d) Bateson's "every schoolboy knows"
In his Mind and Nature, Gregory Bateson summarizes every
error of interpretation in a series of automatic and erroneous
¾ the bipartite, polyphonic 'scene'
¾ of the episode in Madame
Bovary where Emma is being seduced upstairs in the town hall by a mediocre
suitor while down below, during the local fair, the voice of the major
announces the prices awarded to the various heads of livestock, the essence
will never be captured.
- Science never proves anything
Translation in Translatology: given the recurrence of a term
in an author's work, it does not mean necessarily that the sign always
symbolizes the same concept (e.g. the adjective 'proud', usually portraying
'loftiness' in Shakespeare, also appears in parts of the Midsummer Night's
Dream when Bottom is on stage, and generally in every parody of the tragic
- The map is not the territory, and the name is not the thing named
Translation: in many canonical areas of Literature, an image
is forced into expressing the opposite to the meaning attributed by cultural
conventions (e.g. in Nietzsche, the much-repeated Will to Power is Wille
zurt Macht, the Will that aspires inextinguishably to Power, whilst
Superman is Ubermensch, "Overman", something that has no longer
anything to do with man).
- There is no objective experience
Translation: here we enter the realms of mysticism, the
ineffability of the translating process. A good example would be the tale by
Borges entitled Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote, which represents
the aleph, the essential beginning, for every translator. We shall
return to this soon.
- The processes of image formation are unconscious
Translation: give preference to the visual over the
conceptual. Without appreciating the dramatic effect
The division of the perceived universe into parts and whole is convenient
and may be necessary, but no necessity determines how it shall be done
This is a corollary to item 4.
Divergent sequences are unpredictable
Convergent sequences are predictable
Translation: the most important part of a novel is the part
that remains unwritten, but which the translator must be able to perceive,
running beneath the narrative. For example, who is Ishmael, the character who
introduces us to the story of Moby Dick, and what has brought him so low that
he needs to take ship with Captain Ahab ? Probably a murderer, running from
the law. If he is, then his inevitable attitude of ethical indifference to the
intensity of the unfolding tragedy takes on another significance. Rereading
Moby Dick, I'm convinced that he is just that'
"Nothing will come of nothing"
Here we are completely at home, because this is a quotation
from King Lear: beware of over-interpretations. The obsession that seeks to
make everything clear is the death of poetry. There are passages in the great
works of literature which can be 'difficult' even in the original language.
Why should they be any easier in the target language ? The translator must not
explain the text (more dogma I'm afraid'). If in doubt, stick to the voicings
and the punctuation of the original and stand your ground cheerfully with the
editor of the publishing house (e.g. with sentences expanded, all Nietzsche is
all Kafka, and with elliptic compression, the same is true in reverse. If
anyone happens to unearth an Italian translation of these two authors that
observes the original geometry of the sentence, please write and tell
Number is different from quantity
Quantity does not determine pattern
This is a corollary to item 7.
There are no monotone "values" in biology
Sometimes small is beautiful
Whereas reiteration and symmetry are so beloved of German
poetry, with its roots in the Volkeslied, they are insufferable to the
Neo-latins, champions of the variatio. In his Alto Rhapsody,
Brahms sets to music a fragment of Goethe taken from Harzreise Em
Winter, which begins with 'aber', 'but'. Listen to this disturbing
masterpiece, and discover what metaphysical depths are laid bare by that
'aber'. No further examples are necessary, but beware of that 'nice
style' they taught in school. How well Dostoievsky writes, in Italian
Logic is a poor model of cause and effect
Translation: unlike the reader, the literary translator reads
the book through before attempting any interpretation. Consequently, the
translation will tend to be coloured right from the start with the overall
image of the book formed in the translator's mind. In effect, the translator
hates chaos, but when approaching a narrative like Nerval's Aurelia
¾ a series of chinese boxes ¾ this is a prejudice that has catastrophic effects.
Causality does not work backward
Ah! A nice corollary to item 13. This could be a third
Language commonly stresses only one side of any interaction
The entire second part of the course will be dedicated to
"Stability" and "change" describe parts of our descriptions
Translation: who knows from what mountain Zarathustra comes
down when, at the beginning of the nietzschean 'poem', he decides to end his
exile. Certainly, not the mountain of the reader, neither that of the
translator. The scene in the mind's eye of the translator combines with that
envisaged by the author, providing a filter for the scene perceived ultimately
by the reader, and it is from this that aesthetic enjoyment of the work is
Undoubtedly, it is now time for us translatologists to come
down from the mountain of definitions and enter the arena of interpretation
techniques and intertextuality'