Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006).

He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.

Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His most recent book of poems (in Dutch) is Deze poelen, deze geest (2008). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog.

After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. He sings in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

If I Had to Edit the Bible

...there’d be some changes made. I would start by entirely omitting the Old Testament. I think two thousand years of trying to construe patriarchalism as spirituality has been enough. Look what it has done for us, or done to us...
       But then. The New. To begin with, I would delete practically all of the first two Gospels. I would make an exception for Chapters Five, Six, and Seven of Matthew so as to get the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, and the Lord’s Prayer. (And why is the Lord’s Prayer so specifically important? My reference on this is a line from the philosopher Max Scheler: ‘God was not a father till Jesus called him one.’)
Of Luke’s Gospel, I would keep the beginning and the end, those being the sections which emphasize the primary role of women in the Salvation process.
Of John, the most or the only philosophical gospel, I would need to make a more extensive selection. It would certainly include the beginning of the first Chapter – but not without retranslating the all-important first sentence.
The traditional version, so well known that it is used and misused in all sorts of totally secular writings and contexts, is ‘In the beginning was the word.’ I do not have a scholar’s or even a good knowledge of  Greek, but I have studied this passage sufficiently to know that ‘word’ here is way wrong. It is one of the most influentially misleading translations ever made. Whatever exactly the Greek logos means here – and it can have many meanings – it certainly cannot be just ‘word’ in anything like the ordinary sense.[1]
My own version of that passage, the so-called Prologue, is this:

In the beginning was the sense
and the sense was of God,
bespeaking God from ever.

All things have become of that;
nothing not of that becomes.
And the sense is alive:

its life is the light of the human,
breaking the hold that the darkness would have had.

The true light comes into the world
with every one of us,

comes upon its world
that was not aware before:

the sense becoming human,
dwelling where we are.

Going on with John, I would maintain Chapters 15 and 17. By doing so, I would preserve the key passages about the relativity or transcendability of the human person – its ability to morph and merge, hence transcend, in resonance with another person or persons.
       But there are other chapters of John that I would also include – 4, 6, 8, 13, and 18, so as to include Jesus’ famous (or infamous) predicateless ‘I am’ sayings. I wonder if I could resist the temptation to retranslate them so as to sound even more as if they applied not only to Jesus but to every one of us who says ‘I am.’
       But then it would seem strange to exclude the other ‘I am’ sayings, so I suppose I would have to add Chapters 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 16, and 19. And would it then make much sense, having put in 16 of the 21 chapters of John, to leave out the other five? So, I guess I would maintain all of John.
       If you are now wondering ‘if you substantially leave out three of the four Gospels, why do you still call it The New Testament at all?’...I’ll just tell you the answer straight out. I do not believe the essential import of the New Testament really comes out in the so-called ‘story of Jesus’ or Synoptic Gospels (i.e. the first three). For me, it is in what comes after: in parts of John, in that thrilling and I think quite believable story we call the Acts of the Apostles, and in the superb, ever-haunting, humanly plausible Letters of Paul.
       I know that in many people’s minds, Paul is the great perverter (or great pervert – ‘didn’t he have something against sex?’) – the one who distorted a supposedly pure-and-pristine ‘real’ Christianity into an alien philosophy. To me, he is the one who made Christianity worth more than passing attention, more than the world’s so-manieth system of unworkable moral pronouncements based on myth-like stories of a bygone Wonder Worker. Paul brings up the side that was lacking in the Gospels: the inner and experiential dimension, the notion of a personal and psychological growth. Above all, he points us to a sophisticated notion of ‘body’ such that the mere individual ‘body of this death’ is subsumed in the surviving, still-growing Body of Christ in which we all, even now, participate. (If you don’t believe this, read 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, and the one in which it is all ‘colossally’ expanded to include the cosmos – Colossians.)
       But what about the question of ‘authenticity’: whether the historical Paul of Tarsus was really the one who wrote the texts attributed to him? I say: ignore this. If you don’t, you will lose the glories of the Epistle to the Hebrews, including its Chapter Eleven, the so-called Faith Chapter, in which we are urged to carry on regardless, since even the great champions of faith in the Old Testament never really lived to see their faith fulfilled.
       Faith is not a matter of fulfilment. It is about a sense in living. The living of a sense. A sense that is known in the living of it.

--Lloyd Haft

[1] Obviously I am not the first person in history to think this. Erasmus, in one of his own versions, treated it as the Latin sermo, meaning something like ‘conversation’ or ‘discourse.’ Many Chinese versions use Dao which in the first instance suggests not so much a ‘word’ as an overall ‘way’ or ‘principle’ or ‘guiding view’ of something. The modern Dutch translator Pieter Oussoren makes it not ‘word’ but ‘speaking.’ The 20th-century Dutch theologian Miskotte once wrote ‘word is a happening between persons.’