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  1. February 2, 2013 8:08 am

    In this way, Hurley’s translation reminds me of the NKJV translation of the Bible – it is written in a form of English that never existed.

    Excellent post, as usual, Theophrastus! At least Hurley is confessing that he might come across as an ESL learner “of the 16th century in the 16th century.”

    But I wonder what Hurley thinks he’s doing or has done in relation to the early history of the English translations? There are some anti-Catholic and mostly anti-Spanish sentiments that the earliest translators stirred up, as The Oxford History of Mexico (edited by William Beezley, Michael Meyer) notes:

    The English translation of Bartolomé de Las Casas’s 1552 Beviisima relacion de la destruccion de las Indias in 1583, for example, highlighted the horrific conditions of the Spanish Conquest and the exploitation of the natives throughout the Indies, and reported that the Spaniards had caused more deaths in New Spain than anywhere else in the Indies.

    The title of an English translation in 1689 underscored this book’s anti-Spanish, anti-Catholic bias: Popery truly display’d in its bloody colours: or, a faithful narrative of the horrid and unexampled massacres, butcheries and all manner of cruelties, that hell and malice could invent, committed by the popish Spanish party on the inhabitants of West-India. Although English translations of Spanish publications before 1603 had been generally anti-Indian as well as anti-Spanish, subsequent translations sometimes revealed the achievements of native societies. The persistence of an anti-Spanish dimension, however, was evident in the exceedingly popular The English American, published in 1648 by Thomas Gage. Based on translations of Spanish sources and the author’s own experiences in New Spain and Central America, this work provided an account of Spanish colonial corruption, especially by Catholic clergy, and stress the ease with which Spain’s possessions could, it claimed, be seized. Gage’s analysis stimulated Oliver Cromwell’s plan, known as his Western Design of 1654, which, following an unseccessful attack on Hispaniola, led to the English capture of Jamaca.

    The 1689 translation goes like this:

    In this Isle, which, as we have said, the Spaniards first attempted, the bloody slaughter and destruction of Men first began: for they violently forced away Women and Children to make them Slaves, and ill-treated them, consuming and wasting their Food, which they had purchased with great sweat, toil, and yet remained dissatisfied too, which every one according to his strength and ability, and that was very inconsiderable (for they provided no other Food than what was absolutely necessary to support Nature without superfluity, freely bestow’d on them, and one individual Spaniard consumed more Victuals in one day, than would serve to maintain Three Families a Month, every one consisting of Ten Persons. Now being oppressed by such evil usage, and afflicted with such greate Torments and violent Entertainment they began to understand that such Men as those had not their Mission from Heaven; and therefore some of them conceal’d their Provisions and others to their Wives and Children in lurking holes, but some, to avoid the obdurate and dreadful temper of such a Nation, sought their Refuge on the craggy tops of Mountains; for the Spaniards did not only entertain them with Cuffs, Blows, and wicked Cudgelling, but laid violent hands also on the Governours of Cities; and this arriv’d at length to that height of Temerity and Impudence, that a certain Captain was so audacious as abuse the Consort of the most puissant King of the whole Isle.

    From which time they began to consider by what wayes and means they might expel the Spaniards out of their Countrey, and immediately took up Arms. But, good God, what Arms, do you imagin? Namely such, both Offensive and Defensive, as resemble Reeds wherewith Boys sport with one another, more than Manly Arms and Weapons.

    Pardon me for continuing the quotation of this early translation with a few additional sentences. The context seems to demand their inclusion.

    Now, should “the Spaniards” or the “Christians” have been used? Should Hurley’s the “Christians” or Griffin’s “the Europeans” be used? It seems to depend on who the audience is and what the intended rhetoric of the translator is. The critical question is who originally is being referred to and for what purpose when being called cristianos?

    Here’s the original old Spanish to compare:

    En la isla Española, que fué la primera, como dijimos, donde entraron cristianos e comenzaron los grandes estragos e perdiciones destas gentes e que primero destruyeron y despoblaron, comenzando los cristianos a tomar las mujeres e hijos a los indios para servirse e para usar mal dellos e comerles sus comidas que de sus sudores e trabajos salían, no contentándose con lo que los indios les daban de su grado, conforme a la facultad que cada uno tenía (que siempre es poca, porque no suelen tener más de lo que ordinariamente han menester e hacen con poco trabajo e lo que basta para tres casas de a diez personas cada una para un mes, come un cristiano e destruye en un día) e otras muchas fuerzas e violencias e vejaciones que les hacían, comenzaron a entender los indios que aquellos hombres no debían de haber venido del cielo; y algunos escondían sus comidas; otros sus mujeres e hijos; otros huíanse a los montes por apartarse de gente de tan dura y terrible conversación. Los cristianos dábanles de bofetadas e puñadas y de palos, hasta poner las manos en los señores de los pueblos. E llegó esto a tanta temeridad y desvergüenza, que al mayor rey, señor de toda la isla, un capitán cristiano le violó por fuerza su propia mujer.

    De aquí comenzaron los indios a buscar maneras para echar los cristianos de sus tierras: pusiéronse en armas, que son harto flacas e de poca ofensión e resistencia y menos defensa (por lo cual todas sus guerras son poco más que acá juegos de cañas e aun de niños);

  2. February 2, 2013 8:56 am

    Theophrastus, I’m mainly interested in Hurley’s thoughts about what his translation is doing, rhetorically, in the history of translation. So I left the previous long comment.

    But on a different note, what do you think of Herma Briffault’s translation? In her brief explanation of what she intends, she writes:

    Las Casas’s sentences are sometimes terribly long, and since he uses practically no conjunctions except “and,” one loses the thread before reaching the end, where sometimes the verb is to be found. I have slightly broken up the sentences and have occasionally used “but,” “although,” etc. to make the meaning clearer. Las Casas’s biggest “sin” aside from some exaggeration is his repetitiveness. Sometimes in the course of a long sentence he repeats what he had said at the beginning; and also repeats on a later page what he had said earlier. I have eliminated most of the repetitions.

    My aim, which I hope I have reached, was to preserve the 16th century feeling in the English prose, while sill making it accessible to the modern reader. Occasionally, to preserve Las Casas’s style, I have kept his loose constructions, but have not done so consistently.

    Here’s how her translation renders the excerpt you brought in for comparison. Note how Briffault alternates between the “Spaniards” and “those Christians” and between “The Spaniards” and, in the very same sentence, “a Christian”:

    On the Island Hispaniola was where the Spaniards first landed, as I have said. Here those Christians perpetrated their first ravages and oppressions against the native peoples. This was the first land in the New World to be destroyed and depopulated by the Christians, and here they began their subjection of the women and children, taking them away from the Indians to use them and ill use them, eating the food they provided with their sweat and toil. The Spaniards did not content themselves with what the Indians gave them of their own free will, according to their ability, which was always too little to satisfy enormous appetites, for a Christian eats and consumes in one day an amount of food that would suffice to feed three houses inhabited by ten houses inhabited by ten Indians for one month. And they committed other acts of force and violence and oppression which made the Indians realize that these men had not come from Heaven. And some of the Indians concealed their foods while others concealed their wives and children and still others fled to the mountains to avoid the terrible transactions of the Christians. And the Christians attacked them with buffets and beatings, until finally they laid hands on the nobles of the villages. Then they behaved with such temerity and shamelessness that the most powerful ruler of the islands had to see his own wife raped by a Christian officer.

    From that time onward the Indians began to seek ways to throw the Christians out of their lands. They took up arms, but their weapons were very weak and of little service in offense and still less in defense. (Because of this, the wars of the Indians against each other are little more than games played by children.)

  3. Suzanne McCarthy permalink*
    February 2, 2013 1:35 pm

    I have to say that I think this is such an important issue that it should be required reading for all of us. Thanks for posting on this topic.

    In my view, any dislike for the term “Christians” here is squeamishness, and to be avoided. Christians don’t like to find themselves the “villain” of the piece. How much better to use a word like “Spaniards.” That would suit us perfectly. The idea then could be perpetrated that only the Spaniards, the Catholics, would do this. One could pretend that protestants would not behave in this way. So one could also read “Europeans” in a way that distances us from the “Christians” of this narrative. We all want to avoid feeling guilty ourselves.

    (But then, I suppose, that present day atheists could pretend that this is only a Christian problem, and done away by atheism. Of course, it is not.)

    Here, however, is an interesting difference between the Catholics, (Spaniards) and Protestants (British). The Spaniards forced conversion of the natives, and treated them like slaves, because Aristotle said that there were slave races. But the protestant monarchs forbade conversion of natives in some cases, since converting the natives would compel one to treat them as brothers, and nobody wanted to do this. So, many missionaries among the British were going against explicit laws that natives could not be evangelized.

    (The purpose of converting, or not converting, the natives, was still the same, to subjugate, and diminish the population. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.)

    Then among the British missionaries, who originally, had the notion that all Christian brothers were to be treated as equals, this idealism faded. By the late 1800’s, British protestants too took on the view that even among Christians there was a natural racial hierarchy with the British at the top. The lower races were not exactly “slaves” but more like “children” and subject to paternalism from cradle to grave. And we live with this legacy today.

  4. February 2, 2013 10:33 pm

    Kurk, I was interested in Hurley’s translation technique for two reasons:

    (1) as a serious translation technique, it seemed to me to be something different from what I’ve seen in the past. It sounded to me promising, although in Hurley’s hands, I don’t think it turned out well. I have to wonder if it might not be a useful approach for another writer, though.

    (2) it is also interesting from the perspective of word games. You may be aware of “lipograms,” for example — works that avoid the use of one or more letters. For example, George Perec, a member of the Oulipo, wroteLa Disparition (which was translated into English by Gilbert Adair as A Void) without using the letter “e.” (As classical examples, Nestor of Liranda’s created a lipogramic version of Iliad and Tryphiodorus created a lipogramic version of Odyssey — one can even consider these adaptations as a form of “translation” from Homeric Greek into “Lipogramic Greek.”)

    I’m afraid I did not attempt to survey other translations besides Hurley (which was interesting to me because of its odd strategy) or Griffin (which was the translation I was familiar with). From your quotations, it seems that both the 1689 and Herma Briffault’s translations have considerable merit, but I have not read either at length, so I should refrain from passing judgment.

    What was interesting to me is that Hurley did not use this strategy as a word game, but to achieve a certain effect in his translation (the Oulipo members sometimes seem to be serious about producing literature, but they sometimes seem to be trying to be clever for the sake of cleverness.)

    ———————————-

    Both Kurk and Suzanne raise excellent points about the use of “Christian” or “Spaniard” or “European.” Of course, our view cannot help but be influenced because we know how the story turns out. (In the same, way, our reading today, post-Shoah, of anti-Jewish remarks in the New Testament and early Christian literature cannot help but be colored because we know how the story ends up — Christianity conquered the West and Judaism continued to be a minority religion, one that faced unique persecutions but also brought unique contributions to the medieval and modern periods. Since we know how the story ends, we cannot really read early Christian literature in the context that it was written.)

    But, to the extent that Las Casas’s story is one of imperialism (e.g., “Spaniards” building the Imperio Español) or ethnic persecution and cleansing (“Europeans” subjugating native populations), the use of the word “Christian” — even if it is a literal translation of “cristianos,” perhaps gives a misleading perspective. I hesitate a bit because of a point that Suzanne indirectly refers to — that it is a Christian commandment to evangelize and convert (in Las Casas’s time, even to forcibly convert) non-Christians.

    Note that evangelization is not a cultural universal, since there are religions (e.g., Judaism and Zoroastrianism) in which it is forbidden to try to convert non-believers. (However, one can not help but note that there is a type of religious-Darwinism at work here — those religions that do evangelize, e.g., Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, become the major world religions while those religions that do not remain tiny minority religions.)

    But, as Suzanne suggests (in her comment that it could have been a problem for atheists), I think that Las Casas’s story is more about ethnic conflict and imperialism than it is about Christianity.

  5. February 2, 2013 11:51 pm

    Theophrastus, I too was interested from something like a wordgame perspective. What struck me was that the decision to use only the vocabulary that was current at the time was that it was an artistic decision, and it led me to suspect that Hurley’s text was not simply translation, but art.

  6. February 2, 2013 11:57 pm

    Victoria, I think there is considerable truth in what you say, but he also has a lengthy explanation (starting with the L. P. Hartley cliche that the past is a foreign country) that suggests that this form of translation is the most “true” to the source. So I’m not entirely sure if he is thinking of his work as art or good pedagogy. I suspect he thinks it is both.

  7. February 3, 2013 12:10 am

    Indeed, Theophrastus, I got that impression from what you had quoted. But I think there’s a stronger case to be made for it as art than as effective translation.

  8. February 3, 2013 1:00 am

    And on the more content-related point that Kurk and Suzanne made, Michael J. Altman quotes from a speech by Swami Vivekananda’s speech at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893:

    “We who come from the East have sat here on the platform day after day and have been told in a patronizing way that we ought to accept Christianity because Christian nations are the most prosperous. We look about us and we see England, the most prosperous Christian nation in the world with her foot on the neck of 250,000,000 of Asiatics. We look back into history and see that the prosperity of Christian Europe began with Spain. Spain’s prosperity began with the invasion of Mexico. Christianity wins its prosperity by cutting the throats of its fellow men. At such a price the Hindoo will not have prosperity.

  9. February 3, 2013 8:01 am

    This is a good discussion. Really, rather, these are good discussions. If we focus on Hurley’s intentions (whether what he himself can understand they are, or whether or not he can well articulate his intentions, or whether he’s after “good pedagogy” or an artistic statement or an “effective translation” whatever that might be), then we can begin to judge or just to try to judge whether or not he was true to those intentions. For instance, is what Hurley intends by the “Christians” (i.e. Christians as a “word that entered the English language [before] about 1560″) misleading? Hurley must object that he has not intended and that he indeed cannot mislead his own contemporary readers. It’s certainly not his fault what after 1560 any one of us might understand by “Christian.”

    He does not even have to ask so much really what Las Casas intended and did not intend by writing cristianos. He’s not after being faithful to Las Casas so much. Rather, he seems to want us English readers to struggle with the text, with its import and history yes but with its style that an early outsider might sense. That’s why his ESL comment seems to me so very interesting.

    As a thought experiment, we might imagine a Spaniard today translating the U.S. Declaration of Independence and coming upon the phrase “merciless savages” and limiting herself to using Spanish counterpart phrases only from the mid 16th century. Our Spanish translator would be imagining for her audiences the experience of grappling with this Jeffersonian experience of “Indians.” Hence the time machine comment of Hurley’s.

    The “real” histories of merciless Indian savages in New English or heartless Catholic missionary colonists in New Spain and on Hispaniola, whatever those histories may be (or whosever historiographies), might make us reflect on Native Americans on reservations in New Mexico in 2013 and on evangelical Christian missionaries in New Delhi too. We might compare African Americans or contrast Jews or Catholics with any of these labeled or even self-identified groups.

    The fascinating thing, to me, is that this is what language does for us. It Others. The fascinating thing, I think, about translation is that it is always always always something different from the original. And yet we might, if the translator is clever enough or we the readers are inclined enough, we might see the translation as “the same.”

    Through the years, Hurley has had his share of critics. His best work is his translation of Rubén Darío. I think that mainly because he’s struggling with the fact that Darío’s work is mainly an original Spanish translation of French writers. Hence, what’s original and what’s a new different direction must always be in play. (Contrast that to Hurley’s translation of Fidel Castro telling his own story, or of Jorge Luis Borges’s fiction. In these cases, there’s less attention to the English of Hurley. The attention goes to the original story teller or the story telling. Ilan Stavans once remarked, “Several of Borges’s translators, editors, and biographers entered the debate that was less about the value of Hurley’s translations than about the status of the Argentine in twentieth-century literature.”)

    The real question we have to ask here is, Did Hurley, translating Las Casas’s cristianos with English only before about 1560, really have any choice but to use the “Christians”?

  10. February 3, 2013 9:44 am

    Kurk wrote:

    For instance, is what Hurley intends by the “Christians” (i.e. Christians as a “word that entered the English language [before] about 1560″) misleading? Hurley must object that he has not intended and that he indeed cannot mislead his own contemporary readers. It’s certainly not his fault what after 1560 any one of us might understand by “Christian.”

    Now this strikes me as a nonsensical argument: it exhibits either a form of special pleading for the technique, or a level of naivete so profound as to sink to the degree of incompetence. Of course it’s possible to mislead contemporary readers by choosing a word whose semantic field has shifted significantly since 1560. Any competent translator should take such things into account, whether the semantic shift is due to time, geography, or culture.

    I’m reminded of the rationale given for changing the word “cup” to “chalice” in the new English translation of the Roman Missal. The argument given is that the Latin word is calyx, which specifically means a common or shared cup, and since chalice is etymologically derived from calyx, then chalice is the better word to convey that meaning. Nonsense, I say: chalice in 21st century American Catholic English means “a fancy gold cup used at Mass.” In Catholic English, it was already a technical term, akin to paten and purificator and all those other words for eucharistic paraphernalia that I had to learn when I was 7 but have since forgotten. Any competent translator would know that.

    (Pardon my vehemence; we’ve been using this new translation over a year now but I’m still annoyed about this.)

    Anyway, my point is, any competent translator must consider what the words she is using will mean to her audience. The fact that this technique seems to exclude or at least underweight this consideration is what leads me to believe it is defensible more as art than as translation.

  11. February 3, 2013 10:46 am

    “a nonsensical argument: it exhibits either a form of special pleading for the technique, or a level of naivete so profound as to sink to the degree of incompetence.”

    Ouch, Vicky. Do let us plead to try to understand Hurley’s statement of intent (that Theophrastus quotes), and also whether I’m deeply stupid with no competence to speak at all,
    as you suggest, at least consider, please, what I want to ask at the end of my long comment – Did Hurley, translating Las Casas’s cristianos with English only before about 1560, really have any choice but to use the “Christians”?

  12. February 3, 2013 11:19 am

    Eek, Kurk, I didn’t mean to imply either your incompetence or stupidity. My apologies. Clearly my vehemence about the missal translation is leaking.

    It may well be that, given the ground rules of the translation technique, the only reasonable choice was to use “Christians.” I don’t actually have an argument with that part of your comment, which is why I didn’t engage it.

    But the particular defense which you hypothesize that Hurley might argue, that it is not possible for the translator to mislead his contemporary audience by choosing a word whose sense has shifted, is intensely problematic. Of course it’s possible. This is a poor defense against the criticism that the word choice is misleading. A better defense would be to invoke the maxim traduttore, traditore, and add a footnote or preface to the translation that discusses this and similar words.

  13. February 3, 2013 12:35 pm

    This is a very interesting discussion, and one that has gone in directions I did not anticipate when I made my post.

    I’m not sure I have more to say on the issue of which is better to use: “Christian”, “European”, or “Spaniard”; but I was intrigued by this statement by Kurk:

    Through the years, Hurley has had his share of critics. His best work is his translation of Rubén Darío. I think that mainly because he’s struggling with the fact that Darío’s work is mainly an original Spanish translation of French writers. Hence, what’s original and what’s a new different direction must always be in play. (Contrast that to Hurley’s translation of Fidel Castro telling his own story, or of Jorge Luis Borges’s fiction. In these cases, there’s less attention to the English of Hurley. The attention goes to the original story teller or the story telling. Ilan Stavans once remarked, “Several of Borges’s translators, editors, and biographers entered the debate that was less about the value of Hurley’s translations than about the status of the Argentine in twentieth-century literature.”)

    I am not aware of Hurley’s other translation work; this was the first work I encountered, and I was intrigued (although ultimately unsatisfied) by Hurley’s efforts. Can you tell us a little more about how Hurley has tried to translate and how that has been received among critics? He sounds like a very interesting fellow.

    ———————————

    Victoria, it seems that you have some well developed thoughts about the new translation of the missal. I know that a lot has been written about it, but I would be very interested in your thoughts, if you care to write them up sometime.

  14. February 3, 2013 1:00 pm

    Victoria,
    Thank you for clarifying the various things. Yes, I was completely and altogether too hyperbolic asserting that Hurley’s “Christians” could not be misunderstood. Of course. And I’m sorry I misunderstood you.

    Thephrastus,
    Here’s a CV of Hurley’s online: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:oaz7p_kO-Y0J:www.ffri.uniri.hr/datoteke/Kulturologija/andrew_hurley_cv_translations_may_2008.doc+&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESheQioFFV4_cKCQa8VsqiwT03iwMFMjb0u4Vl9Eg-xrlLy91tKPC53oBroF-FQn4poVFYus2NVRtZGQgax8dGxav6SXCTD6w_IbHTfhidNBRVVwKudaeJSk22dFluXlR4dICwP3&sig=AHIEtbTxQ1AC5KY75gz-r1eqtvz9kyc5sw

    I’ll try to get back here soon to talk about the bit I understand of how critics have viewed his translations. While you and Victoria were commenting, I was drafting a post that yours inspired. I’m afraid I wrote it way too fast, off the top of my head, with little time to spare. Maybe that will start us on discussions of the different techniques Hurley has used and needed to use for translation of different individuals’ Spanishes. So sorry I have to be so brief and sloppy here. Too much to say with too few minutes in which to dialogue properly. Thank you for starting and keeping these conversations going!

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