Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Several interviews with Robert Alter

Robert Alter is speaking at the University of Memphis tomorrow evening (Thursday, November 10th, 2011 at 6:30pm in the University Theater). As a result of his visit, several local blogs and publications are printing interviews.
"Working as a translator of the Bible," Alter says, "has paradoxically increased both my admiration for the KJV and my reservations about it. The grandeur of the seventeenth-century translation and, at least in the prose, its adherence to the wonderful simplicity and concreteness of the original, have become more vividly clear to me. At the same time, as I look over my shoulder at my fellow-translators of four centuries past, I am sometimes exasperated with them for deploying wordiness where the Hebrew is beautifully compact, for ignoring the expressive rhythms of the Hebrew poetry, and for introducing ecclesiastical terms alien to the original."
You can read the full interview at the Chapter 16 blog, run by the Nashville Public Library.

Leonard Gill's &tcetera blog also has an interview. One question Gill asks Alter in particular was of great interest to me:

Gill: What do you think of the proliferation of "niche" Bibles today — loose translations to appeal to a particular group of contemporary readers?

Alter: The King James had become more or less canonical for English readers, but in the late 19th century, when it was thought there were problems — that it was archaic; that it was inaccurate — there was a revised version, which still tried to preserve the general translations of the King James Bible.

But after the Second World War, there were various committees producing different translations: the New English Bible, the Catholic Jerusalem Bible, the Jewish Bible from the Jewish Publication Society. All these were guided — or, I would say, misguided — by the principle that you have to render the Bible in ways that are entirely compatible with modern idiomatic usage. They abandoned word-for-word translation drastically. They repackaged the syntax. They substituted modern idioms for biblical ones.

Stylistically, the consequences of that strategy have been pretty disastrous. In my own translations, I've gone back much closer to the word-for-word strategy.

Again, you can read the whole interview at the &tcetera blog, run by the Memphis Flyer.

No comments: