Translating Scholarship (into life?)

There is a line in a τροπάριον: "Thou were translated to life" after death. This attribute is explained as a result of excellent properties to begin with. But what of translation of the more mundane and performed by inferior translators? I am bringing a troparian into the conversation I am about to start about less lofty academic translation and my lowliest-of-the-low place in academia as an attempt at deflection. There are so many translaters/professors today who sell themselves and their work as flawless and the-latest-best-thing despite glaring inadequacies. They are so numerous that to wish to discuss the problems and difficulties of the craft seems like it might attract unnecessary criticism. But I wish so much for a space of properly cooperative maieutics, in which all interlocutors question themselves as much as the subject at hand.
My absence from this blog is largely due to an academic book I am translating. In many ways, working on it has felt like getting another doctorate. There are so many terms that need researching that I have ended up reading the texts of what has been cited. In many ways, working on this book has also filled all the gaps I saw in my own doctorate. Goodness forbid one admit such a thing, but unless I am being criticized by one of Jowett's ilk, I am no longer interested in the idea of listening to criticism that does not also bring relief. By relief, I mean all its etymology implies: assistance, and a raising up.
My doctorate was very broad in a way that has only become possible in this age. I did not even realise the extent to which it was a product of its time (which I was blinded to because I felt a moral obligation to research the precedents to almost all of the topics I covered) until I started to translate the book I am struggling with. I knew I'd been missing something, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Now I know - so this book I am translating has been a gift, although my person-to-person social life has suffered. (As they were in childhood, friends are also books.)
As I was saying, I did not subscribe to any school of thought in the dissertation but made a quilt, which you appreciate is not done in adacemic settings (I write in gest: "domestic Suzy attempts to write a dissertation", except I am not Suzy Homemaker, more like a vagabond, well, an itinerant: in homeless thought - by which I mean: make a home on this earth, are you kidding?!)


But the book I am translating has brought together all the theory A Person Like Me could find a home in. I finally found my legacy. The irony of this whole situation is that the very title of my disseration would place it in another department from where I defended it, according to what the book suggests (the title was a very generous gift to me, which I wonder if I deserved).
Some of what I didn't know, I know now - but what an uncomfortable way to learn, in one's own moccasins. Isn't one supposed to be mechanically streamlined out of such pain in academia? Most people are.
And most people seem not to share the same issues I have with translation. I never systematically learned the langauge I am translating from. And as a person who is old-school at heart if unschooled, this is very painful because I know in advance there will be mistakes I won't see. I am obviously trying to avoid this: highlighting what I am unsure of, asking native speakers. But there is just so much material, and I was told that it would be very nice for everything to be finished by a certain time - so that weighs on a person like me, which is another mistake. It is scary to have an entire book one is responsible for especially when it contains good ideas to begin with. All these months, I have been unsure if I am the 'man for the job.
But somehow, I find myself where I am. It seems, for now, I've been asked back to teach another year at university - which I love, because I love all of this reading, even though there is just so much sometimes I feel that I am drowning. When I am not drowning, I feel like a detective, learning something about the human condition. So, here I am.


One night, when I was feeling the depression of uncertainty of "being here", I turned to a documentary on Jakcson Pollock, whose paintings I don't like in theory but honestly really enjoy, especially in person. It seems that in a radio interview once he said, "Method is ... a natural growth out of a need." I am not sure this translates into academia. It seems rather risky if you ask me, particularly because of the competition by administrative types.
But the good thing about having been reduced to the lowest on the totem pole (you see, by some, those directly above me, but not all) is that there is nothing left to lose. Yes, reputation, for example, if I fail at the translation. But as I read English translations of Bakhtin, for example, now with the eye of a translator, could I really be criticised? So often those texts retain the original syntax! I write this because I feel that I must be brave, but perhaps I just departed from reason into pathos.
I have a need to try this out, because it seems that even my mistakes make sense - and, most importantly, as a teacher, I try my hardest (which is not to say totally successfully) to not close the doors to other's needs, to not squash, but to foster, curiosity even where I disagree with it. From that standard I try to set, I hope to be afforded the same in response.
But we do not live in Candy Land, and people are just waiting to cut others down to get ahead, especially in academia, perceived as a cushy job by those who don't bear the weight of the responsibility associated with it (which is not to say that bearing responsbility makes one perfect - it's all so tricky).
I can just try my best, and hope excellence will be achieved. But I also decided to write this post to ask for constructive criticism, if anyone has any.


Coda: I hope one day to write a book like Toelken's The Anguish of Snails - if this is a path that continues to be open to me. I see in his approach something of Gadamer's Truth and Method - but applied, and enjoy that while exposed to what can sometimes be the stifling aspects of academic life, he retains his curiosity; while he retains a wish for insight, he does not lose sight of responsibility.
Here are some quotations from his "Prologue": "My fieldwork experiences have probably not been much fifferent from those of many scholars who have discovered that culturally shaped expressions often defy objectve analsysis; in fact, we all run into unexpected events which totally change the picture we think we see". "Nonetheless, whenever I - and other scholars similarly inclined - have used these personal perspectives to resolve ethical issues according to Native preference rather than benefit scholarly propriety (say, by withdrawing or destroying dangerous or sensitive texts or choosing to avoid problematic themes), colleagues have issued sharp rebukes". "To my mind, a subjective approach does not preclude being careful and objective in a discussion; rather, it offers a special vantage point born of experience and engagement and should produce a richer analytical frame of reference." "Let's go along this cultural riverbank together, paying attention to what we actually see and hear that may offer us common ground for speculation, discovery, insight. We won't pretend to pry into the secret lives of snails, but we will try to account for the patterns in their shells".

Book in background: Butler's Midwest Modern; brush: Misprinted Type.

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