Sunday, October 14, 2007

Forethought/afterthought about translation

It was reported to me yesterday that a week ago at a thanksgiving pot-luck held at our church, there were several street-people who were seriously drunk or stoned and who were very impolite at the lunch, playing out the role of spoilers at a love-feast. This morning I have just listened to a beautiful performance of Ave Verum Corpus by Imant Raminsh, performed by the Cantilon Children's chorus of Edmonton under Heather Johnson ( will have that online but I can't find the click).

I try to imagine translating Psalm 51 for these two groups of people: the vagabonds of the street or intelligent children who sing meaningfully in Latin. One thing I would say is - don't talk down to us. Certainly the children will understand penitence. As for the mentally ill, and the self-abusers, perhaps it would be good for them to have their consciences touched by covenant - if indeed such is still possible for them. Let them all be considered capabable of understanding the inscrutable imprecisions of language.

How then do we translate this psalm of a sinner (David) touched so deeply (via Nathan). Not by philosophy. It is God's word and covenant that we are dealing with - translation is not loss but reaching out to known and unknown friends and enemies. We are not conveying words as so much baggage. We are not engaging in spoon-feeding.

It is God who completes the work he has begun in us and we do not know in advance what our end is. Did those sinners who translated the KJV know that their translations would have such a long life? I am only stating the obvious - the very things that cannot be stated. The work of translation is completed by the reader not by the translator. I.e. Give us work to do - don't dumb it down.

Update: I find myself in agreement with John on this issue.
Update2: see Iyov's series beginning here.

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