AFTER BABEL: Aspects of Language and Translation by George Steiner
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AFTER BABEL: Aspects of Language and Translation

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It is impossible to do justice to this brilliant work in a short review. And very likely equally difficult to get at its myriad implications and formulations in a lengthy essay. For George Steiner has written one of those rare works which will undoubtedly sire other works, either by those devoted to continuing his linguistic adventure or by those who might wish to take exception to the points and problems he raises. The theme, certainly, is only nominally what Steiner says it is: ""How does this world of translation work, what have men shouted or whispered to each other across the bewildering freedom of the rubble at Babel?."" Instead what Steiner has given us is a dazzling meditation on the very nature of language itself--language as poetry, as fable, as religious myth, as scientific truth, as philosophic grammar, as behavior and gesture. ""Ambiguity, polysemy, opaqueness, the violation of grammatical and logical sequences, reciprocal incomprehensions, the capacity to lie--these are not the pathologies of language but the roots of its genius."" Fascinated by the transformations and distortions, aberrations and distillations inherent in the act of placing one word against another word, one tone against another tone, shifts of tenses and shifts of meaning--Steiner ranges obsessively through the biblical and the classical, through romanticism and modernism, a variety of literature and related disciplines. One suspects no subject, historical or cultural, is foreign to his erudition. A ""natural polyglot,"" he grew up possessing ""equal currency in English, French, and German,"" later studying Greek and Latin, Spanish and Italian. He speaks as knowingly of Benjamin, Kafka, and Borges as modern Kabbalists as he does of metalinguists like Whorf and Wittgenstein. Dense, intimidating, profound, the sheer drama of textual analysis, ""the pure fabric of possible readings"" are here decisively and magically demonstrated. A seminal event.

Pub Date: May 15th, 1975
ISBN: 0192880934
Publisher: Oxford