Monday, August 15, 2011

Bauer, Nancy. Review of Simone De Beauvoir, THE SECOND SEX. NDPR (August 2011).

De Beauvoir, Simone.  The Second Sex.  Trans. Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier.  New York: Random House, 2010.

This is a review of the new English-language translation of Simone de Beauvoir's magnum opus, Le Deuxième sexe (1949), particularly with respect to its value for readers interested in Beauvoir as a philosopher. An important and unqualifiedly positive difference between this translation and the only other one available in English, which came out in 1952, is that the new translation has restored 145 pages of the original 972-page French original that the older English version omits, often willy-nilly and always without annotations or signposts. For the first time, Anglophone readers do not have to wonder whether the particular section of the book they're reading is filled with hidden holes.

We must not undervalue the importance of this restoration. And it is a relief to find that some of most grievous errors in the old translation have been eliminated. But the new translation is on the whole a disappointment, and not just from the point of view of those interested in the book as a work of philosophy, though the sting for us will be especially acute. Some of the problems that plague the old translation reappear in the new, and there are fresh ones as well. Most exasperatingly, the translators of the new version often sacrifice readability and clarity in favor of a highly unidiomatic word-by-word literalism that hampers the flow of Beauvoir's prose and often obfuscates its meaning. There are crucial places in Beauvoir's argument in which the new translation is decidedly superior to the old. On the whole, however, the new version often taxes the reader's patience and obscures Beauvoir's views. . . .

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