The Art of Reading: From Homer to Paul Celan

  Bollack, Jean. 2016. The Art of Reading: From Homer to Paul Celan. Trans. C. Porter and S. Tarrow with B. King. Edited by C. Koenig, L. Muellner, G. Nagy, and S. Pollock. Hellenic Studies Series 73. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Translators’ Preface

Catherine Porter and Susan Tarrow

The challenges of translating Jean Bollack’s work are well known to his fellow classicists. His work, published primarily in French, has also appeared in German, either in the author’s own text or in translation, but very little was available in English when we agreed to take on this collection. Each of us had translated one of Bollack’s essays for publication in the past, so we were somewhat prepared for the difficulties presented by his work. Still, the scope of the collection took us far from our own spheres of academic training and experience. As specialists in twentieth-century French studies, we found ourselves doing extensive background reading in order to come to grips with Bollack’s dense texts and their scholarly contexts.

Few scholars can rival the breadth of Jean Bollack’s learning—from Homer to Celan, with Empedocles, Sophocles, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Freud, Benjamin, Kafka, Mallarmé, Hölderlin and Szondi in between. Bollack clearly assumed that his readers would understand Greek, Latin, German, Italian, and English as well as French. While between us we could handle all but the Greek (and only a little of the Latin), we are profoundly indebted to Bruce King, who not only found translations for the Greek and Latin citations, but explained many of the minutiae of classical philology of which we were unaware. Bruce edited the entire volume with an eagle eye for stylistic infelicities as well as for factual errors, and he performed an additional critical service by insisting on clarification at points where our renderings of Bollack’s prose were overly elliptical or otherwise inadequate. At such points, we were privileged to be able to turn to the author’s widow, Mayotte Bollack, a learned scholar in her own right, whose responses were unfailingly generous and astute. Our collaboration with Mme Bollack was exceptionally gratifying: she read, and re-read, each essay, offering insights and suggestions that have significantly improved our work.

Of necessity, we have made a number of adjustments to meet the needs of a new audience. Jean Bollack’s French texts addressed a particular scholarly readership—multilingual, erudite, well versed in the classics and/or in modern European literature. Our goal has been to make the English version of his essays accessible and appealing to a broader, less specialized audience. To this end, and with Mayotte Bollack’s endorsement, we have incorporated certain clarifications in the text itself, and we have added translators’ notes where it seemed appropriate to offer additional information on individuals, events, intertextual allusions, or other background material. Wherever possible, we have cited published English translations of quoted texts; where none was available, the translations are our own or Bruce King’s.

The Center for Hellenic Studies has offered steady encouragement and support throughout this three-year endeavor. Director of Publications Leonard Muellner has been unfailing in his attention to our needs, providing timely answers to our urgent questions. And Bruce King, as a seasoned CHS editor, made sure that all the notes and bibliographical information conformed to the Center’s sometimes idiosyncratic formatting guidelines. Our own collaboration as co-translators has been seamless; we passed the essays back and forth so many times that we can scarcely recall who produced the first draft in a given instance. We hope the collaborative efforts embodied in this volume will lead to a broader appreciation of Jean Bollack’s contributions to literary scholarship and promote increased interaction between classical philology and the other academic fields that are reflected in his work.

Catherine Porter
Susan Tarrow