Beyond Babel : translating the Holocaust at century's end / by Zaia Alexander.
The study of translation has largely been absent from critical debates on representing the Holocaust. While much has been written about the inadequacy of language, problems of historiography, and questions of authenticity, neither the reproduction of the original (in translation) nor the translator's role as intermediary has attracted the attention of scholars, readers, and writers who rely on these translations for their work. What are the effects of translation on an original document's claim to truth and authenticity? How is testimony transformed as it is transported across languages, cultures, and historical time periods? To be effective, a translation cannot entirely relinquish the illusion of being an indigenous product, an authentic original, but there are unique risks and perils when the illusion is associated with Holocaust testimony. The issue is complicated further by the indeterminate nature of (traumatized) memory to which translation adds yet another layer of ambiguity. The driving force behind this study therefore, is to examine the impact of translation on our reception and perception of the Holocaust and to chart what is gained and lost in the process of “revisioning” the past and “re-defining old vocabulary.” Primo Levi, who is the focus of this project, translated his entire life. Moreover, his tireless effort to construct a sturdy linguistic bridge from the l'univers concentrationnaire to us can be described as a multi-faceted act of translation. This study seeks to measure the effects of translation on the evolution of Holocaust representations from the first generation eyewitness accounts to two controversial fictional works created by non-survivors: Roberto Benigni's Life is Beautiful and Binjamin Wilkomirski's notorious faux-memoir Fragments. Neither Benigni nor Wilkomirski fit the commonly understood meaning of translator, but I classify them as such in that their “original” works cannot be considered autonomous; they are not independent of the literature on which they clearly rely. By imitating Levi, by elaborating on his “hidden text,” by updating the story, by depicting aspects of the Holocaust previously obscured, unknown, or considered taboo, they perform an essential task of the translator, allowing the original an “afterlife” in Walter Benjamin's sense of the word.
Record last modified: 2018-04-24 16:01:00
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