Jeroen Vandaele on translations of Foucault’s Surveiller et punir

Jeroen Vandaele, ‘What is an author, indeed: Michel Foucault in translation‘, Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, Vol 24 No 1, 2016, pp. 76-92 (requires subscription).

A very interesting piece which discusses translations of Foucault’s Surveiller et punir with lots of examples and comparisons.

Though the issue of translation occasionally surfaces in Foucault Studies, it remains an area that deserves more attention. To that effect, I briefly introduce some basic concepts of Translation Studies and then compare a chapter from Surveiller et punir (‘Les moyens du bon dressement’) with its English, Spanish, and Norwegian translations. Moving beyond the blatant errors, I argue that these translations are not generally ‘the same text in a different language’. Rather, concepts are carved up in translation; or the analysis shifts from the structural to the historical; or syntactic adjustments make Foucault sound like an instruction book writer. Although I have deep respect for the work of the translators, who have brought Foucault to multitudes of new readers, I also argue that Foucault interpretation could profit from a translational turn.

The article mentions my post ‘Beyond Discipline and Punish: Is it time for a new translation of Foucault’s Surveiller et punir?‘ from 2014, but while there I ranged across the work and only looked at the English translation, this piece concentrates on one key chapter and across three translations. It is also, of course, much better informed in theories of translation. Well worth a look, as it is revealing of just how much interpretation is embedded in any translation.
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