, Volume 92, Issue 3, pp 385-394

First online:

“On” est ailleurs: renoncer à la traduction parfaite

  • Guy RooryckAffiliated withDepartement Vertaalkunde, Hogeschool Gent, Vakgroep Frans Email author 

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In an essay on translation, the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur points to the necessity of renouncing the idea of the “perfect translation”. The metamorphosis of a translation implies that the network of meaning of the original text within the language and culture that generated it, is replaced by a new value system. Hence, the absolute criterion of a good translation does not exist, says Ricoeur, for all meaning can only be comprehended in a relative system of language and culture. Like Goethe, an author like Kundera pleads for world literature in which the mother tongue of a text does not have any additional value over translations. The composition and structure of the original can be done equal justice in the new network it is incorporated into, however different that may be from the original. The translator can not aim at identicity only at analogy. A short description of a few sentences from Vivant Denon and Stendhal, featuring the pronoun “on”, will show that the Dutch translations of the texts only yield an approximate reconstruction of the relationship between language and the exterior world in the original source text. The translator therefore inevitably delivers his new text as a kind of reincarnation of a lost source text.