Translating Foucault’s memorial

Where was Foucault’s memorial service? It’s all in the translation.

[t]here is a sense in which it is far more difficult to translate Le Nouvel Observateur than a work by Michel Foucault. “Straightforward” is not a word that can readily be applied to language, which, like a confidence man, is often most devious when it seems most plain. Consider, just to bring these abstract matters down to the level of concreteness, exhibit A, from a biography of Foucault, in fact, and written, as it happens, by a journalist from Le Nouvel Obs. The book begins:

“Le décor est presque saugrenu. C’est un théâtre, situé au rond-point des Champs-Elysées. ”

I was asked to evaluate the work of another translator. The text began:

“The setting was almost preposterous: a theater at the traffic circle on the Champs-Elysées.”

What’s wrong with this? Nothing and everything.

These difficulties of translation remind me of a comment once made in a book on Heidegger: every translation is an invitation for another translation.

More discussion and h/t here.


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