9.281 vagueness, ambiguity, translation

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Fri, 10 Nov 1995 08:54:30 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 281.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: "Peter Graham, RUL" (8)
Subject: Re: 9.261 vagueness

[2] From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU> (46)
Subject: vagueness, ambiguity, translation

Date: Thu, 9 Nov 95 10:06:22 EST
From: "Peter Graham, RUL" <psgraham@gandalf.rutgers.edu>
Subject: Re: 9.261 vagueness

From: Peter Graham, Rutgers University Libraries
Simply a thank you to Willard, and to colleagues Diederiche and Pletcher, for
the introduction and continuation of a wonderful discussion. D & P I was
particularly glad to see (and D's mentioning of fuzzy set theory, very
apropos) as helpful responses at the opposite end of the spectrum from the
thumping meat-and-potatoes-no-kickshaws of Willard's correspondent. --pg

Peter Graham psgraham@gandalf.rutgers.edu Rutgers University Libraries
169 College Ave., New Brunswick, NJ 08903 (908)445-5908; fax (908)445-5888

Date: Fri, 10 Nov 1995 08:42:30 -0500
From: Willard McCarty <mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU>
Subject: vagueness, ambiguity, translation

Following are some remarks by a colleague who did not, for good reasons,
wish to be named in the contribution. She speaks below on the current topic
from the perspective of a translator. It seems to me, as I may have
remarked, that we have much to learn in computing language, esp. in marking
up texts, from translators. Their mixture of theoretical and practical
concerns are, I think, a good match for our own. From an issue of Bryn Mawr
Classical Review earlier this year I was alerted to William Barnstone's
<t>The Poetics of Translation</t>, whose primary value was to urge me on
into George Steiner's <t>After Babel</t>, and somewhere along the way I
briefly diverted into James J. Y. Liu's last book, <t>Language, Paradox,
Poetics: A Chinese Perspective</t>. Earlier it was <t>Languages of the
Unsayable: The Play of Negativity in Literature and Literary Theory</t>, ed.
Budick and Iser. From these, as from what follows, I gain the increasingly
urgent impression that the difficulties -- or, better, impossibilities -- we
encounter, say in marking up texts, are where the gold lies. In Humanist
9.278, Gary Shawver writes perceptively,

> Can we say that what we do truly differs all that much from
> such previous activities [as conventional editing]? More importantly,
> does e-text markup hide the indeterminacies of the text from the user
> more effectively [than] such activities? (Those of us doing markup are
> all too aware of such indetermanicies). I think not.

What's new here, in other words? Comments?

Here's the anonymously quoted contribution:

"Of course there is no such thing as a translation of poetry in the
way we really need it translated, replete with each implication the
orginal poet consciously or unconsciously injected. That's why I once
had the idea that we might want to acknowledge this and transcend the
media altogether, i.e., the best translation of book 22 of the Iliad
is the last movement of Mahler's Ninth symphony. Because what Homer
really had to say transcends the medium of words anyway (perhaps one
gigantic swearword?). Beyond that, I propose that once we progress
(?dubious in some ways) to more focus on disk-publishing, we can
"color in" on screen any terms within poetry that are laden with
implications etc. and then you can press a function key and derive
all the original implications and allusions in the original language,
which is far less repulsive than heavy annotation in print because
it's in color and you can delete it in an instant if it irks you....
Then we can make conclusions about what sort of words are allusive as
opposed to not (though that may be fairly obvious).

I realize this is a pseudo-pragmatic solution to an extremely
abstract issue and doesn't really address the issue the way it should
be addressed (I'll go back and reread Empson the next chance I get
also); however, maybe the answer does lurk more within comp tech than
anything else; we've had at least 3,000 years of translation that
have not succeeded in achieving this goal using more traditional
media. Unless you can prove otherwise...."