[OPE-L:2043] Re: Translator's lot is not a happy one

Massimo De Angelis (M.DeAngelis@uel.ac.uk)
Tue, 30 Apr 1996 03:21:57 -0700

[ show plain text ]

I am in full support of Alan "ranting" below.


> Date: Mon, 29 Apr 1996 13:46:56 -0700
> Reply-to: ope-l@anthrax.ecst.csuchico.edu
> From: Alan Freeman <100042.617@compuserve.com>
> To: Multiple recipients of list <ope-l@anthrax.ecst.csuchico.edu>
> Subject: [OPE-L:2036] Translator's lot is not a happy one
> Re translating p300 of the Penguin edition, p188 (p193 in L/W)
> and so on. I'm afraid this is going to be a rant, but having been
> on the sharp end of the translating business I'm unhappy.
> 1) Look, guys, there was a typo. The Penguin edition contains
> an extra 'and'. Remove the 'and', and the problem goes. Who knows
> if Ben Fowkes (yes, he is a real person) got it wrong? It could be
> anyone between the translator, the publisher, the typist, the
> copy-editor and just a bad night out for everyone. None of them
> get paid and none of them get recognised. In four days of exchanges
> you guys managed to write labor-labor instead of labour-power
> and get the (for me, it may be different for Amerikans in which
> case abasement and apologies) wrong page number for the
> L/w edition WRONG and you were only talking about one paragraph.
> How the hell do you think one ordinary human being translator
> is going to get everything right?
> 2) The real problem is this: why should Riccardo have to cite
> in English at all? Marx wrote in German, he should be cited in
> German. And we should *learn* German. It is perhaps difficult
> for non-German speakers, but no more difficult than neoclassical
> economics for non-economists.
> The only reason Riccardo has to ask us about the 'correct'
> translation is because of Anglophone cultural imperialism. Full stop.
> My advice to Riccardo is, if in doubt, cite the German. This
> i say not out of arrogance but simply because I don't accept that
> an Italian should be forced to quote a German in English.
> It's not right. Also, the German is what Marx actually wrote, in his
> crabbed hand on his yellow paper. So it is the closest we will every
> get to the poor man's brain.
> 3) The problem is not that L/W is a 'good' translation and Penguin
> is 'bad' or whatever. It's almost next to impossible when you are
> working for love and peanuts to get *every* single word just right.
> The problem is that people who ought to speak languages other
> than English, don't. Just imagine how different this discussion
> might be if Riccardo, Mino and Massimo could address us in
> Italian, Gerard in French, Chai-on in Korean, Iwao in Japanese,
> Costas and Stavros in Greek, and whatever anyone is moved
> to speak at the moment that expresses how they feel, best.
> 4) The way you do umlauts in German is you put in an E. So,
> Taegtigkeit, Boehm-Bawerk, etc. The way you do a sharp S is
> you put two S's, so, Strasse, usw. This isn't a dig at Jerry, it's
> just to point out that the Germans have already faced this problem
> and the reason they have had to face this problem is, computers
> were put together by English speakers. Jerry just ran up against
> a problem which every German, every Greek, every Spaniard, every
> French person, etc. runs up against every time they have to use
> equipment which the fucking Anglos invented for their own convenience.
> Never mind Asian, Slavic or Semitic speakers, for whom the DOS
> keyboard is just another world.
> 5)A perfect translation is *impossible*. It's all full of culture and
> things. (anyone read C J Cherryh?) My students have to do it every day,
> all the time, for their mothers and fathers. They get it wrong. They
> feel embarassed for the mothers and fathers, who don't speak 'good
> English'. What an outrage. The truth is, I should take the time to
> learn the language of their mothers and fathers instead of *presuming*
> they are obliged to speak my language. I should learn Punjabi, Urdu,
> Greek, Vietnamese, Somali, Chinese. What law dictates that their labour
> time should be spent learning my language instead of my labour time being
> spend learning their language? *Only* the law of value. I thought
> our role was to overthrow the law of value. There are a hundred and
> fifty languages spoken in London and every one has a right to exist.
> 6)Hegel tried to Germanise philosophy. Many of the obscure
> terms we grapple with today are commonplace German expressions, eg
> fuer sich, an sich (for itself, in itself). These just don't translate.
> There is no way to explain or render into English what a German person
> experiences when the words 'fuer sich' arise in a sentence'. But we have
> to render it as *something*, so we come up with clumsy absurdities like
> 'Being-for-self'.
> 7) We are very lucky that Marx was sufficiently
> cosmopolitan not to fall into Hegel's almost nationalistic
> Germanisation of all things philosophical. But even Marx could
> not escape those questions where the German language is simply
> *better* than the English to render important and indeed vital
> philosophical concepts. Thus he had to use terms such as the
> class 'in itself' and the class 'for itself' bcause nothing can
> surpass the Germanic expression of these concepts, and if we really
> want to understand what they mean we have to learn German, Punkt.
> 7) Sometimes a brilliant translator can make your hair stand
> on end by creating in one language the cultural and linguistic
> transliteration of a unique concept in another language, eg
> 'Abandon hope, all ye who enter' or 'the moving finger writes, and
> having writ, moves on' which have almost entered the English
> language as phrases. I live to be able to do such a thing.
> But who could translate this?:
> Die Luft is kuehl und es dunkelt,
> Und Ruhig fliesst der Rhein
> Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt
> Im Abendsonnenshchein
> or even the corny old
> Die Gedanken sind frei
> Wer kann sie erlassen
> Sie fliehen vorbei
> wie nachtliche Schatten
> It can't be done! This is what Germany was, should have been,
> and failed to be. These are the tears of a nation that thought
> it could be what it did not come to be, and whose passing
> drowned the world. These are Superman's dying Gift. PS what
> is Man of Steel in Russian - quiz?
> 8) There are concepts which, in German, have no *exact* English
> equivalent and we have to be careful about them. One of them
> is the word 'gleich'. Now, 'gleich' is always translated into
> English as 'equal'. But actually, it doesn't quite mean 'equal'.
> Etymologically it has the same root as 'Like'. A German has
> to choose, when expressing the concept of identity, between
> 'gleich' which is a word that expresses similarity but has
> become stronger than similarity, and 'Derselbe' which expresses
> identity or (paradoxically) what would, in mathematical
> language, be expressed as equivalence or =- (three strokes
> under each other, identity). Gleich is almost always translated
> as 'equal' but this isn't really what it means. Now, hey
> guys, you want us *translators* to sort out your problems?
> This is a political choice! Translate 'gleich' as 'equal'
> and you end up on the Skillman/Keen side; translate it as
> 'similar to' and you end up on the Kliman/Freeman side.
> Which is objective? Which is correct? Imagine yourself
> as a translator in the Stalin error and ask yourself
> 'which translation would I have offered?'
> My dad once told me the following which illustrates the
> margin of Freedom of the Translator: he (not my dad,
> the anonymous translator) had to translate 'Applause
> from all corners of the hall' and had the guts to render
> it as 'applaudissements de tous les cons de la halle.'
> There have been not a few debates on this list in which
> the issue of value-price *equality* (Gleichheit) has figured.
> But as Dan Dare would say, I would bet Mars to a Marble that
> when Marx uses the word 'gleich', particularly in that good
> old Part One of Volume One, he understands it in the good
> old classical Germanic sense of 'like', 'similar to',
> 'aenlich' and *not* the English sense of 'identically the
> same as'.
> SO, when an Anglo reads any translation, whether the
> authorized L/w or the revisionist Ben Fowkes, s/he finds that
> Part I of Volume I talks about the 'equality' of commensurable
> things. But for a German, the words of this (rather vital)
> section lie halfway in between the Anglo 'equal' and
> the Anglo 'similar to'.
> Don't shoot the Pianist. Learn to sing.
> Al


Massimo De Angelis
Department of Economics
University of East London
Longbridge Road
Dagenham Essex RM8 2AS

work 0181 5907722 x2254
home 0181 9616067
fax 0181 8493549
e-mail massimo@uel.ac.uk