After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation

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When it first appeared in 1975, After Babel created a sensation, quickly establishing itself as both a controversial and seminal study of literary theory. In the original edition, Steiner provided readers with the first systematic investigation since the eighteenth century of the phenomenology and processes of translation both inside and between languages. Taking issue with the principal emphasis of modern linguistics, he finds the root of the "Babel problem" in our deep instinct for privacy and territory, noting that every people has in its language a unique body of shared secrecy. With this provocative thesis he analyzes every aspect of translation from fundamental conditions of interpretation to the most intricate of linguistic constructions.
For the long-awaited second edition, Steiner entirely revised the text, added new and expanded notes, and wrote a new preface setting the work in the present context of hermeneutics, poetics, and translation studies. This new edition brings the bibliography up to the present with substantially updated references, including much Russian and Eastern European material. Like the towering figures of Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault, Steiner's work is central to current literary thought. After Babel, Third Edition is essential reading for anyone hoping to understand the debates raging in the academy today.

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All speech is an act of translation. We need to transmit the ideas in our head to another person, and so must translate the thought into words. This act of translation forms the fundamental basis for ... Read full review

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A very fine book that, although it doesn't wear its considerable learning lightly, at least makes its erudition appealing. Steiner is a wonderful old humanist with an unequaled grasp of European culture, particularly from the Renaissance on. He is at home in the principal languages and has much to say about their role in shaping thought and mediating the literary impulse. One of the most valuable insights in the book comes when Steiner argues that the purpose of having a language distinct from others is precisely to render one culture opaque to another and thereby preserve its distinctive achievements: us language is a conservative force. He has much to say about translation, and along the way offers some insightful readings of works original and translated.
I very much like his memoir Errata and his study Antigones, about the cultural impact of Sophocles's great play.


One Understanding as Translation I
Two Language and Gnosis
Three Word against Object
Four The Claims of Theory
Five The Hermeneutic Motion
Six Topologies of Culture

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About the author (1998)

George Steiner is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Geneva. His books include The Death of Tragedy, Language in Silence, In Bluebeard's Castle, and On Difficulty and Other Essays.

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