M.G. Piety

Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Exhibition on Jews in the Danish Theater takes a Page from Tudvad’s Book!

In Kierkegaard and the Jews, News from Copenhagen on May 29, 2011 at 10:09 pm

There is a new exhibition entitled “Teater og kultur” (theater and culture) in the museum that is part of Hofteatret (the court theater) at Christiansborg Palace on Slotsholmen in Copenhagen. It concerns the relation between theater and the social-political life in mid-nineteenth-century Denmark. This was an extremely tumultuous period in Danish history. It was the beginning of genuine democracy in Denmark as well as the period of the Three Year’s War in Schleswig, a war as divisive for much of Danish society as was the Civil War for American society.

There are three parts to the exhibition. The first is entitled “Breve fra et grænseland” (letters from a borderland) and concerns the effect of the Three Year’s War on Fridolin Banner, a soldier on the Schleswig front, and his father, Johan Daniel Bauer an actor in the Danish Royal Theater who endured not merely constant rumors relating to the conflict in which his son was involved, but also a raging cholera epidemic in Denmark’s capital.

The second part of the exhibition is entitled “Kærlighed og magt I korridoreren” (love in the corridors of power) and concerns Frederik the Seventh and his lover, Louise Rasmussen, also known as Grevinde Danner (Countess Danner), to whom he was “married” as the Danes say “til venstre hand” (to the left hand).

Finally, the third part of the exhibition is entitled “Salomon, Esther og Shylock–jøder på scenen” (Salomon, Esther and Shylock–Jews on the stage). The following is a quotation from the AOK-Guide online (AOK stands for “Alt om København” which translates as “everything about Copenhagen”):

“As Peter Tudvad shows in his book Stadier på antisemitismens vej (stages on the way of anti-Semitism) (2010), Søren Kierkegaard went about in the middle of Golden-Age Copenhagen and contributed to the debate concerning the assimilation of Jews into Danish culture. One can also read in Tudvad’s book about the view of Jews in the theatrical community and their role in the Danish theater. The Theater Museum at Slotsholmen has taken up this thread from Tudvad’s book with an exhibition entitled “Salomon, Esther and Shylock–Jews on the stage.” The exhibition covers the period of Kierkegaard and Johanne Luise Heiberg up until the premier of Henrik Nathansen’s “Indenfor Murerene” at the Royal Theater in 1912–the same year the theater was opened.”

Click here for the AOK-Guide. The article didn’t say for how long the exhibition will be up. My suspicion is that it will be up all summer, so if you are planning a trip to Copenhagen this summer, you should definitely check it out.

I will have more on Tudvad’s book soon!

New Translation of Kierkegaard’s Edifying Discourses

In Publishing News on May 7, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Harper Collins has issued a new translation of some of Kierkegaard’s edifying discourses under their imprint Harper Perennial (Harper, 2010). It was with some trepidation that I awaited this new translation. Many of Kierkegaard’s works deserve better translations than they have yet received, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone could improve on the Swensons’ translation from 1943. The translator of this new edition is George Pattison, the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. The good news is that Pattison’s translation is better than the Hongs’. The bad news is that that’s damning with faint praise. Pattison’s translation is still a long way from being as good as the Swensons’ translation.

A blog is not the place to do a full-blown review, so I am going to look here only at the first discourse “Every Good and Every Perfect Gift is from Above.” Here are just a few of the problems with Pattison’s translation. First, he omits both the prayer and the passage from James that precede the discourse in Kierkegaard’s original edition, as well as in both the Swensons’ and the Hongs’ translations. Second, he interpolates section headings without indicating that they are interpolations. Third, despite the fact that he asserts in “A Note on the Translation” that he is not going to use a standard English language translation of the Bible (xxix), he uses a translation of James 1:17 that by contemporary standards is so awkward that although he repeats it verbatim where Kierkegaard uses it as section headings, he cannot himself stick to the wording in the body of the text.  The wording of the headings is “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the father of lights, in whom is no change or shadow of turning.” The problem, of course, is that contemporary readers expect a “there” between “whom” and “is no.” That expectation is so strong that Pattison inserts one himself when he quotes the passage in the body of the text at the top of page 13.

This awkward wording is undoubtedly from some recognized translation of the New Testament. Unfortunately, the reader doesn’t know which because Pattison doesn’t include a reference. Since he explains in his note on the translation that he’s not going to use a standard translation of the Bible, why didn’t he just edit this passage from James to make it more idiomatic?

Even more pressing is the question of why he didn’t use the wording from the King James translation. He explains that he wants to avoid archaic language and that is certainly laudable, but this passage from the King James translation is not particularly archaic and is more elegant than any later translation. It’s still missing the “there,” but that, again, could simply be interpolated. Its advantage over other translations is its use of “variableness” instead of “change.” The passage is difficult to translate from the Danish because the expressions Pattison translates as “change” and “turning,” “Forandring” and “Omskiftelse” respectively, both mean “change.” The translator thus has to be inventive to avoid a text that is awkwardly redundant. Pattison appears to have understood this and thus to have taken “turning” from some recognized translation of the Bible. Why not take “variableness” as well? It may be a less literal translation of “Forandring,” but it more accurately conveys the sense of Kierkegaard’s rendering of this passage from James.

Pattison has rather bizarre loyalties as a translator. He doesn’t want to violate the feeling of Kierkegaard’s original text by inserting archaisms where they do not appear in the original, but feels obliged to bring the text as much as possible into conformity with contemporary guidelines for the nonsexist use of language. Not only does this do at least as much violence to the text as would the insertion of archaisms, it occasionally renders it ungrammatical as is the case on the very first page where Pattison’s rendering of Kierkegaard’s text reads “These words are so beautiful, so eloquent, and so moving that it is certainly not their fault if the listener does not attend to them or they find no echo in our hearts.” The reader may wonder how “we” came in here. Well, “we” didn’t. The passage should read “if the listener does not attend to them or if they find no echo in his heart.” Pattison explains he’s going to substitute plural pronouns for singular ones in order to avoid the sexist use of language. He acknowledges that some readers may find this “inelegant” or even “barbaric” (xxxi). If by “barbaric” he means ungrammatical, then I am one of those readers and I suspect I am not alone.

If Pattison is, by his own account “somewhat free in adapting Kierkegaard’s often exclusive language to contemporary gender-inclusive usage” (xxx-xxxi), he is otherwise sometimes too literal as when he translates “suge Trøstens rige Næring af dem” as “suck the rich nourishment of comfort from them,” where “them” is understood to be the words of the aforementioned passage from James. Pattison’s translation is correct, but jarringly anatomical. Danish has fewer words than English so anatomical metaphors are not unusual in Danish. We have more choices in English, however, so we tend to have fewer overtly anatomical metaphors. Something along the lines of “draw from them the rich sustenance of consolation” would, I think, have been preferable.

Something similar happens with Pattison’s translation of “usund og skadelig Tilsætning” as “harmful additives.” “Tilsætning” is actually singular, so it should be “harmful additive.” Even if one corrects for that, however, the result is too pharmacological for my tastes. The Swensons’ “unsound and injurious decay” is less literal, but more elegant and hence more in keeping with the tone of the original.

Finally, Pattison’s translation of “al Guds Skabning er god” as “[a]ll God’s creatures are good” (14) is simply incorrect. “Skabing” is “creature” in the singular, but it can also be translated as “creation,” (see Ferrall-Repp. “Skabning”) and is properly so translated by the Swensons. The plural of “Skabning”–that is, “creatures”–is not “Skabning,” but “Skabninger.”

I could go on, but the rest of the problems I’ve found are similar to those listed above. There are good things, though, about the translation. It reads, for the most part, very naturally and the problems, at least in the first discourse, are all minor.  It is definitely an improvement on the Hongs’ translation and it is less expensive. My advice, however, if you do not yet have an English translation of Kierkegaard’s edifying discourses, is that you hunt down the Swensons’ translation on Abebooks–lots of copies are still available and for less even than the new Harper edition.

Rabbi Wolff’s Danish Knighthood!

In Kierkegaard and the Jews on May 4, 2011 at 4:48 pm

It’s been a while since I’ve put up a post. That’s what teaching does, it eats up one’s time, if one does it well anyway. Still I am now only a few pages away from finishing the 100-page-long chapter of Tudvad’s book Stadier på Antisemitismens Vej: Søren Kierkeaard og Jøderne (stages on the way of anti-Semitism: Søren Kierkegaard and the Jews) that deals with the theological treatment of Jews and Judaism. The first part of the chapter focuses on the views of 19th-century Christian theologians, with occasional references to Luther and a few other earlier theologians.  (I’m a philosopher rather than a theologian, so I was shocked to learn just how rabidly anti-Semitic Luther was. His views were so extreme, they look more like a kind of mental illness than the sort of character flaw under which we would normally classify bigotry). The second part of the chapter deals with Kierkegaard’s own views. My plan is to make two separate posts, one on the first part of the chapter and another on the second part.

In the meantime, however, I thought I would relate an interesting little story the appears near the end of the chapter about Abraham Alexander Wolff, the chief rabbi of Denmark during the middle to later part of the nineteenth century. Wolff, as you will see if you click on the link to his entry in the online Jewish Encyclopedia, was a talented and prolific scholar and writer. He was also an extraordinarily important figure in the history of Danish Jewry. He was a progressive thinker who is credited with improving relations between Jews and Christians. He was honored for his work with the prestigious Order of the Dannebrog. That is, he was given a knighthood by the Danish king.

That’s when the trouble started. The official sign of this order was a cross which Wolff wore on public occasions, but which he apparently removed before entering the synagogue. This, according to Tudvad, “offended a certain Joseph Perstein, who therefore on the 24th of April 1855 published an article in Kjøbenhavns Adressecomptoirs Efterretninger, or as it was called back then–Adresseavisen, where he demanded of Wolff that he explain why” he did this. Perlstein claimed that one of the requirements of the Order of the Dannebro was that one should be a Christian. A crucifix, he claimed further, ought to be offensive to any Jew, hence he demanded that Wolff either give up his knighthood or his Judaism!

Sad eh, that relations between Jews and Christians had reached the point where what had originally been a sect of Judaism had come in the minds of both Jews and Christians to represent its diametrical opposition. That certainly wasn’t Jesus’ intention, not, in any case, according to contemporary historical scholarship.

More later…