Imagine if you will that you are standing in front of a giant painting. A painting that extends from wall to wall, ceiling to floor, of a large decadent baroque auditorium. However, the painting is obscured by a large heavy wool blanket, and only a slight corner of the painting is exposed. The corner exposed is only visible because you are using all your strength to lift the cumbersome blanket and are contorting your own body in such a way that you can’t even get a straight on view of the corner you are exposing. That exposed corner, despite your awkward position, is so amazingly beautiful, so astounding that you are brought to tears and wonder how you ever existed before this, not knowing such magnificence. That it leads you to suffer from Stendhal syndrome. Not to be too melodramatic, but this is how I am feeling reading Jean-Paul Sartre: Basic Writings.
I hate reading translations, as they make me feel inadequate. I remember reading Herman Hesse’s Strange News from Another Planet (oddly enough sometimes translated as Strange News From Another Star) and I was brought to tears. While sobbing alone in the library, I thought to myself if it is this beautiful in the translation what was it like in the original? I promised myself I would read more Hesse but not until I could read it in the original German. As such I’ve never read him again. This is also one of those things that adduce why I must never date a monolingual. How to explain to them there are ideas, expressions, feelings one can never fully explain in from one language to another. It is something that can’t be explained or taught, it is something a monolingual must come to learn, as they come to learn the ethos of a language.
Here I find myself reading Sartre in translation and thinking WTF am I doing only looking at the corner of this painting? It has taken me a lot of strength to continue reading it. I don’t like only getting part of the story. Reading the introduction was dejecting enough:
“…it is Kantian because it shares with the German idealist philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)…The Danish Protestant theologian Søren Kierkegaard (1813-59) and the German atheistic nihilist Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)are considered the initiators of existentialism. Profound dilemmas of human existence are explored in the works of Russian novelist Fydor Dostoievski (1821-81).”
So many great thinkers and I can never read them, hear their own voice, since I will most likely never learn German, Danish, Russian or French well enough to do so. It reminds of a quote I read in the book In Other Words: A Language Lover’s Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World
Vladimir Nabokov also came up against a great amount of criticism, particularly over his controversial translation of the Russian soul epic by Aleksandr Pushkin, Eugene Onegin (1823). In reply to those who question his literal, rather than poetic translation of the great work, he is reputed to have said, ‘It’s impossible to convey the original, so learn Russian!’
Here I am wanting to read, comprehend, to fully grok and yet at the same time I do it knowing I will never be able to do so. Now any suggestions on how to motivate myself to nonetheless keep on keeping on?