Saturday, January 23, 2010

Translating Hélène Cixous

     Cixous' translation strategy is consistent and coherent:  she provides in English a very close echo of the French text, a persistent shadowing of the French, sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase.  This close reading inevitably creates estrangement effects in English....
     Only one paragraph seems to depart radically from this system of strict equivalences and coincidences.  This is a paragraph where the question of Cixous' Jewish identity is broached in a kind of paroxysm of anguished jubilation.  What is the relation between women demonstrating in Iran against the veil and the "Jewish question"?
La question des juifs.  La question des femmes.  La question des juifemmes.  La questione della donnarance.  A questāo das laranjas.  The question:  Juis-je juive ou fuis-je femme?  Jouis-je judia ou suis-je mulher?  Joy I donna?  ou fruo filha?  Fuis-je femme ou est-ce je me ré-juive?
The question of the Jews.  The question of women.  The question of jewomen.  A questāo das laranjudias.  Della arancebrea.  Am I enjewing myself?  Or woe I woman?  Win I woman, or wont I jew-ich?  Joy I donna?  Gioia jew?  Or gioi am femme?  Fruo.                                                                                                                (Cixous 1979)
     Here we see Cixous writing across languages, moving from jubilation to lament, moving through English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian [and dare we see German and transliterated classical Greek?], between Clarice Lispector and Joyce, in an outburst of ambivalent self-accusation.  Here, the absence of any mechanical idea of equivalence between languages reinforces the dynamic of Cixous' writing which is to create meaning in the spaces between words, in the interplay between them.
     The careful, restrained linguistic shadowing which prevails elsewhere in the text collapses entirely as the plurality of codes is equally produced in all languages.  We are reminded here of Derrida's question:  can the process of transfer between texts already written in a plurality of tongues still be called translation?  How to translate a text which is already infected by the multiplicity of language (Graham 1985:215)?  In this passage, Cixous brings to the surface the tensions among identities through which her text is constructed.  The unity of the speaking subject's identity explodes, as does the unity of language.
     There is a certain violence in this expression of non-identity, in the dispersion of familiar linguistic traits.  The reader of the translation is faced with "stiff or limping English, full of gaps, blocked by untranslated matter" (Willis 1992:107).  Exposed to the eye are two texts, one dependent on the other, each language showing itself to fill the gap of the other, supplementing and at the same time revealing the faults and gaps of the original, in a complementary and simultaneous act of completion and deformation.  The poles of wholeness and loss are indicated by the orange and the apple, the orange pointing to a mythic completeness, the apple drawing attention to the divisions at the heart of being:  apple becomes appel, appeal:  how to call, what to call?  The speaker draws attention to the shift from orange to apple, claiming in the text:  "I am guilty also of voluntary translation" (Cixous 1979:38).  Clarice [Lispector], however, is the instrument who will translate the apple into the orange.  Vivre l' orange [by Cixous], in Sharon Willis' strong reading, is a text that "exposes its own fault, faultiness, an internal rift, across the figure of the orange being displaced, occupying the place of Iran, of I, of woman, of the body through which the voice passes" (Willis 1992:113).  It performs the failure of the journey toward the proper name, toward the security of a linguistic home.  The interdependence of the double text echoes the absent origin of the speaker, the displacement of her quest.
--from pages 97 and 98 of Gender in Translation: Cultural Identity and the Politics of Transmission by Sherry Simon

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