The Real Heartbreak of Translation

Submitted by Anonymous on Fri, 10/02/2009 - 11:58am.

The Real Heartbreak of Translation…a review article by Rudi Lissau (1995)


[I am enclosing the last half of this review as it pertains to the translation work going on now on the PoF website. Rudi Lissau (a native German speaker who lived and wokred in England, and who had studied PoF in German and English) is speaking to a translation of “Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path – A Philosophy of Freedom,” translated by Michael Lipson.]


Lipson treats the Philosophy not as a philosophical treatise but as a guide on one’s spiritual path, a view which Michael Wilson shared.  But two more generations after the end of Kali Yuga, Lipson can come still closer to Steiner’s impulse of freedom and inner spirituality.  Look at the beginning and end of the Introduction:


The real heartbreak of translation does not come from the distance between German and English but from the gap between spiritual and word-bound consciousness.  It was Steiner’s life-long sacrifice to engage in this translation, the constriction of spirit into speech.  Whether the language he had to use was philosophical, theosophical or any other, he remained painfully aware of the impossibility of this task.


It was this insight which immediately connected me to Lipson’s striving.  It offers a new and most helpful approach to the totality of Steiner’s work and encourages us to move more closely to the origin of his statements, the reality and concreteness of spiritual worlds.  The first part of the Philosophy leads us straight into a meditative life, the second into the practice of freedom in the light of Christ.


Beyond this Lipson realizes that ‘the real heartbreak of translation’ calls us to articulate Steiner again and again in new terms according to the new ideas, the new concepts and the changed inner situation of the contemporary world – something Steiner expected already in the 1920s from the teachers of the newly-founded Waldorfschule.  If the young in spirit would take up this task now, we could move away from the sectarian position of seeing in Steiner’s work something like graven tablets and our task in interpreting and commenting on these even more assiduously.


The end of Lipson’s Preface is a good example of the felicitous way in which he lives with the English language:


We are well justified in re-translating Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path into English from time to time, both to reflect evolving understanding of the book and to liberate ourselves from a nominalistic equation of words with concepts.  In this way we have an advantage over German language readers, who are tempted to imagine their version of the text as final.  By approaching Steiner through inadequate and changing English terms, we are the more likely to face the inadequacy of all terms, and leap to his meaning.