Destructive Tendencies

Moi’s essay on the English translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex completely exemplifies many of the issues that result from the process of translation that we have been discussing in our class throughout the entire semester. As she states perfectly, “I offer this essay as a stopgap measure” as a means of bringing the shortcomings of The Second Sex’s English translation to its readers attentions.

For starters, I was completely shocked to read that Parshley condensed the 972 paged French edition to only 145 pages, essentially 15 percent. One of the biggest issues I see with this action is that the text was not shortened as a means of simplifying or clarifying aspects the work. Instead, elements of great importance, detail, and significance were deleted, which in turn totally destroyed what the text was intended to mean. Furthermore, these changes had a strong influence on Beauvoir’s reputation where, for instance, she was criticized for being “uninterested in women”. In addition to unfairly altering what the work was intended to depict, such omissions also completely eradicated essential elements of culture. For example, Beauvoir’s book in French “provides an intimate view of French culture in the mid-twentieth century” whereas in English it does not. This one instance of many demonstrates how certain translation can completely counteract its true intentions which would be to allow for a transfer of culture.

A second aspect of Moi’s essay that I was drawn to focused on Lacan and the mirror stage. Moi asserts that Beauvoir possessed a thorough understanding of the word’s specific meaning in particular regards to philosophy along with the concept of alienation. While Moi notes that Parshley at times did exercise the word “alienation” in the English text, he often injected his own ideas while translating, ultimately making Beauvoir seem uneducated in Lacanian ideas. For example, Parshley translated “alienation” from the French text to mean “projection” in the English text. Moi then brings up a valid point where it is essential to consider the cumulative effect “of reading such a corrupt text”.

I am curious about how many other works have experienced such destruction from a translation process. What then determines which works receive publicity regarding how destructive the translated text has become? Is it the extremity of destruction itself?

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