May 29 2006

Translation as Performance

Published by at May 29, 2006 7:15 am under Translation

n 1970, the American PEN had promulgated a manifesto on translation with a nine-point programme and a Bill of Rights. This manifesto not only recognizes the act of translation as essential to the future of mankind, but also laments the lack of recognition of the crucial role of translators in human affairs. The manifesto says:

Who knows the names of translators? Who cares? Yet the names deserve to be known and it is necessary that we should care about them. It is absurd that they should be relegated to their own private no-man’s land, with no court of appeal and without recourse to the usual benefits reserved for authors. They are the proletarians of literature with nothing to lose but their chains.

The manifesto, in effect, pleads for professionalisation and institutionalisation of translation as a serious academic activity, and asserts, what Goethe seems to have remarked, that “Translation remains one of the most important, worthwhile concerns in the totality of world affairs.” The significance of this assertion is of course quite obvious. Much of what we have learnt about Greek, Latin and other literatures have been through translations. Today, the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Buddhist scriptures have been held in high esteem all over the world because they are accessible to the non-native readers through translations into English and European languages. Imagine the state of Christianity today if the onerous task of translating the Bible into English by the collaborative endeavour of fifty-six learned men had not taken place about three centuries ago!

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