Saturday, January 14, 2012

Number Thirty-Nine (b)

Der Weg ist unendlich, da ist nichts abzuziehen, nichts zuzugeben und doch hält jeder noch seine eigene kindliche Elle daran. »Gewiß, auch diese Elle Wegs mußt du noch gehen, es wird dir nicht vergessen werden.«

The way is infinitely long, nothing of it can be subtracted, nothing can be added, and yet everyone applies his own childish yardstick to it. "Certainly, this yard of the way you still have to go, too, and it will be accounted unto you." [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The road is endless, there are no shortcuts and no detours, and yet everyone brings to it his own childish haste. "You must walk this ell of ground, too, you won't be spared it." [Hofmann]


The Kaiser/Wilkins is closer to the text, although in both translations the English ending is slightly unlike the German, which says (as far as I can tell) "this will not be forgotten of you." This is a real ambiguity in the original; it could mean "it will be remembered that you did this," or it could mean "it will not be forgotten that you should do this."

Hofmann's translation emphasizes impatience, where Kaiser/Wilkins pays more attention to the idea of measuring and dividing. Again, the mistake seems to be the one identified by Bergson, the source of Zeno's paradox, the idea that motion can be divided into segments, the confusion that arises when measuring is mistaken for movement.

On the one hand, you can say that this means no cheating, no aggrandizing. On the other hand, not being able to subtract or add to the way, which is the more literal translation of the verbs, could be underscoring what eternity means. It doesn't mean the largest imaginable heap of seconds or the longest imaginable distance; it isn't measurable.

If the way is endless, that doesn't give you room to fool around. You still have to take every one of the endless steps, which more or less means you have to keep to the way at all times. You don't accumulate merit a crumb at a time; in fact, merit doesn't seem to enter into it. The merit is in being underway and maybe in heading in the right direction, if there's a difference, not in how far along you get. If we introduce "how far," we're talking in relative terms, specifically relating me to you, and now it's a race. The way isn't a racetrack.

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