The Task of the Translator

In a 1964 interview, Barthes said that there was, in contemporary French literary criticism, “une évanescence progressive du signifié, qui paraît bien être l’enjeu de tout ce débat critique,” and his statement sets a problem for the translator. For the phrase “a progressive evanescence of the signified” is not one that creates an instant image in the mind of the average native speaker of English. Something like “the gradual vanishing of subject matter,” or “the disappearance of content and its replacement by form,” or “how you say it is becoming more important than what is said” does not have quite the same disadvantage. However, it does suffer from another drawback: it is not exactly what Barthes said.

Philip Thody

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