Kaufmann's English Translation of *Ich und Du*
[ Martin Buber - Discussions ]
Written by Kevin at 30 Jul 2000 19:50:25:
I'm looking for information, ideas, opinions, references,
anything pertaining to Rafael Buber's mission in June
of 1969 to Walter Kaufmann to supercede Ronald Gregor
Smith's respected & beloved English translation of *Ich
June 1969 was exactly four years after Buber's death.
It was eleven years since the Smith translation was re-
issued with a new & important afterword by Buber.
In the "Acknowledgements" to his "translation with
notes" of *Ich und Du*, Kaufmann says that Buber's
only son came all the way from Israel to Princeton
to see him:
"We had never met, and he offered no explanation;
but when he came a few days later, there was an
instant rapport, coupled with an intriguing lack of
directness. He told me of his desire for a new English
renditon of *Ich und Du* and asked my counsel. I re-
called how his father had told me that he considered
Ronald Gregor Smith [. . .] by far his best translator.
Rafael insisted that those whose advice he valued
were agreed that the old version had to be replaced."
Intriguing indeed! I would like to know who those
unspecified persons were whose promptings Rafael
esteemed so highly. More to the point, why would
anyone who cared about the legacy of Buber's work
& thought consider for a moment commiting a trans-
lation to Walter Kaufmann of all people?
It doesn't surprise me that Kaufmann experienced
an "instant rapport" with Rafel Buber. From what
I've read of Kaufmann & Buber's correspondence,
& from various biographical accounts (by Grete
Schaeder, Maurice Friedman), it seems clear that
Kaufmann nursed wounded feelings of a distinctly
filial nature in his relationship with Buber.
In 1958, Kaufmann wrote to Buber, complaining
that Buber was ignoring him:
"[S]urely, you must feel some sympathy for at least
some of what I am trying to do [. . .] but from your
persistent silence (never one word of comment since
you wrote me a few lines about the first article
I published, on Nietzsche and Socrates, ten years
ago) I gather that, all in all, you feel more repelled
than sympathetic [. . .] your attitude toward me
is somehow more in keeping with that of the old
Goethe than with that of Martin Buber. To be sure,
one does not deserve or merit anything more, but
it is a dispapointment."
Schaeder: "[Kaufmann] was never Buber's disciple,
but he occasionally sounds like a rebellious son."
Kaufmann's translation is prefaced with some forty
pages of technical & argumentative commentary,
which only serve to precondition the attitude of the
reader long before he or she reaches the text. *Du*
is rendered "You," rather than "Thou," & almost every
page is encrusted with erudite footnotes.
It doesn't speak to me. I can't imagine that it speaks
to anyone. All of the information & insights Kaufmann
provides are helpful & worthwhile, but not as they're
presented. Ronald Gregor Smith's beautiful, thou-ful
translation deserves to be reissued. Kaufmann has
eclipsed the light of *I and Thou* for thirty years now.
Unless I'm mistaken, the inviting & illuminating Smith
translation can only be found on some library shelves
& in some old bookstores. Kaufmann's *I and Thou*
is the first & probably the only version most students
Smith: "All real living is meeting."
Kaufmann: "All actual life is encounter."
Smith: "The 'It' is the eternal chrysalis, the 'Thou'
the eternal butterfly - except that situations do not
always follow one another in clear succession,
but often there is a happening profoundly twofold,
Kaufmann: "The It is the chrysalis, the You the butter-
fly. Only it is not always as if these states took turns
so neatly; often it is an intricately entangled series of
events that is tortuously dual."
Smith: Even if the man to whom I say 'Thou' is not
aware of it in the midst of his experience, yet relation
may exist. For 'Thou' is more than 'It' realizes. No
deception penetrates here; here is the cradle of the
Kaufmann: The relation can obtain even if the
human being to whom I say You does not hear it
in his experience. For You is more than It knows.
You does more, and more happens to it, than It
knows. No deception reaches this far: here is
the cradle of actual life."
I would like to hear from anyone with information
concerning Rafael Buber's motives, his "intriguing
lack of directness," those anonymous agents provoc-
ateurs, & Walter Kaufmann's (witting or unwitting?)