Soapbox: on slips and trips.

In the business of selling cultures for quids, and other random translations

Once upon a long ago, there was a time when I was more rebelliously young, and I wrote a piece on the future of anthropology. At proof stage they did not correct, and so I thought they had accepted, my rather racy sentence which read ‘For fuck’s sake, this has gone on too long, now anthropology needs to…’ and whatever it was I was arguing – something about not pretending people in ‘tribes’ did not watch telly or listen to hip-hop. It was the first sentence, so at proof stage was the time to tell me I was being childish. Instead, they just changed it without telling me and it appeared in print, in a major journal, as: ‘For God’s sake…’ anyone who knows me will agree that change is far worse than any other they might have tried out… 

The second story is much grander and concerns Gayatri Spivak and her translation of Chotti Munda and his Arrow by Mahasweta Devi for Blackwell. In the preface, Gayatri takes pains to explain that in Mahasweta’s story there are a number of words that are English or derived from English, such as Gorment for Government or ‘countred for encounter (which is when a revolutionary is found dead with hands tied behind their back after an ‘encounter’ with the police, as I discuss in both Critique of Exotica and Pantomime Terror). These words in not quite English are meant to seem a bit jarringly foreign in Bengali, so to indicate their tone/idiomatic resonance, Gayatri writes that she has forgone the usual practice of italicising foreign words in a text, which anyway in English translation would not be needed, but in order to preserve their disruptive status in the story she has underlined them. 

Blackwell then added a note on the next page, something like [I will be more precise when I’m next at my books]: ‘This text is printed as received from Professor Spivak except for the standard copyediting, such as italiciziing loan words and correcting typographic slips. 


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