Monday, December 29, 2008

A severed translation

Once a translation is out of the database, it is gone from you, and you no longer have control over it. If you want to know what word you used here or there, you have to go and read it. You can no longer look it up and see it in relationship to all the other uses of that word. The decision has been made. The task is over. The database in its working form does not even contain the same words that you just let go into the ether. They are in html and their raw forms are somewhere else. And ancient souls did it all without technology!

What was I doing here? How short and how specialized a book I chose - but a representative subset of an enormous tradition. How impossible - every minute decision, whether brilliant or ignorant, is now released. Without the Hebrew beside it, the English moves into its own place, whether deserving or not. What did I think I was trying to do - besides learn a little Hebrew, and reach back into the mind of ancient writer and ancient readers - and at least bump up against the decisions made for me by other translators?

I know what I was thinking - is it possible that one might, by mimicking the shape of another's words, find words to enable the gift today? Perhaps.

I continue to look for ways to enter these words yet more deeply. Richard suggests doing the Anglican cycle. I see the online cycle misses no psalm except on 28 day months. I am still looking for the chain of themes - too complex to image at the moment - and I don't expect to find them (if they exist) in the traditional translations - because I don't think the translators were looking for them in the way I have been looking.

I made a brief list of the problems and decisions I encountered while learning this field of translation: the text, the pronouns, prepositions, verbs - tense, mood, aspect; untranslatable terms, covenant terms, imagery, idiom, literature, belief systems. Apart from words - did I catch the dialogue, the relationship, the physical experience of the psalmist? Just a few problems.

If you read and are shocked by my words - say so in a comment. Maybe I can justify the decision - maybe not. But above all - read and enjoy the greater gift than ever I could give. The completion that is possible is not my doing.

No comments: