Julia Ireland on Hölderlin’s "Letter to Böhlendorff" and Heidegger's Greek translations, from "Heidegger, Hölderlin, and Eccentric Translation".
Hölderlin’s Dec. 4, 1801 Letter to Böhlendorff was written on the eve of his departure for Bordeaux and towards the end of what, in retrospect, would prove to have been one of his richest creative years. While the letter is clearly intended to praise and congratulate his friend Casimir Böhlendorff on the successful execution of his tragedy, Fernando, by in part supplying the terms for that success (“you have achieved so much in precision and suppleness, and not lost anything in warmth”), Hölderlin scholars have read the Letter as addressed more to Hölderlin himself than to Böhlendorff. In falling more than 2 years after his Sophocles translations (and likely shortly before his great Pindar translations), the Letter serves as the articulation of the poetic theory Hölderlin came to work out in the context of those translations. And, as his 1803 “Remarks” to the Oedipus and the Antigone further reveal, it continues to guide Hölderlin’s increasingly radicalized attitude towards translation whose logical, if also eccentrically extreme, extension is to “correct” the Greek original as this is possible only through its translation into German.Continued
Heidegger first cites the Letter to Böhlendorff at the conclusion of his 1934–1935 Hölderlins Hymnen “Germanien” und “Der Rhein,” echoing its words in the concluding lines of the course by calling on the Germans to “learn the free use of the national.” While Heidegger is generally unconcerned with the larger context that situates the Letter (and this includes the debt it owes to Herder’s conception of a people and the answer it issues to Schiller on cultural formation), it is central to how Heidegger comes to understand his own encounter with the pre-Socratics and Sophocles, beginning with the 1935 Introduction into Metaphysics. Thus, although Heidegger does not make general statements that connect translation to the specific language of the Letter as, for example, he does in “The Ister” lecture course, his interpretative “translation” of Sophocles’ Antigone with its emphasis on “violence” (Gewalt) carries through on the conceptual framework first developed in the Letter. Heidegger first starts translating in what might be called a “Heideggerian manner” beginning with his infamous translation of the Greek word deinon with “unheimlich” (uncanny, unhomely).