A note on person and discourse in translation

During my time in seminary I was fascinated with the implications and practices of translation; the word ‘translator’ itself is caught up with the term ‘traitor’.  There is no faithful translation; no 1-to-1 equivalence.  This, also, of course does not mean there are not better and worse translations.  And how we judge these translations will depend on prior motivations and orientations.  But that there is no faithful translation should seem practically self-evident but of course theologies have a way of skewing the picture.  My seminary still held a confession of faith maintaining an inspiration of scripture in their original form.  Again, that whole articulation should be self-evidently problematic, but I digress (I should also note the institutions confession was more a function of the governing board than the faculty).

I remember having a conversation about translation with one of my professors.  He proposed the image of a person fluently bilingual creating a poem and speaking it in both languages.  For him, this would represent a faithful translation.  For some reason this memory came to mind as representing precisely the issue with (largely) evangelical or more conservative orientations to the world that hold to the autonomy or elevation of the individual to the neglect of social forces.  There was no conceding that the languages being spoken represented distinct discourses that held ideological forms and expressions that influenced the meaning of everything.  In this professor’s mind the intention of the author was a trump that could overcome this.  There was an inability to see how his own theological discourse was keeping him from understanding the realities and forces at work beyond him.

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