Our Approach to Translation in
The Chadwick Edition

Thomas O’Keefe, Editorial Director

    The task of translation challenges those involved to strive continually to hold a balance between two poles of one-sidedness — on the one hand, interpreting the text from an overly literal perspective, and on the other, interpreting too loosely.

     Translations that adhere too closely to strict definitions of words and their sequence risk obscuring the essence of the message for which the words were employed as transmitting vessels. One risks placing unnecessary obstacles in the way of the reader’s effort to understand, as well as misplacing the reader’s patience. When words become transparent — not requiring undue effort to “decode” — the message may shine through with enhanced clarity. The message itself often requires considerable engagement, and so a translation imbued with flexibility allows one to read for comprehension rather than decoding meaning from a sequence of words arranged in a way that may not be intuitive to the English ear, or that may retain aspects relating purely to the laws of German grammar. With this goal in mind, our work on this edition seeks to avoid the one-sidedness that results from translations that become too narrowly literal.


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    On the other hand, with renderings that place too high a priority on simplifying the essential message of the text in the service of accessibility, a second potential one-sidedness emerges. This is the case because, in many passages of the written work, the author has actually consciously intended for his essential message to require an extraordinary effort on the part of the reader. As Rudolf Steiner wrote in a preface to An Outline of Spiritual Science:

I have quite consciously endeavored not to give a ‘popular’ exposition, but one that makes it necessary to expend a good deal of thought-effort while entering into the content. In doing so, the character I have inscribed into my books is such that merely reading them is already the beginning of spiritual schooling – because the calm, disciplined thought-effort needed for this reading strengthens the soul forces and thus makes these forces capable of coming closer to the spiritual world.*


    When attempting to simplify the message into what one believes to be its basic essence, the translator risks overlooking important nuances that the author actually intended to be read with careful attention and perhaps even repeated contemplative exertion. Without sufficient attention to the detail of the author’s word choice, style, and context, as well as a deep comprehension of the often-subtle processes that are being described, a “free rendering” may be limited by a translator’s own incomplete understanding of the essence of the passage. For this reason, we are aiming to maintain a rigorous standard of faithfulness and to reformulate the language of an expression in the text only after careful consideration of what is gained and what is lost by doing so. 

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    Rudolf Steiner aptly characterized his spiritual-scientific approach as a process of self-knowledge that requires maintaining a balance in steering a ship between two pillars: the pillar of natural science on the one hand, and that of mysticism on the other.** Thus, we of the Chadwick Library have attempted to steer our own ship between these two one-sided obstacles, the twin “Scylla and Charydbis” principles of translation.

    Faithfulness to the author’s chosen form of expression also informs our approach to the “gender inclusive” question and the challenge of how to most accurately and fluidly translate pronouns in reference to “the human being,” “the esoteric student,” and so on. We have addressed this matter in more detail in a note at the end of each book. In all aspects of translation, we attempt to find a balance between faithfulness and liberty of style, while at the same time allowing for the judgment and freedom of each translator.

    An additional aspect of the Chadwick Edition is that we have tried to organize the texts in a way that is relatively unadorned, keeping introductions and supplemental notes to a minimum.


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* This translation is from An Outline of Spiritual Science (Tiburon, CA: Chadwick Library Press, 2021), pp. 5–6.

** See his essay Philosophy and Anthroposophy (Spring Valley, NY: Mercury Press, 1988).


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