Religious Enough to be a Hipster; Hipster Enough to be Religious?

Robert Alter on translating the Psalms. Rather a self-satisfied review of his own work - but, I think his aim is something more translators of biblical text should share. Which is to say, reveling in and revealing the utter thingitude of biblical scripture, how the body is inextricably linked to how we perceive the divine presence (absence).

I would like to learn a little bit of Hebrew myself. I'm always in awe of (for example, Jewish) people I meet who don't bat an eye over the idea of being raised with their holy texts in the purest available form (untranslated). Why is the original language the most pure in this case? I suppose it is possible that a translation could reach a purer place than its original. But to what extent do we lose the context and to whom does it seem purer?

I spend a lot of time in church (hard to avoid when one's husband is clergy-in-training), hearing scriptures, reading them, hearing them preached upon from sundry angles. I am frankly, rarely in awe of what I encounter. Does this make me a lousy reader?

Most would assent that the KJV is one of the crowning achievements in the English language (Though you will rarely find this translation preached upon outside of more conservative churches. I say nothing of the more modern translations; while they are more theologically correct, I imagine, they offer next to nothing in the way of poetics). However, as with my experience of the Book of Common Prayer, I don't find myself all that keen on the substance of what's being said so much as the construction thereof. I am very much an Anglophile. I like my language full of complex turns, carefully wrought with beautifully-phrased symmetry, which poetically embody its rhetorical goals. It's pretty self-satisfied to think "I could say this better, more evocatively" when chanting a Psalm. So wrong to question the words! Anything but those blessed words!

I think the matter is in the matter. The translations don't really do it for me.

Being schooled as a poet at the graduate level has eroded my sense of trust in language - it must be schooled, molded or otherwise fiddled with to say the thing just so. And once I've folded the thing in upon itself, who can decipher all my knotting? I've encountered the same problems with writing poetry as I have with appreciating scripture. To what extent does design impede substance? To what extent does substance override design?

When writing, I make an agreement with myself to translate my thoughts onto the page. When reading, I make an agreement with the writer to translate his/her translated thoughts into my own milieu. With all this agreeing, there seems to be little room for disagreement, for the tension necessary to invigorate a text, to make it meaningful for its recipient. Yet, the act of translation is an engagement with that tension. I think translators should fret less about taming the text and more about how and why they seek to tame it. I think that once that question is addressed, things will have an easier time becoming things and the poet in the pew will be a bit happier about it all. But, then again, I would be wise to stop complaining and start doing, yes? ;)


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