Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

Am reading a ton at the moment, and loving the feel of a brain alive. On the serious side of things, I started reading Susan Sontag’s collection Against Interpretation. I have only read bits and pieces of Sontag over the last ten years or so, I’ve never concentrated on her work in a systematic way and so begins a nice journey through her brilliant and critical mind.

From her essay “On Style” I’ve been highlighting left and right, but the following phrases/sections have stayed with me now for a few days:

“Art is seduction, not rape.”

“A work of art is a kind of showing or recording or witnessing which gives palpable form to consciousness; its object is to make something singular explicit.” (I love this. I have been repeating this to myself over and over.)

“Usually critics who want to praise a work of art feel compelled to demonstrate that each part is justified, that it could not be other than it is. And every artist, when it comes to his own work, remembering the role of chance, fatigue, external distractions, knows what the critic says to be a lie, know that it could well have been otherwise. The sense of inevitability that a great work of art projects is not made up of the inevitability or necessity of its parts, but of the whole.”

On the sillier side of things, I received a gift in the mail yesterday. Ella Frances Sanders’ Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World.

This book, which is both funny and profound, is the way to a translator’s heart.

Here are some I love:

COMMUOVERE (Italian) – v. To be moved in a heartwarming way, usually relating to a story that moved you to tears.

MÅNGATA (Swedish) – n. The road-like reflection of the moon in the water.

KOMOREBI (Japanese) – n. The sunlight that filters through the leaves of the trees.

MAMIHLAPINATAPAI (Yaghan). n. A silent acknowledgement and understanding between two people, who are both wishing or thinking the same thing (and both unwilling to initiate).

You can see more about this book here.

5 Responses to “Serious and silly”

  1. Michelle

    Anthony – I reread that title essay two more times this weekend. Both it and “On Style” have given me so much to think about. I love it when she writes, “The task of interpretation is virtually one of translation” which is so exactly correct, with both positive and negative repercussions. Also, “Real art has the capacity to make us nervous.” Goodness, I love this.

    I will look for the Dictionary of Untranslatables – thank you.

    • Anthony

      “The task of interpretation is virtually one of translation”

      That heavily loaded sentence used to be pinned above my desk, within eye-line. I’ve always thought translators must be the closest readers, which must be wonderful with a work that you grow to love, but arduous beyond belief when working with a work to which you are indifferent.

      The sentence also often comes back to me when reading Dante, who I feel I must translate myself one day as the ultimate act of close reading.

    • Michelle

      I had not realized til you said it, that serendipity doesn’t exist in French. How wonderful! (I mean, yes, too bad.) My favorite non-translatables tend to be the all-purpose catch-phrases or declarations that can mean so many different things in one language depending on context, but have no equivalent in others. With your background in Chinese, Smithereens, are they any you know in that language?

      • smithereens

        Yes I can think of a few in Chinese that I needed to learn when to say appropriately. I’m thinking about a short expression you use when you thing someone took great lengths to do something (for you), it might also be the equivalent of “great job” but with a notion of pain in it.
        Do you know the French expression “esprit d’escalier”? I think there’s no English equivalent (or perhaps it never happens to Americans?)

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