Translation has little to do with taking thought from one language to another. It is a transformation of thought from one culture to another, one viewpoint of truth to another, past to present and, if it is done well, future.
Speaking and writing contemporary languages is vital for understanding. The past is not simply divorced from our modern experience by its words and conventions, although that is certainly significant, but its foundation, its beliefs and its norms. The assumptions that were made by someone in past times, in far places, were as distant from those of our modern experience of life as another world, another planet orbiting another star.
We must take those words and transform them, not what they say but what they believe, what they feel and what they stir within us to act in our daily lives. If you have a two-thousand-year-old book from India and it sounds, in translation, like it was not written last week, it is wrong. It is not simply inaccurate in its adherence to the past but misleading. The lives of people in that time and place were so distant from ours, it is incomprehensible to a modern audience and sounds, in many cases, silly. When it does not, that is where the real danger lies, that it sounds sensible but the reader has lost so much in cultural meaning that the helpful content is all but missing.
We must work to repair that, to change the assumption that it is the literal meaning of words that is important. It is their beauty, their ephemeral quality, their nature and their deeper understanding that are important. Translation is a task of rewriting the words from another time and place into this now, this here and this self.
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