- Being and Time. A Translation of Sein und Zeit
Thirty-four years after the appearance of the first English translation of Sein und Zeit (Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson, San Francisco: Harper, 1962), Joan Stambaugh, Professor of Philosophy at Hunter College (Manhattan), has offered the English-speaking world another version of what is generally considered to be Martin Heidegger’s chef-d’œuvre. Why has she done this? To what need does this new translation respond in the Anglo-American realm of Heidegger scholarship? Any new translation of a text which has already been translated once before—and widely received in just this form—would seem to bespeak insufficiencies in the preceding version. After all, why translate again a work whose already existent translation has long been accepted by the community of scholars for whom it was intended? It is therefore justifiable to expect that Professor Stambaugh’s new translation [End Page 692] will “remedy” a certain number of the shortcomings that were present in the former.
But is this the proper way to go about questioning the exigency of a new translation? That is, does the second translator’s “task” consist in simply correcting—rewriting, straightening-out, patching-up—the errors and gaps that afflicted the task of the first translator? This seems to be Professor Stambaugh’s intention, for she writes that “it is hoped that [her] translation will remedy some of the infelicities and errors of the previous translation. . . .” (“Translator’s Preface,” xiv). What does it mean, in the case of a translation, to speak of its “shortcomings” or “errors”? In Heidegger’s words: “But who decides, and how is one to decide on the ‘rightness’ of a translation?” (Gesamtausgabe, Bd. 53, “Hölderlin’s Hymne»Der Ister«,” p. 74; my translation). Do certain translations come closer to, meet up with, or correspond to their respective original? Or are some just more touching—in the sense of the German treffend—than others? If so, what do they touch? At what point, if any, does their touching take place? How close do they come to touching the original, and what happens in this touching?
These are extremely difficult questions that concern not just every act of translation, but touch upon something essential in the very nature of language itself. Indeed, in every act or questioning of translation one finds oneself confronted with a difficulty which, according to Heidegger, is “never merely technical, but rather one which concerns the relationship of the human being to the essence of the word and the dignity of language” (ibid., 76). How does this difficulty weigh upon a translator of Heidegger? And what, in light of the complexities of Heidegger’s use of language, might Professor Stambaugh’s own remarks concerning her translation of Sein und Zeit teach one about the more general question of language? By taking on the tortuous job of translating the infamously “untranslatable” Sein und Zeit, Professor Stambaugh wishes to “open a productive debate about some of the more original and still puzzling language of this text,” attempting thereby “to take into account the insights of the past thirty years of Heidegger scholarship in English” (“Translator’s Preface,” xiv).
First of all, according to Professor Stambaugh, a whole series of Heidegger’s terms ought to have been translated otherwise. Words such as Verfallen, Verfallenheit, Besorgen, Vorlaufen, Nähe, and Wiederholung have all been translated differently in Stambaugh’s version—with more or less satisfying explanations of her choice of alternative terms. For example, Verfallen and Verfallenheit (previously translated quite literally as “falling” and “fallenness”) are rendered by Stambaugh as “falling prey” and “entanglement,” respectively. The reason for this change, one is told, is that Verfallen and Verfallenheit ought to conjure up the idea of being “trapped,” a sense much more akin to the German Verfangen. Now Heidegger himself uses the word Verfangen in a very precise manner as one of several characteristics of “fallenness,” namely, Dasein’s “entanglement” in the...