The presentation of the theory of knowledge presents a peculiar difficulty. This difficulty is linguistic. Human language was a not made for speaking about knowledge; linguistic formality is not cognitive formality; there are infra-linguistic and supra-linguistic cognitive levels."
- Leonardo Polo, Curso de teoría del conocimiento, tomo I

Friday, November 7, 2014

Another perspective on translating ‘ser además’ and ‘detectar el limite mental en condiciones de abandonarlo’

[Note: these comments make reference to an earlier (but on-going) discussion about how to properly translated "además": http://translatingpolo.blogspot.com/2013/08/translating-ademas.html]

First of all, thank you  very much to the effort you are putting into a good translation of Polo. Judging by the blog you are taking it very seriously.

As you know, I am very much a starter at Polo, but basically because Beto asked I wrote a piece about my experience with Polo so far for Mercatornet, and that got me thinking about the translation. As an ‘outsider’ I have the feeling of being at a disadvantage on the one hand, because I don’t realize all the deep meanings behind the terms. On the other hand, I am at an advantage because I am closer to the unsuspecting reader of Polo. I have read the two small books the Leonardo Polo Institute published, and my suggested translations are a fruit of that reading. So you could say this is consumer feedback…

Also I have to mention that I am a bit of a poet, and as such am very sensitive to the ‘aesthetic’ of the words. The aesthetic I am looking  for is one of elegance and clarity: the translation should both be pleasant to read and also hit the concept that is expressed on the head. Achieving this aim is quite difficult, but very rewarding.

My feedback centers on two phrases: ‘ser además’ and ‘detectar el limite mental en condiciones de abandonarlo’.

‘Ser además’

I saw that you have thought about this issue very extensively on the blog, and settled tentatively on ‘being additionally’. I don’t think that’s a very bad translation, my main criticism is that it is awkward to read. As a reader it really took me a few pages to get used to this terminology, and the term did not help me to intuitively grasp what was meant (although I recognize that in these discussions intuition is of necessity very limited). In Spanish though, ‘ser además’ I find both elegant and leading my intuition into the right direction, even if it is unusual.

I saw that someone already suggested the translation I used in my Mercatornet piece: being more. It was quickly discarded, basically because ‘more’ can also refer to ‘more of the same’ and is therefore not very suitable to express the novel character of ‘además’. I beg to differ though, on this subtle point that there is a real linguistic difference between ‘more being’ and ‘being more’. The first indicates a quantitative change, whereas the second points towards a qualitative change. I really think the second is a spot-on translation of ‘además’, and moreover it is very elegant and can be used to express the different aspects of ‘además’ that Polo wanted to convey – as far as I can see. So think about it.

‘detectar el limite mental en condiciones de abandonarlo’

This phrase is of course very important because it indicates Polo’s philosophical methodology. It therefore warrants attention as a whole (not just ‘abandonar el limite mental’, but all of it). The current translation on the website reads: ‘detecting the mental limit in conditions such that it can be abandoned.’ I am afraid I found this translation very confusing, and while I was reading the explanations, I felt forced to continuously adjust the initial concept that the phrase conveyed to me.

Having thought about the issue a bit more, these are the drawbacks I see:

1.       The concept of ‘limit’ and ‘being limited’ are further apart in English than ‘limite’ and ‘ser/estar limitado’ are in Spanish. The substantive ‘limit’ in English suggests something very definitive, that you really cannot go beyond except in very special circumstances. Given that the whole point of Polo’s philosophy is going beyond the ‘limite’, so beyond the limitations of thought (limitations curiously IS a good translation), I think that the word ‘limit’ is quite inappropriate, because it leads you to think you really need to ‘force it’ to go further. I don’t think the meaning in Spanish suggests this force, but I may be wrong.

2.       The second drawback is the translation of ‘abandonar’ by ‘abandoned’. Again, in English this term sounds way more drastic than in Spanish, if I’m correct. To ‘abandon the limit’ then really comes to mean leaving it behind drastically, and never looking back at it. What I gather from the text is that Polo does not want to suggest such drastic measures, because he does keep an appreciation for the importance of conceptual knowledge all the way through. He just wants us to go beyond it, and see that there is more to knowledge than only concepts.

3.       The third drawback is the translation of ‘en condiciones’ by ‘in conditions such that’. After Beto explained to me that Polo is here referring to the person, who is able to (‘está en condiciones de’) know beyond conceptual knowledge, it seems to me that this translation is simply mistaken. ‘Conditions’ in English refers to the thing needed to make something else possible, like in ‘terms and conditions’. It can also refer to a state, like in ‘the human condition’, but that is not the meaning which the phrase ‘condition such that’ evokes. When I read it, it immediately makes me ask: so under what circumstances can you and under which can you not abandon the limit? Which is not a question Polo intended to raise, as I understand it now.

As a final note to these remarks, let me just point out that one of the key dangers we need to watch against is an over-radical interpretation of Polo’s concepts. Polo is a thinker in the Aristotelian tradition, who distinguishes without separating (duality, not dualism). A too radical interpretation of distinction, leading to separation, has always been a strong temptation in western philosophy. This temptation often leads to black-and-white statements that are easily criticized. I think we should especially watch not to lead in to such interpretations of Polo with our translations, and I think the concepts of ‘limit’ and ‘abandon’ are translations that easily lead into a more radical interpretation than was intended. But ok, I think I made my point.

 My current best suggestion would be (a bit different from the Mercatornet article): ‘detecting the mental boundary and being able to go beyond it’.

I chose the concept of boundary, because it at once expresses limitation and ‘containment’, but is also something that can be quite readily crossed if one wants. Then I chose ‘go beyond it’ for this is something that at once requires ability and a conscious decision, but it is not irreversible. It also seems to be close to what Polo means. Finally, I translated ‘en condiciones’ by ‘being able to’, because I think that is what Polo meant, as argued above. To my taste, the result reads quite elegantly and sends the intuition in the right direction, but I am quite aware that an author is not the best judge of his own work (quite possibly the worst).

Now I am sure you’ll have some advanced objections against this translation, so please do shoot! Perhaps you can post this as an entrance on the blog.

Thanks again for your great work, and I hope this helps.

All the best,