Friday, May 23, 2008



In Mouse and Rat (see earlier post), Eco discusses foreignising versus domesticating translation:

Probably the most blatant example of a reader-oriented or domesticating translation is Luther's. For example, discussing the best way to translate Ex abundantia cordis os loquitur from Matthew 12:34, he remarks:

"If I followed those jackasses, they would probably set the letters before me and have me translate it, 'out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh'. Tell me, is that how any real person would speak? … What on earth is "'the abundance of the heart"'? … What the mother in her house and the common man would say is something like: 'speak straight from the heart!'"

[Luther's original German is here]

I'm completely with Luther on this one, although I'm not sure the sort of translation he's railing against can be described as anything so grand as foreignisation, implying as it does some additional step beyond translation. Rendering abundantia cordis as the abundance of the heart is doing something less not more than translating it. Since translation de-foreignises by definition, a more accurate euphemism for this kind of rendering would be incomplete deforeignisation.

Domestication can be taken too far of course. In the programme notes for the Covent Garden production of La Traviata earlier this year [featuring the sensational Anna Netrebko: a suitably gushing review is here], there is a fine article by Roberta Montemorra Marvin entitled "The Domestication of La Traviata" on how the opera was received in Victorian England. The play on which the libretto is based had been banned by the London censors on the ground that it "glorified harlotry and profaned the sanctity of death" but the opera escaped a similar fate among other reasons, it seems, because "the knowledge of Italian [was] not general".

La Traviata proved hugely popular with English audiences and sheet music arrangements of excerpts from the opera were brought out, many in English versions "expressly tailored to the sensibilities of respectable Victorian audiences and corresponding only minimally -when at all - to the meaning or sentiment of the words from the opera".
The primary messages or themes conveyed by the substitute poems were routinely of uplift, nostalgia, idealized love and the like, which made them notably similar to the lyrics of songs produced expressly for domestic consumption. The new poetry therefore cleverly masked the opera excerpts as friends rather than strangers to middle- and working-class consumers, thereby domesticating the foreign both literally - by being in English - and figuratively - by voicing familiar sentiments.
As illustrated by the following:
One of La Traviata's least 'proper' and most sexually suggestive numbers provides a clear example of how this phenomenon worked: the Act I Brindisi, Libiamo, nei lieti calici ... In a context of flirtation and illicit relationships, the Italian verses contemplated the intensification of passions associated with drink with Libiam ne' dolci fremiti che suscita l'amore and fra i calici più caldi baci avrà ('Let's drink to the sweet quivers that love excites' and 'among the cups warmer kisses we'll have') and the futility of life with Tutto è follia nel mondo ciò che non è piacer ('All in the world is folly that does not give pleasure'). This did not convey an appropriately decorous Victorian message, and exemplified some of the evils and temptations feared from the theatre in general and foreign opera in particular...
So a little domestication was felt to be in order:
Oh! tho' our way be dark,
With care and sadness,
Tho' sorrow cloud, awhile,
The fairest brow.
Soon, joy around us breaking,
Will shed a beam of gladness;
And Love from slumber waking,
A gentle radiance throw.
Oh! life's a varied path,
Where thorns and flow'rets grow.

Then, yield not to despair,
And banish sorrow;
Let hope within the breast,
Eternal glow.
The night, with tempests glooming,
May bring the brightest morrow,
And future bliss be blooming,
Tho' tears awhile may flow.
Oh! life's a varied path,
Where thorns and flow'rets grow.
Which doesn't really account for all the clinking of glasses of course.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008



According to Western media reports (e.g.), last Sunday's elections in Serbia were a contest between a pro-European alliance and the ultra-nationalist Radical Party.

Don't know about you but ultra-nationalist has a decidedly rabid ring to my delicate ear. Those with similar political views in Britain go by the rather more cerebral epithet Eurosceptic.

Patriotic is more salubrious still but, like God, seems to exist only in the US.

The substantive difference between these terms, as far as I can make out, is roughly that between astronaut and cosmonaut.

Which fits them nicely into Bertrand Russell's paradigm of irregular conjugation:

"I am a patriot, you are a Eurosceptic, he is an ultranationalist".

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