Doniger O'Flaherty's translations (1 of 2)

Enrica Garzilli garzilli at
Fri Nov 10 15:42:28 UTC 1995

On Fri, 10 Nov 1995, Dominik Wujastyk wrote:

> Categories of writing
> It seems to me that the translations of Prof. Wendy Doniger / O'Flaherty
> (henceforth WDO) that Prof. Michael Witzel (henceforth MW) has critiqued
> have nevertheless performed a vital function in bringing a knowledge of
> Sanskrit literature to thousands of people who would otherwise not have
> had this opportunity. 

1) If you buy a Sanskrit book, even a Penguin one, you buy it because you 
want to buy that book -- that is to say, somehow you already know it (at 
least you have heard the term "sanskrit" and "Veda" etc.). It is true that 
Penguin books are cheap; it is also true that they are not such wonderful editions, in 
fact, worthy of being put in a library *unread*. 

2) If you translate e.g *matrona* (lat.) with *flower*, well, it is 
simply wrong.
You can debate whether *matrona* can be translated with Roman married woman, 
Roman/Latin wife, honest woman, fat woman, nasty woman (the term means all 
this, and much more, depending on the context, the histor. period, etc).

* I think Witzel's review showed us that too many passages in OF 
translations are simply wrong -- others, perhaps, debatable.*
And I think he also said -- or at least I understood that -- that in 
such a collective effort one would expect something better, *especially* 
considering that the path of those translations has been already traced -- 
and what a kind of path!

3) Witzel' review was offered here, in this highly academic mailing 
list. I read many times that this mailing list is meant only for 
specialists therefore, Witzel wrote to and for specialists (or to somebody 
who tries to become a specialist, or a specialist-like). Witzel was asked by 
specialists whether it was worthy to buy one of the OF's translations.
He discouraged specialists (=in colleges, Universities, etc.), not the 
"normal" English contemporary reader... Who, alas!, probably does not even
know the existence of this mailing list.

On my side, several years ago I read OF Asceticism and Eroticism 
etc., and (even though the topic was not new, despite the title) I found it 
useful, and readable and pleasant. 

I think Dominik is partly right.
With intriguing titles and cheap and wide-spread editions, with a lively 
personality and a good promotion, one can do for this kind of culture 
much more than any serious scientific boring learned pundit can do, 
in terms of pubblicity  (of course, even though is mainly *pro domo sua*!:)).
If this lasts, in terms of time and in therm of values, longer than the 
work of a pundit, we (or better our descendants) will see about this.
However, a publishing house publishes according to the need of the public, 
and not vice versa. Penguin does not want to teach or disseminate any 
good verb or make people know any exotic culture, nor it wants to offer 
specialists any treasure in contents and quality: it 
wants to make money. In this respect, OF is lucky and brave to publish 
there, that's it. She or anybody else is read because of the good 
titles, the trendy graphics, the notoriety of the Publishing House, the 
Series, the capillary distribution, the excellent promotion, the cheap 
price of the books, the new topic -- new for a commercial publisher -- etc.  
I do not think it is due to the quality of her translations (good or bad 
might they be), it is due to the commercial policy of Penguin.

Dott. Enrica Garzilli
Harvard Law School

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