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Letters & Essays: 1980s

Letters & Essays of the Day

Perfection

By Sarah Manguso

For years I could barely write a page. I thought I was becoming a virtuoso of smallness while the grief, which is wordless, occupied an ever-greater volume.

My friend lived in the estates on the bad side of town. Let’s go to the forest, she said when I went over to play. There were three trees in the yard, but if you know where to stand, you can get lost in a forest of three trees. She could do it. She had to. Her mother died when we were nine.

from a new translation of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time

By Richard Howard

The great works are ageless, but their translations date; indeed, as Walter Benjamin remarks, the subsequent translations of great works mark their stages of continued life. In most cases, even the case of so extensive a work as War and Peace, translations appear at intervals of about a generation. The Tale of Genji, for all its length, has lately found a second translation, for none is definitive (not even Arthur Waley’s).