Finding the “Authentic” Text Editing and Translating Medieval and Modern Works as Comparable Interpretive Exercises (Chrétien’s Charrette, Christine de Pizan’s Cité des Dames, and Diderot’s Neveu de Rameau)
- L'Esprit Créateur
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 27, Number 1, Spring 1987
- pp. 111-121
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Finding the “Authentic” Text Editing and Translating Medieval and Modern Works as Comparable Interpretive Exercises (Chrétien’s Charrette, Christine de Pizan’s Cité des Dames, and Diderot’s Neveu de Rameau) HAT INTERPRETATION IS INHERENT TO TRANSLATION has been recognized since Aristotle1; that critical editions likewise depend on comparable hermeneutic acts is not as clearly under stood. Examining cases in which translations have functioned as prolegomena to critical editions can, however, demonstrate significant parallels between translating and editing. At first glance one might think that a critical edition can ideally reproduce exhaustively its original, whereas something of the original is always lost in translation. Jerome’s Vulgate epitomizes the often unconscious rivalry between original and translation. When the Council of Trent ruled in 1546 that this received Latin version was to be considered “authentic” (pro authentica habeatur), it virtually mandated the equivalence of original and transla tion.2Centuries later we no more possess a definitive critical edition of the Bible than we do a definitive translation. The student of the Greek New Testament, however, need only inspect the apparatus of the NestléAland edition to see that ancient translations have frequently guided editors. The Bible as the Book illustrates on a grand scale the problems dogging the editing and translating of lesser works. Seeing the parallels between editing and translating can thus help clarify the nature of read ing itself. The parallels are threefold: both editing and translating recreate or reobjectify the original3; this recreation stems from a partial recuperation of the original’s meaning; and finally, this recuperation results from an active selection made, often unconsciously, by editors or translators among actual or potential variants of the original. They arbitrate between competing received versions or between potential ren ditions and reconstruct the work by appealing to what Karl Uitti has termed “une grille éditoriale, c.-à-d., [un] ensemble concerté—un quad rillage décodeur—de faits observés qui permettent d’orienter, et d’apprécier, la lecture d’un texte” (Romania, 105  279). This paper will address first the theoretical points of contact between editing and Earl Jeffrey Richards Vol.XXVII, No. 1 111 L ’ E sprit C r é a t e u r translating and then turn to several cases in literary history in which translations can be seen to constitute important commentaries on, and prolegomena to, critical editions, as, for example, Jean Frappier’s ver sion of Chrétien’s Charrette (2nd ed., 1967), my own translation of Christine de Pizan’s Cité des Dames (1982) and Goethe’s rendition of Diderot’s Neveu de Rameau (1805). Literary scholars of all periods, much like the Council of Trent in search of an “authentic” biblical text, prefer to discern one work behind a set of variants rather than a group of roughly comparable works, an ideal prototype subsuming all variants.4 Innumerable medieval and modern examples overturn this facile assumption. Raoul Mortier’s edi tion of the Roland poems5shows the inherent fluidity of this Stoff. Digby 23 is one of many individuations within the corpus of Old French, Franco-Italian, Middle High German and Icelandic Roland texts, none of which can be invariably used with impunity to “correct” the others. By pairing Gottfried and Thomas, A. T. Hatto in his translation of Tristan seems to posit an ideal Urtext which survives only in fragments. Synoptic editions often reveal, in the case of fabliaux or of the Nibelungenlied, the impossibility of reconstructing a prototype. Textual variance of a high degree seems built into medieval works, like modern light sculpture in which chance is elevated into an organizing principle. Dante’s terza rima, by contrast, reduces variants by making the rhyme scheme a control mechanism. The adage verba volant, scripta manent refers to a linguistic stability which only the modern advent of printing could guarantee, and even then, it did so only in part. Faced with textual variants, editors assume the position of literary critics. In the case of medieval texts, the editor’s position is analogous to that of the medieval reader who, as the great editor of medieval Latin texts Ludwig Traube noted, collaborated with the author to produce the text: “das nicht durch den...