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  • Translators in ActionMoments in a Dialogue
  • Catherine Porter (bio)

Prefatory Note

It has been my good fortune to work closely with many of the authors whose books I have translated. Our dialogues have enabled me to seek clarifications, track down references, stabilize lexical choices, and propose a wide variety of adjustments. This was almost, but not quite, the case with Antoinette Fouque, Il y a deux sexes. I was introduced to the author of Il y a deux sexes as I was about to begin the project; our half-hour conversation was enlightening, but it was to be the last, as Mme Fouque entrusted the supervision of the translation to her friends and collaborators from the French Women's Liberation Movement she had founded (MLF) and from the Editions Des femmes, the publishing house to which the movement had given rise. Antoinette Fouque died on February 20, 2014. There Are Two Sexes was published by Columbia University Press in 2015.

The translator's note I prepared for the volume points to the unusually complex distribution of roles in this project.

This translation was a collaborative undertaking. It was begun by David Macey, who completed a first draft of all but one chapter in Il y a deux sexes before his death in 2011. Catherine Porter revised his draft and translated the missing material along with one chapter each from Gravida and Génésique; she also revised the draft of a second chapter from Génésique translated by Eileen Powis. Along the way, Porter supplemented the references and added [End Page 127] a number of translator's notes. Research assistant William Burton tracked down numerous references and English-language versions of citations, with support from the editorial staff at Des femmes publishing house. Marie-Aude Cochez read the completed translation carefully for accuracy and fluency. Sylvina Boissonnas oversaw the entire project, serving as coordinator and consultant. Antoinette Fouque was the ultimate arbiter on matters of fact and terminology.

(2015, xxxv)

My principal interlocutor was thus Marie-Aude Cochez, a professional English-to-French translator and a longtime member of MLF—Psychanalyse et politique, familiar with Antoinette Fouque's thought and concepts. We found that we had a great deal in common, including the ability to defend our choices vigorously without jeopardizing a friendly relationship. Unsurprisingly the translation of certain key terms in Fouque's vocabulary posed the most challenging problems at the outset. Excerpts from our October 2013 dialogue appear below, translated from the French; they all refer to passages from the preface to the second edition (Paris: Gallimard, 2004, pp. iii–xxiii; New York: Columbia University Press, 2015, pp. xvii–xxxi).

1. Source Text in Context

"[L]es femmes trouvent l'énergie, pour peu qu'on les encourage, de se transformer en actrices principales du changement . . . pour accomplir une triple révolution, du symbolique, de l'économique, du politique" (2004, xix).



"in the symbolic, economic and political realms"


"in the symbolic, the economic, and the political"



English is less open than French to using adjectives as substantives. "The symbolic" and "the imaginary" may have imposed themselves, but I'm not comfortable using "the economic" and "the political" without attaching them to a substantive.


Yes, we know that English in fact doesn't like this transformation of adjectives into substantives very much. Lacan's translators have introduced it, and as you say "the real, the symbolic, the imaginary . . ." are now accepted; "the political" and "the economic" are also found in translations of French thinkers. So we're not going to give up the idea of risking "the living," "the living-speaking . . ." We've been thinking that we might even include a translator's [End Page 128] note at the beginning of the book, pointing out this deliberate translator's choice. What do you think about it?


OK, if we must, for "the symbolic, the economic, and the political," though that might introduce confusion; while "the symbolic" belongs to Lacan's vocabulary, the other two terms have no obvious associations, at least for the Anglophone reader.

The underlying problem shows up all the more clearly in the...


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