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Kenneth Cox

...on Translating

(from a letter to August Kleinzahler)

1) work on the text till you have an idea roughly what the meaning is

2) placing that rough idea in the context of the book till you think you see what the author was trying to say

3) forgetting about the original language, try to find a way of putting the meaning into the particular kind of English you’ve decided is appropriate

There are three corresponding difficulties:

1) the search for odd words or dialectical deformities in so-called standard dictionaries and for the subtle colloquial significances given to perfectly ordinary words but also not mentioned in dictionaries.

2) The author’s conception is naturally only approximately represented in language, often itself unverbal, and at best can never be more than a part of the meaning made possible by the words, but he is trustworthy. It was no use trying to make out what he meant by looking at what he had said just before or was going to say just after, every sentence is autonomous. You just have to wait till you wake up in the middle of the night and see.

3) The hardest part of all is to decide the target. Chiefly a matter of rejection and rejection, an occasional invention or regionalism. It doesn’t matter how odd it is so long as it sounds right in place, doesn’t disturb.

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