Edited By Jean Bessière and Gerald Gillespie
Translation and Comparative Literature
Mario J. VALDÉS
University of Toronto
In this essay, I will address two separate but related issues: the function of translated literary texts and, more specifically, the place of translated works of literature in comparative literary studies.
Let me begin with translation itself. In Spanish we have a saying which I think is appropriate for the present discussion: “Peor es nada” which loosely translated, in the present context, means the alternative of nothing is worse than the imitation, or to put it colloquially an imitation watch is better than no watch at all. If we are faced with not reading The Iliad or reading it in translation, we choose the latter. This basic observation should never be taken as an endorsement of reading the translation because the original is difficult. In some extreme cases this negativity has led some to dismiss the necessity of reading the original texts. During the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the bishop of Merida ordered the burning of hundreds of Mayan codices because the Spaniards could not read them. The tragedy of this loss should not be lost on us, for there are some today who because of politically correct pragmatism, advocate that we put all of our efforts into the study of literature in a “lingua franca” which in today’s world means English. In this manner, it is argued, we will be able to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers and learn to appreciate the peoples of...
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