Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Pangrammaticon on Ereignis:
[I]n most cases the individual words in Heidegger's German should be translated into colloquial English (and certainly an ordinary German word like Ereignis should not be rendered as an English neologism). The profundity of Heidegger's work does not lie in the meaning of the individual words he uses but in his arrangement of them (as with all writing, the depth of philosophy is an illusion arranged on the surface of the page). In any case, Ereignis is also sometimes translated as 'event' and sometimes as 'the event of appropriation', to wit: en-own-ing, i.e., making something your own, appropriating it (er-eig-nis, I think, is how it goes).
I'm with Martin on this one, Ereignis should be a singulare tantum, and not translated. Especially given the multitudes of words and phrases translators have come up with so far.

It's also worth noting that, like translators, Heidegger also struggled with words. That's why he has so many synonyms for Ereignis, even going so far as using being crossed out: being; a typographical gesture Derrida later adapted for his purposes. Heidegger even adopts different etymologies for Ereignis in different texts, depending on what aspect he wanted to emphasize.
As always, a thrill to be counted, but why in (if you'll pardon it) God's name not allow the English reader to experience the same acts of struggle and erasure as the German reader? Why erect a formal sign that demands the whole of Heidegger's unruly corpus to be defined instead of starting in the throw of things with, say, "event"?

Here's to the xmrrupna of appropriation!
I'll defer main reason for keeping Ereignis to Heidegger. In one text he says that Ereignis has a unique meaning like Tao and Logos, and translating it to a common term is already an act of interpretation.
Event of appropriation gives a good sense of what Heidegger meant in some passages, but not others, where Ereignis has the sense of presence-before-one or ownmost, and that sense is mislead if the reader tries to interpret it as an event.

Enowning is a valiant attempt to coin a new English word for Ereignis, but has problems of its own. It misses the sense of the old German roots of seeing before oneself.

There's also a related problem of when to translate Ereignis as the common word for an event itself. For example, Heidegger somewhere in the Contributions says "Ereignis of Ereignis", and it has been translated as "enowning of enowning", but I'm fairly certain Heidegger meant "event of Ereignis".

Clearly it is going to take at least a couple more decades of interpretive work before there's a concensus on how to render Heidegger into English.
But, again, why then not just say that "the event" is a singulare tantum. Surely there is nothing more primordial about a German word with an ordinary meaning (happening, occasion, event, incident) than an English word for the same thing. You can't tell me that the German language managed to name the Tao that even Lao Tzu said could not be named.

Logos and Tao can be rendered (e.g., "account" and "way") and should be in order to capture the experience of reading those words in Greek and Chinese. It is up to the philosopher in question to enrich the ordinary sense in his presentation not to count on the translator, as it were, to take his word for it.

As for "Ereignis of Ereignis", I think we should look to the context to see if this ain't exactly where "event of appropriation" might work best in English, or even if something more creative like the "appropriate appropriation" or, let's do Derrida here, "the event of evening" or the "evening of the event".

The point is, let the translator give us something we understand in the ordinary way, and then proceed to get profound along lines suggested by Heidegger.
Translators have experimented with various formulations for a few decades. Some the first used event for Ereignis and Heidegger himself pointed out to them that he meant some particular by that word that was not the ordinary event. I believe the phrase "event of appropriation" came discussions with him in the 1960s. The problem with that phrase though, is that in other texts he's using Ereignis in senses that don't involve appropriation, or event, yet they all still a common core. The term Ereignis needs to capture all those senses, and not privilege any one in particular. In the same way that Tao is not merely way, and Logos not merely account, or word, or language, or study.

Throughout his career he experimented with various words for what he meant (Seyn, the Da in Dasein, and many more), but settled on Ereignis, with his own etymology. Translators today tend to leave Dasein alone, and no longer need to have explain in their forwards whether they have used there-being, Being or what have you. It certainly makes it easier to compare passages from different translators when they leave Dasein as Dasein.

Heidegger says in a couple of places that he doesn't intend for Ereignis mean event, even though its spelled the same as the word for event in German. That's why I think it's confusing to translate it as event, or any other common English words. The reader won't be aware of the special meaning of the term.

I'm not against translators experimenting, but it's clear that some were confused by what Heidegger meant (early on, some of them were just the publishers' regular German translators, with no background in philosophy), and it's confusing to readers to have a single term translated many different ways using ordinary english words. That's one reason the central importance of Ereignis wasn't appreciated until scholars had access to enough of his texts in the original.

So, while I think it's fine for writers to continue to use ordinary language in an attempt to convey what Heidegger meant, to me that falls into the realm of poetical intent. Its OK for the Derridas of the world to play around with language, but in order to have useful discussions and communications it is necessary to have specific terms for unique things. So the options in English are to use a Heidegger's own term Ereignis or an English neologism like enowning.
I bought an English/German Kompaktwörterbuch when I was living in Germany one semester. It's not very sophisticated, of course, and that is my point. It renders "Ereignis" primarily as event (in fact, for the substantive it provides no alternative) and for the English "event", qualifying it as "important event", it provides "Ereignis" as the first option.

I mention this because I imagine that if you consult an equivalent Chinese/English dictionary under the ideogram for the first word of of "Tao Te Ching", you'll get "way".

I take it Heideger didn't want his German readers to think "event" either but if this dictionary of mine is any indication that's exactly what they do, proximally and in the first place, think about. (See also Deutsches Historisches Museum.)

I think the discovery of the central importance of "Ereignis" is precisely what English readers are being robbed of. The importance of "event" is supposed to dawn on them, not be presented in an otherwise meaningless symbol. A more complex but similar argument could be made for the various ways "Dasein" could be rendered in context. But the point would be the same, namely:

"The reader won't be aware of the special meaning of the term" right from the beginning. But how do German readers become aware of the special meaning of ordinary words like "Dasein" (existence) and "Ereignis" (event)? If the specialness of the meaning is only foregrounded in the English translation then Heidegger's accomplishment is called into question.

My experience with Heidegger, in both German and English, is that the special meaning is available in the various ways he uses ordinary words.

Consider the difference between:

The way that can be named is not the true way.


The Tao that can be named is not the Tao.

Surely the point is quite clear in the first rendering. Indeed, the second seems to make precisely the mistake of assuming that the Chinese word IS capable of naming "the way" or the Way or the true way.
Whether it's better for English readers to be presented directly with the unfamiliar word Ereignis, or start with "event of appropriation" is a good question. Sure, it's a crutch to use familar words, but are they delaying readers being able to think for themselves? Arguably equating dasein with being confused a generation of readers, but that's another story.

Certainly "event of appropriation" was on my path to understanding Heidegger and Ereignis was just another German word in a footnote. My own experience, after reading Being and Time, was to miss the point entirely. I took "event of appropriation" to be a purely phenomenlogical item; you don't know about something, then you perceive it, and there was that change in between which was an event. I missed the ontological significance entirely, and only slowly began to realize it after much more reading. And I was interested in Heidegger as an ontologist primarily!

Regarding dictionaries, Heidegger used the Grimm brothers' Deutsches Wörterbuch, volume 3, 1854, to trace his meaning back to the archaic er-öugen, "to place before the eyes."

I'm not convinced with your Tao example; i.e. "the X that can be named is not the X", and "the X that can be named is not the true X" are clearly different, and I expect the second is the translator trying to be helpful. The translator is trying to make it logical, but the original intent was to warn against mere propositional understanding of Tao, which would be incorrect. As with a zen koan or Ereignis, and any attempt to define it in propositional terms.

I'm not against attempts to explain Ereignis via "event of appropriation" and such, but I would prefer it if translators left it as Ereignis when they translate Heidegger's texts, for clarity's sake, and caution readers that it cannot be understood by mere translation into a common English word or phrase.
But perhaps the obscurity of the event is essential to our appropriation of Heidegger's texts, i.e., finding within that obscurity our own clearing.

My embellishing with the word "true" in the Tao example was needlessly confusing. What I meant was that there is a difference between:

The way that can be named is not the way.


The Tao that can be named is not the Tao.

The first is truly a koan, it makes us appreciate the difficulty. Before we've looked at the translator's footnotes, however, the second just gives us the form of a koan.

I'd be more inclined to calling leaving the German words "Dasein" and "Ereignis" in a crutch. It is certainly possible that "equating Dasein with being confused a generation of readers", but it is a likely that German readers were as confused as the English ones. It is part of the challenge of ontology. I think the German words are part of the cloud of faux profundity that surrounds the work of a truly profound thinker.

Thanks for this discussion. I'm going to post some examples (with fresh translations) at the Pangrammaticon soon for you to have at if you choose.
Closing this post off to comments because it has been trageted by spammers.

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For when Ereignis is not sufficient.

Appropriation appropriates! Send your appropriations to enowning at gmail.com.

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