new translations

kellner at kellner at
Thu Nov 30 07:40:45 UTC 1995

Satyanad Kichenassamy slightly misunderstood me: 

>This is further to B. Kellner's comments. Her final piece of advice
> "do not read anything into the text which is not there" cannot be
>stressed too strongly. The following comments wmay be relevant.

It was not my piece of advice, but one I got repeatedly, and I find it
increasingly less useful. In other words: I reject or criticize this piece
of advice, I do not condone it. 

>(1) I think most of us would agree that there is such a thing as a
>`scientific translation.' It is one which aims at conveying the intent of
>the author as far as it has been reconstructed, AND NOTHING ELSE. There is
>another kind, which aims at expressing the creative reaction of the
>translator to the work of another. Several poets have tried their hand at
>the latter. They are interesting and informative, as any other literary
>production is, for the light they shed on their author and his/her own
>context. They may be one of the means for ideas from one culture to be
>(deformed and) assimilated into another. As far as Indian Studies are
>concerned, it seems that it is desirable first and foremost to try to
>understand what the texts mean. 

This suggests that there is a type of translation which is more mechanical
than another, less creative, and sort of shuts off the translator's own
ideas during a machine-like process of copying chunks of meaning from one
language into the other. Every translation presupposes a process of
understanding a text. I consider understanding a text to be much more than
merely passive reception - it is a creative process, indeed, and trying to
get one's own understanding into one's own words, which nevertheless
translate the original text, is creative, too, which doesn't mean that it
can't be scientific in the sense of being accurate, documented and

The same holds for the requirement that nothing but the intent of the author
should be conveyed in a scientific translation. First of all, the provision
"as far as it has been reconstructed" already shows that the access to
auctorial intention is not straightforward. Also, an author's intention is
necessarily uniform. He might want to comment on another author's text in
one passage, direct nasty remarks against opponents in the next and simply
drift off into his own thoughts in the third. 

>Indian philosophers used freely
>the scientific knowledge of their time in their work, and there is no
>reason why we cannot do the same, updating or amending their arguments as
>necessary. Of course, it is but too easy to detect scientific errors in 
>philosophical and religious texts of all cultures...that does not mean 
>that philosophy and religion do not deal with very real problems.

So what, then, is the use of a translation when you freely update or amend
their arguments? Why bother translating in the first place? This approach is
also at odds with your previously expressed requirement that translations
should maintain the intention of the author. Intentions are bound to
particular historical circumstances and linked to specific target-audiences.
If you update Dharmakiirtian ideas into theories of computer-vision, you may
arrive at indeed creative interpretations, but you do not translate anymore. 

Birgit Kellner
Institute for Indian Philosophy
University of Hiroshima


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