I read the following passage in the book Is that a Fish in Your Ear?, and the part about originals presented as translations got me wondering why authors do this:

Are readers in fact able to distinguish, by the taste on their linguistic and literary tongues, whether a text is "original" or "translated"? Absolutely not. Countless writers have packaged originals as translations and translations as originals and gotten away with it for weeks, months, years, even centuries.

After spending a few pages discussing this long and venerable literary tradition and outlining various examples, the author gives a few reasons for it: 

Authors have many reasons for wanting to pass off original work as a translation and a translation as an original. Sometimes it helps to get through censorship, sometimes it is to try out a new identity. It can serve individual or collective fantasies about national or linguistic authenticity, and it can be done just to pander to a public taste for the exotic.

Of those, the reason that I find most enlightening is the one about authenticity derived from something supposedly being translated. But is there any deeper analysis to be done here? The passage quoted above is pretty much the extent of the time that the author devotes to the why? bit of it- so I'm wondering if there's a longer, more in-depth examination that's been done of this phenomenon and whether there are any other reasons or factors at play here. Because it seems to me that for whatever advantage an author may get, they lose out on receiving credit for the plot, the characters, and other elements of the story.

  • 1
    James MacPherson undoubtedly received much more acclaim for his “translations” of the Ossian poems than he would have if he had published them as his original work.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Apr 30, 2023 at 16:23
  • 1
    By "originals presented as translations" do you mean outright literary hoaxes, or do you count such works as Jurgen and The Lord of the Rings?
    – user14111
    Commented May 2, 2023 at 6:23
  • @user14111 - outright literary hoaxes.
    – CDR
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 14:11


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