Giving Us Readers Attention: Edwin Hudson’s Translations of Paul Tournier
This morning, I was reading Paul Tournier’s of “The World of Things and The World of Persons” in his book Le personnage et la personne. And something caught my attention. Without the original French in front of me, I was reading only in English, the translation by Edwin Hudson entitled, The Meaning of Persons. Tournier is telling a story of a personal translation, of a public speaker saying how he believes that the simultaneous interpreter of the speech into another language has done “an extremely good job” of translating. (In this particular case, Tournier is relating an incident in which he was giving a medical conference talk in Swiss French and the translator was interpreting that into one of the “Scandinavian” languages.)
I don’t know if Tournier ever read Hudson’s translation of this anecdote, but it seems not to be translationese English. The ideas seem expressed well. But was Hudson translating for a specific person, for you, for me, for somebody very much like us?
Here’s the full paragraph:
To become a person, to discover the world of persons, to acquire the sense of the person, to be more interested in people as persons than their ideas, their party labels, their personage, means a complete revolution, changing the climate of our lives. Once adopted, it is an attitude which rapidly impregnates the whole of our lives. While at the Weissenstein conference I had occasion to congratulate one of my colleagues who had made an extremely good job of interpreting a talk I had given earlier in the day. ‘And do you know why?’ he asked me. ‘It had been mentioned to me that one of our Scandinavian friends was finding it very troublesome following the speeches in foreign languages. So I interpreted for him; I never took my eyes off him, watching his face all the time to see if he had understood. And I found that through giving more attention to his person than to the ideas I was translating, I actually found it easier to express the ideas.
Let me just go on to add this. I don’t know much about Edwin Hudson (and do notice that Paul Tournier gives us nothing about this personal interpreter he mentions in the story). Nonetheless, I do know that Hudson acted as Tournier’s interpreter/ translator for an interview allowed to one Alex Mitchell. Mitchell writes up the interview that gets published in the September 1981 edition of ThirdWay.
What’s fascinating about this very personal interview is how Tournier, a widower by this time, is giving his late wife agency. He speaks of Nelly Bouvier, who had passed away seven years earlier, saying:
It was my wife who helped me gain this sense of the personal. It came slowly because men [like us] are [more commonly] afraid of showing their emotions and feelings than women. And while I was quite prepared to teach my wife I didn’t [quickly] realise I had something to learn from her. The most important thing for me has been our meditation together [through the years]. That was really where it started, really listening to each other. I was too fond [at first] of explaining things to her instead of listening.
We readers of Mitchell’s published interview of Hudson’s English translation of Tournier’s Swiss French must imagine. We must picture Hudson listening intently to Tournier while “never taking his eyes off Mitchell, watching his face all the time to see if he had understood.” And when in the interview Tournier spoke of Bouvier, they may have all realized in that moment all that they had learned from her.
Tournier at one point in the interview absolutely resists answering a question on behalf of women. However Hudson interprets that into English for Mitchell, the latter making sure Tournier’s reply gets punctuated with an exclamation point:
Women must discover that [for themselves without my help], not men!
And in response to the question about Tournier’s reaction to Marabel Morgan’s popular evangelical Christian interpretation of the New Testament as saying women should “voluntarily submit” to their husbands, there’s this response (Tournier speaking, Hudson listening and translating looking at Mitchell, Mitchell recording for his readers, for us):
I would not have liked my wife to act like that!
Tournier goes on to give his understanding of “Genesis 3:16 where God tells the woman, ‘your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.'” Tournier goes on to explain why, in French, it is women more than men who had been reading his newest book, The Gift of Feeling. Tournier has challenged the masculinist rationalism of Descartes and puts him together with other men (“Pascal, Kierkegaard, and even Marx”) who more clearly demonstrated how “there is masculine and feminine in every human being.”
To hear Tournier speaking more on these subjects in this interview, you may find it via google books here. The photo of Tournier included is as if Hudson is keeping his eyes on us, watching our faces all the time to see if we have understood.