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Pam Thompson

 

Reading Edith Grossmanís Why Translation Matters on the plane back from Miami last spring led me back to Jose Ortega y Gassetís essay ďThe Misery and the Splendor of Translation.Ē Grossmanís summary: Ortega y Gasset calls
translation a utopian enterprise, but, he said, so too is any human undertaking, even the effort to communicate with another human being in the same language.
I posted that on our blog at the time because it summarizes for me exactly the spirit of Clockroot. (Not to mention the ongoing efforts involved in family and civic life.) In times in which it often feels that the most worthy of human activities are counted utopian (and squeezed to the margins of our existences by bottom lines, extreme weather, endless wars) it seems right to assert their importance.

At a recent meeting, the president of a fine small liberal arts college asked a group of professors of writing and literature: “How can you be thinking of literature at a time like this?” By “a time like this” he meant the current US economic crisis. (Of course it's a real question about extreme circumstances, as my friend once wrote from Jerusalem, suggesting that the difference between writing there and here was analogous to writing in response to your limb being cut off or in response to learning you have a slow-growing cancer.)

How can you think of making meaning and communicating it at a time like this?

How can you think of listening to or reading writers from outside the US at a time like this?

You know what I'm going to say next. How can you not?

Which brings me back to the Misery and Splendor. As translated by Elizabeth Gamble Miller:

To write well is to make continual incursions into grammar, into established usage, and into accepted linguistic norms. It is an act of permanent rebellion against the social environs, a subversion. To write well is to employ a certain radical courage.

That's what we're looking for, and what I hope you'll find in our books.

—September 2010

Every Past Thing

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