Art, Language, and Translation

On p. 133, Gladman writes, “[H]ow can we tell that it is in the poem and not just in our reading of it?” I think that this ties together what the book is trying to tell us about art, language, and translation. Poetry is a form of art that works with language to convey a message – but it does so differently than prose. Its ultimate goals are not simplicity, directness, and comprehensibility, which are often the primary goals of prose. As a result, it causes its readers to be unsure of what the poem is really saying – the reader often cannot know for sure what the poem means. Similarly in art that does not use words, viewers or listeners can never be completely sure about the meaning. It seems to me that Gladman is telling us – in the book as a whole – that there is a similar effect at work with the translation of prose language. Translators and the readers-of-translation can never be sure that they are reading and understanding what the original writer intended. Then, the question becomes, What is the value of translation if not to directly translate meaning? Is it similar to art, which does not have a “practical” purpose in life but rather exists for its own sake? Translation seems to have a very practical role in the world, but this text might be telling us that it is not quite as practical as it seems.

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