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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Anthroposophy, A Fragment
GA 45

Editor/Co-Translator's Preface

Rudolf Steiner's usage of words is the opposite of cementing meanings. The actual words often leave considerable leeway for possible meaning, sometimes annoyingly so. This is due in part to the nature of the German language. In English this flexibility is frequently impossible, or simply leads to an insipid style. The English language generally renders more precisely and colorfully than the German by its very necessity of choice — there are many more words to choose from in English than in German. However, their shades of meaning often have a narrower range, which essentially leaves no other choice than to be more precise through the choice of words than in the original German.

On the one hand, this can make such translations difficult, particularly with a book like Anthroposophy, which remained a fragment — according to Steiner himself — because the very language did not yet allow him to coin the necessary modalities of expression. This, I believe, is not a problem of the German language in particular, but of current modern language in general. Language itself must evolve to accommodate the thoughts of something like an anthroposophy. History shows that this is not unreasonable at all: language has been anything but static over the centuries, and this becomes apparent, for example, in the fact that a large number of current common expressions in German were actually coined in the poetry of Goethe (in English, the prime example, of course, is Shakespeare).

On the other hand, I do concur with Michael Lipson in believing that a translation can actually become clearer than the original. 1See the Translator's Introduction in Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path: A Philosophy of Freedom, which is a new translation by Michael Lipson for the centennial edition of The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. At the risk of seeming immodest, I do think that, in a few instances, this has been achieved.

Falkensee, Germany