The traditional concepts in any discussion of translation are fidelity and licence. Walter Benjamin, however, argues that translation must refrain from a desire for hermeneutic rectitude. The language of translation must allow any intention of the original to appear only as a supplement to the language in which it expresses itself. An effective translation must be transparent, must not conceal the "light" of the original. In his commentary on Benjamin's "The Task of the Translator", Derrida questions the notion of the original itself, deploying the metaphor of Babel, which in his view, describes "among other things the origin of the confusion of tongues, the irreducible multiplicity of idioms, the necessary and impossible task of translation, its necessity as impossibility". In Rushdie's Shame, Omar Khayyam, the Persian poet, despised for his transgressive verses in all of Persia, exists for Rushdie's creative consumption as an already inadequate reworking of the poet's verses by Edward Fitzgerald. The narrator concedes that the process of translation involves both loss and gain.
I shall discuss the paradox of gain and loss in Rushdie's translations of fragmented discourses, unequal languages and misinformed histories. These translations function not to communicate or inform but to transgress. The irony of 'shaming' Fitzgerald's translation lies in the way Rushdie has claimed it as his own success -- as a gain for subversion that excavates the imaginary and its archaeology.
Last modified: 7 May 2001