Is That A Fish in Your Ear?

Is That a Fish in Your Ear?:

Translation and the Meaning of Everything

by

David BELLOS

338 pages

Published by Faber & Faber in October 2011

This book counts for

My Dewey Decimal Challenge

and for

The 2011 Non-Fiction Challenge

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

As a lover of words and as a translator, I really enjoyed this book extremely. It was good to read someone trying to pinpoint what the phenomenon of translation is or is not. I believe I am now even more scared to dare do this!

The author debunks the usual expressions such as “traduire c’est trahir”, and lifts up the conversation at a much higher level, actually more at an ontological level.

Besides things about translations, the book is full of great information on many languages, which makes it a gem for word lovers of all kinds. It is also written with a lot of wit.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

Funny and surprising on every page, Is That a Fish in Your Ear? offers readers new insight into the mystery of how we come to know what someone else means—whether we wish to understand Astérix cartoons or a foreign head of state. Using translation as his lens, David Bellos shows how much we can learn about ourselves by exploring the ways we use translation, from the historical roots of written language to the stylistic choices of Ingmar Bergman, from the United Nations General Assembly to the significance of James Cameron’s Avatar. Is That a Fish in Your Ear? ranges across human experience to describe why translation sits deep within us all, and why we need it in so many situations, from the spread of religion to our appreciation of literature; indeed, Bellos claims that all writers are by definition translators. Written with joie de vivre, reveling both in misunderstanding and communication, littered with wonderful asides, it promises any reader new eyes through which to understand the world.

In the words of Bellos: “The practice of translation rests on two presuppositions. The first is that we are all different: we speak different tongues, and see the world in ways that are deeply influenced by the particular features of the tongue that we speak. The second is that we are all the same—that we can share the same broad and narrow kinds of feelings, information, understandings, and so forth. Without both of these suppositions, translation could not exist. Nor could anything we would like to call social life. Translation is another name for the human condition.” [on the publisher’s website]

EXCERPTS

p.166

Translation is another name for the human condition.
p.324

Translation is a first step towards civilization.
p.337

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

David Bellos is the director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton University, where he is also a professor of French and comparative literature. He has won many awards for his translations of Georges Perec, Ismail Kadare, and others, including the Man Booker International Translator’s Award. He also received the Prix Goncourt for George Perec: A Life in Words.

REVIEWS BY OTHERS

“[Bellos] offers an anthropology of translation acts. But through this anthropology a much grander project emerges. The old theories were elegiac, stately; they were very much severe. Bellos is practical, and sprightly. He is unseduced by elegy. And this is because he is on to something new . . . Dazzlingly inventive.” —Adam Thirlwell, The New York Times

“In the guise of a book about translation this is a richly original cultural history . . . A book for anyone interested in words, language and cultural anthropology. Mr Bellos’s fascination with his subject is itself endlessly fascinating.” —The Economist

“For anyone with a passing interest in language this work is enthralling . . . A wonderful celebration of the sheer diversity of language and the place it occupies in human endeavour. Conducted by a man who clearly knows his stuff, it is a whirlwind tour round the highways and byways of translation in all its glorious forms, from literary fiction to car repair manuals, from the Nuremberg trials to decoding at Bletchley Park.” —The Scotsman

= All these reviews come from the publisher’s website [link above, at the end of the synopsis]. You can also find there a longer excerpt, and a fascinating interview of the author on NPR.

[This was my last non-fiction book for 2011. My current non-fiction book is Dickens’s biography by Claire Tomalin]

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3 thoughts on “Is That A Fish in Your Ear?

  1. Pingback: 2017: May wrap-up | Words And Peace

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