Form and Content (Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series)
After Babel is a long meditation on language, translation, communication, and cultural artifacts; each chapter presents an argument based on a particular combination of these subjects. Surprisingly, the book opens not with a critique of literary translation but with close readings of four passages from English literature. In William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Noel Coward, George Steiner has chosen four authors whose idioms (in the root meaning of that word) seem as far apart from one another as possible, both historically and temperamentally. Yet Steiner manages to show that Coward’s trivially colloquial English is ultimately as irrecoverable, as untranslatable into any other idiom, as Shakespeare’s poetic Elizabethan. Thus, Steiner has let fly his first arrow for what he will later call the “monadist” view of language. The opposition between this view and the “universalist” position is really the structure supporting the 507 pages of After Babel. Indeed, it is a somewhat monadist statement which summarizes this first chapter: “Inside or between languages, human communication equals translation.” This will be the first of a number of challenges to more conventional theories of translation.
Chapter 2, “Language and Gnosis,” is essentially a discussion of opposing linguistic theories. The word “gnosis” refers to a revelation of divine mysteries reserved for an elite. Steiner’s question...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series)
Boyers, Robert. “Language Theory and the Promise of Translation,” in The American Poetry Review. V (November/December, 1976), pp. 30-33.
Burke, Kenneth. “Above the Over-Towering Babble,” in Michigan Quarterly Review. XV (1976), pp. 88-102.
Kahn, Sholom J. “On George Steiner and Translating Racine,” in West Coast Review. XII, no. 1 (1977), pp. 33-42.
Miner, Earl. “On the Desirability of Publishing Translations,” in Scholarly Publishing. XI, no. 4 (1980), pp. 291-299.
Oliver, Raymond. “After Babel: George Steiner’s House of Words,” in The Southern Review. XIV (January, 1978), pp. 16-29.
Peden, Margaret Sayers. “The Arduous Journey,” in The Teller and the Tale: Aspects of the Short Story, 1982. Edited by Wendell M. Aycock.
Steiner, George. Introduction to The Penguin Book of Modern Verse Translation, 1966.
. “On an Exact Art (Again),” in The Kenyon Review. IV (Spring, 1982), pp. 8-22.
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