Hard, but Not Irrelevant

There is no conflict between the text’s relevance to life today and editors and translators not taking licence to alter it.

The prevailing attitude, though, is one I attribute to the idolatry of engineering, “practicality” and “efficiency”: that if it looks old, it must be bunk, and if it sounds old, it’s not worth the effort of hearing. Hence we see the obsession with updating and moulding the text to the person and expecting that as long as deeper things are catered to the shallow there will be no need for anything else, for any hefty sentences of weight that exceeds our usual willingness to stretch our attention spans. If even the intensively schooled balk at the sustained effort needed to get through an argument that’s going somewhere, something is wrong with our education.

Against this attitude, there is nothing new under the sun. Humans have not changed, nor does any new discovery live up to its hype. Content need not be as changeful as the weather. The truth can be checked, it can be argued, counter-argued, maybe resolved. You end agreeing to disagree, but you can never begin like that — this under the knowledge too that we will learn more and be compelled to change what we think to better fit reality. All this, though, takes time.

Now for form. It is simply not true that two different sentences that refer to the same event or state mean exactly the same thing: though they are either both true or both false, there is meaning in structure just as well as in words, for neither is inherently pregnant with meaning, but both are assigned and so encode meaning, so what we say differently will emphasize different things or highlight different relations between ideas, which is just as important as the “plain” propositions themselves. If the things are truly related, they really must be viewed first as a unity and not chopped up to the whims of the audience. Because of this, every loss in precision demands more explanation and qualification to make up for it.

Hence my adherence both to the relevance of older books and to keeping their form. An old text is not irrelevant or necessarily outdated, even if labelled “dated”, and changing the form needs to be an update in the way meaning is encoded, not in the way it caters to an impatient audience that thinks all true answers are, or should be, easy to understand.


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