So stepping back from my off-topic/snarkiness for a moment, I really do appreciate this thread for what it brings up.
On one level, I'm stunned by the choices that Stevens made in his translation, but it also makes me hunger for what other information was simply glossed over or omitted by 'translators' in other texts I've read. We put so much importance on the printed word and for many of us, these texts have been carefully studied and revisited as we've developed in our arts. As a reader of a translation, we enter into a trust relationship with that translator to be the accurate voice of the original speaker/author. Personally, examples like this not only make me feel frustrated, but betrayed in a way.
Thanks Chris for bringing this one up, it's a great reminder about how we have to approach our research.
Hello Christian (I am calling you Christian to distinguish you from Christopher),
I was trained in the Greek and Latin Classics, which involved making many translations. At Harvard I recall two exercises: translating Cicero into Greek and translating the Gettysburg Address into the kind of Greek that Pericles would have used. (As it so happens, Lincoln's speech was based on classical Greek and Latin rhetorical models.) If you think of a spectrum with classical Japanese at one end and the kind of Japanese written by my university colleagues at the other, it is quite hard to know where to put Morihei Ueshiba.
I have just finished translating a piece for one of the departments at Hiroshima University. Apart from the choices involved in choosing the vocabulary and structure, I suppose I had the general aim of keeping to the original as closely as possible. However, it was a policy statement, with the usual Japanese rhetorical structure, and a similar policy statement written by a native English speaker would have been structured quite differently. The statement was aimed at overseas students, but not native English speakers. So I have actually prepared three versions: a fairly free version that is aimed at clarity for non-native English speakers; a translation as close as possible to the Japanese original, but which is harder to understand; and an annotated version (not for publication, but for university colleagues who can read English well), which discusses the choices I made.
Have you read George Steiner's After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation
? It was written a long time ago, in 1975, but the version I have gives a list of books and articles written on the theory and practice of translation. It is nearly 20 pages long and goes up only to 1997. I know that much more has been written in the 20 years since then.
So I have some sympathy for John Stevens.