Thursday, October 26, 2006

Powdered Eggs and Omelettes

Yesterday I went to a lecture by Alistair Elliot, an English poet and translator. He had an interesting metaphor for translation. Mr. Elliot said that translating was like having powdered egg and trying to reconstitute it with water to make it resemble something like the original egg. Though it sounds poetic, I’m not sure that this is really such an apt metaphor, since it suggests that translations are always inferior to the originals. Powdered eggs, after all, can never be real eggs and they can never quite match the taste, the smell, or the consistency, no matter what you do to them. It’s true that a translation can never be the precise equivalent of the original, but I think most good translations deserve more than to be called powdered eggs. Translators take eggs and crack them open, then add a few ingredients in an attempt to make a good dish out of them. The dish recognizably includes eggs, but isn’t exactly eggs anymore. Maybe we can consider translations omelettes, rather than powdered eggs.

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