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This article is taken from PN Review 208, Volume 39 Number 2, November - December 2012.

Catchwords 18 Iain Bamforth
Airy Notions

Kant, in his essay Speculative Beginning of Human History (1786), uses the word 'Luftreise' to designate a mere flight of fancy. These days, of course, we all make journeys in the actual empirical air, which has now become as congested as the highways on the ground, and we can even make mere flights of fancy on our computer monitors, the information highways for which are also thickly balled around the planet. Kant was just a few years short of modernity to experience its desire to escape from gravity, weight and mass as something desirable.

Sympathy versus Empathy

We speak of a 'sympathetic translation', whereas an empathetic (empathic) one suggests a translator who has forgotten the allegiance he owes to both languages, and has allowed his feelings to dominate him. Empathy (a concept which derives from post-Kantian aesthetics) presupposes an ideal fusion of subject and object, while sympathy (an earlier term out of moral philosophy) evokes a parallelism between them in which original and echo attempt to retain their distinctiveness and apartness. The distinction is subtle: a sympathetic translator will always be a slightly stiff ambassador, not a lover in a swoon of ecstasy.

We all know (and don't need it to be shown to us philosophically) that complete external knowledge of a situation will never bring us to a full grasp of the inner life of those who actually experienced it. Yet a total imaginative harmony of minds (and ...

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