Thursday, June 04, 2009

Translating Nietzsche

Via Jessa Crispin (is she in Berlin, GERMANY, or some other Berlin?), novelist-jeweler-professor Clancy Martin talks about translating Nietzsche:
Can you describe some of your difficulties, or frustrations, or something, in doing a new translation of Beyond Good and Evil?

Well, part of the difficulty is adding value, because unlike Thus Spoke Zarathurstra--which still has not been translated properly, my own translation sucks as do all of the others--the existing translations of Beyond Good and Evil are not bad. Kaufmann’s is the best, and improving on him is the challenge, while not making changes just for the sake of making changes. He made some textual errors and over-edited and missed some philosophical subtlety, especially in the use of terminology--Nietzsche is very careful and precise about his word choice, Kaufmann often is not--so all that is helpful. But the major frustration in translation, for me, is when you sense that you are wrestling with an intelligence much greater than your own, and a writer whose talents far exceed your own, and trying to do justice to the subtlety of that intelligence, and the elegance, range of connotation in the writing. You can puzzle over a sentence for hours. That’s the other frustrating part about it, of course, is making the time to do it properly. I am email acquaintances with Richard Pevear, the great translator with his partner Volokhonsky of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and others, and we have talked a little bit about this--I don’t know how they do it, or how someone like Lydia Davis does it--but I think they are extremely disciplined people, and they work very regular work days, and work over it and over it until they get it right. I am still not disciplined enough, and I tend to do too many different projects at the same time: I need to learn to focus. “Purity of heart is to will one thing,” as Kierkegaard reminds us. I don’t have a pure enough heart to ever be a really good translator, I don’t think. But I will keep at it, and hope to continue to translate for the rest of my life.
Shocking to confess for TBA, I know, but I've never actually cared much for TSZ, whose faux-biblical prophetic air bores me. I think of it as a book that Nietzsche really needed to write, but that we do not necessarily need to read. But I've seen Martin's edition at Barnes & Noble before & found it attractive; maybe I will have to give it a spin now.

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