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TRANSLATION IN THE CRUCIBLE OF MODERNITY MARIA TYMOCZKO In coming to terms with the Modern Age, with modernity itself, a major task for all peoples has been to readjust their relationships to age-old lifeways , to traditions that have structured material and social life alike and that have defined them as nations, in the earliest sense of the word. Such lifeways and traditions are at the heart of culture—they are needed for identity, security, and stability; yet they must be modified or at times even abandoned for adaptability and change. Declan Kiberd views the Irish as one of the first peoples to experience the demands of the Modern Age— the rapidly changing conditions that brought alterations to virtually every sphere of life, that made people migrants in time as well as space—and he has called Ireland the “crucible of modernity” (1998). Seeing the Great Famine as the impetus that launched Ireland into modernity, Kiberd argues that the Irish responded vigorously to its challenges, showing themselves remarkably flexible and resilient, forward-looking rather than backward -looking, as illustrated, for example, by their willingness to give up the national language within a generation in the mid-nineteenth century. Half a century later Ireland was faced with yet another major task, the task of making the claim to be a nation in the political sense of the word, a claim that was at the time—and often still is today—predicated on the possession of a distinct culture. The Irish were enterprising in this task as well, reviving (and inventing when necessary) all aspects of Irish tradition that were useful for the definition of an Irish national culture, from games to language. The impulse is clearly apparent in the Irish literary revival, which Kiberd has called “essentially an exercise in translation” (1995: 624) and which David Lloyd has characterized in part as having a “‘translational ’ aesthetic” (1993: 97).1 TRANSLATION IN THE CRUCIBLE OF MODERNITY 122 1 Lloyd (1993: 92 ff.) views this aesthetic differently from Kiberd, attributing it to a felt need for a national poetry to “speak with one voice,” identifying a nationalist appeal to a Curiously, despite the commonplace assent that the judgments of both Kiberd and Lloyd command about the Irish literary revival and translation , and despite the meticulous and detailed study that the use of Irish sources by major figures of the Irish literary revival has received, very little descriptive and analytic work has been done on the translations per se of early Irish literature into English. Kiberd himself virtually ignores the translations of early Irish literature in his magisterial study Inventing Ireland , even those translations produced by the major Irish writers that he considers, such as Augusta Gregory’s Cuchulain of Muirthemne and Gods and Fighting Men, or Thomas Kinsella’s The Táin. Kiberd omits the first two from consideration altogether in his study and passes over the latter with a phrase; noting that Kinsella “tried to bridge [the rift between English and Irish] by producing translations,” Kiberd acknowledges that “[Kinsella ’s] version of The Táin is justly famous” (1995: 587). This gap in the scholarship on Irish literature is unfortunate, for, as work in translation studies has increasingly shown, translated literature plays a vital role in the development of any literary system. The translation record between languages and cultures is a particularly rich source of information about cultural transfer both synchronically and diachronically , illuminating, for example, the shape of the literary systems involved, reception conditions, patronage effects, power relations between cultures, and so forth.2 Moreover, when translation occurs within a complex, multilingual cultural system—as is the case when early Irish literature is translated into English primarily for an Irish audience—translations reveal much of interest about cultural stratification, competing values within a culture, literary prestige, and the like. It is important to rectify this gap in Irish Studies, for the construction and definition of a cultural heritage through the translation of early Irish literature was one of the most potent activities of the Irish literary revival and Irish cultural nationalism during the last century and a half, arguably shaping both the rebellion against England and the character of the emergent...


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