Better Bibles Blog has moved. Read our last post, below, and then
click here if you are not redirected to our new location within 60 seconds.
Please Bookmark our new location and update blogrolls.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Lowering the Stakes

I watched Sisters in Resistance on TV last weekend about a group of women in the French Resistance who were sent to Ravensbruk.

    SISTERS IN RESISTANCE tells the story of four young women who risked their lives to fight Nazi oppression and brutality in occupied France, not because they themselves were Jewish or in danger of being arrested, but because it was the right thing to do. ...

    Resistance and arrest led them to Ravensbruck, where they shared a straw mattress, and most importantly, defied the dehumanization of the camp by taking care of one another with love and tenderness. The intense camaraderie that existed among these four friends helped them survive the concentration camp and lead productive lives after the war. Sisters in Resistance
One of the most painful moments in the movie is when one of the women describes her efforts to hide and protect the aging mother of another of the women. She is not able to completely cover the white hair of her friend's mother, a respected professor and mentor, and the guards, tearing her out of the younger woman's arms, drag her away and shoot her.

Now here is the catch. One of the central quotes in this movie is from André Malraux, "Face au mal absolu, une seule réponse : la fraternité." This phrase is often translated "The only response to absolute evil is fraternity." This translation uses a transliteration of the French word. It could be considered congate, but if anything it is one of the 'faux amis'. That is, the word 'fraternity' does exist in English, however, it has a different meaning from the related French word.

Here is the internet list of definitions for 'fraternity' with 'a social club for male undergraduates' at the head. That is what the word means if I hear it used in English. Naturally in context, I can do better, but without knowing the history of how the word is used in French it would be difficult to get the sense in which Malraux meant it. In fact, even better, read Malraux in French.

I don't think anyone would suggest 'brotherhood' even though that would be the etymological translation. What a travesty it would be to supply an etymological quasi equivalent as a 'translation'. It would not represent fidelity to Malraux who is famous for writing "La Condition Humaine'.

Or you could take the approach used by the interpreter, who simply translated fraternité as 'friendship'. The interpreter wisely decided that maleness was not a necessary component of meaning in this phrase. 'Intense bond of friendship', 'solidarity' and 'sisterhood' are all words that have been used to describe the relationship between the young women in this movie.

In case anyone has lingering doubts about whether fraternité really does mean 'friendship'and 'solidarity' I appeal to French wikipedia, "Au sens commun, cette notion désigne un lien de solidarité et d'amitié entre les humains." Here is the Collins entry. "Fraternity, friendship, brotherhood, sisterhood."

Naturally in this movie 'sisterhood' is a good transtion, but that is not what Malraux said. It is also impossible to translate it as 'brotherhood.' That is also not what Malraux said. One can explain the word 'fraternity' in English and extend the meaning from 'a place where boys get drunk', to the original French meaning, or one can simply translate it as 'friendship'.

By supplying an example outside of biblical literature, I hope to lower the stakes and enable us to take a fresh look at the vocabulary of gendered family relationships. I was thinking especially of Richard's comment that God's word is so important that people get things wrong. Maybe this difficulty with fraternité can serve as a less loaded example.

The part about translating God's Word being so important that people get things wrong comes from my discussions with folks who have expressed the literalist position to me. There is a fear of, in effect, sinning by getting the meanings wrong, so they look for procedures to guarantee they aren't responsible for misleading anyone.


At Sat Apr 29, 05:36:00 AM, Blogger Joe said...

I like that.

Since I am not a Hebrew or Greek scholar, I have always used my two different translations of The Three Musketeers from the French to English as examples of how it can be difficult to translate from one language to another...even as it relates to the Bible.

At Sat Apr 29, 12:41:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

What lovely stuff. How I loved Dumas.

When I was writing about 'orthotomeo', I noticed that the two different translations for both Herodotus and Thucydides that I was looking at had very different translations for 'orthotomeo' in each case. It is not so simple.

At Sun Apr 30, 12:45:00 PM, Blogger Tim said...

On "fraternité", in view of the echo of the national motto of France (found on coins, public buildings, etc...): liberté, egalité, fraternité, I'd suggest that in many cases (including I suspect Malraux (though I've not read the work) "solidarity" is more likely to represent the thought better than "friendship".

At Sun Apr 30, 08:23:00 PM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Yes, I think solidarity would be good too. Friednship doesn't seem entirely satisfactory, but it was what the interpreter said. My only point is that it is never simple. Really, I would only like to see more acknowledgement of the need for the freedom to have a variety of translations.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home