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Empowering the Minor: Translating Women's Autobiography1 Helen Dendrinou Kolias The task of translating the autobiography of Elisavet Moutzan-Martinengou forced me to deal with questions that have to do not only with the translation project itself but with broader issues regarding the role of the translator.2 This essay does not focus on specific problems I encountered and the strategies I used to solve them, but is an attempt to gain some distance from the work in order to consider what translation entails more generally. Translators have traditionally patted themselves on the back for performing a much-needed service to humanity, that is, for building bridges across nations, cultures, and linguistic systems and thus contributing to understanding between peoples. No one that I am aware of has ever questioned the need for translation or the usefulness of translation acts. Rather, criticism usually takes the form of either more pragmatic topics, such as "X is a more faithful translation than Y," or more general statements, such as "A literary work loses something in translation." Such pronouncements, however, have neither hindered the growth of translation as both practice and discipline nor lessened the need for translations. As a matter of fact, the "state of the art" has never been healthier-, and the translator nowadays can make claims to legitimacy and scholarly authority that translators working in previous generations would envy indeed. The reasons for this change in perception are many, I am sure, but I suspect they include the breakdown of traditional definitions of "What is a work of art?" and the problematization of the activities of both reading and writing, which puts into question the authority of the original text. These developments in literary theory have affected not only the profession at large but also individual translators as well. Although many of us, from Gadamer (1984) on, have been saying that translation is primarily interpretation, few of us, I think, have taken the time to reflect upon the implications of this statement. Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 8, 1990. 213 214 Helen Dendrinou Kolias When asked to discuss what they do, translators usually stay close to the surface of what their job entails and avoid dealing with what their function is or should be. Thus even an established translator such as Gregory Rabassa writes in "The Silk Purse Business: A Translator 's Conflicting Responsibilities" that a translator must satisfy several masters: author, editor, critic, and reader (1984: 39). While Rabassa's statement indicates awareness on his part of the different players who participate in the translation act, it nevertheless suppresses the opportunities that translation offers to the translator and the possibilities within which a translator works or can work in transposing a work of literature from one linguistic system to another. The following comments are an attempt to bring to the fore what we do, not on the level of specifics but in terms that will allow us to gain greater awareness of the role of the translator in linguistic and literary studies, for it seems to me that translators, more often than not, succeed in keeping their function hidden behind the facade of their work. What I have to say has grown out of my experience with the autobiographical text of Elisa vet Moutzan-Martinengou (1989) and will be said in light of that text, although my aim is to reach out to other translators and thus engage them in a dialogue about what we do, and can do, not only with words but with texts. I have found the term "reterritorialization," as used by Deleuze and Guattari, or, more accurately, as rendered in English by Dana Polan, the translator of Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (1986), intriguingly apt with regard to what a translator does or hopes to do, for it conveys to me the human act of creating a space in a new environment for an outsider, that is, a foreign text. I am trying to stay clear of traditional metaphors of transplanting, for they suggest, at least to me, uprooting, an act of violence, and they reduce the translator's role to pulling out and transferring while at the same time privileging the unity and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 213-221
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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