Never the same – an opening line from Ernst Bloch on Islamic philosophy

Having just got Ernst Bloch’s short book on Avicenna and the Aristotelian Left from the library, I do feel for his translators… how do you render das Gescheite? It would be “clever”, but that doesn’t really capture it. I’ve put in “wise” instead, but while “clever” is too mundane, “wise” is too aloof. The virtuosity of Bloch’s style lies in the ability to maintain the link that connects the bright and clever kid with the old sage, the involvement in everyday matters and the view down on the world from the mouth of a mountain cave. The same goes for his way of expressing that Islamic thinkers have preserved and renewed Greek thought. Here I went for the mundane (fit for purpose) – but losing the very nice allusion of tüchtig (fit, able, competent) to seetüchtig (seaworthy) – enlightenment fit to travel round the world in search for new practical applications.

Nie das Gleiche

Alles Gescheite mag schon siebenmal gedacht worden sein. Aber wenn es wieder gedacht wurde, in anderer Zeit und Lage, war es nicht mehr dasselbe. Nicht nur sein Denker, sondern vor allem das zu Bedenkende hat sich unterdes geändert.Das Gescheite hat sich daran neu und selber als Neues zu bewähren. Was besonders folgenreich bei den großen morgenländischen Denkern der Fall war. Sie haben das griechische Licht zugleich gerettet und anders tüchtig gemacht.

Never the same

Everything wise may well have been already thought out seven times before. But when it was being thought again, in a different place and at a different time, it no longer remained the same. Not only the person who thinks it, but first and foremost the considered thing itself had changed in the meantime. In dealing with it, the wise thought must prove itself anew, and as itself being new. This was the case with the great thinkers of the Orient. They have rescued the Greek light and at the same time made it fit differently for different purposes.

Ernst Bloch, Avicenna und die Aristotelische Linke, Düsseldorf: Progress-Verlag Johann Fladung, 1960, p.5

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