Recently the scholar and editor Sharmila Sen wrote a short essay on translation (http://blog.semcoop.com/2010/09/28/sharmila-sens-the-beautiful-infidel/), by way of motivating the release of a new series of medieval texts in facing-page translation. The following paragraph, which stands alone, beautifully (!) articulates something brought up, both as text and subtext, in many discussions around this site:
But then I think of the beautiful infidel. I confess that I am vulnerable to her
charms. In case you haven’t heard about her, the story goes like this: In the
seventeenth-century, a Frenchman by the name of Gilles Ménage memorably
described a work of translation by Nicolas Perrot d’Ablancourt as a woman he had
known in Tours. She was beautiful, but unfaithful. Translations, apparently, are
either beautiful or faithful, but never both. A translation is the original
text’s wife. If too pretty, the translation must be cheating on her husband, the
text. If faithful, the translation must not be very pretty.
The image applies not only to translation of texts but to interpretation more generally, and even to translation in a kind of metaphysical sense. To give three very different examples:
(1) What is the role of the translator in particular, and the artist in general, in representing and interpreting. (Would you agree with my putting these verbs so close together?)
(2) Think of the impossible, but culturally resonant, role often assigned to women of literally embodying a kind of divine purity which is to attract men to holiness -- the catch being that they should do so without appearing in so many words, beautiful: they are supposed to reveal a beautiful soul while entirely negating (or covering!) the beautiful body, which is somehow suspected of being too opaque (!) to let holiness through, as if glances get stuck on the body without ever making it through to the original, i.e. the divine. Here the burqa discussion is relevant.
(3) The basic question: how would you respond to this quoted analogy? Is there any way out of the dilemma?