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Universal literature in catalan

Catalonia has a very open culture that has been influenced by literary writers and thinkers from other parts of the world. Translators have taken up the challenge of adapting poems in other languages to the sound patterns of Catalan and of finding – or sometimes inventing when necessary – the right word for concepts unknown to Catalans. Countries that are far away in time and space have entered Catalonia through translation.

But Catalan literature is a “minor” literature, as Kafka would say, and one that has lived in the shadow of much greater literatures. Cultivated readers might have been able to read universal works in their original languages, but everyone else had to resort to the numerous versions in the neighbouring language, Spanish, in order to gain access to this heritage. Translators have struggled and continue to struggle to carve a place for translation into Catalan, even though their versions may never seem essential.

There is an enormous difference in the influence that a universal author is able to exert when read in an intermediate language or when read in the reader’s own language. Only in the latter case can new forms and content enter the language, take root there and transform it. Despite these adverse conditions, the tradition of importing the great universal works of literature has continued down to the present day, ever since the first translation of the Decameron in the twelfth century by the monks of Sant Cugat.

Apart from universal literature, translations have also provided a window on to a large number of literary universes concealed behind the screen of languages of limited diffusion. The so-called “small” languages are small not only because they have few native speakers but also because they are studied by few persons outside the area in which they are spoken and therefore their zone of direct influence is limited. In this context, translation is a fundamental tool for mutual transmission and knowledge.

The world, and particularly Europe, is made up of different cultures, and many of them are impenetrable without an intermediary. Translation has helped to construct a richer and more complex image of the environment in which we live.

Marc Monzó. Europe Map (fermall), 2006.
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