Translators are like bumblebees. In 1934, the French entomologist August Magnan pronounced the flight of the bumblebee to be aerodynamically impossible, and though long since scientifically disproved, this factoid is still routinely trotted out. Similar pronouncements about the impossibility of translation have dogged practitioners since Leonardo Bruni’s De interpretatione recta, published in 1424. Meanwhile, bees, unaware of these deliberations, have continued to flit from flower to flower, and translators continue to translate.
As a distinguished translator whose labours have brought English-language readers to works by Marguerite Duras, Gustave Flaubert and the Nobel winner Patrick Modiano, Mark Polizzotti gives short shrift to the idea that translation is impossible, quoting the great David Bellos’s remark: ‘The only impossible things in translation are those that haven’t been done.