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Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation by…
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Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation

by Umberto Eco

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This is a subject I just find endlessly fascinating.

Eco's theme in this book is that translation (particularly literary translation) is a "negotiation" between what you might call the 'letter' and the 'spirit' of the original. For example, the book's title refers to Eco's attempt to translate the scene in Hamlet where Hamlet stabs Polonius behind a curtain, saying "How now? A rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!".

Eco says he translated 'rat' as 'topo', which in Italian actually means mouse, because they don't really have a word that means 'rat' in the same sense. Of course, this misses the wordplay of 'rat' as someone who is a betrayer.

The book is mainly a series of similar examples, many taken from translations of Eco's own works. His writing is especially difficult in this respect, since it is full of allusions, both subtle and obvious, to all kinds of other literature and popular culture.

Mouse or Rat doesn't exactly break new ground in this field (Douglas Hofstadter's Le ton Beau de Marot covers similar ideas and also tells an affecting love story at the same time; I recommend it highly), but I could read examples like this pretty much endlessly.

The only problem I had is that you really need a working knowledge of all the languages used to get the full effect, but even my meager knowledge of German/French/Spanish/Italian was enough to get the idea. ( )
  JenneB | Apr 2, 2013 |
A series of lectures reworked as chapters on the problems of translation. Eco's theme of "negotiation" is a very useful one, allowing him to take a less dogmatic path than usually staked out by those who haven't actually tried to translate anything, while still actually saying something about the subject - quite a lot, in fact.
Similar in many ways to Hofstadter's ideas (Le Ton Beau de Marot, the first thing to read for those interested in translation) but much more concise and addressed from, perhaps, another angle. ( )
  kiparsky | Aug 24, 2007 |
Highly recommended for those with an interest in translation or language. ( )
  hippietrail | Oct 11, 2005 |
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