[OPE-L] Western Marxism and the Soviet Union: A Survey of Critical Theories and Debates Since 1917

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Fri Jul 27 2007 - 21:13:34 EDT

Hi Jerry, 

I translated the main text in September-December 2004, in conformity with my contractual deadline. In Ocober 2005, I did my proofs report on the final draft. The book was published mid-2007. So it was not a quickie.

I am very limited in what I can do, but if I would translate Marxist or semi-Marxist texts, I would very likely want to translate some classic German statements of e.g. Leo Kofler, Helmut Fleischer, Helmut Dahmer, Ernst Bloch, Christian Girschner, or the circle around Altvater, which have some enduring value. But at present I am more concerned with my own writing, and have other things on my plate.

Great English-language translators I know of in the field include David Fernbach, Brian Pearce, Gerry Foley and John G. Wright (Joseph Vanzler). Real internationalists, those guys. 

NLB published an odd mixture of foreign Marxist texts, but many texts which could really have helped the Anglo-Saxon debate move forward powerfully, were never translated by them. A good example of that was Klaus Busch's Die Multinationalen Konzerne (1973) dealing with the law of value and the world market. Consequently, in English you still have Marxist intellectuals discovering points of view which were debated and maybe ditched long ago in other countries (though I guess that will always happen to some extent).

In the translation business, overwhelmingly English texts are translated into other languages, not the other way round, causing some to speak of "linguistic imperialism". In the academic world, it's often an ideosyncratic business, because very few people think strategically or entrepreneurially in terms of: "these books need translating/publishing, and I will find and commission people to do it". 

So a lot depends then on individual initiatives and personal contacts, what translators are able to do at a given time, and people usually want to have it done as quickly as possible for the least money possible. It is an undervalued business - perhaps because people perceive it as uncreative, unoriginal, unsexy monkey (or monkish) work, or because they don't understand communication strategy - but translation ends up having an enormous effect anyway on what people think. Take away the translators, and you just don't know anymore what's happening in other countries.

I mentioned about Barrosso's reference to the European "empire", but as a matter of fact, in different European languages, that word has somewhat different connotations such as "realm" or "sphere of influence" or "group of countries under a single authority". In Dutch, Barrosso term was translated by one Dutch socialist effectively as "the realm of the emperor" which Barrosso did probably not intend. Of course, in the last instance you cannnot blame the horrifically bad communication strategy of the European Commission simply on language difficulties, it is rather that there is a complex constellation of conflicting political interests, and that they want to do one thing and say another. So you get concepts which try to straddle a whole lot of contradictions.

But as regards translation, I think the future is with on-line linguistic databases which will reliably translate texts, based on probabilistic choices made through sampling/comparing text styles of existing translations. You feed e.g. a few million text formats in a computer memory, plus the translation formats already made of those texts, and get the computer to search and compare analogous styles by topic, applying a sequence of different routine checks before reaching a semantic conclusion.  It sounds like science fiction, but the technological prerequisites for that already exist I think. It would put a lot of non-fiction translators out of business, but you would have styled translation at the press of a button. No more Babylon of tongues, except perhaps in works of fiction. Unless you prefer the personal touch.



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