Peter Staudenmaier Mistranslations


A couple of days ago I pointed out an mistranslation by Peter Staudenmaier:

"Die Negerrasse gehört nicht zu Europa, und es ist natürlich nur ein Unfug, daß sie jetzt in Europa eine so große Rolle spielt."

he translated to:

"The negro race does not belong in Europe, and it is of course nothing but a disgrace that this race is now playing such a large role in Europe."

And I provided what I felt to be the proper translation:

“The Negro race does not belong to Europe, and it is naturally pure mischief that it is currently playing so large a role in Europe.”

And I pointed out the importance of understanding the historical background in evaluating this statement. Now this may appear to be a bunch of hairsplitting, and in this particular case the changes introduced are extraordinarily minor, so much that Peter makes light of the whole issue of his mistranslations in a follow-up post.

However, the issue of Peter Staudenmaier's consistent and deliberate mistranslations is not a minor one, and other examples are far more serious. Leaving aside the "nichts weniger als" debate (the original is ambiguous enough that there are even a small number of native speakers who maintain that it represents single negation and not double negation, thus Staudenmaier may simply be mistaken instead of deliberately deceptive) there are several other serious examples that remain uncorrected.

Let us look at two for now. They occur in the second paragraph of Staudenamier & Zeger's "Anthroposophy and its Defenders" (the article that Barnaby is sure I must have missed because I still maintain, against Staudenmaier, that Steiner was not a nationalist). Staudenamier and Zegers write:

"Let us begin, as Waage does, with the question of nationalism. To the end of his life, Steiner was forthright in acknowledging his early and enthusiastic participation in pan-German agitation. In the autobiography he published shortly before his death, he had this to say about his years in Vienna before the turn of the century: "At this time I was enthusiastically active in the struggles of the Germans in Austria for their national existence." ("Nun nahm ich damals an den nationalen Kämpfen lebhaften Anteil, welche die Deutschen in Österreich um ihre nationale Existenz führten." Steiner, Mein Lebensgang, original edition Dornach 1925, p. 132; the phrase "lebhaften Anteil" could also be translated as "deeply sympathetic".) Waage says that he was unable to find this passage in the Norwegian translation of Steiner's autobiography. (The authorized English translation renders the passage thus: "Now, I took an interested part in the struggle which the Germans in Austria were then carrying on in behalf of their national existence." (Rudolf Steiner, The Course of My Life, New York 1951, 142) Since the article cited the German edition of the book, and since Waage reads German and has access to Steiner's collected works in the original, his insinuation that this quote was concocted strikes us as peculiar, to say the least.) But even without this particularly revealing sentence, Steiner's autobiography provides ample testimony to his German nationalist convictions. The paragraph following the one quoted above refers to Steiner's numerous "friends from the national struggle," and two pages prior he discusses the impact of Julius Langbehn's infamous book Rembrandt als Erzieher on his thinking. (angbehn's book was the bible of the right-wing nationalist völkisch movement, the forerunner to the Nazis, during the period of Steiner's active involvement in pan-German circles. Steiner offers, of all things, a stylistic critique of the book, never once mentioning its aggressive antisemitism or its baleful political and cultural influence within German-speaking Europe. For an overview of Langbehn's impact see Peter Pulzer, The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria, New York 1964, chapter 25.)"

As I commented to Barnaby, the above paints a certain picture of Rudolf Steiner, one that is hard to defend from charges of nationalism. But how accurate is it? It certainly seems quite scholarly. It even cites the German, so they must be right! I mean, nobody would cite the German and then blatantly mistranslate it, would they? But that is indeed what has happened here.

Getting right to the question of mistranslation, an "Anteil" is "a share of", or figuratively "an interest in," or if sympathy is indicated, "sympathy." However, to argue the translation of "lebhaften Anteil" is to miss the point. The phrase "Anteil... nehmen... an" - the phrase used in the sentence - is translated as "take an interest in;" or, if indicating sympathy, "sympathize with" (Langenscheidts Handwörterbuch Deutsch-Englisch, Berlin 1996, p. 807). Further, "lebhaft" as an adjective is translated "lively" when indicating interest or imagination (same dictionary, p. 1136) and I should note that by no definition given does it mean "deeply" or "enthusiastically," though both these would seem reasonable to a translator trying to improve the flow. So "enthusiastically active in" is widely off the mark, "deeply sympathetic" is also off the mark (individually each word could go that way, but together in the context of the sentence a far better alternative exists) and the straight dictionary translation would be:

"At that time I took a lively interest in the battles that the Germans in Austria were fighting concerning their national existence."

The verb in the sentence ("führten") refers strictly to the Germans, and Steiner's position was limited to his "lively interest" in the form of a prepositional phrase. That not one, but two possible mistranslations are argued, and the straight translation ignored, is disingenuous and a clear mark of an attack piece, not scholarship. To argue that one or more "authorized" translations translate it that way (one of the five different English translations does mistranslate the sentence as "I took an interested part in..." ) is no excuse for serious historians, especially ones with the original German in right front of them and making such a dramatic point about such a short phrase. It is quite cleverly done, since by giving two possible readings, the authors make it appear that they are reasonable about possible alternatives. However, they offer a false choice since the straight translation, which happens not to support their point, is not carefully ignored. Perhaps this is why Waage could not find it in his Norwegian translation; it simply does not exist.

Starting off like that, it should not surprise us that the "friends from the national struggle" and the claimed influence of Rembrandt als Erzieher (a book whose title translated is "Rembrandt as Educator") also turn out to be fabrications. For the "friends from the national struggle" let us look at the whole sentence, both in the original German and in English.

"Es kam zu alledem dazu, daß viele meiner Freunde aus den damaligen nationalen Kämpfen heraus in ihrer Auffassung des Judentumes eine antisemitische Nuance aufgenommen hatten. Die sahen meine Stellung in eine jüdischen Hause nicht mit Sympathie an; und der Herr dieses Hauses fand in meinem freundschaftlichen Umgange mit solchen Persönlichkeiten nur eine Bestätigung der Eindrücke, die er von meinem Aufsatze empfangen hatte."

Rudolf Steiner, Mein Lebensgang, Stuttgart 1948, p. 172

"To all this was added the fact that many of my friends had taken on from their national struggle a tinge of anti-Semetism in their view of the Judaism. They did not view sympathetically my holding a post in a Jewish family; and the head of this family saw in my friendly mingling with such persons only a confirmation of the impression which he had received from my essay." (Translation Daniel Hindes)

That's rignt, "...friends had taken on from their national struggle ...". Steiner had some friends who were involved in the national struggle. These friends were anti-Semites. This caused problems because Steiner was working in a Jewish household. Now the German sentence is somewhat complex, so perhaps Staudenmaier and Zeger's working knowledge of German is to blame for the fact that they mistranslate the phrase "from the national struggle" as modifying "Freunde" (or "friends") and not "Auffassung" (or "interpretation, opinion, view"). If this is to indicate their grasp of German it calls into question much of the rest of their work. The alternative, that they willfully mistranslated the passage, is equally damning of their scholarship.

As to Rembrandt als Erzieher, lest I be accused of selective reading, I will present the whole two paragraphs mentioned by Staudenmaier and Zegers:

"It was with sad memories that I made the journey back to Vienna. There fell into my hands just then a book of whose “spiritual richness” men of all sorts were speaking: Rembrandt als Erzieher. In conversations about this book, which were then going on wherever one went, one could hear about the coming of an entirely new spirit. I was forced to become aware, by reason of this very phenomenon, of the great loneliness in which I stood with my temper of mind amid the spiritual life of that period.

"In regard to a book which was prized in the highest degree by all the world my own feeling was as if someone had sat for several months at a table in one of the better hotels and listened to what the “outstanding” personalities in the genealogical tables said by way of “brilliant” remarks, and had then written these down in the form of aphorisms. After this continuous “preliminary work” he could have thrown his slips of paper with these remarks into a vessel, shaken them thoroughly together, and then taken them out again After drawing out the slips, he could have made a series of these and so produced a book. Of course, this criticism is exaggerated. But my inner vital mood forced me into such revulsion from that which the “spirit of the times” then praised as a work of the highest merit. I considered Rembrandt as Teacher a book which dealt wholly with the surface of thoughts that have to do with the realm of the spiritual, and which did not harmonize in a single sentence with the real depths of the human soul. It grieved me to know that my contemporaries considered such a book as coming from a profound personality, whereas I was forced to believe that such dealers in the small change of thought moving in the shallows of the spirit would drive all that is deeply human out of man's soul."

So while our authors impute that Rembrandt als Erzieher influenced Steiner towards nationalism, we find him deeply critical of the book, calling it "small change of thought" and describing how it made him feel isolated from the spiritual life of the period, namely the same nationalism that the authors impute he supported. In fact the whole of chapter 13 of Mein Lebensgang describes Steiner's disillusionment with the petty nationalistic struggles of the Germans and Myagars, even as he was interested in the ideas that motivated various people. Yet it seems that, to our authors, being interested in an idea is the same thing as supporting it. It is this fundamental error that they will repeat with Steiners interest in Haeckel and Nietzsche.

It is "scholarship" such as this (really it is simple character assassination) that has Barnaby convinced that I am wrong and Staudenmaier is right evaluating Steiner's nationalism. But Staudenmaier only appears right because he is faking the evidence. And faking the evidence is the only way to manufacture a nationalist background for someone like Steiner who fought his entire life against nationalism.

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This page contains a single entry by Daniel Hindes published on April 10, 2005 3:13 PM.

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