Beyond translation

Authors Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany Chevallier explains the existing relevance of Simone de Beauvoir's ‘The Second Sex'

Updated - October 18, 2016 12:49 pm IST

Published - January 19, 2012 08:52 pm IST

Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany Chevallier Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany Chevallier Photo: K. Ramesh Babu

French existentialist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex is one of the classics of feminist literature and a landmark book representing Second Wave of Feminism. The first translation of the book, done by a retired zoologist Howard M. Parshley was a condensed version of the original which remained the only English translation for a long time, until two American professors Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany Chevallier published a new translation in 2009. The authors were recently in the city to participate in the Hyderabad Literary Fest in association with Alliance Francaise, Hyderabad.

“We got a whole different view on the importance of translation in India,” says Constance Borde who feels the Indian cross cultural identity is much more esoteric. “It is the death of a culture if translation doesn't exist,” she says. While only one language dominated countries like France and US, Sheila feels translation is on the breath of every Indian. “English doesn't express the culture of the country, therefore, good translation becomes important,” she says.

Being a part of Second Wave of feminism, The Second Sex had a great influence on their thoughts and identity. “It was during a conference we realised the previous translation did not articulate Simone de Beauvoir's thoughts and cuts and mistakes were compounded in the other works inspired from the book,” says Constance which prompted them to take up the translation.

In Parshley's condensed translation about 15 to 20 percent of the original text on historical figures were missing. “It was not just the missing text but also it did not do just to Beauvoir's style of grammar and writing style. Her long sentences and paragraphs were condensed,” explains Constance. Incorporating Beauvoir's philosophy in the book was also a challenge says Sheila. “Parshley didn't know about existentialism, therefore the text was simplified. It was not a magazine or a mystery book we decided to retain the language instead of simplifying it,” says Sheila.

Though Beauvoir has been criticised for her harsh criticism of marriage and motherhood with phrases like ‘servitude of maternity' and ‘capricious sadism' the authors feel is due to the bad translation where her views came across very bitter.

“Parshley took the phrase faute de crèches which meant without crèche and translated to in spite of crèche which changed the meaning. Beauvoir meant that without crèches it's difficult to bring up children but due to the bad translation its meaning changed,” explains Sheila. The travails of motherhood was not abnormal is what Beauvoir meant adds Constance.

“Beauvoir's One is not born but rather becomes, woman meant women is always secondary to men. Women are constructed by the society where men are the yardstick and women are measured against,” says Constance disagreeing with critics who feel that the book doesn't hold relevance in contemporary society. The authors feel that the French philosopher's diatribe against Freud's Anatomy is destiny and Friedrich Engels' historical materialism paved the way for modern gender studies.

“During one of our trips, we met a cashier and when she said she never heard of Simone de Beauvoir, we told her that you might not have heard of her but she has definitely affected your life,” says Sheila.

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