Translation Matters (Jost Zetzsche)

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Translation Matters (Jost Zetzsche)


Palimpsests. I've loved the word and the concept since a friend from New York visited my family during our one-year hiatus in Berlin and described the city as a palimpsest with layer upon layer of history. Ever since I've looked at Berlin differently, and I've also followed stories that deal with true palimpsests, pieces of parchments where one or several layers of inscription were scraped away to make room for new writing. With modern techniques, the earlier layers can often be uncovered to provide fascinating insights, as discussed in this recent article in The Atlantic.

I love this concept of re-finding texts that earlier generations deemed irrelevant but later generations find more important. This brings up something that — ironically — we also struggle with today. As translators and writers we create a plethora of content, but the lifespan can be of such short duration. And while it's true that not everything we produce has to be preserved, it's typically not our decision how long it will be available and whether there is any kind of expiration date associated with it.

When I worked on my PhD thesis on the history of Chinese Bible translation 25 years ago, I spent a lot of time in dusty archives, re-reading letters that were written 150 and 200 years ago, and I knew that my eyes were often only the second set to ever read that letter after its original reading. Those letters were rarely deemed important or publishable — but fortunately they were archived. I remember gasping in horror in a large archive in Cambridge when I was told that the correspondence of the timespan I was interested in had originally been archived, but later in a time of shortage had been re-purposed as meat-packing paper by a local butcher.

I'm afraid we're in the midst of those times again, caused not by a palpable need for paper to wrap meat in, but by carelessness and, even worse, disregard. Once a year or so I spend a couple of hours to update my list of publications, and most of the time is spent finding out that links to articles have simply disappeared along with their content. Some of it can be chased down with archival internet tools, but much has turned to vapor — if even that.

Some might point out that in this age of self-published books, blogs, and social media posts, the easy-go is just the trade-off for the easy-come. And while there is some truth to that, it's just as true that we need to be more gentle and appreciative of and with each other as we honor the products we work hard to bring forth. (Their quality is an entirely different matter, of course.)

It's in that spirit that this volume has been assembled. Whether the articles, thoughts, and snippets on the following pages are good enough for yet another gasp of public air is not for me to judge, though I was the one who rescued them from oblivion. Why?

First, there are exactly as many essays as there are chapters in the Chinese Daoist classic Daodejing — 81 — in honor of my teacher to whom this book is dedicated, whose much-talked-of goal was to publish a book with just as many poems.

Also, while much of the content deals with technology in some way or other, for the most part I chose articles that don't deal with specific features of specific tools, which likely would no longer reflect the current situation and would therefore be worthless.

Mostly, however, I simply chose essays that made me smile when I wrote them or that may hold some relevance beyond just myself and the specific point in time when it originated.

The majority of content deals with several overarching themes that have crystallized from my writings over the years. These prevailing themes deal less with translation technology per se and more with how translation technology empowers translators, with the effect it has on our self-perception, and with how technology is possibly the most important area in which we can determine and steer our immediate and long-term future.

A handful of articles also deal with translation from an entirely different perspective, Bible translation, which was the focus of my academic work of long ago and a theme that I've revived again recently in a non-academic manner. I think it's a fitting inclusion considering the enormous impact religious translation, and in particular Bible translation, has had on the development of our profession (not least symbolized by St. Jerome, the 4th-century Bible translator and patron saint of translators).

Much of what you'll find in this book is personal, much to the annoyance of my children and the long-suffering chagrin of my wife (and editor), without whom there would be no writing to be published or re-published. (I wrote elsewhere that without her I would have no voice, which is true in more than one way.) I can't help but express myself personally, for that's the only framework from which I can grasp anything of relevance. 
« Last Edit: 16 Feb, 2018, 22:58:12 by spiros »


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