More than thirty years have passed since Being and Time first appeared, and it has now become perhaps the most celebrated philosophical work which Germany has produced in this century. It is a very difficult book, even for the German reader, and highly resistant to translation, so much so that it has often been called 'untranslatable'. We feel that this is an exaggeration.
Anyone who has struggled with a philosophical work in translation has constantly found himself asking how the author himself would have expressed the ideas which the translator has ascribed to him. In this respect the 'ideal' translation would perhaps be one so constructed that a reader with reasonable linguistic competence and a key to the translator's conventions should be able to retranslate the new version into the very words of the original. Everybody knows that this is altogether too much to demand; but the faithful translator must at least keep this ahead of him as a desirable though impracticable goal. The simplest compromise with the demands of his own language is to present the translation and the original text on opposite pages; he is then quite free to choose the most felicitous expressions he can think of, trusting that the reader who is shrewd enough to wonder what is really happening can look across and find out. Such a procedure would add enormously to the expense of a book as long as Being and Time, and is impracticable for other reasons. But on any page of Heidegger there is a great deal happening, and we have felt that we owe it to the reader to let him know what is going on. For the benefit of the man who already has a copy of the German text, we have indicated in our margins the pagination of the later German editions, which differs only slightly from that of the earlier ones. All citations marked with 'H' refer to this pagination. But for the reader who does not have the German text handy, we have had to use other devices.
As long as an author is using words in their ordinary ways, the translator should not have much trouble in showing what he is trying to say. But Heidegger is constantly using words in ways which are by no means ordinary, and a great part of his merit lies in the freshness and penetration which his very innovations reflect. He tends to discard much of the traditional philosophical terminology, substituting an elaborate vocabulary of his own. He occasionally coins new expressions from older roots, and he takes full advantage of the case with which the German language lends itself to the formation of new compounds. He also uses familiar . . .