Words That Go Silent in Transit

Anne Carson, “Variations on the Right to Remain Silent,” A Public Space 7

Silence is as important as words in the practice and study of translation. […] There are two kinds of silence that trouble a translator: physical silence and metaphysical silence. Physical silence happens when you are looking at, say, a poem of Sappho’s inscribed on a papyrus from two thousand years ago that has been torn in half. […] Metaphysical silence happens inside words themselves. And its intentions are harder to define. Every translator knows the point where one language cannot be translated into another. […] But now what if, within this silence, you discover a deeper one — a word that does not intend to be translatable. A word that stops itself.

[…] There is something maddeningly attractive about the untranslatable, about a word that goes silent in transit.

[…] The light comes in the name of the voice is a sentence that stops itself. Its components are simple yet it stays foreign, we cannot own it. Like Homer’s untranslatable MOLY it seems to come from somewhere else and it brings a whiff of immortality with it. We know that in Joan’s case this turned out to be a whiff of herself burning.

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