Friday, December 16, 2005

De Beauvoir's Philosophy: Lost in Translation

Alas, a blog has a really interesing and important post about Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex, which I believe is the best book ever written on the whole planet. She is inspired by an Book Review by Sarah Glazer from the NYTimes from 2004.

Ampersand points out that copyright laws prohibit anyone from doing a decent and accurate translation of the Second Sex until it goes into the public domain in 2056.

While Ampersand demonstrates how much this violates principles of the free market, I want to add that it is a clear sign of the continued and pervasive sexism in our society. This is an important and landmark piece of intellectual writing, that should appeal to more than just feminists. From the get go, the translation process was botched. What Ampersand doesn't include is that the French version is full of a dozen errors as well (see this article). No publisher has handled this book with the care and rigor that we would extend to a famous male thinker.

When I teach this work to students, I always situate it in the context in which it was written, the philosophical influences (particularly phenomenology), and make reference to the French. It is a lot of labor for an undergraduate class, but the translation fails to seriously capture de Beauvoir's real argument. It also fails to consider how the Second Sex is Philosophy.

I recommend checking out Nancy Bauer's excellent book on de Beauvoir, Philosophy and Feminism, for more on the philosophical importance of the Second Sex.