[OPE-L:2037] Re: Translator's lot is not a happy one

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Mon, 29 Apr 1996 15:02:51 -0700

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"The first duty of the scholar is languages!"--a paraphrase of a line
by the lead character in Eco's THE NAME OF THE ROSE (which I read, I
blush to add, in English translation). I was cruising
appreciatively, if guiltily, through Alan's polemic until I got to
the following passage:

> 8) There are concepts which, in German, have no *exact* English
> equivalent and we have to be careful about them. One of them
> is the word 'gleich'. Now, 'gleich' is always translated into
> English as 'equal'. But actually, it doesn't quite mean 'equal'.
> Etymologically it has the same root as 'Like'. A German has
> to choose, when expressing the concept of identity, between
> 'gleich' which is a word that expresses similarity but has
> become stronger than similarity, and 'Derselbe' which expresses
> identity or (paradoxically) what would, in mathematical
> language, be expressed as equivalence or =- (three strokes
> under each other, identity). Gleich is almost always translated
> as 'equal' but this isn't really what it means. Now, hey
> guys, you want us *translators* to sort out your problems?
> This is a political choice! Translate 'gleich' as 'equal'
> and you end up on the Skillman/Keen side; translate it as
> 'similar to' and you end up on the Kliman/Freeman side.

This conclusion is almost certainly not valid, especially since my Ch. 5
critique does not require "equality" in the sense referred to above. But
"gleich" had better mean something more than just "similar to" or
Marx's argument is senseless. More on this below. But first, I
pause to appreciate the following:

> Which is objective? Which is correct? Imagine yourself
> as a translator in the Stalin error [!--GS] and ask yourself
> 'which translation would I have offered?'

Alan continues:

> There have been not a few debates on this list in which
> the issue of value-price *equality* (Gleichheit) has figured.
> But as Dan Dare would say, I would bet Mars to a Marble that
> when Marx uses the word 'gleich', particularly in that good
> old Part One of Volume One, he understands it in the good
> old classical Germanic sense of 'like', 'similar to',
> 'aenlich' and *not* the English sense of 'identically the
> same as'.

But that would support *my* argument, not the "Kliman/Freeman"
position. If in Chapter 1 of Volume I Marx does not say that "valid
exchange values of a particular commodity express something *equal*",
understood in the strict sense of the term, then it cannot *possibly* follow
that both commodities in an exchange "are therefore equal to a third
thing" in the sense that "Each of them...must therefore be reducible
to this third thing," since in Alan's interpretation the key term
means something more like "equivalent" rather than "equal", and mere
equivalence cannot imply such a result. Indeed, Alan's re-interpretation
of the term supports my logical point, that exchange cannot possibly
"express something equal", understood in the strict sense. Thus this
supports Skillman/Keen, not Kliman/Freeman.

Furthermore, my Ch. 5 argument does not require that values *equal*
prices; it requires only that values be *proportional* to prices.
And if Marx doesn't mean at least that, his argument is even more
emphatically invalid than I originally suggested. Again, Alan's
re-interpretation can only strengthen my critique.

> SO, when an Anglo reads any translation, whether the
> authorized L/w or the revisionist Ben Fowkes, s/he finds that
> Part I of Volume I talks about the 'equality' of commensurable
> things. But for a German, the words of this (rather vital)
> section lie halfway in between the Anglo 'equal' and
> the Anglo 'similar to'.

Great. See comments above.

In solidarity, Gil