Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Aristotle Hates Luise Von Flotow-Evans

Actually, Aristotle refused to read anything that wasn't written in learned Greek by men. So if he hated Luise Von Flotow-Evans or her friends, it's for his own logical reasons. (And by his syllogism, he couldn't stand the nature of bilingual Canadians, whom he had to observe by cold objectivity to be Barbarians). Warning sir: in English, this is some of what Luise has written --

I would like to open this essay with a specific translation problem from La Nef des sorcières
, a dramatic work produced by a group of feminist writers in Quebec in 1976. The problem is how to translate the following line:

"Ce soir, j'entre dans l'histoire sans relever ma jupe."

There are two translators available for the job: one with more or less traditional views on the importance of "fidelity" and equivalence in translation, who believes that a translator's work should be seen through, and not heard about. The other is a feminist translator. The more traditional translator renders this line from the play as follows:

"this evening I'm entering history without pulling up my skirt."

This seems a perfectly adequate, idiomatic version of the source language text, although I would prefer the more colloquial "without hiking up my skirt." The feminist translator, on the other hand, translates as follows:

"this evening I'm entering history without opening my legs."

Is this a shocking, unacceptable over-translation, a deliberate over-interpretation of the original text? Is the translator taking outrageous liberties with a line that is relatively anodyne in the French? Is she being deliberately sensationalist?

I should add here that this example has been used several times before, but is still appropriate as an illustration of a current practice in Canadian translation. I took it directly from an article by Barbara Godard, one of Canada's first feminist translators, and she took it from an earlier article by Evelyne Voldeng; a tight circle, which may also go to show how few literary translators and critics in Canada are sensitive to feminist issues. It is all the more noteworthy then, that a small number of Canadian translators should have the effrontery to proclaim an anti-traditional, aggressive and creative approach to translation which they call feminist translation.

My exploration of this translation practice is not concerned with which of the two translations given above is better, or more appropriate, or more faithful. Instead, I am interested in the context, the practices and the underlying theories that make the feminist translation "without opening my legs" acceptable, even desirable. In commenting on this obvious over-translation, Godard, for example, praised its "shock effect," and the fact that it makes explicit what is implicit in the feminist text — "the repossession of the word by women, and the naming of the life of the body as experienced by women" (Godard, 1984, p. 14). I find the growing importance of this type of translation and its increasing visibility intriguing and potentially invigorating as a new approach to the work of translation.

I base my claim for the importance of the phenomenon of feminist translation in Canada on two factors: the increasing numbers of English translations self-consciously describing themselves as feminist, and on the increasing number of feminist texts being translated in Canada today. In the last few years almost all of Nicole Brossard's radical feminist work has been translated by Barbara Godard, Marlene Wildeman and Fiona Strachan, and her Désert mauve has just been published in translation by Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood. Similarly, France Théoret's early work is coming out shortly in a collection, The Tangible Word, translated by Godard, and I have just translated her UHomme qui peignait Staline. A first volume of Madeleine Gagnon's work has appeared in translation by Howard Scott, the only male who describes himself as a feminist translator, and Louky Bersianik's VEuguétionne is being re-translated by Scott. And finally, Lise Gauvin's Lettres dune autre has been deliberately turned into a feminist text in its translated, and prize-winning, English version by de Lotbinière-Harwood. Almost invariably these publications are prefaced by remarks that describe the work as feminist translation.

If you are Aristotle, this is fair warning also not to click here or here or here.


Iyov said...

Aristotle refused to read anything that wasn't written in learned Greek by men

Ha! You obviously didn't read the interview with Aristotle in People magazine. He said his favorite two books were this one and this one. You can google it.

PS: For more learned commentary, check out this post.

J. K. Gayle said...

You obviously didn't read the interview with Aristotle in People magazine.

You're right; so thanks! Not surprised he says he hates Carol Poster's essay on his Rhetorica [in your link 2] while he loves that Eva Browning Cole in her essay [in your link 1] recognizes what he's said in that treatise of his on rhetoric.

Granted, Cole has to translate his beautiful Greek into that barbaric mother tongue of hers she calls En-Glish. But she says what he says. And we imagine that she really did some work to make her thoughts clear and equal to his:

Aristotle conceives of women's virtues as being essentially relative and subservient to the larger domain of male-defined human existence. The specific content of women's virtues is supplied by traditional Greek popular morality, and lays heavy emphasis on work. This emphasis pulls in the exact opposite direction from the emphasis in men's ethical lives on freedom from toil, on leisure, on distancing oneself [i.e., one's male self] from slaves as far as possible. And Aristotle's own interest in leisure as a condition of the good life, an interest shared by many of his articulate [male, of course] predecessors and contemporaries, rules women out of its achievement.

I think Aristotle must be sad, then, for the male Professor Robert Eisenman, who still has to work [as per your link 3]. Oh well, if Eisenman still can't get the women or the slaves (i.e., grad students) to do all his research for him, at least his lecture notes some Aristotelian social progress:

Today everything is like, well, I think it’s kind of like totally ‘womanized’, now - in the sense that women are dominant, in culture and things like that. You write a book and you’re a woman - you get published much quicker than a man. You apply for a teaching job some place, in this university, or in the religious department, it’s much, much quicker. I tell my sons, ‘Don’t even bother going into academia’, unless you’ve got some really[?] thing going through your neural network, don’t even bother. And so on and so forth.

What Aristotle can't understand is the Male Protestant Work Ethic, and in Eisenman of all people. At least his sons are getting good, "do not work (with women)" advice. But did you see Aristotle's interview with Playboy? He doesn't understand Abraham or Abraham Lincoln either. I mean, why do so much work for Sarah and Mary Todd; and why circumcise your sons with your slaves, and why ever cut them loose when they might provide men so much leisure? For how else will one afford so much time to good magazine reading and interviews?

J. K. Gayle said...

PS: Here's why the learned Professor Robert Eisenman is advising his sons to get a career in science and technology.