Translator as Censor

Ola al-Saket has interviewed Albawtaka editor Hala Salah Eldin as part of Al Masry Al Youm’s ongoing series on translation, “In Other Words.”

One thing that caught my attention was the paragraph on (self)-censorship:

What’s even “sadder,” says Salah Eldin, is that some translator practice self censorship. A governmental cultural institution translated a novel by Doris Lessing five years ago, yet the sexual scenes were missing. “Lessing was furious, it was said. Censorship officers have nothing to do with it. The translator simply knew his boundaries,” she explains.

It reminded me of an incident Humphrey Davies mentioned, I believe, at his first AUC Center for Translation Studies talk. He told the audience that he’d removed an (unnamed) slur from an (unnamed) text. To his credit, he informed the author of his choice. The author was very angry, although the author initially agreed to the change. But the author’s irritation surfaced again, and Davies put the slur back in. 

No doubt translators frequently make small edits to texts they are working on, guessing at how the reception of a given word or phrase will shift between source- and target-language audiences. The one Salah Eddin notes is fairly brazen, and it’s likely the novel doesn’t cohere without the sex, much as a scene from The Hours doesn’t cohere with the kiss between Toni Collette and Julianne Moore. (The Cairo censors did a good job of making it look seamless, I’ll give them that.)

I would just add that I think that it may not always be clear to a translator (or editor) that he or she is censoring. That the line between “making a text work” in another language, with a different audience, and “censorship” is a somewhat grayish one. Avoiding (self)-censorship requires a good deal of self-interrogation.

I was unable to make the CTS event last night for personal reasons. If anyone was in attendance and would like to share their thoughts, please send them along. Otherwise, we’ll hope that Dr. Samia YouTubes a video of the event.