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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Is there an educational problem with reading Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition in English only? : an examination of how certain aspects of education in the English-speaking world tend to make it difficult to gain access to ideas in self-translated texts Brauer, Gerhard Walter


The author makes the argument that Hannah Arendt's frequently awkward use of English adversely affects the readability of her work. Based primarily on examples selected from Arendt's The Human Condition, the analysis shows how the low readability of a text prevents discourse about its message. At issue in this thesis is the fact that, although most of the philosophy texts in higher education were translated from other languages, they are usually assigned for reading without first making students aware of the impact that translation can have on coherence. The issue is relevant to this thesis because The Human Condition is the product of reverse-mental-self-translation from Arendt's inner German. English was not her mother tongue, yet she published in English without allowing her text to be subjected to other than technical editing, resulting in many incoherent passages and the relative inaccessibility of her core ideas. Because such incoherence, when authored by a prominent figure, is often naively accepted by monolingual scholars as stylistic eccentricity or semantic innovation, it is referred to, herein, as the 'translation-induced lionization of text,' or TILT. More specifically, the thesis is a semantic critique of Arendt's translation of the German gerunds Arbeiten, Herstellen, and Handeln (equivalent to the Greek words ponein, poiesis and praxis) into the English nouns 'labour,' 'work,' and 'action.' This triad is ill-conceived; they might, more usefully, have been translated as 'toiling,' 'making,' and 'acting.' In particular, by mistranslating Herstellen as 'work' instead of 'making,' Arendt makes it impossible, on the first page of the book already, for the reader to engage in the kind of debate that is so ably informed by Vita activa, the German translation of her book. As a possible solution to what he perceives to be a major educational problem, the author proposes that students be trained (and required to engage) in slow-reading, a special approach to the reading of challenging texts. In addition, the author laments the demise of respect for, and appreciation of, polyglotism, once a highly valued skill directly relevant to studying and understanding the human condition.

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