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The Study of Man

On-line since: 23rd June, 2002


The Study of Man, like all German philosophical works and especially those of Rudolf Steiner, poses quite special difficulties to the translator with regard both to general phraseology and to individual words. In this case the latter problem is more difficult because the translator has to take into account the usage in other translated works of the same author.

Prominent among the single words is the vexed Vorstellung (verb vorstellen) which has received a variety of renderings at the hands of different translators. No single English word, or pair of words, entirely corresponds to Vorstellung. George Adams, in his translation Occult Science — an Outline. has rendered it as “mental image,” “mental picture,” “thought picture” or “idea” according to the context. Michael Wilson in his revision of Philosophy of Freedom has preferred to keep to “mental picture.” Vorstellung does not intrinsically contain the suggestion of picture, and I toyed with the idea of rendering it “mental evocation” or even of inventing the word “mentalisation.” But in the present work Steiner does rather stress the pictorial nature of Vorstellung, and as the work should certainly be studied in conjunction with the Philosophy of Freedom I have decided to follow Michael Wilson and render Vorstellung as “mental picture” throughout, and the verb as “to picture mentally” — even though the translation may appear in some places rather clumsy and not quite English. I have found that the practice of the original translators in varying the words used has led to some confusion of thought.

In The Study of Man Steiner draws a sharp distinction between two things: Vorstellung, an end product, a formed picture stemming from the past and working through antipathy towards the concept: and Fantasie, a new beginning, a germ or seed drawing upon the future, working through sympathy to creation. The word Fantasie poses another special difficulty. Its real equivalent in English is “imagination” and Steiner uses it passim throughout the book. But he also uses the German Imagination, not in the special anthroposophical sense where he describes the three future soul powers as Imagination, Inspiration and Intuition, but in much the same sense as we ordinarily use it in English.

I have throughout translated Fantasie as “imagination” and when the original uses both words together I have combined “imagination” with “picture forming.” When Steiner uses Imagination in the plural, not in the sense of a faculty of the mind but as meaning the actual pictures which that faculty produces I have used “picture-forms.”

Two other words, Trieb and Begierde, appear as “impulse” and “desire.”

Steiner uses the word Bild (picture or image) in connection with both Vorstellung and Fantasie. Both, he says, have a Bild character. But, as Michael Wilson has written, ‘Vorstellung in this book is like the photograph you take of a finished object or building: Fantasie is more like the first inspired sketch an artist makes, vital, unformed, evocative, capable of evolution and growth.’ In order not to confuse Bild with Vorstellung I have throughout rendered it as “image” — again even at the expense of a more normal English usage in some places.

Another word calling for special comment is Gemüt. As applied to an individual we could fairly translate er ist ganz Gemüt as “he is all heart.” As a simple noun I have had with “feeling nature” or “feeling life,” not daring to venture to “allheartedness.”

The above and other considerations have called for a good many emendations of the original translation, in which however I found many felicities of expression which I should like to acknowledge.



Last Modified: 07-Sep-2017
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