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Off topic: Il traduttore bollente / The Enraged Translator
Thread poster: Maurice Devroye

Maurice Devroye
United States
Local time: 09:50
English to French
Dec 7, 2003

C'est le titre d'un article -pas récent- de J.F.Revel. Quelqu'un pourra peut-être le retrouver. Mes recherches sur ce titre n'ont rien donné. Mais, dans la préface de son dernier livre (1), voici comment Revel lui-même raconte l'anecdote qui l'amena à écrire cet article. C'est amusant et édifiant à la fois.

During my time in the United States in 1969, (...) the side-by-side comparison I had carried out, a stark confrontation between what was everywhere said about the United States and what one actually encountered upon going there, inspired my frontline report, which apparently resonated with many people throughout the world. Without Marx or Jesus was a bestseller in France and in the United States, taking off spectacularly before it came to the notice of the critics and continuing to stay aloft even after lukewarm, even hostile reviews; it was translated into at least twenty languages. This landslide revealed the gulf between the desire to know on the part of the “silent majorities” and the desire not to know on the part of the intellectual and media elites, not only in countries like France, Italy and Greece that were under overt Communist influence, but in social democracies like Sweden that were theoretically opposed to totalitarianism.

My Swedish publisher, a bon vivant and crawfish connoisseur, invited me to help with the book’s launching in Stockholm. He wasn’t able to get a single television appearance for me, which evidently didn’t hurt sales in the slightest. In Finland, I was confronted by two delegations of apparatchiks—psychologically rigid Communist “intellectuals”—one from Romania, the other from Poland. The German author Hans-Magnus Enzenberger, trying to maintain the debate at a civilized level, spoke supportively on my behalf, even though his own contributions were violent critiques of American “imperialism.” My Greek publisher was masochistic enough to compose (without, by the way, consulting or notifying me) a preface in which he begged pardon from his compatriots for having published in their language such a farrago of errors and imbecilities. When I ventured a timid protest, he called me a bigot. The Corriere della sera, while bestowing qualified approval on me, reported on the indignant brouhaha in France and Italy that my thesis, so outrageously unfashionable as it was, had caused. And my Italian translator sprinkled his version with footnotes reproving my ideas. I had fun congratulating him in an article I titled Il traduttore bollente (“The Enraged Translator”). To judge from the international success of my book, one must conclude that some attacks seem calculated to win readers rather than frighten them off. Their curiosity aroused, readers say to themselves that the author must be getting something right or he could never have provoked such a panicked, over-the-top response.

La suite et toute l'introduction en ligne
http://www.encounterbooks.com/books/anam/anam_intro.html

(1) Traduit par Diarmid Cammell, "L'obsession anti-américaine" vient d'être publié aux E-U. Cette traduc est-elle copie conforme? Je ne sais. Mais, par les temps qui courent et sous son nouveau titre ("Anti-americanism"), le succès de l'ouvrage devrait être assuré.

http://www.encounterbooks.com/books/anam/anam.html



[Edited at 2003-12-07 18:30]


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lien
Netherlands
Local time: 14:50
English to French
+ ...
Enfin, un autre discours sur les americains. Merci. Dec 7, 2003

Extract from the book review in encounter.com :

Revel probes the origins of the notion that America is the source of all evil: imperialistic, greedy and ruthlessly competitive—the "hyperpower" whose riches are acquired at the price of Third World impoverishment. He shows how these charges ultimately stem from weakness and envy on the part of those who make them, and criticizes the legions of foreign propagandists and pseudo-intellectuals who make a living "bashing America." As far as America's "unilateralism" is concerned, Revel shows that the U.S. is forced to act alone because Europe has failed repeatedly to act in the cause of collective security. As far as America's sins of "globalization" are concerned, Revel shows that the developing countries of the world want more, not less access to rich markets and corporate investment.


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:20
English to Tamil
+ ...
Let us start with the Italian translator Dec 8, 2003

I consider the action of the Italian translator as quoted in the original posting to be an unpardonable abandoning of the ethics of translation. A translator should remain neutral and not impose his own ideas. If he wants, let him resort to some original writng elsewhere. This reminds me of the novel "Winds of war" by Hermann Wouk. In that work, a book by an ex-Nazi is translated from German into English by the protoganist of the novel. The translation is dotted with a lot of translator's notes disagreeing with the ideas expressed by the German author. I am not a Nazi sympathizer, I am actively anti-Nazi. Yet I would say that these translator's notes have no business being there. These notes are solely meant for clearing up some obscurities in the original text that may not be comprehensible to the target audience of the translation.
Regards,
N.Raghavan


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sylver  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:50
English to French
Translator's notes Dec 10, 2003

Narasimhan Raghavan wrote:

I consider the action of the Italian translator as quoted in the original posting to be an unpardonable abandoning of the ethics of translation. A translator should remain neutral and not impose his own ideas. If he wants, let him resort to some original writng elsewhere. This reminds me of the novel "Winds of war" by Hermann Wouk. In that work, a book by an ex-Nazi is translated from German into English by the protoganist of the novel. The translation is dotted with a lot of translator's notes disagreeing with the ideas expressed by the German author. I am not a Nazi sympathizer, I am actively anti-Nazi. Yet I would say that these translator's notes have no business being there. These notes are solely meant for clearing up some obscurities in the original text that may not be comprehensible to the target audience of the translation.
Regards,
N.Raghavan


Let me be the devil's advocate. As far as I know, a translator is entitled to any note/comment he pleases to make. It is the choice of the publisher to decide what goes to press and what doesn't.

A translator doesn't publish. A translator translates and returns the text to his client. He can add notes or comments *for the editor/client*, separately from the translation. Why not? As long as the translation is faithful, he has done his job, and if he wants to submit comments in the text, I see no reason why he should be forbiden to do so.

It is then up to the editor to decide what to do with them and what gets published, based on his agreement with the author. In my opinion, if translator's comments make it to the printed copy, the editor is responsible. He is the one who review the document and sends it to the press.


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:20
English to Tamil
+ ...
Your point is taken Sylver, but Dec 10, 2003

Quote: "As far as I know, a translator is entitled to any note/comment he pleases to make. It is the choice of the publisher to decide what goes to press and what doesn't."

Yes. You are right. But once the notes get published and there are some complications like court action etc, the translator too is responsible along with the editor as well as publisher. I am sure you will agree with this. In this instant case the Italian translator had to accept the author's remarks. Having said that, I also feel that if you are not in agreement with a text, it would be better to refuse doing the translation. Or give one's views separately in another forum.
And would you condone a similar attitude in an interpreter? I will give you an example. I was interpreting for a Frenchman. We were near the Taj Mahal, Agra. My client was telling that the Emperor Shah Jehan had the architect blinded, lest he should repeat his feat elsewhere and the Taj should have a rival. There is no basis to such a story for the simple reason the emperor was not in power when the Taj was completed. He himself was in prison. I could have faithfully translated and at the same time make known to the Frenchman that this story was false. The Indian client had no way of knowing that I have done so, as he does not know French. Yet it would not be ethical. Instead, I told the client as to how his statement had no basis whatsoever and asked him whether he still wanted me to translate. He thanked me and replied in the negative.
Regards,
N.Raghavan


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sylver  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:50
English to French
How is it different? Dec 12, 2003

Narasimhan Raghavan wrote:

Quote: "As far as I know, a translator is entitled to any note/comment he pleases to make. It is the choice of the publisher to decide what goes to press and what doesn't."

Yes. You are right. But once the notes get published and there are some complications like court action etc, the translator too is responsible along with the editor as well as publisher. I am sure you will agree with this. In this instant case the Italian translator had to accept the author's remarks. Having said that, I also feel that if you are not in agreement with a text, it would be better to refuse doing the translation. Or give one's views separately in another forum.
And would you condone a similar attitude in an interpreter? I will give you an example. I was interpreting for a Frenchman. We were near the Taj Mahal, Agra. My client was telling that the Emperor Shah Jehan had the architect blinded, lest he should repeat his feat elsewhere and the Taj should have a rival. There is no basis to such a story for the simple reason the emperor was not in power when the Taj was completed. He himself was in prison. I could have faithfully translated and at the same time make known to the Frenchman that this story was false. The Indian client had no way of knowing that I have done so, as he does not know French. Yet it would not be ethical. Instead, I told the client as to how his statement had no basis whatsoever and asked him whether he still wanted me to translate. He thanked me and replied in the negative.
Regards,
N.Raghavan


First let me say I agree that the translator should have refused the job on moral grounds. However, in regards to your example, I fail to see much difference with what that italian guy did:

You were told to translate statements you did not agree with, gave your comments to your client, and were, -fortunately- told to ignore the original story.

The translator got the job, turned in his queries along with the translation. The only difference is that he did the translation. Also note that the translation did not reach the intended public without the editor's consent, a little bit like you making the translation in your mind, but asking your client first.

I persist to think that the sole responsible for what goes to press is the editor. And what goes to press is what matters. Not whatever notes are scribbled on the side of the translated copy.

A translator making comments on the document is not breaking his contract. In fact it is a clear sign that he felt involved with his job.

An editor publishing a modified document without prior agreement from the original owner (and/or copyright holder) may be liable, depending on the terms of his publication contract.

I plead "Not guilty".


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:20
English to Tamil
+ ...
Alas the reality is otherwise Dec 15, 2003

sylver wrote:
The translator got the job, turned in his queries along with the translation. The only difference is that he did the translation. Also note that the translation did not reach the intended public without the editor's consent, a little bit like you making the translation in your mind, but asking your client first.

I persist to think that the sole responsible for what goes to press is the editor. And what goes to press is what matters. Not whatever notes are scribbled on the side of the translated copy.

A translator making comments on the document is not breaking his contract. In fact it is a clear sign that he felt involved with his job.

An editor publishing a modified document without prior agreement from the original owner (and/or copyright holder) may be liable, depending on the terms of his publication contract.

I plead "Not guilty".


Are the facts as explained above? I got the impression that the translator had his own views on the subject matter and these are no notes asking for clarifications from his client. From the original article I got the impression that the translator expressed his opinions in no unmistakable fashion. Here he had come out in black and white.
If these notes had given rise to any court action, not only the editor as well as the publisher but also the translator will be the defendants in the case. This is the law as I see it and no one can be happier than me if I am proved wrong in this assertion of mine.
When a correspondent's article gives rise to a court action the people defending their action are the correspondent, the editor and the publisher of the journal in which the article appeared. In the above cited case, the position of the translator is similar to that of the correspondent.
Regards,
N.Raghavan

[Edited at 2003-12-15 16:01]


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aivars  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 10:50
English to Spanish
+ ...
The reality is otherwise?? Dec 19, 2003

What reality are you talking about yours or mine?
1) Translator shouldn't have taken on a job that goes against his principles in the first place..
2) but if he had..or if he realised a bit too late that the job goes against his principles, or if he decided on purpose to take on a job he morally despises, he could ANY time, decide what he wants to say and what not to say. You may have legal obligations, but as for ethics, you are alone with your decisions, very alone.

[Edited at 2003-12-19 05:23]

[Edited at 2003-12-19 05:24]


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theangel  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 14:50
Swedish to Italian
+ ...
Fully agree Dec 19, 2003


I consider the action of the Italian translator as quoted in the original posting to be an unpardonable abandoning of the ethics of translation. A translator should remain neutral and not impose his own ideas. If he wants, let him resort to some original writng elsewhere. these translator's notes have no business being there. These notes are solely meant for clearing up some obscurities in the original text that may not be comprehensible to the target audience of the translation.

N.Raghavan


I fully agree with you: that was my very first thought when I read the article!
Just imagine: you translate a line and put a footnote saying "the author says x (bulls..), but another one says y, which I think is much better"
Please. And moreover scatter these notes all around the book. I think it's unacceptable.
Either you decline the job, or you try hard to be a professional and translate. Any comment or note may be forwarded to the author in private, if you like.

Matilde


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Maurice Devroye
United States
Local time: 09:50
English to French
TOPIC STARTER
Let's investigate Dec 19, 2003

Sorry for not participating more often. I read all the posts carefully. Maybe Matilde, living in Italy, could find out what the notes are really about and also who the Italian translator is. As for Revel's article, I am still not able to locate it. Regards, MD

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theangel  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 14:50
Swedish to Italian
+ ...
Let's ;-) Dec 19, 2003

Maurice Devroye wrote:

Sorry for not participating more often. I read all the posts carefully. Maybe Matilde, living in Italy, could find out what the notes are really about and also who the Italian translator is. As for Revel's article, I am still not able to locate it. Regards, MD


I'll try to investigate. It's going to be hard, though, because I live in a small town and the libraries here are useless...
(

Regards,
Matilde


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theangel  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 14:50
Swedish to Italian
+ ...
Too soon Dec 19, 2003

I'm afraid it's too soon. I think it hasn't arrived here yet. Does anybody know the title in Italian?

Have a nice week-end, all
Matilde


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sylver  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:50
English to French
Investigating Dec 20, 2003

You are right. I rose to the defense of that translator only because we do not have definite proof that he/she was guilty of an ethic breach, However, if we wanted to know exactly what the situation is in this case, we certainly need more data.

For me, it's all in the manner it was done. If the comments were directed to the editor/author as they should, the *editor* is the one. If the comments were sneakily added under the guise of translator notes without pointing them out to the editor, and went to press undetected, then of course, I would disagree with the practice.

We can all agreee the translator should not have taken that job, but then, sometimes it is just too late. You get a book, browse the first few pages, think the subject is interesting and doable, tell your publisher you can do it, and then you start.

50 pages later, the author raise a viewpoint you are opposed to, on moral grounds, or data which you know to be false.

(In this case, just a viewpoint, but what if it was racist comments, hate messages, or the like?)

What do you do? Cancel the project and lose the fruit of your work? If severe enough, I would, but if it was just ideas I was in disagreement with, I would certainly add comments *for the editor*

In this specific case, we don't know exactly what happened, but as of right now, there is no evidence our colleage has done anything reprehensible. Innocent until proven guilty.


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 15:50
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Who is the author of the book? Jan 4, 2004

Somehow I missed out about it. Revel?
If its from 1969, from the time of the Vietnam war and the Sowjet invasion in Chechoslovakia, it is not very interesting anymore.
At least in most Western countries the majority of the media was pro-USA, even in Finland, and very much in Germany. It was years later that the public discovered that America had been on a wrong course since Johnson's presidency. But that's politics again, sorry!


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Il traduttore bollente / The Enraged Translator

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