… the man who is ready to translate is in a constant, dangerous, and admirable intimacy …
This is from the essay ‘Translating’ found in the collection, Friendship by Maurice Blanchot (1997):
… The translator is a writer of singular originality, precisely where he seems to claim none. He is the secret master of the difference of languages, not in order to abolish the difference but in order to use it to awaken in his own language, through the violent or subtle changes he brings to it, a presence of what is different, originally, in the original.
[ … ]
… The example of Hölderlin illustrates the risk that is run, in the end, by the man fascinated by the power of translating: the translations of Antigone and Oedipus were nearly his last works at the outbreak of madness. These works are exceptionally studied, restrained, and intentional, conducted with inflexible firmness with the intent not of transposing the Greek text into German, not of reconveying the German language to its Greek sources, but of unifying the two powers — the one representing the vicissitudes of the West, the other those of the Orient — in the simplicity of a pure and total language. The result is almost frightful. It is as if one were discovering between the two languages an understanding so profound, a harmony so fundamental, that it substitutes itself for meaning, or succeeds in turning the hiatus that lies open between the two languages into the origin of a new meaning.
[line break added to make this easier to read online] The effect of this is so powerful that one understands the icy laughter of Goethe. At whom, indeed, was Goethe laughing? At a man who was no longer a poet, nor a translator, but who was recklessly advancing toward the center in which he believed he would find collected the pure power of unifying, a center such that it would be able to give meaning, beyond all determined and limited meaning. One understands that this temptation should have come to Hölderlin through translation. For with the unifying power that is at work in every practical relation, as in any language, and that, at the same time, exposes him to the pure scission that is always prior, the man who is ready to translate is in a constant, dangerous, and admirable intimacy — and it is this familiarity that gives him the right to be the most arrogant or the most secret of writers — with the conviction that, in the end, translating is madness.