Friday, October 31, 2008

Translation exercise

This text, from Mount Analogue by René Daumal, is quite well-known in English-speaking mountaineering circles:-

Definitions - Alpinism is the art of climbing mountains by confronting the greatest dangers with the greatest prudence. Art is used here to mean the accomplishment of knowledge in action. You cannot always stay on the summits. You have to come down again... So what’s the point? Only this: what is above knows what is below, what is below does not know what is above. While climbing, take note of all the difficulties along your path. During the descent, you will no longer see them, but you will know that they are there if you have observed carefully. There is an art to finding your way in the lower regions by the memory of what you have seen when you were higher up. When you can no longer see, you can at least still know. . .

But we wondered how it would sound in Japanese. The translation here is by my Japanese teacher, Nagao-sensei:-






Chris ( said...

A very interesting translation. The first line in particular has been bugging me all day though. There's something jarring between "the art of climbing mountains" and "登山の技術". I was convinced that "gijutsu", that bastard invention of Meiji wordsmiths, was to blame. But the second line jumps out, too. The original text has nothing corresponding to 単なる知識ではなく, but in the original too the whole line seems somewhat out of place, as if it should have been a minor footnote rather than stuck in the middle of the text.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if Daumal wasn't in fact searching for a phrase more like the original Greek "techne", which encompassed art, science, the application of knowledge, skill and beauty. The closest he could come was "l'art", but clearly felt uncomfortable with the nuances and consequently had to qualify the phrase in the second line. Ironically "gijutsu", which comes much closer to the original meaning of "techne", might have been just the word he needed.

So I wonder if the second line is not redundant in the Japanese version? Would anyone reading "gijutsu" mistake it for anything other than the accomplishment of knowledge in action?

Captain Interesting said...

Thanks for these interesting comments, Chris. I think Nagao-sensei too was unhappy with "技術" - presumably that's why she's put the word in quotation marks. As for the original text, this comes from the appendix of fragments that were never incorporated in the more finished parts of the (unfinished) novel. This helps to explain the apparent leaps in logic from one sentence to another ...

Anonymous said...

 また、2文目の訳文を逆に英語にしてみると、"The 'art' here does not just mean simple knowledge, but has to be actually shown in action."ぐらいになりますか?原文を、このように解釈してもいいのかなあと、また、考え込んでしまいました。
 ここで使われている"art"という語について、Chrisさんの、the original Greek "techne", which encompassed art, science, the application of knowledge, skill and beautyというとらえ方が、どうもしっくりするような気がします。とすると、やはり、アルピニズムをなんらかの「技術」であると日本語にしてしまうのは、もうひとおし、一考を要するかもしれません。

Peter Skov said...

I just stumbled upon this little gem here tonight and I found the ensuing conversation about the choice of words as interesting as the original post itself. My Japanese ability is good enough to be able to read most of the translation but not good enough to offer any constructive comments. However, I would like to say that in my experience with languages I have sometimes found that there are cases when I need a word in English but realize I don't know just the right word to suit the meaning and nuance, even though English is my first language, but I will be able to think of an appropriate word in another language (usually Japanese). If I use an English word that's close but not exactly what I want, I feel a nagging sensation whenever I read my sentence. Therefore I understand that both authors may have been dissatisfied with the result, wishing they had a better word to use.