Thursday, March 22, 2007

New Translation of "The Second Sex"

Remember last year three years ago* when the story went around about how bad the 1953 English translation, The Second Sex, of Beauvoir's Le Deuxième Sexe was?

To summarize, the translation is said to be full of hundreds of major and minor errors, some of which do not merely miss or distort the meaning, but make the text state the opposite of the original. The original translator was a retired professor of zoology selected because the American publisher judged the book by its the title and thought it was a sex manual. The translator had no specialized knowledge of philosophy and knew French only from his student days. In addition, at the publisher's request, hefty chunks of the book were cut in the translated edition.

Even when the story about the bad translation made the rounds, inspired by the 50th anniversary of the publication, the publisher refused to authorize a new edition.

But now it turns out that a new translation was commissioned by the British rights holder in early 2006, and is about half finished! This article by Sarah Glazer in Bookforum tells how translators Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier got to translate Le Deuxième Sexe into English anew. Both are Paris-based Americans who have taught English at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques for many years.

Apparently Beauvoir scholars have expressed concerns that non-philosophers were selected to carry out the translation. However, Glazer writes:

Both women expressed surprise at the concerns about their lack of philosophical background and assistance. They said they are consulting with philosophers, including Margaret A. Simons, author of a groundbreaking article pointing out Parshley's [the original translator's] errors. They've sought out a biologist to critique the chapter on the biology of sex, a friend with analytic training to go over the psychoanalysis chapter, and a medievalist to decipher the Old French quotations. They've commissioned translations by specialists of the extensive poetry citations from Paul Claudel, André Breton, and Michel Leiris. The job is so overwhelming, they said, that they've asked for grant money to fund additional assistance.

Further, they will restore the material cut from the first translation, and are considering the original in their choice of language:

To retain the formality of Beauvoir's voice, who used vous with Sartre and other intimates throughout her life, they reversed their original decision to introduce contractions. To give it a period flavor, they are steering away from words that came into common usage after 1949. That's the basis for their decision to avoid the word gender, which today is more commonly used in the places Beauvoir uses sex.

*sign of advancing age

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At March 24, 2009 12:38 p.m., Anonymous Dahlia Guzman said... i thought i'd bug you about how i might find out about the new translation. I'm a grad student at Kent State University-- working on a Masters Degree in Philosophy, which i suspect would go a long way to explain my interest! Thanks for the blog entry! peace,dahlia

At March 24, 2009 3:32 p.m., Blogger Mago said...

Dahlia, I would suggest starting with a search.


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