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47 c h a p t e r 2 Self-Translation as Postmodern Mouvance Raymond Federman and Authorship I always think of the original version as just another draft in the process of writing. raymond federman1 What is the “self” in self-translation? Compounds with the prefix “self,” as the Oxford English Dictionary details at length, fall into several categories : they can denote an objective relation (as in “self-affirmation,” the affirmation of the self); they can express agency (as in “self-employed,” employed by the self); they can use self adverbially (as in “self-compassion ” or “self-absorbed,” compassion for oneself or absorbed with oneself ); they can designate operations that are performed automatically, without human intervention (as in a machine that “self-ignites”); or they can use self adjectivally to highlight one’s personal attributes (as in “self-worth”). As much as such categories may naturally bleed into one another—depending on part of speech, “self-abandon” obtains both as an objective relation (abandonment of one’s self, rights, or desires) and as a signifier of agency (abandoned by oneself)—the term self-translation, with all its attendant forms (self-translate, self-translated, self-translator), is generally understood only in terms of agency. Anton Popovič’s foundational definition of self-translation cited in the Introduction—“the translation of an original work into another language by the author himself ”—hinges on the agency of the author, as does the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies’ more recent (and more gender-neutral) definition, “the act of translating one’s own writings or the result of such an undertaking.”2 While the translation component of the term can designate both process and product, the self refers exclusively to the author’s function as creator of a text. This chapter interrogates the stability of such a narrow understanding of self-translation by focusing on a writer, Raymond Federman, chapter 2 48 whose self-translations insistently depict a referential self. To ask how the term self-translation might conceptually exceed its meaning as agency is not to submit to what one scholar has dubbed the “metaphorical uses of self-translation.”3 Widespread metaphorical uses of the term translation—deployed to signify the general hermeneutic process of conveying, explaining, or interpreting—do indeed pervade literary, historical, and sociological studies that purport to “translate” a given object for the reader. (Dozens of titles, as a quick scan of Google Books reveals, claim to “translate” a country, concept , or period in time.) The need to rethink the scope and very literal meaning of the term self-translation, however, is invoked by a selftranslation project that explicitly problematizes the limits of translation , of the self, and of the intersection between them. A French-born postmodernist writer who came of age in the postwar United States, Federman mobilizes the dual practices of life-writing and translation to contest the status of the author. The experimental nature of his literary project offers a particularly instructive site for probing poststructuralist theories of authorship and for casting into question the very notion of the self who translates. Coming to America, Returning to French; or, the Pointlessness of Self-Translation Given the intense trauma of Raymond Federman’s youth, it is not surprising that his life would become the main fodder for his work. Born in 1928 into a Jewish family in the Parisian suburbs, Federman watched through the peephole of a closet in which his mother had hid him, as his parents and two younger sisters were seized by the French police in the July 1942 Vél d’Hiv round-ups. All four members of his family were deported to Auschwitz, where they died, while Raymond was able to escape to the zone libre in the south and work on a farm until the end of the war. A relative in Detroit learned of his survival and helped him immigrate to the United States in 1947, where he lived until his death in 2009. Federman, who always spoke English with an accent, was already in his late twenties when he started a formal American education, earning an undergraduate degree from Columbia in 1957 and a doctorate in comparative literature from UCLA in 1963. His career straddled academia and trade publishing; a professor of literature and creative writing at SUNY Buffalo from 1964–99, Federman remained committed to a Self-Translation as Postmodern Mouvance 49 postmodernist literary project that drew comparisons to contemporaries like John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, and Ronald Sukenick...


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