David Bentley Hart–Through a Gloss, Darkly

What even a translator of genius can never give us, however, is the original author’s true likeness. Even the best translation is a darkened mirror, in which one glimpses only a partial figure moving among shadows. At times the mirror becomes very obscure indeed, at others delightfully bright; but at no time can any translator permit us to meet the artist face to face.

The problems of translation have been in my thoughts a great deal lately, for a variety of reasons. The most trivial of these is that I have been dipping into foreign versions of some of my own books, as well as I can, and sighing at the frequent accidental deformations of meaning. It is not that I feel myself greatly aggrieved by the mistakes I find; the texts in question are not exactly deathless masterpieces to be dithered over reverentially by their poor translators. I have, however, begun to wonder whether such distortions of meaning are not inevitable.

If nothing else, seeing what has become of my own words at the other end of the linguistic alembic has begun to make me doubt the profit in the whole enterprise of translation, even as I grant the necessity of that enterprise.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Books, Philosophy, Poetry & Literature, Religion & Culture, Theology

One comment on “David Bentley Hart–Through a Gloss, Darkly

  1. Don R says:

    That I find his brief meditation fascinating is probably a true measure of language nerdiness. It’s true, I think, that we lose a lot in translation. It’s interesting that there seems to be general agreement among Islamic scholars that no translation of the Koran is really legitimate; only the original Arabic counts. I’ve always wondered what we’ve lost as Christians not just by accepting vernacular translations, but, maybe even deeper, by having so few leaders in the church with a knowledge of Scripture in the original languages. And the penultimate paragraph is thought-provoking: that Jesus is God’s translation of Himself into human form.