There is a kind of obsession on the part of biblical scholars about translation. Should functional or formal equivalence dominate a translation? Can one mix and match translation styles and strategies? But these questions come up in all translation.
A review by Nancy Bauer of the 2010 translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s Le deuxième sexe speaks to the question of translation methodology more directly that most such reviews.
Like Proust in À la recherche du temps perdu, Beauvoir in Le deuxième sexe displays a fondness for unusually long sentences and paragraphs and uncommon punctuation practices — in her case, a penchant for the semi-colon and, in Proust’s, a paucity of commas. In addition to making decisions about the best way to render individual words, phrases, and sentences, translators of highly stylized writings such as these are obliged to adopt a general strategy for achieving two desiderata that are fundamental to good translation and yet often in tension with one another: staying as faithful as possible to the author’s way of doing things — including her or his fondness for various language-specific tropes, such as metaphor, synecdoche, and alliteration — while making sure that doing things this way makes sense in the target language.
This review is abnormally interesting not only for what Bauer says about translation practice but by the way she compares the subject translation by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier with Howard M. Parshley’s 1952 translation and with the French. It is Parshley’s translation that I have in my library and which I’d guess is how most of us “Anglophones” came to know de Beauvoir’s magnum opus.
Bauer’s conclusion seems to me to apply, with but slight modification, to some but not all of the discussion of recent translations of the Hebrew Bible.
Like Parshley, the team of Borde and Malovany-Chevallier took on the gargantuan project of translating Beauvoir’s sprawling meditation because they were huge admirers of the book and wanted to bring her work to an Anglophone audience. But good intentions do not a masterpiece make. Committed readers of Beauvoir readily acknowledge this distinction when it comes to the Parshley version, which is universally regarded as inadequate. I have been startled to find that some of these same readers are inclined to overlook the flaws of the new translation, for fear, as one correspondent put it to me, that lamenting them publicly will provide fodder for anti-feminists and those inclined to dismiss Beauvoir as a philosopher. This stance — which carries a whiff of the “good girl” norm that Beauvoir urged us to question — not only does contemporary readers of Beauvoir a grave disservice: it also signals to future generations that we were willing to settle for less than we, and Beauvoir herself, deserve.
I advise reading the whole review.
Via Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog where Brian titles his post consisting of nothing by a link to Bauer’s review, “The Difficulties of Philosophical Translation.” I worry that Brian, who is normally very insightful, may have missed part of the point.