
tempered not merely to extract its meaning but also the percep­
tion and the
in ten t
of its author. In order to achieve this desid­
eratum Shlonsky proposes a literary formula that is closely
akin to Martin Buber’s “I and Thou” formula as a religious
discipline. For Shlonsky it is “I and He” (He being the author
of the work that is being translated). He asserts, “I shall not be
able to render his meaning if I am not able to be He, can
I
possibly be
H e
? This factor seems to be the essence of transla­
tion.” He projects the same criterion in relation to the two
languages that are involved: “The ‘I ’ is manifold, both the ‘I ’
of the writer and the ‘I ’ of the instrument, which is language.
Can Hebrew be English, or for that matter anything other than
itself?”
In the final analysis, the crucial question is whether or not
the translator can succeed in abdicating his “I” and somehow
arrive at the equation: “I equals He.” The theater may be in­
voked to illustrate the indispensability of establishing such an
equation. In any given play, let us say Shakespeare’s
Macbeth,
the actor playing the principal role
is
Macbeth throughout the
play, and resumes his “I” only when the play is over. Two strik­
ing examples may be cited to demonstrate that even highly
competent translators sometimes fail to adhere to the equation
suggested by Avraham Shlonsky.
The English poet Alexander Pope worked twelve years in
translating Homer’s
I liad
and produced a truly majestic version
of the long poem. But when he showed it to Richard Bentley—
the same Bentley who discovered the long-lost Greek letter F,
digamma—he said to Alexander Pope, “A fine poem, Mr. Pope,