A Brilliant Comparative Text: A History of Western Philosophy

To put very simply, I am not one for translations.

Given that there are countless theories, debates, and analogies of translation perspectives – and much academic literature available on this subject – I firmly believe that translation cannot and would not do justice to any written or spoken word. Knowing how disappointing this revelation might be for scholars of translation studies, I am afraid to stress that no academic debate over this subject has ever convinced me to value translated texts as much as their precious original ones. Good translators are very difficult to find and a great many works of literature often gravely suffer under terribly erroneous re-workings of semi-literate translators in any field. The worst case is when individuals with scientific background turn to humanities translation or vice versa. There must be some sort of analogy between one’s initial scholarly degree and the field of translation.

Reading is also far more enjoyable when one is capable of understanding the original language, context, and culture. No matter how educated one becomes, numerous years of study and the highest academic achievements do not prepare one for coping with a horribly translated text. This is, of course, a contested area for which many theories and arguments may be found in the interdisciplinary world. I, however, totally sympathize with many scholars of anthropology who, over the past decades, have quite arguably objected to particular aspects of translation, specifically that which concerns itself with “cultural translation”.

As an academic with expertise in humanities, higher education, and psychology, I certainly do not trust any translator – whatsoever at all – unless they know more than four-five languages (on top of their mother-tongue) which they use to rework texts around. But, this is merely the beginning of one of the longest roads in academic study of translation. I have other criteria in my own categorization of good translators. For example, they must have lived in two-three different geographies at least for 5 years in each, in addition to having a multicultural familial background. Above all, they must be above 50 years of age. General readers may as well be astonished to be informed that gender can also influence language skills – including translation skills – a well-researched field in cognitive psychology and psychology of language. In my opinion, generally, one or two degrees in translation studies does not help one much to achieve in the highest academic arena, specifically with regards to evaluation of cross-cultural translated texts. Only decades of experience, academic collaboration, living in and with other cultures, and continuous travel can prepare an individual for such intricate and sensitive fields that we simply associate with “translation”.

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… Nevertheless, sometimes you can come across a text which is brilliantly shaped by well-informed terminology and phrasing, showcasing not only the translators’ wealth of relevant academic knowledge, but also their specific expertise in different linguistic and cultural fields. Zoka-ol-Molk Mohammad Ali Foroughi (1877 – 1942) is one of those rare philosophers, whose works in translation and scholarly writing are quite well-known among Middle Eastern scholars of humanities. I enjoy reading pretty much ANY translation or critical writing by Foroughi.

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A while ago, I received this very precious birthday present which has not ceased to amuse me. In fact, I enjoy it more every time I refer to its different volumes. A History of Western Philosophy was first published in 1931, written by Mohammad Ali Foroughi. It showcases an amazing wealth of philosophical knowledge as well as an extraordinary set of translation skills. Let’s not forget that when Foroughi put these volumes together, there was no such thing as internet or online searching systems for him to take advantage of. Travel was not as easy as today. Libraries were not as systematically accessible for him as today. This book only shows how well-read, astonishingly knowledgeable, skilful in analytical reading and writing, and what a passionately devoted academic Foroughi must have been! Luckily, this magnificent work of Western philosophy in three separate volumes has now been brought together into one comprehensive edited and annotated volume by Professor Mir Jalaledin Alam (b. 1320) [first published by Nilufar Books in 2008]. I want to say a huge thank you to my sisters for giving me this beautifully and meticulously composed history of Western philosophy. I would definitely recommend it to scholars who may find reading this work alongside original texts, being both enchanted and informed. They can surely enjoy different aspects of cross-disciplinary takes on Western thought and translation by studying this text. Happy reading…

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