Curative Sympathies

This week marked International Translation Day, what is in the West the patron saint's day of translators, the holiday of St. Jerome of Stridonium. There was an interesting translator's day post written by Damion Searls at The Paris Review: "Translations are creative acts that don’t come from the self, at least not in the usual sense: In the translator’s creativity, the generative seed isn’t planted in quite the same way. There’s a third party involved, a God or Gabriel, an author who’s both the originator and totally absent from the actual formation of the translated work, or at least invisible in it." I think Searls was talking about the emptiness that precludes inspiration; when it comes to translating, there is indeed a silence or receptivity that one must bring to the text if one is to receive it, and then carry it across. And I think that this gift does not only apply to translation but also to life in general.
For example, in the Phaedrus, Socrates argues that a good speaker is one who has investigated the nature of who he is talking to. More specifically, he must "find out the class of speech adapted to each nature, and must arrange and adorn his discourse accordingly, offering to the complex soul elaborate and harmonious discourses, and simple talks to the simple soul" (277c). For the speaker is like a doctor, who "must analyze a nature, in one that of the body and in the other that of the soul, if you are to proceed in a scientific manner, not merely by practice and routine, to impart health and strength to the body by prescribing medicine and diet, or by proper discourses and training" (270b). In sum, he must "classify the speeches and the souls and will adapt each to the other, showing the causes of the effects produced and why one kind of soul is necessarily persuaded by certain classes of speeches, and another is not" (271b).
This is like becoming a fine-tuned instrument, able to receive the vibrations of the strumming fingers; there is something selfless about this. It is creative, in that it engenders words across mediums or borders.
One seeks to become a friend to something else. This is συμπάθεια, where the word means corresponding affection or quality-interestingly, the word also has a medical sense, corresponding to the Phaedrus excerpts.




To be a friend, though, one must be stable. In Lysis, Socrates says, "the good are like one another, and are friends, while the bad ... are never like even their own selves, being so ill-balanced and unsteady; and when a thing is unlike itself and variable it can hardly become like or friend to anything else" (214 c-d). The bad translator cannot identify with the text they are translating, unable to have appropriate corresponding affection for themselves. I do not mean to imply that I am not such a one; rather that the effort must be made to not be such an one. "The charges we bring against other often come home to ourselves ... so our eloquence ends by telling against ourselves," writes St. Jerome in Selected Letters.
Thinking of St. Jerome this week, I remembered the saying attributed to him, used at the incipit of Hardy's Tess, "If an offence come out of the truth, better it is that the offence come than that the truth be concealed." (In the context of this post, the truth is the difficulty the human character has in being in tune with and knowing its own self let alone being able to listen to others and prescribe what is needed.) I am not sure that the quotation is actually something that St. Jerome wrote, but did find the gist of that meaning in his Selected Letters, XL, where he too speaks of medicine.
"Those medical men whom folk call surgeons are thought to be cruel and really are pitiful. ... Is it not pitiful to show no horror at treating a malady which seems horrible even to the patient, and to be considered the sufferer's enemy? ... our spiritual surgeons by cutting into the faults of sinners exhorted men to repentance." In this same letter, in his signature acerbic style, he lists all the things he is only too happy to rebuke or sneer and laugh at, which suggests he may think it better nothing be concealed, even if it offends.
There are other teachings according to which a truth told at the wrong time is worse than a lie. But regarding translation, the truth of a given text is meant to shine through, and it will, or not, at least to those able to access the original and judge it. For example, one is to know that in some theatre discourse what is meant is masque and not mask. The laborious attempted search for meaning and stopping where meaning stops to find it again—this may be curative sympathy.
I found a new multilingual blog this week in which the author in one post quotes Hubert Dreyfus: "Heidegger would point out that a minimally meaningful life requires sensitivity to the power of shared moods that give mattering to our world and unity and meaning to events."



Brush: Ewansim grunge at DeviantART.
Picture of pattypan squash to indicate the shared mood of the baking receptacles 
this vegetable is named after in English and French (pâtisson).

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