I have been re-reading Foucault recently, in English translation. My French is not up to reading the original – sadly… oh if only I’d paid more attention in school! (Perhaps I should add that my school French teacher had a great talent for putting almost everyone off learning anything, so perhaps I can just blame her?! I can get by reading French if I need to, but complex texts of any great length are problematic.) In any case, I am sure I’m not alone in finding some of Foucault’s work difficult in terms of language, and so I was interested to see a tweet this morning from Teemu Taira linking to a fascinating article analysing problems with the the translation of Discipline and Punish, and arguing for a new translation to be undertaken: Beyond Discipline and Punish: Is it time for a new translation of Foucault’s Surveiller et punir?
Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex was recently re-translated, though such efforts are not always straightforward, as Toril Moi shows in this scathing review (as usual with the LRB, it is worth reading the comments). I first read de Beauvoir’s text as Das andere Geschlecht – i.e. in German translation – and then reading the old English translation a few years later helped me understand the text further. This is a rather time-consuming process, however, and certainly not to be recommended as a general strategy for reading translated works!
Despite the fact that I cannot analyse the existing translations of Foucault’s work in the way that Stuart Elden has done, his call for new translations is to be supported: it is only natural that translations age and need to be revisited (just look at how many translations of the Bible there have been!), and it is a mark of Foucault’s enduring significance that the need for this is immediately apparent from Elden’s blog posting. I look forward to the publishers taking this on – I’m sure I would not be alone in wanting to buy new editions of his work if the translation proved to be better, and perhaps some of the decisions taken about the re-translation of The Second Sex might impact upon a revisiting of Foucault’s work.