Andy Martin writes in The New York Times:
But translation is always an interpretation. In this case, the translator had written something like this, updating New York ’50s sexist humor into ’90s Parisian political correctness: “Here is an example of a sentence that is manifestly impossible to translate: ‘A man is only as old as the woman he can feel inside of him trying to express herself.’”
In my opinion, you don’t have to be mad to translate, but it probably helps.
Read it all: “The Treachery of Translators.”
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But, some may be asking themselves, do I have the strength (do I have the stomach?) to take up one more time that awful issue of translation?
OK, gang, look: the Missal translation (process and result) didn’t go well, and it brought way too much ill will and division and hurt feelings to the Catholic Church.
When will come healing? When reconciliation? “God… has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation. … Behold, now is a very acceptable time” (2 Cor 5:18, 6:2)
I continue to post on translation at Pray Tell, I post suggestions that come my way for improving the infelicities in the Missal translation. I hope it is constructive to do so, and I hope it is received in a constructive spirit.
This isn’t about grinding an axe, nursing old wounds, keeping alive the heady days of the missal battle from a couple years ago. This isn’t about ridiculing the work of fellow Christians and fellow Catholics. Everyone directly involved in the translation, including those who made the strange and funny changes in the final text, did what they thought best for the Church. They made compromises – no doubt hoping that such flexibility would help the controversial text be received better – and then got attacked for being inconsistent and playing fast and loose with their own principles. That must have hurt.
The new Missal is a fact. I accept it and use it. I do my best to implement it. When presiding at or attending Mass, I do my best to think about the great mysteries being celebrated, not about what’s wrong with the text or what’s wrong with the system that created it.
As J. Peter Nixon (I believe it was) from Commonweal once said online (I’m paraphrasing now from memory), we did great creative things with a bland, crappy translation for 40 years, and we can do great creative things with this clunky and pretentious translation. (OK, those adjectives are mine and not his.)
I hope we can get as soon as possible to a place where we all respect each other, we all unite around this Missal, and we all talk calmly and respectfully about how to keep on improving our translation abilities. The next Missal may be 10 years off or 50 years off, but there will be a next Missal. The more insight and scholarship given to the translation issue between now and then, the better.
Maybe, just maybe in God’s great design (he writes straight with crooked lines, you know…), this Missal is what we need to make good progress toward better things in the future. Maybe this Missal is what we need to make the transition toward liturgical language that is serious and reverent, and when the next Missal revision also has some natural English lyricism to it, we’ll all be grateful that, back in 2011, we at least moved into the right register of language for worship.
So, in that spirit. go read the NYTimes article. Keep on thinking about how complicated translation is, about how no translation is “accurate,” about how every translation is an interpretation, about how every translation is temporary. Keep on thinking about how to improve what we have. And use what we have – use it to pray for our Church, our bishops, and each other.
Pax in Christo,