garrulous termagants? or a platform to see the whole showing layerings and accretions through time?
I must start by saying how I admire my co-blogger Theophrastus. He’s made brilliant and compelling observations about how translators, such as Robert Alter more recently and the RSV team a bit earlier, have faced the specific problems with the Masoretic Text of Genesis 49:26 and have overcome them. And he’s provided the careful analysis all the while coming back to the longer conversation between us, concerning the value or vice of Julia Holloway’s “composite translation” of the various manuscripts of The Showing of Love of Julian of Norwich.
Through first hand knowledge of Alter (and through what Alter has written), Theophrastus shares how the translator is “familiar with both Speiser’s and Sarna’s commentaries (indeed, Alter quotes from Speiser in his introduction); and also that he consulted a Rabbinic Bible, which would contain Rashbam’s medieval commentary (indeed, Alter praises the value of medieval commentaries over modern commentaries).“ He gives a “a careful analysis of the Hebrew [that] leads one to the corrected text (which happens to coincide with the Greek).“ This seems to be exactly what Everett Fox also has done with his translation of The Five Books of Moses. Fox has the line “the blessings of the mountains eternal” with the footnote explaining the alternative reading: “Reading haraei for the traditional Hebrew horei, “parents” on the basis of Hab. 3:6.” Fox does not refer to the Septuagint Greek precisely because he does not need to. As Theophrastus helps us see: the corrected Hebrew text “happens to coincide with the Greek.” Of course, Alter doesn’t leave this alone. He claims very explicitly how his “English version follows the Septuagint,” and he insists, in contrast to the Masoretic Text, “the Septuagint has the equivalent in Greek of the idiomatic harerei ‘ad (‘timeless heights’).”
Why emphasize this fact that the Greek of Alexandria, Egypt sounds like the Hebrew of Moses, leading his people beyond Egypt? Well, I’m not sure this variation of language is really all that important. Only careful readers might care.
And so this is where I would agree with Theophrastus. We do not want a a garrulous termagant of a text. We don’t really care for a flattened style, “single harmonized gospel from the very different voices of the four canonical gospels.” We are not happy with an edition of the Bible that does violence to narrative plot and authorial tropes and turns that get sacrificed to some editors desire for a chronologically re-ordered text. We don’t want the story to keep going if an author writes a terminal Amen.
But the whole story of Julian of Norwich’s Showing is one of self editing, of purposeful revising, of continuing to re-write after the first ostensible end and the second. This, to me, seems to be the project that Holloway has in mind. She carefully explains:
This translation, based on the definitive edition by Sister Anna Maria Reynolds, C.P. and Julia Bolton Holloway, published by SISMEL, Edizioni del Galluzzo, Florence, 2001 (ISMB 88-8450-095-8), instead seeks to replicate as far as possible that original glory of Julian’s manuscripts [plural], indeed to present what Syon Abbey’s nuns had twice sought to have printed in England, under Henry VIII and under Elizabeth I, having prepared the manuscript for the press as we see it in the Paris Manuscript.
Now, I recall that Theophrastus in his post “Not translating Julian of Norwich” said, “we can easily read Julian from the best surviving manuscript – the Paris Manuscript.” This Paris Manuscript is also important to Holloway. It is one layer. And, indeed, she says for her composite translation, “The rubrication is that in the Paris manuscript… (the [paragraph mark in it] a convenient way then to save parchment and now to save paper).” We do not, in fact, know whether the little paragraph marks were ones that Julian, or some later scribe for her or for himself, might have supplied. Whose style was that in the Paris Manuscript, whose important decision to use this little mark? Should Holloway have neglected this layer of the text?
Well, she insists, “This translation functions as a platform from which it becomes possible [for any reader] to see [after the fact] the whole while showing the layering of texts throughout the many years of Julian’s lifework.”
Sure, her “composite translation” is to “remain as faithful to Julian’s English as possible,” to “her writing” that “[b]oth T. S. Eliot and Thomas Merton have highly praised.” And if anywhere there’s a flaw in what Holloway has done translating, then it is here. The translator could have varied the style of her translation in places where there were the different dialects in the texts [plural].
Nonetheless, Holloway’s general purpose is to build on the practices of others, in concert with them. First, there are the various scribes working with and after Julian to preserve her texts. “Reading her [Julian's] words,” says Holloway, let us give thanks for the centuries of women and men in exile, in prison, awaiting execution, suffering from burning at the stake, drawing, hanging and quartering, and guillotining, who, in prayer to God, persevered the Showing of Love for us.”
Second, there is “what Syon Abbey’s nuns had twice sought to have printed in England, under Henry VIII and under Elizabeth I, having prepared the manuscript for the press as we see it in the Paris Manuscript.” And, third, there is the precedent set by others working on the texts of others:
Donald Frame once so edited and translated Montaigne’s Essays, showing the layers of text and their accretions through time as the Essays went into printing upon printing. Augustine’s Confessions and Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape similarly are self-consciously aware of the stages of the author’s life enfolded into the author’s text. The same may be seen here, where we read all Julian’s surviving texts in translation simultaneously.
Here, then, just as Alter gives an explicit nod to the variant (even Greek) text of the Septuagint as different from the Hebrew Masoretic text of Genesis 49:26 (and other passages of the Hebrew Bible), so Holloway is giving an explicit nod to variant works that coincide with Julian’s life and spirit and showings of love. And for Halloway this is that platform from which readers in a shorter moment and manageable space may view the whole, the layerings, the accretions through time.