Thursday, July 1, 2010

Translation/traduction/übersetzung #1

As a much-needed exercise, I plan to translate a paragraph a week of whatever German or French text is at hand and seems relevant to my current work. I hope to select works that are untranslated, or at least ones to which I do not have immediate access to the translation, simply to gain experience in reading without the life preserver of English. I also attempt to follow the rule of strict literalness, even at the sacrifice of readability. Without further ado, Heidegger's tortured prose, followed by its rendering into tortured English:

Die Geschichtlichkeit eines Denkers (wie er vom Sein für die Geschichte in Anspruch genommen ist und dem Anspruch entspricht) bemißt sich nie nach der historisch errechenbaren Rolle, die seine zu seiner Zeit jedesmal notwendig mißdeuteten Meinungen bei ihrem öffentlichen Umlauf spielen. Die Geschichtlichkeit des Denkers, die nicht in meint, sondern das Sein, hat ihr Maß in der ursprünglichen Treue des Denkers zu seiner inneren Grenze. Diese nicht zu kennen, und zwar nicht zu kennen dank der Nähe des ungesagten Unsagbaren, ist das verborgene Geschenk des Seins an die Seltenen, die auf den Pfad des Denkens gerufen werden. Die historische Verrechnung dagegen sucht die innere Grenze eines Denkers darin, daß er über jenes Fremde noch nicht unterrichtet ist, was Andere and Spätere nach ihm un zuweilen auch nur durch seine Vermittlung als Wahrheit übernehmen.

“Die Erinnerung in die Metaphysik,” Nietzsche II, 484-485

"The historicity of a thinker (how he is claimed by Being for history and corresponds to this claim) is never proportionate to his historically calculable role, which plays with his opinions, always necessarily misinterpreted in relation to his time in their public circulation. The historicity of a thinker, which is not in opining but rather in Being, has its weight in the originary fidelity of a thinker to his inner limit. This not knowing, and indeed not knowing thanks to the proximity of the unsaid Unsayable, is Being’s concealed gift to the rare ones who are called to the path of thinking. The historical calculation, on the other hand, sees the inner limit of a thinker by the fact that he is still not educated about that strange thing, what others and later ones after him, and sometimes also only through his mediation, take over as truth."

Currently, I am trying to work through Heidegger's and Strauss's conceptions of the 'unsaid' respective to their hermeneutic positions. I interpret this passage to be further evidence of Heidegger's belief that the greatest thinkers of the past were those who acted (or better, 'were acted upon') as the 'messengers of Being.' Hence, they had no control over how the 'unsaid' in their works ultimately came to be. This of course is in opposition to Strauss's conception of esoteric writing, in which an author ostensibly has complete control over the course of the argument in their work and intends it to say different things to different audiences (note: intention does not necessarily guarantee success). As far as a conclusion to be drawn from this tension goes, I can only say that I do not have one. Once revision of the chapter on which I'm working is complete, perhaps I will update this post.


  1. David, I think it's a good exercise to practice translating, and keeping at it no matter how frustrating it gets.

    One caveat: I'm sure you've heard this from other people, but 'strictly literal' is not always 'better.'

  2. Of course there is the problem of misinterpretation when one translates literally, especially in the case of someone (like Heidegger) who uses metaphor and idiom as philosophical argumentation. I think when I say 'literal' I mean with a high degree of literal precision, i.e., no paraphrase, no introduction of terms foreign to the thought of the thinker in question, striving for consistency in translation of terms, etc. The history of Heidegger translation is rife with examples which go against this translational spirit, and while I do not aspire to be a Heidegger translator, I hope to increase my ability to spot such suspect interpolations of the text. As an example of what I consider to be the antithesis of the idea of translation I have, see Contributions to Philosophy: From Enowning (the title alone raises the hairs on my neck - what the hell is 'enowning?' Would a German reader, confronting Heidegger for the first time, understand it in that way? Or, would the reader come to understand it in that way only after being led to that point by Heidegger?). All this being said, encountering the texts in the original language can never be replaced. A good translation should serve only as a cartographical guide to that which is translated.