Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Translation

One day I'll find the time to read Kierkegaard again, I hope, and to try my hand at translating him. Here are two sentences from The Sickness unto Death:

Den socratiske Definition hjælper sig da saaledes. Naar En ikke gjør det Rette, saa har han heller ikke forstaaet det; hans Forstaaen er en Indbildning; hans Forsikkring om at have forstaaet en feil Direction; hans gjentagne Forsikkring om Fanden gale ham at have forstaaet, en uhyre, uhyre Fjernhed ad den størst mulige Omvei.

Here's the official (Penguin) English translation by Alistair Hannay:

The Socratic definition covers itself as follows. When a person does not do the right thing, then neither has he understood; his understanding is an illusion; his protestation of understanding is a misleading message, his repeated protestations that he'll be damned if he doesn't understand, a huge, huge distance away on the greatest possible detour.

It comes off a bit like a Dane's attempt translate his own writing. Here's what I'd do with it:

The Socratic definition offers itself as follows. When someone fails to do the right thing, then neither has he understood it; his understanding is a delusion, his assurances that he's understood, a diversion, his repeated assurances that you better damned well believe he's understood, a monstrous, monstrous distraction by way of the greatest possible detour.

Not bad, if I do say so myself. I'll update this post with some notes later.


Presskorn said...

I am not sure where you getting the "you" and the "belief" from in this part of your translation: "his repeated assurances that you better damned well believe he's understood".

It translates "hans gjentagne Forsikkring om Fanden gale ham at have forstaaet", where there is no "you"[du] and no "belief"[tro].

I think "his repeated assurances that he has damned well understood" is better.

I think your temptation to put an extra pronoun in your translation (and a verb for this pronoun) might stem from a temptation to translate the reflexive pronoun "ham" in "Fanden gale ham". But that phrase is really just a way of swearing, which is already translated by "damned well".

It is a rather tricky phrase for a contemporary translator, because Danish does not use "Fanden gale ham" anymore, but only "fanden gale mig" or "fanden gale'me".

PS: I also wondered if the original translation “his repeated protestations [assurances is probably better] that he'll be damned if he doesn't understand” might not be best after all, since that translation does translate the reflexive pronoun - in some way, e.g. by means of a normal pronoun.

But my intuition about the fine grain semantics of the English phrase, “he'll be damned if he doesn't understand”, is that it loosely implies that subject spoken of, i.e. “he”[the sinner], admits the possibility of him being mistake. And Kierkegaard does not mean to imply that the sinner admits of such a possibility. In fact Kierkegaard seems to imply exactly the opposite. But I might be wrong about this intuition, in which case the original translation seems best.

Thomas said...

Yes, you're of course right at a literal level. I'm trying to capture the "grain" of the passage rather than any literal meaning, however. That's not to say that once the grain has been located, it can't also be brought more formally in line with the grammar of the original, but if I ever do take on this project I'm going to be trying to reproduce the visceral effect of reading Kierkegaard, not the cerebral effect. I want to show how it feels in the gut to S.K., not what happens in yer head.

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Presskorn said...

Hmmm... yes... In any case, I like your distinction between celebral and visceral in relation to translation (especially since I have somewhat of a fetich for medical vocabulary/metaphors in general)...