One year ago on Round and Square (9 May 2011)—Displays of Authenticity: Tip Jars
|[a] Re: public RF|
And, just for the record, regular readers probably already know that I will post the actual lectures not long after they have been given. This week's posts focus on the preparation process, and tackling Allan Bloom's arguments should get your blood pumping. Today's text comes from the original preface to his incomparable translation of Plato's Republic.
|[b] Contrast RF|
Conservatism? In academia? I hear you cry...
Yes. As I have already noted in "Flowers Bloom," conservatives love to love Bloom. He has been venerated by the likes of William Buckley, William Kristol, and Rush Limbaugh. Whether Bloom loved them back is another question, and I have my own ideas on that matter after several tens of hours of discussion with Bloom in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Let's just say, for now, that one wouldn't recognize much of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, or Grover Norquist in Professor Bloom, and today's Republican party—while containing the member here or there who has read Bloom's work—often don't know what to do with his unashamedly intellectual focus or his lifestyle.
Of the latter, don't over-interpret. I just mean that he loved France.
|[c] Past RF|
Bloom was complex, and caricatures of him are facile. This is why I am writing about him twenty-five years after our first meeting. Yes, I found him to be argumentative and often overly-critical of the study of culture and history—especially for someone who spent a lot of time thinking about culture and history.
Nonetheless, he was unquestionably one of the most influential teachers I have ever had. This is because I have read his books without rushing to judgment. Unlike some of my peers back in graduate school, I did not revere Professor Bloom. I wasn't one of the "disciples" (as some of us mocked our Bloomian peers back in the day). This might have been why I read his work carefully and critically. It was a godsend to be able to argue...and discuss...some of these matters with him. In this case, the text below and some of my discussions with Bloom led me to rethink many of my preconceptions about translation just at the time that I was starting to do a good deal of it myself. Greek. Chinese. You might be surprised how engaged in such conversation Bloom could be.
I recommend doing what I did a quarter century ago. Read Bloom. Let him tick you off (he'll try, I guarantee you). Work through some of the nooks and crannies of his positions. It changed my life—no matter how I might have felt about literal translations...and other stuff.
Allan Bloom (1968)
This is intended to be a literal translation. My goal—unattained—was the accuracy of William of Moerbeke's Latin translations of Aristotle. These versions are so faithful to Aristotle's text that they are authorities for the correction of the Greek manuscripts, and they enabled Thomas Aquinas to become a supreme interpreter of Aristotle without knowing Greek.
|[d] Big deux RF|
The difference from age to age in the notions of the translator's responsibility is in itself a chapter of intellectual history. Certainly the popularization of the classics is one part of that chapter. But there seem to be two major causes for the current distaste for literal translations—one rooted in the historical science of our time, the other rooted in a specific, and I believe erroneous, view of the character of Platonic books.
|[e] Text RF|
|[f] Platon RF|
It is not usually understood how difficult it is to see the phenomena as they were seen by the older writers. It is one of the most awesome undertakings of the mind, for we have divided the world up differently, and willy-nilly we apply our terms, and hence the thoughts behind them, to the things discussed. It is always the most popular and questionable terms of our own age that seem most natural; it is virtually impossible to speak without using them. For example, H.D.P. Lee, in describing his view of a translator's responsibility, says, "The translator must go behind what Plato said and discover what he means, and if, for example, he says 'examining the beautiful and the good' must not hesitate to render this as 'discussing moral values' if that is in fact the way in which the same thought would be expressed today." (The Republic [London: Penguin, 1956], p. 48) But if one hurries too quickly "behind" Plato's speech, one loses the sense of the surface. Lee shares with Cornford and many other translators the assurance that they have a sufficient understanding of Plato's meaning, and that meaning is pretty much the kind of thing Englishmen or Americans already think. However, it might be more prudent to let the reader decide whether "the beautiful and the good" are simply equivalent to "moral values." If they are the same, he will soon enough find out. And if they are not, as may be the case, he will not be prevented from finding that out and thereby putting his own ideas to the test...
 Plato, Republic [Translated with an introduction by Allan Bloom] (New York: Basic Books, 1968), xi-xiii.
Plato, Republic [Translated with an introduction by Allan Bloom]. New York: Basic Books, 1968.
|[g] Big trois RF|