Answer to Leonard Peikoff and His Attorneys

I have to begin with some bragging:

Nobody has ever had the temerity to say that my translations are bad, or that they in any way misrepresent or obscure what Ayn Rand is saying in the original English; and I daresay nobody ever will. The plain fact is that my translations are excellent, that they are as true to the original as a translation can ever aspire to be, and that they accomplish this without doing violence to the target language. They are the combined result of more than 60 years of intense study of the Swedish language, more than 50 years of intense study of the English language, and more than 30 years of intense study of Objectivism – plus a great deal of hard work and ambition.

It is very embarrassing to me that I should have to point this out myself. Some Swedish Objectivist should have told this to Leonard Peikoff long ago. And Leonard Peikoff himself should have made at least some slight effort to find out. But obviously, such a mundane issue does not interest him. His sole interest, in this matter, lies in destroying anyone who questions his authority or – on a deeper level – does not regard him as exempt from moral judgment.

Now, this is what Leonard Peikoff’s attorneys write in their letter to me:

The Estate and the Ayn Rand Institute have built on Ms. [should be Miss] Rand’s intellectual property by investing a great deal of money and years of effort in protecting her literary legacy, including careful management of the publication of her works. This includes strict oversight of any translations of her works, which are themselves derivative works. Your translation of The New Left and The Virtue of Selfishness have been published [should be: distributed] without any such oversight – much less authorization – by the Estate.

It is certainly true that the Estate and the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) have invested “years of effort” to make Objectivism known and accepted in the world. But then, so have I. As mentioned before, I have been engaged in translating Ayn Rand into Swedish since the late 70’s. This certainly means years of effort. It is true that I have not invested as much money as the Estate (I am not a millionaire), but what I have invested is my own soul. (“By ‘soul’, I mean consciousness”, to quote Ayn Rand.) I decided early on that this was the best and most noble purpose to which I could devote my life. (“Early on” means when I was in my thirties. I did not hear about Ayn Rand or Objectivism until 1972.)

But there are two other premises imbedded in this statement:

1. That my translations put the Estate at financial risk (giving it less money to protect Ayn Rand’s literary legacy).

2. That – since my translations are made without “strict oversight” – they must be incompetent and sloppy and involve misrepresentation of the original.

To take the first point first, this has to be based on the assumption that if I translate Ayn Rand into Swedish, the original English text simply disappears. Of course, nobody would take such an assumption seriously, if it were spelled out.

Consider this: if I merely make a translation, what possible damage would this do to the Estate? None whatsoever. If I show this translation to a few people? Again, none whatsoever. How is this changed, if I tell (as I have done) on my web site that this translation exists and then about 50 persons, over a five year period, avail themselves of the opportunity to read it?

It should also be noted that had I acted like a coward (by refraining from sending Leonard Peikoff complementary copies of my translations), Leonard Peikoff would not even know about the matter. But I do not quite believe in the virtue of cowardice, since it is not mentioned in the catalogue of virtues in “Galt’s speech”.

The plain fact, however, is that my translations add to the value of the Estate. It means that Ayn Rand’s works are now available in another language and that a few people who are not that versed in English now can read it. Would this harm the spreading of Objectivism? Hardly. If anything, it would lead to more people becoming interested in the subject and wanting to know more about it.

So: if the Estate and ARI were acting rationally, they would not punish me; they would help me find a publisher that would publish my translations legally and with their authorization. They are not availing themselves of this opportunity. Punishing me is simply more important to them than the (alleged) goal of spreading Objectivism to foreign countries.

Regarding the second point, there has never been any “strict oversight” of Swedish translations on the part of the Estate. To my knowledge, Leonard Peikoff has never asked a single Swede about the quality of my translations. (If he has, I strongly doubt that anyone has been able to lie convincingly to him about it.)

To flesh this out, I will make a short rundown of the translations that have been made so far into Swedish:

We the Living was published in Swedish in 1978. The translation was OK, although there are places where a happier choice of words would be possible.

The first Swedish translation of Anthem was published in 1984. This translation was sloppily proof-read, and there were some other inadequacies as well. (You may remember that there is a minor character in Anthem called Union 5-3992 – “they of the half-brain” – who appears only twice in the book. In the Swedish translation, his name has been rendered in two different ways. And the “Palace of Corrective Detention” has been rendered one way the first time it appears in the book and another way throughout the rest of the book. The first rendering, by the way, was good Swedish, and the second one was clumsy. The only explanation I can find for this is that the proof-reader went through the first few pages and then simply forgot the rest of the book.)

My translation of Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal was also published in 1984. As mentioned before, the translation is good but not perfect, and it is marred by numerous printing errors. (I should mention that I proof-read the translation in galley proofs, but that the publishing company simply ignored my corrections.)

Atlas Shrugged was published in Swedish in 1986. I have not read this translation, but people I have spoken to have told me that it is quite inept. (I have browsed through parts of the translation, and I have to agree. For example, there is a famous passage where Hugh Akston says to Dagny: “By the nature and essence of existence, contradictions cannot exist.” Since the phrase “by the nature and essence of existence” is not quite easy to render into good Swedish, I looked up this page to see how the problem had been handled. Well, this is how it was handled: the Swedish translation says; “Contradictions cannot exist.” The difficult part was simply left out!)

The dust-jackets for the Swedish Atlas were atrocious. If it is not perceptually available to the Estate that the translation was inept, this last fact is certainly perceptually available.

A revised version of this translation was published last year. It is certainly better than the first one.

But there is one point that has been handled as badly in the second translation as in the first one. It is not as easy as it may seem to translate the simple word “you” into Swedish. If one is well acquainted with a person and addresses him/her with his/her first name, the word for “you” is “du” (etymologically the same as the English “thou”); if one is not, the word for “you” is “ni”. (This peculiarity, of course, exists in many Western languages, such as German, French and Spanish.) Well, in the first translation, the word “ni” is used throughout, even when people address one another by their first name. This simply sounds crazy in Swedish. In the second translation, the word “du” is used throughout, even when people do not address one another by their first name. This, too, sounds crazy.

The Fountainhead was published in Swedish in 1987 (a second, revised edition was published a few years later). I have not read this translation, so I can say nothing about it. – I could mention, however, that the dust-jackets originally contained recommendations of the biographies written by Nathaniel and Barbara Branden. This has been changed now. Someone reported this matter to the Estate. You may make your own guess as to who that someone was.

My own translation of Anthem was published in 1996. This translation is good.

And, of course, Objektivistisk skriftserie was published between 1987 and 1996, with Leonard Peikoff’s approval and authorization. The translations I made for the “skriftserie” may be further refined (as I mentioned, I have gone through many of them myself for my “illegal” translations). Still, they are good. And nobody who has read them has ever raised the slightest complaint as to their quality (the only person competent to complain about them is me). And it should be noted that Timbro wanted to use my translations for their coming collection of Ayn Rand essays, but were forbidden to do so by the Estate. Nobody at Timbro, to my knowledge, has read my “illegal” translation of The Virtue of Selfishness, so their judgment has to be made from the translations originally published in the “skriftserie”.

So much for the “strict oversight” of Swedish translations allegedly practiced by the Estate. There has not been any such oversight. The statement made by Dr. Peikoff’s attorneys (most certainly formulated by Leonard Peikoff himself) is pure hypocrisy.

Now, a point regarding “protecting Ayn Rand’s literary legacy”:

When I translated The New Left, I translated Ayn Rand’s own text. But this book has actually been taken out of print and replaced with a hodge-podge made by Peter Schwartz, called Return of the Primitive. In this version, Mr. Schwartz has changed the order of appearance of Miss Rand’s essays. And of course he must have done this with the approval of Leonard Peikoff. There is only one implication that can be drawn from this – namely that Ayn Rand did not understand her own book well enough to publish her essays in the correct order; and that Peter Schwartz therefore has to step in and correct her!

Peter Schwartz also added a few essays of his own. I do not mind this. They should have been placed in an appendix – so that anyone who reads the book will know where Ayn Rand’s text ends and where Peter Schwartz’ elaboration begins. (And – since it is probably not widely known – the original plan was to also add two essays by George Reisman, “The Toxicity of Environmentalism” and “Education and the Racist Road to Barbarism”. I would not have minded that either. They, too, of course should have been put in an appendix.)

I might mention that I ordered Return of the Primitive from Second Renaissance Books when it first came out, but immediately returned it, when I saw what Peter Schwartz had done. I asked them to replace it with a copy of The New Left, but instead they credited the sum I had paid to my account. (Well, they must have gotten my point…)

One certainly does not “protect Ayn Rand’s literary legacy” by taking her books out of the market and publishing mangled versions in their stead. But this is precisely what is done by the Estate. Again, the Estate’s statement is pure hypocrisy.

To sum up: the Estate’s bragging about practicing “strict oversight of any translations of her [Ayn Rand’s] works” and about “protecting her literary legacy” is a mere smoke-screen. The sole purpose of Dr. Peikoff’s action is to hide from the world the fact that I am a very competent translator. The motive behind this can be nothing but a fervent desire to destroy me as a person. The fact that he threatens me with a law-suit which might potentially ruin me and bring me to the point of starvation is enough proof of this point. And he wants to destroy me because I have once pointed out to him that an important point in the Objectivist ethics (that one should give reasons for one’s moral judgments) applies to him as much as to any other living being.

Back in 1996 I wrote that “the only purpose served [by Leonard Peikoff trying to forbid me to translate] is that of cheap revenge. And this shows that the power Dr. Peikoff is wielding is solely the power of destruction.” I also wrote that he has “done great things in the past”, but that today, he is “irrevocably evil”.

Harsh words, no doubt. But then, why is Leonard Peikoff so eager to prove me right?

This was written October 29, 2006

Read also: Filip Björner’s article The Value of Competent Translations.

Scandinavian speaking readers may also read this.

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