Monday 23rd of May 2022


How to do things with translation. Jean-Paul Marat’s translation of Newton’s Optics (1787)

Patrick Leech, University of Bologna pdf_icon_30x30




Abstract: There has been an increasing interest, in translation studies, in the figure of the translator and the question of “agency” in the work of translators (see, for example, Milton and Bandia 2009). In translation history, however, many of those who translate are not first and foremost translators and their translations are often the result of wider cultural, historical or political strategies (Burke 2005; Pym 2009). To fully understand a translation, then, and the “agency” of the translators, it is necessary not only to look at the text and paratext (Batchelor 2018) but to pay close attention to the “extra-textual” element of context (Munday 2014). Jean-Paul Marat’s translation of Newton’s Optics (1787), for example, must be contextualised within a framework of his attempts at recognition as a scientist and in the light of his future activity as a revolutionary journalist (Gillispie 1980; Conner 1998). The translation was an attempt to legitimate his own scientific competence with the Académie Royale des Sciences by means of delegitimating, through a process of “negative filiation” (Lefevere 1998), the standard eighteenth-century translation by the Huguenot Pierre Coste (1722). This context also provides us with a framework to understand Marat’s translation strategy: to open the text to younger (not establishment) readers through a “free” translation into French of the English text. Marat’s translation, in this way, can be understood as responding to his personal scientific and political objectives.



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