Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On Translation for Beauty

Esolen is a serious academic.  By no co-incidence, his essay touches on the concept of 'beauty' in translated texts.

...Apologists for the cardboard-twinkie texts we gnash down every week argue for something called “dynamic equivalence,” by which is meant the translation of the general idea of an original text into something that conveys that idea in the receiving language. But the premises here are corrupt at the roots. To see why, consider the Bauhaus modernist architecture of the twentieth century. Architects like Le Corbusier proclaimed that they were going to create “machines for living,” utterly rational – it was supposed – boxes designed for maximum efficiency for our daily needs. But who wants to live in a box?

Umnnhhhh, good question!

Human beings are embodied souls. They crave beauty. They like music. They invent poetry. The Italian housewife in the second story of a medieval stone house festoons her balcony with geraniums and eggplants. She keeps pictures of her nieces and nephews in a glass hutch with fancy knobs, next to a statue of Jesus of the Sacred Heart.

American housewives do that, too.

...When we speak, we do not simply convey information, as data might be fed into a computer. We express surprise, gratitude, humor, sadness, love. We revel in the physicality of our words. We bring whole scenes of life to mind....the good translator seeks to penetrate more deeply into the beauty and the richness of the words and the expressions in the original language. Poetry should be translated as poetry, prayer as prayer, oratory as oratory. 

...It’s nonsense to suppose that some “common language” of the street corner exists, into which the common Greek of the New Testament should be translated:  nonsense, because in both contexts we are dealing with human beings, not data processors, and human beings, especially in the time of Jesus, speak one way when they are ordering their groceries, and another way when they are praying. They launch into flights of fancy; they rhyme, they alliterate, they build to a climax; they repeat themselves, they reverse direction; they shed light upon a vista of meanings as various as the flowers in a garden, then they shroud all in darkness. Thus it may be rightly said that the problem with a mechanically literal translation is that it is not literal enough, that is fails to capture the fullness of meaning suggested by the fascinating bodiliness and spirituality of the speaking human person.

All of that applies, mutatis mutandis, to music-for-worship, too.  It is simply inane to drag la strada (or the hotel lounge, or Alpine Valley) into a church and pretend that it is 'music for worship.'  The language is different; it serves a different purpose.  In a lot of cases, the music is not even 'beautiful.'

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