Thursday, 7 October 2010

How to make friends and influence people

Impressively, two people correctly guessed that the philosopher so harshly denounced by his translator was none other than Immanuel Kant, German thinker extraordinaire and possessor of a freakishly large head, if this painting is to be believed (maybe it was just an awkward angle). The translator was one J.M.D. Mieklejohn, not a man to mince his words. He was prepared to concede that there were some good reasons for Kant's failure to express himself clearly; after all:

He took twelve years to excogitate his work and only five months to write it. He was a German professor, a student of solitary habits, and had never, except on one occasion, been out of Konigsberg. He had, besides, to propound a new system of philosophy, and to enounce ideas that were entirely to revolutionise European thought.
And y'know, his writing's not all bad:

His expression is often as precise and forcible as his thought; and, in some of his notes especially, he sums up in two or three apt and powerful words, thoughts which, at other times, he employs pages to develop. His terminology, which has been so violently denounced, is really of great use in clearly determining his system, and in rendering its peculiarities more easy of comprehension.
Very charitable of Mr. Mieklejohn. He's less kind about Kant's previous translators:

A previous translation of the Kritik exists, which, had it been satisfactory, would have dispensed with the present. But the translator had, evidently, no very extensive acquaintance with the German language, and still less with his subject. A translator ought to be an interpreting intellect between the author and the reader; but, in the present case, the only interpreting medium has been the dictionary.
Ouch. It's not just the translators Mieklejohn lays into: he also points out that all the other English books about Kant

were written by men who either took no pains to understand Kant or were incapable of understanding him.
Mieklejohn also says that the reason he undertook his own translation was because he was asked to proof read another translation by 'a scholar of some repute', but

after having laboured through about eighty pages, I found, from the numerous errors and inaccuracies pervading it, that hardly one-fifth of the original MS remained. I, therefore, laid it entirely aside, and commenced de novo.
It must be nice to be so thoroughly superior to almost everyone else, though you wonder whether, at the end of it, Mieklejohn had any friends left. Still, definitely my favourite translator's introduction ever. I hope one day to attain such dizzying heights of cattiness, contempt and confidence in my own abilities. It's good to have goals, right?

1 comment:

Jason Davies said...

In celebrity-geek land it almost seems normal to denounce someone's hard labour as complete rubbish before being guided by the hand of God to write your own masterpiece.

I look forward to seeing 'Marika lays the smackdown on X' some day. You will of course have to delete the blog post afterwards because it was too awesome and attracted too many wannabes. And because you lost all your friends.