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Monday, October 08, 2007

Of Crescendo and, and, and....Climax!

Excellent post, Rich! If you, my reader, haven't read it, ignore me. Read The Culture of Perfectionism.

Those with a popular understanding of music think crescendo means climax. That's not the Italian meaning; nor is it the musical meaning. A crescendo never arrives; it's always in the process of becoming a climax. Once the music reaches the climax, the crescendo is done.

I think Bible translation is in crescendo. It has been for quite some time now.

At the risk of sounding like I'm arguing for the perfect solution, Rich's point is one of the main reasons I stress that translators and Bible-studiers need to think more along the lines of how the text coheres.

It's true that an exegete needs to analyze the details so as to home in on the precise meaning; however, the precision of the details tends to rob the completeness (τέλειος) of the text from the text itself. Unless, of course, the exegete allows coherence to chip away at the sharp edges of the precision. The better exegete approaches the text with a humility that allows the pieces of the text to be less precise as the whole arises from the piece-wise, extensive, pervasive, grinding interaction within the text itself.

To pick up the gentler metaphor of music, the notes of the text verberate with each other, sometimes quickly, sometimes in slow motion. A rhythm forms, a movement flows, a song sings, which no note composes. But, we appear to be destined to be ever in the process of this textual tune--ever in crescendo, never in climax.

The more literal translations, or, I think more precisely put, translations which focus on the preciseness of the specific words, tend to sound a lot like striking single notes on a piano. All of them fortissimo. There's no crescendo; there's no climax. Sometimes there's a lot of thud.

Ultimately, the goal is not the text arriving at perfection (the English word, not the Greek). We need Rom. 12:1-2 "translations." Eph. 4:13 also comes to mind (where τέλειος is used). This, too, I think unsurprisingly, speaks to the ambiguity, since the subjectivism we bring to, and wrongly inject into, the text creates in our own minds a lack of clarity. To ever so slightly compose a variation on something I read recently: we do not grasp the Bible text as it really is, but rather from the vantage-point of our own interactions with it. This subjective "ambiguity", too, needs chipped away as we become more like Christ. We have to enter the symphony; we have to become part of the music itself, tuned to the composer's will. And therein rests the pianissimo of gentle humility.

I wonder if Beethoven and Bach would have made good translators? I don't know. But somehow I think with their music, they, too, have entered into the crescendo.


At Mon Oct 08, 05:02:00 PM, Blogger Richard A. Rhodes said...

Were you listening this morning to Renee Montagne interviewing the violist Miles Hoffman on NPR, by any chance?

At Mon Oct 08, 05:04:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Ya caught me. :-)

At Mon Oct 08, 05:37:00 PM, Blogger Mike Sangrey said...

Perhaps I should add that I think Bible translators frequently get caught in a Mozartian Fermo ventidue[1].

Allegretto grazioso, ma non troppo presto, pero non troppo adagio, cosi, cosi, con molto garbo ed espressione.[2]


[1] "Catch Twenty Two"....ummmmm...translated by Google. LOL.

[2] This was from an actual Mozart piece (see the link in Rich's comment) where Mozart effectively ties the musician (and interpreter) in a knot. The Google translator, however, doesn't fair too well, either: "Graceful allegretto, but not too soon, pear tree not too much slowly, cosi, cosi, with a lot garbo and expression." (My sides hurt.)

At Tue Oct 09, 02:07:00 PM, Blogger ScriptureZealot said...

Where are translations at this point between the ranges of pianissimo and fortissimo?


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