Although not as bus-sized as those of another author she admires, Ozick’s own collections of essays are as authoritative as anyone’s: Art & Ardor (1983), Metaphor & Memory (1989), Fame & Folly (1996), Quarrel & Quandary (2000),
and, breaking the mold, The Din in the Head (2006), in which the tête-bêche title-piece is followed by “The Rule of the Bus” which in turn takes its title from a tale in Tehran. It is in this last of the five books of Ozick that her authentic appraisal of “Alter’s Version” appears.
Ozick opens with Ptolemy Philadelphus who commissioned the first committee translation of the Tanakh. The story of the Septuagint–”seventy sages, we are told, entered seventy separate chambers, and emerged with seventy copies of an identical text”–is, as Ozick reminds us in Metaphor & Memory in a “Monologue” on her own translation (of Yiddish poetry), “a false tale: but its falseness teaches us something significant about how to look at a translated text.”
Later in “A Translator’s Monologue,” Ozick formulates her own ‘false’ principle:
“First, that the poem-in-translation is already there, hidden in the language of translation, waiting to be let out, an imperative, imminent, immanent, immutable form ready for release, and, when released, instantly recognized as primary and authentic.”
Turning this on its head a few lines later, Ozick concludes:
If you do not believe the poem-in-translation is already there, you will never find it.
Readers, false principles may turn true. As Ozick tacitly recognized in her review, the poem in tohu-vavohu was ready to be found, and Alter found it. Can you?