The core of our course in Translation Studies has been to explore the multitude of good that translation can do for world culture. We have also looked at how it is done, and what the particular risks and challenges are that face a translator in the monumental task of converting a work of manifested ideas from its native context into an alien culture. Nearly all of our discussions, I am now made to consider, assumed good faith on the part of the translator: that we were dealing with someone doing their best in a labor of love (or at the very least professional pride) to do the most sincere translation they could produce.
It is difficult to read the details of Parshley’s omissions and not conclude that he knew what he was doing – the ‘edits’ are too systematic, the omissions too damning. Part of my own assumption, regarding good faith on the part of the translator, is tied to the colossal amount of work that goes into a literary translation. In addition to the sheer man-hours necessary to complete a work of even modest scale (never mind one thousand pages!?!) there is a level of personal involvement between the translator, the author and the text that makes it hard to accept intentional perversion in the same way that it is hard to accept that incest is a crime that people commit. The abhorrence of such a defilement makes it hard to even consider.
Yet here we are. I am reminded of Mao’s CCP, Stalin’s Soviet Union, the continued abomination that is North Korea, the obscenity of ‘Creationism’ in the classroom, and the criminally impoverished ‘No Fear Shakespeare’. As much as translation can be the a force of good, to unite and illuminate, it can also be a force of terrible evil, corruption and darkness.