Does Translation Make for ‘Literature Without Style’?

Arabic Literature (in English)

The English language seems, generally, to have a greater anxiety about translation than do others. It is not just bringing other works into translation (which we do rather sparely) or translating out (which we do a lot, but with occasional hand-wringing) it is the fact of translation’s existence, and how it affects literature:

Tim Parks, writing in the NYRB blog, seems to fault translation for a “Literature Without Style” that has made him weary of contemporary fiction. Some of the writing is lovely, particularly when he is talking about the style of writers he appreciates, such as Henry Green and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Parks moves his way toward this definition:

“Style, then, involves a meeting between arrangements inside the prose and expectations outside it. You can’t have a strong style without a community of readers able to recognize and appreciate its departures from the common usages they know…

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