Thursday, December 21, 2006

About translating The Second Sex

In my previous post I quoted Simone de Beauvoir. I remember the quote incorrectly; I thought it was "One is not born, one becomes a woman". Being unsure, I googled it, and found that what she said was "one is not born a woman, but becomes one."

Alas, a blog has two posts from last year (this day that year!) on the subject of translations:

You see, the real Simone de Beauvoir isn’t available in English - only in
the original French. The English version I and many other English-reading
feminists have read, is translated so badly that at times it says the exact
opposite of what de Beauvoir intended. From a New
York Times op-ed by Sarah Glazer

Alfred Knopf, who thought the book ‘’capable of making a very wide
appeal indeed'’ among ‘’young ladies in places like Smith,'’ sought out Howard
Madison Parshley, a retired professor of zoology who had written a book on human
reproduction and regularly reviewed books on sex for The New York Herald
Tribune, to translate Beauvoir’s book. Parshley knew French only from his years
as a student at Boston Latin School and Harvard, and had no training in
philosophy — certainly not in the new movement known as existentialism, of which
Beauvoir was an adherent. ‘Parshley didn’t read anything about existentialism
until he’d finished translating the whole book and thought he should find out
something about it to write his introduction,’ says Margaret A. Simons,
professor of philosophy at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and
author of ‘Beauvoir and ‘The Second Sex’ ’ (1999).

Apparently the publisher of the English translation, Knopf, has "the exclusive English-language rights locked up until The Second Sex goes into the public domain - in 2056. Knopf refuses to do an updated transation themselves, and they refuse to allow anyone else to publish one, either."


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