Wright-ing the Untranslatable

To read is to translate, regardless of the text’s language. Though the title of “translator” has carried connotations of cross-linguistic recreation – the re-writing of a text in a different language – since the 14th century, the act of reading any text results in an individualized variation of the original based on the reader’s interpretation and understanding, turning anyone who interacts with a text into a translator. Concepts of speech-rhythm, syntax, tone-values, and vocabulary play a secondary role in the translator’s cultural and literary understanding of the text, acting as instruments used to extract and reconstitute meaning.

In addition to the translated texts themselves, many kinds of sources have become available recently to translation scholars, including correspondence, manuscript drafts, translators’ notes, prefaces, and reviews, collected in part to accommodate the increased interest in translation that began in the second half of the 20th century. Though such resources do not exist for every translation, the archives of Barbara Wright, the most recognized translator of French modernist literature to this day, present a thorough collection of materials related to nearly every text she translated, providing a comprehensive source through which to study her work and the translation profession in general. The complete, thorough nature of Barbara Wright’s archive alone – seven boxes of material incorporating notes, correspondence, and all possible materials related to every one of Wright’s translation projects – makes it an excellent collection for students of translation, a case study through which to examine the practical obstacles of the profession as well as the broader impact of a translator’s work. Modernist French author Raymond Queneau’s work, which heavily explores spoken French in literature, allows Wright as a translator to push the boundaries of spoken English, turning translation into a crucial linguistic learning tool.