Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Translating Barth on Other People: Heidegger

Not a huge post, just a "here's what I'm doing" thing. I noted on Twitter yesterday that translating Barth was no big deal, that translating Heidegger was also not too bad a job, but that translating the former summarizing the latter was another matter altogether. So I'm going to show you what I meant by that in comparing three pieces of text: the original, the official English translation, and mine. The amount of research on Heidegger that went into this tiny snippet is kind of appalling—it's a rabbit hole of massive proportions—but so is the lack of said research that I'm betting went into the first translation.

First up, Barth's text, in CD I.2, section 14, the first excursus, from S. 50–51 (emphasis is original):
Nach M. Heidegger (Sein und Zeit, 1. Bd. 1929, § 65) ist die «ursprüngliche Zeit» zu verstehen als die Zeitlichkeit, das heißt als jene Möglichkeit des Daseins, kraft welcher es «Sorge» sein, das heißt kraft welcher es «ekstatisch», in «vorlaufender Entschlossenheit» zu seinem «eigensten ausgezeichneten Seinkönnen» auf sich selbst, das heißt auf sein schuldiges Gewesensein zukommen und so in diesem Gewesensein Gegenwart haben kann. Die Zeit ist nicht, sondern das Dasein ist—indem es «zeitigt»: seine eigene Zukunft, seine eigene Gewesenheit, seine eigene Gegenwart.
Sometimes, with German as much as with Greek, you just have to take sentences like that first one in and have them butchered and rendered down into something grammatically digestible. But Barth has clearly pulled the important conceptual terms out of this part of Sein und Zeit, even when they aren't in quotation marks—which the "auf sich selbst … zukommen" is not, nor is Gewesenheit/-sein. And Dasein appears in Barth as much as in Kant, under what can be presumed to be normal ranges of meaning, so Heidegger gets described here as one interpreter of its meaning and not in any way the owner of the concept.

Now, what CD I.2 did with that text (the preliminary work of the Scottish theology professor G. T. Thomson—who also had first crack at I.1—but filtered through Bromiley's editorial hand as part of the post-WWII translation work) on pp. 45–6:
According to M. Heidegger (Sein und Zeit, vol. I 1929, § 65) "original time" is to be regarded as temporality, i.e., as the possibility of existence in virtue of which there may be "anxiety," i.e., in virtue of which one may "ecstatically," by a "preliminary resolve" to achieve one's "very own and distinct possibility of existence," attain to oneself, i.e., to one's guilty past, and so in this past possess a present. Time is not, but existence is—by "bringing to a head" its own future, its own past, its own present.
And, finally, what I did with it:
According to Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), "original/primordial time" is to be understood as temporality, i.e. as that possibility of existence, by virtue of which existence can be "concern" or "care," i.e. by virtue of which "ecstatically," in "anticipatory resoluteness/openness" to its "most proper eminent existential possibility," it can come toward itself, i.e. toward its guilty former existence, and so can have presence in this former existence (Being and Time II.3, ¶ 65). Time is not, but existence is—to the extent that it temporally "produces": its own future, its own formerliness, its own present.
Now, Barth has already used the proper German term for "the past" in the previous paragraph when talking about Augustine's concept of time, and that term is das Vergangene. While there are some complexes of terms where the differences among them should be ignored in favor of their larger similarities, or considered as optional nuances, Heidegger's language isn't a place where that approach works out in anyone's favor. So when Heidegger uses the participle of sein instead of the participle of vergehen, and uses it in clear neologistic combinations, we ought to consider not simply translating Gewesenheit as "past."

Of course, the standard Heidegger-guild representations of his terms in English don't always stand out as winners, either. There's a gain to be had, philosophical-currency-wise, in representing Gewesenheit as "having-been-ness," in spite of its clear attempt to perform Amtsdeutsch in English where no such thing is happening in the German. (Hence my preference for tweaking "former(ly)" as the implication of gewesen.) "Ownmost potentiality-for-being" is also not wonderful English as a translation of eigensten Seinkönnen—even as my "existential possibility" is problematic because it invites confusion with both existentiell and Möglichkeit in translating a term that is neither one. (Of course, it's really the perfectly cromulent "ownmost" as a neologism for eigensten that bugs me there!) But sometimes you say, "I'm translating Barth in Barth's context; my Heidegger references just need to be close, not perfect."

And that's where things like translating the more pastoral term Sorge as though it were die Angst are right out. Barth has clearly gotten right that for Heidegger being as being-toward is characterized by "care," "concern" in a sense of outward-directedness, rather than "anxiety." I wonder if the notion of "guilt" (which for Heidegger is important, but not in its standard sense) shifted this by way of Reformed theological moralism in the translator. Getting that right, in terms readers of Being and Time will recognize, is important—as is getting the nuances of vorlaufender Entschlossenheit, which as "preliminary resolve" would seem to indicate a foreclosure precisely where Heidegger insists on an opening up toward the future. "Anticipatory resoluteness" is a standard rendering, but clearly Thomson was as bothered by the syntax of the following zu seinem …, of "resolve to" something, as I was even with that preferable translation. And so he made there to be three objects of zukommen auf instead of two, none of which then conform to Heidegger's technical use as "coming-toward-oneself."

It is one's anticipatory resoluteness as Offenheit, "openness" to the future, particularly openness to the eminent existential possibility of one's own death as the certain eventuality of that future, that makes coming-toward-oneself possible. It is this openness to the future, this reality of care as being-toward even death itself, that makes possible a coming-toward-oneself that acknowledges the guilt of one's having-been-ness and generates a present that is neither what one was nor what one will yet be. (Yeah, philosophical English is horrible, innit?)

And that is how it works that time doesn't exist; existence temporalizes, which as Barth notes comports very well with Augustine's description of past and future and present in his Confessions. But I wasn't about to use "temporalize" as a translation for zeitigen; that's so ambiguous as to eliminate what is actually meant here. Nor do I think it was wise to eliminate the colon in the original translation, because it's important to maintain the sense that the verb is both intransitive and transitive. Das Dasein zeitigt, and what it produces by that temporalization is the futurity and the formerliness of its own existence. We open up toward the future, against the past, and so become authentically present.

All that, from a piece of text I'd just have slid across the surface of, had I read this section in the English alone. This is the kind of work that needs to go into understanding Barth talking about others in his excurses, just to begin to understand whether he's grasped them fairly and used them correctly. And we have to ask that question, because so often he doesn't. It's not my intention to correct Barth's use toward the best we know of Heidegger today—but we have to wrestle with both sources to begin to make it clear how Barth understood what he used in the first place. Only then can we say whether he did it right or not!

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