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the Complete Review
the complete review - translation

Experiences in Translation

Umberto Eco

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To purchase Experiences in Translation

Title: Experiences in Translation
Author: Umberto Eco
Genre: Translation
Written: (2001)
Length: 132 pages
Original in: (Italian)
Availability: Experiences in Translation - US
Experiences in Translation - UK
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Experiences in Translation - India
  • Translated by Alastair McEwen
  • Based on the Goggio Public Lectures delivered by Eco in 1998

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good overview of questions of translation, with interesting examples

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
World Lit. Today A Summer/2001 Rainer Schulte

  From the Reviews:
  • "It is in this first section that Eco's thinking about translation flourishes and excites the mind of the reader. (...) His theoretical considerations are based on the practice of translation and therefore become immediately accessible to the reader. (...) Part 2 of Eco's book is less attractive to the practicing translator." - Rainer Schulte, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Experiences in Translation is based on a series of lectures Umberto Eco gave in 1998. It covers many of the most significant issues in the field of translation, and Eco provides many genuinely illustrative examples -- often from his own experiences, both as a translator and as an author whose works have been translated by others.
       The book is divided into two parts. The first, Translating and Being Translated, focusses more on his personal experiences. The second, Translation and Interpretation, is, as Eco says, "more theoretical in nature".
       Eco believes that "translation scholars should have had, at least once in their life, both the experience of translating and that of being translated". Eco has certainly had both experiences: he mentions, for example, his translation (into Italian) of Queneau's challenging Exercices de style, and his own work has been widely translated from the Italian. It is the experiences of having his work (especially his fiction) translated into other languages that truly sets Eco apart from most translations scholars. While many also practice translation, there is clearly a difference between translating a text and having ones texts translated, and Eco provides much interesting insight from his almost unique vantage point.
       Eco has written both fairly dry scholarly work as well as several elaborate historical fictions (that have gone on to become international bestsellers), and his experiences with translators of these varied works make for interesting examples throughout the book.
       Eco sensibly judges: "When one has a text to question, it is irrelevant to ask the author." Though he proposes that he is merely a "privileged witness on very marginal problems", Eco-as-author is a very real presence here -- and quite a welcome one, lending the book a personal touch that seems worth the cost of some theoretical stringency.
       Eco's analyses of translators' choices in rendering his novels in foreign languages are particularly interesting. Because his texts are often set in the past and rely heavily on specifically literary allusions they often pose additional difficulties for translators'. By showing a variety of approaches -- depending both on language and translator -- Eco helps make these issues clear to the reader.
       It is not only discussion of his own work that is particularly rewarding. He also does an excellent job considering the French and Italian translations of Joyce's Finnegans Wake -- renderings he considers (because of Joyce's very active role in them) rewriting ("taken to extremes", as Eco says).
       More theoretical aspects of translation are also covered. Translation as interpretation is a major strand throughout the book, and Eco addresses all variations of the idea -- including renderings into or from other media.

       Experiences in Translation does not offer an in-depth consideration of translation, but it is a very good and quite far-reaching survey. Eco presents the issues and pertinent examples well. As a clever, short introduction to translation-issues it can certainly be recommended -- and it also offers some interesting information about Eco's novels.

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Experiences in Translation: Reviews: Umberto Eco: Other books by Umberto Eco under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Umberto Eco is professor at the University of Bologna. He has written both academic books and popular novels.

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