Literal or Liberal: Translating Perception

Critical Inquiry 13 (1):49-63 (1986)

Any even cursory examination of what it is to exchange words about X or to exchange views about Y requires hard thought about what it is to exchange, period. How do we invest in what we give out, and how do we get it back? In kind, or differently moneyed? And, more crucial to the topic into which I am about to make a foolhardy plunge, is there such a thing as free exchange? And if so, what is it worth?How do we perceive worth anyway? What relation does such perception of the invisible system of the initially visible coinage of exchange bear to present visual perception, and then to seeing? And what does perception matter anyway, in relation to writing, reading, and exchanging words? Which is primary?All these questions—in their institutional setting, or then in their freedom from context—can themselves be related to and gathered up into the notion of translation, or the carrying over from one side to, and into, another. All we can learn about speaking and the ways it is taught, reading and the ways we learn it, seeing and the ways it teaches us is translated and transported from sight and its constraints and choices to language and its own. How we read both is itself a subject of choice and constraint, of freedom and explicit value-placing, of variety and fidelity to certain ends. Mary Ann Caws is professor of English, French, and comparative literature in the Graduate School, City University of New York. She is past president of the Modern Language Association and the author of, among other works, The Eye in the Text: Essays on Perception, Mannerist to Modern , Architextures in Surrealism and After , Reading Frames in Modern Fiction , and Interferences
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DOI 10.1086/448372
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