Marx in jargon

Sutherland, Keston (2008) Marx in jargon. World Picture, 1. ISSN 1938-1700

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In his 1873 preface to the second edition of Das Kapital, Marx offers a brief report on the fortunes of his “critique of political economy” following its first submission to the public in 1867. The report is compact and polemical, dismissing in style the substance of a few representatively negative reviews, succinctly exposing their arguments for mere detractions—“with the skill of a great master of verbal fence,” as his English gentlemen contenders must have thought. The report occupies itself exclusively with reactions to Das Kapital in the bourgeois press, the official taste-making organs of Bürgerthum und seinen doktrinären Wortführern. “The bourgeoisie and its doctrinaire spokesmen”: Marx’s acidic motto for opponents from both the right and the left, both the celebrant practitioners of uncritical “politische Ökonomie” and their unwitting acolytes among the fashionable German peddlers of “dialectic in its mystified form.” In the first English translation of 1886, Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling render this motto as “bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors.” “Bourgeoisdom” is not a word that would have tripped lightly from the lips of Marx’s Victorian English readers. They had not read it before. Moore and Aveling use it here for the first time in English. Bourgeoisdom. The word is cumbersome, grating and conspicuously jargonistic, stupidly weighed down with the echo of the German dumm, not to mention English boredom. Why did Moore and Aveling coin it? Why sharpen the satiric ring of Marx’s phrase? Not, presumably, in order to change the content of a proposition belonging to Marx, but on the contrary, so as to be sure to preserve it. Marx’s English translators wanted English readers for Marx; to make sure that those readers would be reading Marx, and not some bad equivalent of Marx, the English translators in this instance rewrote Marx in jargon. (The twentieth century translator of Das Kapital into English, Ben Fowkes, cleaned out the jargon by reverting to the better-established “bourgeoisie.”) Moore and Aveling’s version is in this instance jargonistic where the original is not; but the translators must presumably have felt that, far from taking any liberty with Marx’s text or departing from the spirit of it, they had on the contrary kept that spirit alive. It would have been easy enough to give a warrant for this assurance, had one been demanded of them. The warrant is Marx’s own German. Das Kapital itself makes emphatic use of jargon, and even depends on jargon, at some of the most important moments of its argument.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR0125 Relations to other literatures and countries
Depositing User: Keston Sutherland
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 20:44
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2012 11:32
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