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?


Kingue began her presentation with a reading from the language in which she wrote her book in, French. Kingue deliberately opened this way to demonstrate, just like Wa-Thiong’o says, that “we can can only capture our true essence in our mother tongues”.

As I sat listening to the fluidity of the excerpt in French, and the way in which Kingue read her work with such expression and emotion, I understood why Kingue felt it was important that the audience hear her work in the language she originally wrote the words. I think it all comes down to the idea of authenticity and what it means to be authentic. Kingue said that writing was her only means of being able to be who she really was and a way for her to communicate her emotions. Because French is a part of Kingue’s identity, because French is her mother tongue, listening to her read that particular language, I think, really brought to life the true significance of what it means to be authentic in terms of language and identity.


While listening to Angèle Kingué’s reading of Venus of Khala-Kanti, I was able to reflect on the message from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk. Adichie had discussed that as a little girl, she wrote stories that involved characters with only blue eyes and blonde hair. Through her studies, she had formed a belief that these were the only characters that could be involved in literature. It was not until later in life that she came to the understanding that she too was able to create based on what was familiar and meaningful to her. Kingué opened her reading with the statement, “Let me let you hear me as I am.” She then began to read from the French text she had created the piece in. She explained that speaking in French was a part of her identity and it was important to her that she was able to write her novel in the language she claimed as her own. She furthered her comment by claiming that we are only truly ourselves in our mother tongue.

Spivak also analyzes the use of language as a development for growing to understand oneself. Kingué discussed her inspiration for her creation and the story that had inspired her to come to know the perspective and humanity of all characters involved. She had incorporated crucial cultural context and the emotions that she experienced while creating the events. The author must aim to create a reality for the reader.

Appiah discusses the constraints that language has on our thoughts and expression. This can be a challenge when attempting to translate a piece from one language into another. To further this argument, Spivak notes that a translator must exceed in his or her ability beyond further comprehension of the language. The translator must be informed of the culture to fully relay the essence of the piece. Was Christine Swartz Hartley aware of the environment and culture that Kingué included in her novel? If not, how did Kingué ensure that Hartley was fully aware and able to translate meaning for meaning?

Thick Translation

Appiah seems to expand on the notion of bringing the reader to the author in order to engage with the actual source text and culture. Appiah explains that “literal translation”, or “gloss”, lacks the ability to bring forth the concepts or features that originally made the text important. Thus, it inevitably becomes the responsibility of the translator to add, interpret, and annotate the text so that the reader in the target culture can thoroughly understand and make sense of the text. Is Appaih thus claiming that in order for there to exist an equal effect, or equal value/meaning, in both the source and target culture footnotes/annotations are essential? How does this influence the universality of a text? Would this mean we or the translator must automatically assume that the way in which one reader interprets the meaning of a text is the same as another reader?

Damrosch- World Literature

How does world literature affect the hierarchy of languages? When we translate ancient Egyptian poems like in the reading, are we then privileging and raising up the Egyptian hieroglyphic language or the Egyptian ideas and culture? If by translating we lose much of the writing structure, inherent ambiguity, and specificity then are we really translating for the source text of for the ideas expressed? Is ‘pure language’ then that which can be understood fully by all cultures?


In The Translators Task, Benjamin relates translation to “a form of art”. He explains that both art and translation should not be concerned with their communicative purposes but rather their “pure form of language”. In accordance with Benjamin, I believe that such a “pure form of language” cannot exist. For instance, if one considers a sentence “I love dogs”, the sentence itself prevents language from becoming pure. The three words strung together in a sentence producing “I love dogs” communicates a particular idea since it possesses meaning. But, as Benjamin argues, the sentence itself is “the wall in front of the language of the original”. Is this to say that in a single work of translation one must have an understanding of all the languages of the world to break such a barrier? Would this mean the only way to achieve a “pure form” of language is via the sum of all languages?

Untranslatability —- word

“In Chinese two ideograms correspond partially to the word: the ideogram that translates the notion of word or term, the character ci  詞, was only recently imported (after 1920)  whereas the unit of analysis remains the character zi 字 (Allenton, “Terminologie de la grammarie chinoise”). ”

In western linguistic system, “the word” usually refers to an independent semantic entity. However, in Chinese, as the quote above suggested, there are two ideograms corresponding to “the word.” This was very confusing for me when I tried to explain Chinese in English before, as I didn’t really understand the difference between “word” “character” and “letter.”  For example, 飲料 is a “word” means all kinds of drinks. Separately, 飲 means 1) verb, to drink; 2) noun, drinks; 3) noun, liquid traditional Chinese medicine; 4) bear and experience; 5) fade and hide. 料 means 1) verb, have thought/ guessed; 2) noun, materials; 3) noun, raw food; 4) noun, ingredients; 5) verb, to take care and to clean up; 5) a quantifier used in traditional Chinese medicine. Both zi 飲 and 料 are zi 字 and can be seen as a separate word, and together 飲料 is a ci 詞, a word which means drinks. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to translate “the word” in Chinese


Do the colors in which one’s particular language allows for alter people’s perception of reality? When reading about the concepts of untranslatability I could not help but ponder the idea that on a much broader scale, untranslatability or even differences in language can change people’s reality and what they “see” in the world. Scientific research shows that there are 7,000,000 colors that can be identified in the world but there are only about 100 color words. The tendency to strive for a universal understanding of colors leads people to associate similar meanings to color words [blue- sadness or cold, red- passion/joy]. But, can color perceived without the influence of cultural presuppositions or cultural concepts? Are there universal color concepts but because of our language each individual perceives them differently? Is this to say that colors to a certain extent are untranslatable and we can only get so close to its true nature?


“There is no such thing as a word in nature…this word ‘relevant’ carries in its body an on-going process of translation…as a translative body, it endures or exhibits translation as the memory or stigmata of suffering or, hovering above it, as an aura or halo” (367). To me, Derrida is arguing that different languages themselves are essentially translations. Derrida suggests that in a particular language, or in general, there do not exist fixed meanings for words. Does this mean that Derrida completely disagrees with the idea that the signifier precedes the signified?