An illustration for: Nine Maxims On Translation
E Bruce Brooks / University of Massachusetts / 5 Dec 2002
What to with a literarily deficient original can be a problem for a tasteful translator. Unless the translator is capable of justifying a reconstructed or restored version, in the scholarly community surrounding the original, it is better to leave the original as one finds it, and do one's best with it. Chinese tradition in particular has been scrupulous in the matter of not improving its texts; it prefers to keep them as it found them, and solve problems in the commentary. An early statement of this principle is in Analects 15:26, written c0305. It is given below, together with the paragraph of commentary which followed it in The Original Analects.Analects 15:26
The Master said, I still go back to when scribes left blanks, and those with horses assigned others to drive them. Now that is all gone.
Scrupulous care of a text one is copying, or a horse one owns. The error is to intrude your own expertise: guessing at the doubtful character in the text before you (note the praise of Archivist Yw in 15:7) or taking the reins yourself, if you are less than expert. The Confucians saw themselves in this period as defenders of cultural integrity: keeping the record straight.
Archvist Yw, referred to in the above note, is described in LY 15:7 as upright: "If the state had the Way, he was like an arrow; if the state had not the Way, he was like an arrow." He was like an arrow, equally in good and bad political situations. That is, his code did not depend on his context. The translator's code should also contain something that is not simply a reflection of the translator's context. He should be something more than a voice of his own time.
From The Original Analects, Copyright © 1998 by E Bruce Brooks and A Taeko Brooks.
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