Nmero Extraordinario Conmemorativo 1974-1994 || The Construction of "further, alternative signs": Notes from a Workshop in Translating Women Writers

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  • The Construction of "further, alternative signs": Notes from a Workshop in TranslatingWomen WritersAuthor(s): Ana Fuentes, Carol Maier and Lynda PriviteraSource: Letras Femeninas, , Nmero Extraordinario Conmemorativo 1974-1994 (1994), pp. 167-175Published by: Asociacion Internacional de Literatura y Cultura Femenina HispanicaStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23022488 .Accessed: 17/06/2014 17:39

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  • The Construction of "further, alternative signs": Notes from a Workshop in Translating

    Women Writers

    Ana Fuentes, Carol Maier, and Lynda Privitera

    Kent State University

    "The meaning of any linguistic sign," Ramon Jakobson has written (232), "is its translation into some further, alternative sign." In other words, rather than

    the product usually referred to as a "translation" and frequently identified with destruction and loss, the activity of translation is inseparable from continued life. As such, it is by definition a highly paradoxical endeavor, given the

    mutability required by life itself; continuance implies resemblance but also owes irrevocably to change. Although literary translators have written elo

    quently about this paradox, they have often tended to privilege a decidedly abstract notion of theory and thus to prevent attention from focusing on

    translation practice. Thus, they have also contributed, albeit inadvertently, to translation's secondary status and to the suspicion with which "further" and

    "alternative" are viewed, if they are viewed at all.

    Fortunately, recent studies in translation theory have begun to counter the

    neglect of practice and to move toward making the "working" of translation

    more visible. (In this regard, Lawrence Venuti's article has become something of a "classic"; see also his recently edited collection of essays.) That some of

    the most provocative of these studies have been realized by feminist translators

    and critics such as Susanne de Lotbiniere-Harwood is no coincidence; not only

    have many translators been women, the role of translation is often described in

    terms conventionally associated with the feminine gender, as Lori Chamberlain

    has explained. Consequently, to draw attention to one's translation practice in

    a way that both exposes and questions its "femininity" is to challenge institution

    alized definitions and affirm destabilizing signs that are "further" and "alterna

    tive." It is also to explore the ways in which a "further, alternative sign" can

    become or strive to become "meaning" in its own right, imposing itself and

    threatening to obliterate other alternatives.

    Even in the work of feminist translators, however, at the intersection of

    translation as an activity at once overlooked and potentially overriding one

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  • 168 Numero Extraordinario Conmemorativo: 1974-1994

    rarely finds the reader. This absence could be termed another of translation's

    paradoxes, becauseas students invariably point out after the first workshop in

    literary translationthe true loss in translation is precisely the experience of a

    "between" that translation affords. Far from the crippling experience translators

    themselves have often feared (and therefore from which they try to protect their

    readers), the experience of the "between" is an enabling one that gives rise not

    only to altered signs but to the possibility of an altered subjectivity, in which the

    definition of self and other must be questioned radically. This is especially true

    if the notion of translation is expanded to include not only the reader(s) but also

    the units of translation and the notion of (a single) product. Translation thus

    becomes a far-reaching activity that, without losing sight of a "text," concerns

    itself as well with questions of presentation, publication, promotion, and

    plurality. Consequently, the creation of a writer's voice in translation is enriched

    by multiple translations. Through them a reader (even one unfamiliar with the

    "original" language) can be drawn into the practice of translation and prompted to experience firsthand the decisions and responsibilities that the act of transla

    tion involves. In order to occasionrather than describethe informed translation prac

    tice outlined above, we designed a workshop session in which participants were

    asked to prepare a collaborative translation of work by two women writers,

    Rosario Castellanos and Virginia Woolf. The "originals" they were given included not only the first manifestation of the text but also two or three

    published translations. The workshop opened with a brief explanation of the

    "theory" behind the session so as to encourage the participants to work within an expanded definition of translation. Comments and discussion, however, arose

    from practice. The group was then divided in two; one half worked (into English) with Castellanos's poem "Se habla de Gabriel"; the other worked (into Spanish) with several passages from Woolf s A Room of One's Own. The facilitators served as discussion leaders, but in fact their role was more that of consultants,

    because the discussion effectively "ran" itself. At the end of the period, all participants met again as one group and

    exchanged their translations. Both groups found they had discussed similar

    questions, and many of the participants were pleased by the "risks" they had been

    willing to take in their collaborative versions. The consensus was that multiple translations and the interpretations of multiple translators made the group aware

    of the complexities of the translator's task, which is perhaps best experienced as a collective rather than an isolated activity. Several of the participants also mentioned that the workshop would prove valuable in their teaching of literature as well as translation. These comments and the overwhelmingly positive response we received to the workshop led us to prepare the brief summaries that

    follow. Our hope is to stimulate further workshops and encourage the use of

    multiple translations in various classroom settings. Group One: Spanish to English. For the group that worked from Spanish to

    English, Castellanos's poem "Se habla de Gabriel" was chosen because it raises several translation issues that are integrally related to gender:

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  • Fuentes, Maier, Privitera 169

    Se habla de Gabriel

    Como todos los huespedes mi hijo me estorbaba

    ocupando un lugar que era mi lugar, existiendo a deshora, haciendome partir en dos cada bocado.

    Fea, enferma, aburrida lo sentia crecer a mis expensas,

    robarle su color a mi sangre, afladir un peso y un volumen clandestinos

    a mi modo de estar sobre la tierra.

    Su cuerpo me pidio nacer, cederle el paso, darle un sitio en el mundo, la provision de tiempo necesaria a su historia.

    Consent!. Y por la herida en que partio, por esa

    hemorragia de su desprendimiento se fue tambien lo ultimo que tuve de soledad, de yo mirando tras de un vidrio.

    Quede abierta, ofrecida a las visitaciones, al viento, a la presencia. (188)

    Before the discussion began, a general question was posed to the group:

    What happens to tone, register, rhythm and sense in translation? More specifi

    cally participants were asked: How does the translator deal with gender-related

    problems such as translating the feminine adjectives that in Spanish provide the

    reader with information about the speaker in the poem? At least three English translations of this poem exist; they demonstrate

    different writing styles, approaches and interpretations of the "original." Com

    mentaries by each of the three translators provided the group with more

    information about the three approaches to the poem. In the foreword to her translation The Selected Poems ofRosario Castellanos,

    Magda Bogin explains:

    Translators face hard choices. There are no exact equivalents for tone or

    rhythm or meaning, which in poetry are one. Every poem, and within the

    poem each line, has endless possible solutions in its new tongue. If 1 have

    erred in any direction, it has probably been in choosing to retain what I can

    only call the gently elevated, at times even heroic, feel of Castellanos's

    diction. To do this, and to suggest the lingering presence of her work in her

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  • 170 Numero Extraordinario Conmemorativo: 1974-1994

    literary forebears, I have leaned more heavily than usual on English's

    generous supply of romance words, (xvi)

    In Maureen Ahern's introduction to her anthology of work by Castellanos,

    she writes, "In translating Castellanos's poetry, choices for even a single lexical

    item must be made in terms of the author's feminist ideology, or the message will be skewed." (29)

    She concludes:

    Rosario Castellanos's writing is the place where gender, culture, and

    textuality meet. In it women occupy the positionand the You, the We, and the They. They are the speakers and hearers, writers and readers. Through

    the comprehensive imagery of her space, body, myth, and mind, woman becomes the full signat once the signifier and the signified. (57)

    In the third commentary, Julian Palley offers yet another approach to translation. In his "Note of the Translations" he states: "there are occasional

    nuances, ambiguities, colloquial allusions and turns ofphrase which offer thorny problems to the translator: their simplicity is highly deceptive. I have sought to retain the sense at all times without sacrificing normal English constructions and

    syntax" (172). As the discussion began, the issue of gender-specific adjectives arose

    immediately. Because of the feminine adjectives in Spanish, the reader is aware that the speaker of the poem is female from the fifth line of the first stanza.

    However, the English versions are more ambiguous in this regard and the

    speaker's gender is not clear until the first line of the third stanza: "Su cuerpo me

    pidio nacer ..." The importance of communicating this information in transla tion was discussed and various opinions were voiced. The group consensus was

    that it was not necessary to attempt to specify the gender at exactly the same point in the translation as Castellanos specifies it in her poem.

    The group then decided to focus on the fourth and fifth stanzas of the poem as these lines offered several interpretations, as is evident from the different

    English versions. Bogin's translation reads as follows:

    I agreed. And through the wound of his departure, through the hemorrhage of his breaking free, the last I ever felt of solitude, of myself looking through a pane of glass, also slipped away.

    I was left open, an offering to visitations, to the wind, to presence. (78)

    Ahern's translation of these stanzas:

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  • Fuentes, Maier, Privitera 171

    I consented. And when he departed from that wound,

    through that unloosening hemorrhage,

    the last of my aloneness, of my looking from behind a glass

    flowed out.

    1 remained open, manifest

    to visitations, to wind, to presence. (102)

    Finally, Palley's rendition of these lines:

    I consented. And through that wound which bore

    him, through that

    hemorrhage of his release,

    there departed as well the last trace

    of my solitude, of looking through a glass.

    I was left open, offering myself to visitations, to the wind, to the presence. (115)

    Several points of discussion arose beginning with the possible translations

    of "Consenti." Although two of the translators chose the cognate "I consented,"

    the group did not agree with that rendering. They also argued that "1 agreed" did

    not fully communicate the semantic content of the Spanish verb consentir,

    which can also mean "to allow" or "to tolerate." Does a woman consent or agree

    to give birth? Does she have a choice? From these questions, the group decided

    that the rendering "I gave in" communicated the intended meaning more


    The second point of discussion concerned translating "Y por la herida en

    que partio . . Two of the translations were more literal, especially Bogin's,

    focusing on the baby's departure through the wound. Palley, however, focused

    on "the wound which bore him." The group wondered if it was more important to emphasize the child's departure as a result of his birth, as in the first two

    translations, or the birth itself? Was the mother or her child the focus of the

    poem? Since the poem mainly refers to the feelings of the mother as a result of

    having a child, the group decided to emphasize the birth itself.

    Related to the second point, yet separate, is the rendering of "su

    desprendimiento." Did the child depart or break free, or was he released?

    Departing and being released seemed too mild to refer to childbirth. The

    rendering "break free" came closer to communicating the message that the

    group interpreted from the "original" but still did not seem strong enough in

    relation to "hemorrhage." It was decided that "tearing free" would better

    communicate the idea.

    The third major point focused on the stanza "Quede abierta, ofrecida /a las

    visitaciones, al viento, a la presencia." The discussion centered around the

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  • 172 Numero Extraordinario Conmemorativo: 1974-1994

    experience of the poem in Spanish. Is "I remained or was left open" strong enough to communicate that experience? There was much debate about the

    translation of "ofrecida." Was the speaker manifest, an offering, or was she

    offering herself? Two other possibilities arose from the discussion: "vulnerable" and "offered." Did the speaker offer herself or was she offered to visitations, wind and presence?

    One of the participants suggested that "las visitaciones" may be a Biblical reference. If so, the translator might be inclined toward use of the English cognate. The discussion then returned to the previous stanza and its description of birth: did the speaker have a choice about giving birth or offering herself? Or did she give in, vulnerably?

    The final version that resulted from the group discussion reads as follows:

    I gave in. With the wound that birthed him, with the hemorrhage as he tore free,

    went also my last bit of solitude, of me gazing from behind glass.

    There I was, open, vulnerable

    to visitations, to wind, to presence.

    Grupo Dos: Ingles al espanol. La razon de elegir este texto para realizar una sesion sobre la traduccion de obras escritas por mujeres obedece a que este

    parrafo ilustra los problemas relacionados con la traduccion del genero y el tipo de decisiones que el traductor tiene que tomar. El parrafo esta extrai'do del

    capitulo tercero de A Room of One's Own:

    When however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed

    by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man

    who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a

    suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about

    the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. (49)

    El primer paso que se dio fue hacer una lectura detallada del texto para obtener una idea general sobre el contenido. Ya en esta primera etapa comenzo

    el debate, puesto que el hecho de tener presentes a diferentes lectoras dio lugar a variadas interpretaciones de pequeflos matices en el texto.

    El siguiente paso file la lectura del mismo parrafo en espanol, extraido de cada una de las dos traducciones publicadas de A Room of One's Own. Una de las traducciones fue realizada por Laura Pujol, que es una traductora profesional catalana. Ella ha traducido tambien To the Lighthouse de Virginia Woolf. Su traduccion del parrafo con el que se trabaj6 en la sesion es la siguiente:

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  • Fuentes, Maier, Privitera 173

    Sin embargo, cuando leemos algo sobre una bruja zambullida en agua, una

    mujer poseida de los demonios, una sabia mujer que vendia hierbas o incluso un hombre muy notable que tenia una madre, nos hallamos, creo, sobre la

    pista de una novelistamalograda, una poetisa reprimida, alguna Jane Austen

    desconocida, alguna Emily Bronte que se machaco los sesos en los paramos

    o anduvo haciendo muecas por las carreteras, enloquecida por la tortura en

    que su don la hacia vivir. (69-70)

    La otra traducci6n fue realizada por Jorge Luis Borges, que ademas, ha traducido Orlando: A Biography, tambien de Virginia Woolf. Sin embargo, esta afirmacion es cuestionable porque el propio Borges ha declarado en varias

    ocasiones que la traducci6n la realizo su madre y 61 solamente la corrigi

  • 174 Numero Extraordinario Conmemorativo: 1974-1994

    que el espafiol ofrece de poder especificar el genero. Finalmente, el grupo opto

    por una traduccion mas literal con objeto de evitar tener que elegir entre alguno de los dos extremos.

    La preposici6n "of' en la frase "one reads of' llamo la atencion del grupo. La eleccion de Borges "Cada vez que una lee de" parecia estar condicionada por la influencia del ingles. Ninguna de las dos traducciones fueron del agrado del

    grupo, asi que se opto por "acerca de."

    Un problema similar surgio con la frase "a witch being ducked," porque se

    penso que las versiones existentes no recogian por completo el significado del

    original. Fue necesario remontarse a los origenes de la expresi6n para tomar una

    decisi6n acerca de la traduccion mas apropiada. La frase "a wise woman selling herbs" introdujo el problema de la traduccion de

    tiempos verbales. La traduccion de Borges "vendiendo," parecia demasiado

    literal, teniendo en cuenta que el participio de presente no se utiliza en espanol con tanta frecuencia como en ingles. La version de Laura Pujol no se ajustaba al tiempo verbal, de acuerdo con la interpretacion del grupo, de modo que se

    tradujo como "una curandera que vende hierbas."

    El grupo tuvo que tomar una nueva decision ante diferentes interpretaciones. Para algunas personas la frase "a very remarkable man who had a mother"

    enfatizaba la palabra "mother," puesto que, ademas, hasta ese punto del parrafo, solo se habia hablado de mujeres. Para otra parte del grupo, el enfasis se situaba

    primero en "remarkable man," para despues dirigir la atencion sobre el topico de que "detras de un gran hombre siempre hay una gran mujer." Esta ultima fue

    la interpretacion que se siguio para la nueva version.

    La cuestion del genero surgio con la frase "a lost novelist, a suppressed

    poet." En ingles no existe ninguna indication de genero, pero en espanol es necesario tomar una decision. Se esgrimi6 de nuevo el argumento de que en este

    parrafo se presentan varios tipos de mujeres relacionadas de diferentes formas

    con la literatura. Esto inclino al grupo a decidirse por el genero femenino, y a traducir esta frase como "de una novelista malograda, de una poeta sofocada."

    Curiosamente Laura Pujol tomo la misma decision en su traduccion, mientras que Borges opto por el genero masculino, probablemente utilizado en un sentido general. Para la palabra "suppressed" ninguna de las dos traducciones convencio al grupo, de modo que, despues de considerar varias posibilidades, se decidio

    que "sofocada" se acercaba mas al significado del original. El resto de los comentarios estuvo relacionado con la eleccion de palabras

    para producir un texto que fuera "natural" en espanol. Al final de la sesion, se comento el esfuerzo que la traduccion conlleva, y la dificultad de tener que decidir acerca de tantos pequeflos matices que se pueden encontrar en un texto.

    Se obtuvo tambi6n como conclusion que el hecho de que las versiones existentes

    hubieran sido traducidas por profesionales y posteriormente publicadas, no las hace "perfectas," y que toda traduccion depende de la interpretacion (la nueva version) que se haga del original, que, por supuesto, sera diferente para cada lector. En relation con esta idea, se debe mencionar la opinion de Borges sobre la traduccion, en lo que Emir Rodriguez Monegal ha denominado la teoria de

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  • Fuentes, Maier, Privitera 175

    Borges del "lector como escritor" (Levine 1134): Borges enfatiza la estrecha

    relacion que existe entre interpretation y traduction. El debate que surgio de la

    sesion realizada prueba esta teori'a. Tanto en el comentario sobre el poema de

    Castellanos como en el que se mantuvo sobre el pasaje de A Room of One's Own,

    las traducciones sirvieron de puntos de partida que, incorporando los textos que

    las habian ocasionado, dieron lugar a signos alternatives y aun mas amplios.


    Ahem, Maureen, ed. A Rosario Castellanos Reader. Trans. Maureen Ahem and Others.

    Austin: U of Texas P, 1988.

    Borges, Jorge Luis, Trans. Uncuartopropio. By Virginia Woolf. 1936. Madrid: Jucar,


    Bogin, Magda, Trans. The Selected Poems of Rosario Castellanos. Ed. Cecilia Vicuna

    and Magda Bogin. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 1988.

    Castellanos, Rosario. Meditacion en el umbral: Antologiapoetica. Mexico: Fondo de

    Cultura Economica, 1985.

    Chamberlain, Lori. "Gender and the Metaphorics of Translation." Signs 13.3 (1988):


    de Lotbiniere-Harwood, Susanne. Re-belle et infidele/The Body Bilingual. Les editions

    du remue-menage/Women's Press, 1991.

    Jakobson, Roman. "On Linguistic Aspects of Translation." On Translation. Ed. Reuben

    A. Brower. New York: Oxford UP, 1966. 232-39.

    Levine, Suzanne Jill. "Translator's Introduction." "Some Versions of Homer." By Jorge

    Luis Borges. Trans. Suzanne Jill Levine. PMLA 107.5 (October 1992): 1134-35.

    Palley, Julian, Trans. Meditation on the Threshold. By Rosario Castellanos. Tempe,

    Arizona: Bilingual Press, 1988.

    Pujol, Laura, Trans. Una habitacionpropia. By Virginia Woolf, 1967. Barcelona: Seix

    Barral, 1989.

    Venuti, Lawrence, Ed. Rethinking Translation: Discourse, Subjectivity, Ideology. New

    York: Routledge, 1992.

    . "The Translator's Invisibility." Criticism 28.2 (1986): 179-212.

    Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One's Own. 1929. New York: HBJ, 1959.

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    Article Contentsp. [167]p. 168p. 169p. 170p. 171p. 172p. 173p. 174p. 175

    Issue Table of ContentsLetras Femeninas, , Nmero Extraordinario Conmemorativo 1974-1994 (1994), pp. 1-238Front MatterCrnica de una ilusin [pp. 7-8]"Letras Femeninas" 1974: The Beginning [pp. 9-9]"Letras Femeninas": The First Decade [pp. 10-10]Presentacin [pp. 11-11]La dama ausente en la retrica corts [pp. 13-22]Autobiografa y escritura conventual femenina en la colonia [pp. 23-30]Lo precolombino: notas sobre el dilogo disfrazado en sor Juana Ins de la Cruz [pp. 31-38]On the Double: Tres amores and the Postponement of Love in Avellaneda's Theater [pp. 39-47]Ambigedad epistemolgica en un drama de Julia Maura [pp. 49-56]Entre Eros y Logos en la poesa de Ana Mara Fagundo [pp. 57-69]Intertextualidades y diacronas en la poesa de Orietta Lozano [pp. 71-77]The Presence of Absence: Reading the Spaces in Rosario Aguilar's "El guerrillero" [pp. 79-85]La narrativa fantstica de Anglica Gorodischer: la mirada "femenina" y los lmites del deseo [pp. 87-96]Postmodernismo y teora del caos en "Cola de lagartija" de Luisa Valenzuela [pp. 97-105]Un orden en el caos: Visin crtico-narrativa de Julieta Campos [pp. 107-114]Lenguaje, ideologa y vanguardia en la poesa de Julia de Burgos [pp. 115-121]Ana Lydia Vega y la re-escritura de la historia [pp. 123-129]La nostalgia del milagro: Guadalupe Loaeza y la crnica como crtica cultural [pp. 131-137]Entre biografa y mitografa femenina: "Antonieta" de Bradu [pp. 139-146]The Construction of a Feminine Voice: Rich, Castellanos, Belli, Swir [pp. 147-155]Images of a Better World: Latina Muralists in New York [pp. 157-166]The Construction of "further, alternative signs": Notes from a Workshop in Translating Women Writers [pp. 167-175]Poemas Seleccionados [pp. 177-179]El sueo de otro sueo [pp. 181-187]Gua de la revista "Letras Femeninas": 1975-1993 [pp. 189-237]Back Matter


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