As Monday’s opening of the eBay auction of the Einstein-Gutkind letter nears, traditional journalists’ interest heightens. A write-up by Reuters this week made quite a splash in the me2dia. Reuters’ reporter, Patricia Reaney, flogs this quasiquote from the letter:
“…The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change this,”
Ms Reaney’s unattributed translation excerpt should be familiar. It is, of course, the Guardian‘s, word for word, Americanizing the honourable.
Here’s an alternative sample. It’s about the same length and still in that much-copied Guardian style. The word count that this excerpt saves by striking through the “pretty childish” that Einstein didn’t write is used to restore Einstein’s context for “The word God,” as he did write it.
“… [Your book] is written in language which is inaccessible to me. The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of many honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change this.”
The point of attending to translations is to understand Einstein’s thinking, and how that influences his culture, our culture. Update a reader kindly pointed to some distinctive big media coverage, Jessica Ravitz’ piece on the CNN Belief Blog,
Ravitz includes remarks about many aspects of the letter from Diana L. Kormos-Buchwald, history professor at the Caltech and director of the Einstein Papers Project.
None of this attention to translations, so far as I can see, affects what the letter is worth to the relatively small number of people who might afford it, individually or corporately. They know, or should know, what the letter says, independently of what’s in the newspapers or on the web.
The 2012 auctioneers’ photos are beautifully clear and complete, and have been widely distributed for a long while now. If a potential bidder doesn’t read German, then a journeyman 500-word transcription and translation job might cost about $100 or $200, which is a fraction of 1% of 1% of the minimum bid. It is unrealistic to think that anybody will be bidding from misinformation, or second-hand information of any kind.
The Albert Einstein Archives in Jerusalem, to name just one institution, would be thrilled to have this letter. The public relations value for someone who donated it to them could easily be worth more than the purchase price. Celebrity religion critic Richard Dawkins even managed to score some publciity as an underbidder in 2008.
As was reported here earlier, the Archives are thinking about digitally recreating the 1954-1955 appearance of the letter. Just loaning them the original to make even better images of the current condition of the letter could bring massive favorable recognition. If they succeed in the imaging project, then there could be continuing publicity ever after as the Archives disseminate the resulting image. And you would still own the model for that image, in this scenario.
Some of the articles here featured the disclaimer (until the conclusion of the sale; the higher of two bids made was reported to be $ 3,000,100)
The Uncertaintist does not offer advice to potential buyers. The purpose of this entry is solely to consider some factors which are possibly pertinent to understanding Einstein’s religious thinking and its effects on culture. Questions about the sale or the Einstein-Gutkind letter as an item in commerce should be directed to the auction organizers, through their website,
The price of anything reflects the economic value of what the most enterprising possible owner might do with it. On that, the sky’s the limit. It’s up to the buyer to create the emolument commensurate with the purchase price, whatever that may be. We wish all involved in the auction the best. Please do keep the Albert Einstein Archives in mind.