Thursday, May 16, 2013

The book "After Babel" by George Steiner - excerpts

From the wonderful book "After Babel" by George Steiner, 1992 on page 97:

Seeing a dripping spring, an Apache will describe it as 'whiteness moving downward'.

Page 137:

It is commonplace to insist that much of the distinctive Western apprehension of time as linear sequence and vectorial motion is set out in and organized by the Indo-European verb system. That system with, as Émile Beneviste emphasizes, its referral only to the subject and not to the object, and its supple classifications of conditions of state, makes up the locale, the 'time-space' of our cultural identity.

Page 165:

It has long been established that the Indo-European frameworkof of threefold temporality - past, present, future - has no counterpart in Semitic conventions of tense. The Hebrew verb views action as incomplete or perfected. Even archaic Greek has definite and subtly discriminatory verb forms with which to express the linear flow of time from past to future. No such modes developed in Hebrew. In Indo-European tongues 'the future is preponderantly thought to lie before us, while in Hebrew future events are always expressed as coming after us'.

Page 166:

I would want to argue strongly that man alone has developed a grammar of futurity. Primates use rudimentary tools but, so far as has been observed, they do not store tools for future usage.

There is experimental evidence, derived from the measurement of fossil fuels, that Neanderthal man, like the newborn child, did not have a vocal apparatus capable of emitting complex speech sounds.

Talleyrand's maxim: 'La parole a été donneé à l'homme pour déguiser sa pensée'.


According to Nietzsche in his paper 'Über Wahrheit und Lüge im aussermoralischen Sinne': 'A comparison between different languages shows that the point about words is never their truth or adequacy: for otherwise there would not be so many languages.'


A poem is maximal speech. 'Au contraire d'une fonction de numéraire facile et représentatif comme le traite d'abord la foule,' writes Mallarmé in the preface to René Ghil, 'le dire, avant tout rëve et chant, retrouve chez le poete, par nécessité constitutive d'un art consacré aux fictions, sa virtualité.' (a Saying - un Dire)


He talks about Cicero's famous precept not to translate verbum pro verbo, in his Libellus de optimo genere oratorum of 46 B.C. and Horace's reiteration of this formula in the Ars poetica some twenty years later.

The adage, familiar to Novalis and Humboldt, that all communication is translation, took on a more technical, philosophically grounded force in the twentieth century.

...Giordano Bruno's assertion, reported by Florio, that 'from translation all Science had its offspring'....

Goethe wrote to Carlyle in July 1827: 'Say what one will of the inadequacy of translation, it remains one of the most important and valuable concerns in the whole of world affairs.'

The true road for the translator lies neither through metaphrase nor imitation. It is that of paraphrase 'or translation with latitude, where the author is kept in view by the translator, so as never to be lost, but his words are not so strictly followed as his sense, and that too is admitted to be amplified, but not altered'.

Translation is the perpetual, inescapable condition of signification.

”Silence is not the contrary of the Word but its guardian.”
George Steiner
The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H.

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