News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Letter to

Coming back to the Chinese edition of Asia Times today after a long hiatus, on looking at the Chinese version of Spengler’s Islam: Religion or political ideology? I found several problems. For example: (1) The first sentence of the second paragraph in the original article is missing completely from the Chinese version. (2) The second sentence of the second paragraph in the original is: “Kant was wrong, but wrong in a way that helps clarify the problem.” This is translated as 筆者不贊成康得的觀點,但認為他澄清了猶太教的問題。In English this translates to something like “The writer disagrees with Kant’s viewpoint, but believes he clarifies the problem with Judaism.” This not only kills the force, rhythm and irony of the sentence, but surely boggles the content as well. My own rough-hewn Chinese translation would be 康得錯了,但是這個錯誤反而有幫助澄清這個議題. In English this translates to something like “Kant was wrong, but his error ironically helps clarify this issue.” Translating English to Chinese is the reverse of what I do for a living, and I’m sure someone more competent could improve upon my attempt. But at least, I hope, I have managed to capture the meaning of the original. (3) I’ll speculate and say that Spengler aims to write in a precise style approaching that of Orwell’s essays. The Chinese version of this essay is however written in the drabbest journalese and as if prepared for a primer for readers of Chinese as a second language. I read the entirety of the English article and feel I learned something. I only read the first two paragraphs of the Chinese version before feeling I was reading just another tired editorial. As a hack translator myself, I realize the peculiar difficulty (but also the challenge and attraction) of translating Spengler's work, but perhaps someone could be hired who better understands what they’re reading, doesn’t delete sentences from the original, and writes precise, flowing Chinese prose.

Biff Cappuccino (Taipei, Taiwan)

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