Translation or study

London Review of Books: Toril Moi, “The Adulteress Wife” (A review of The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir, translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier)

Academics often disagree and on occasions argue very passionately about the differences in their views. That’s a healthy thing. Most academics would say that they are engaged in a collective endeavour to understand the world better, if not in a search for the truth. Critical assessment of works by others is a very useful method in this context. However, at times, arguments can become personalized or very bitter, which is counter-productive to the common aims and goals that academics share. This seems to be what happened in this case.

What kind of work the translators should have conducted: a translation, or an edited, annotated piece of study? Translators’ task in most cases is to render the original into another language, in a way that reflects the original author’s style, to the best of their abilities. It’s not an exact science, and there are always multiple ways of translating passages. There are degrees of disagreement, which are differences in interpretations. An annotated study would have included much more, since it would discuss various facets of the original work. Annnotation is a totally different project from a translation. The reviewer is very critical for what the book is not, since it did not conform to the reviewer’s idea of what ought to have been done. Surely, there is a scope for an annotated work as well as a translation. There are different audiences for different works for such an important piece.