«Does Hortense Have a Hoo-Hoo? Gender, Consensus, and the Translation of Gisèle Pineau’s L’espérance-macadam Aletha Stahl TTR : traduction, ...»
"Does Hortense Have a Hoo-Hoo? Gender, Consensus, and the Translation of Gisèle Pineau’s
TTR : traduction, terminologie, rédaction, vol. 13, n° 2, 2000, p. 127-148.
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Gender, Consensus, and the Translation of Gisèle Pineau9 s L'espérance-macadam Aletha Stahl The difficulty of translating from a language that doesn't yet exist is considerable, but there's no need to exaggerate it.
Ursula K. Le Guin For those who miss the echoes of Dr. Seuss' children's book Horton Hears a Who in my title, please know that this intertextual reference is not necessary for following my inquiry into translation and gender in Guadeloupean writer Gisèle Pineau's 1995 novel, L'espérance- macadam. The small group of women students with whom I am translating the text into English simply could not resist the comparison.
The masculine Horton, an elephant in the children's book, becomes the feminine Hortense, a character in the novel. "Hoo-hoo" is, at this point, one option for translating the Creole term coucoune — female genitals — and is central to the reading of the novel we perform through the act of translation. The very lack of a widely current term in English with similar connotations, not to mention that the term was borrowed from Creole for use in a primarily French text, exemplifies frictions involved in translating this woman-centered novel. By addressing some of these frictions, I hope to ignite further debate on the ways in which the French- Caribbean works itself into the geopolitical space of English- dominated Canada and the United States.
127 I. "Translating the French Caribbean": A Pedagogical Experiment I will begin with a summary of our translation process so as to highlight issues in a practice that concerns those of us who, as professors, readers, and translators, are at times laden with a poststructural consciousness of the omnipresence of ideology and relations of power — an angst that, at least for me, arises from some of the privileges of my position (white, middle-class, in a tenure-track job) as I teach and practice translation with a focus on the French Caribbean.
In 1998, the institution in which I am employed, Earlham College, awarded me a grant for a collaborative faculty/student research project I called "Translating the French Caribbean: Theory and Practice". The project consisted of working with seven undergraduate students to read and discuss translation theories while producing an English version of L'espérance-macadam. This novel focuses on an elderly woman, Éliette, as she moves beyond self-protective passivity to face the incest she experienced as a child and to take action against the violence of her socially — and economically — deprived neighborhood in Guadeloupe. The setting of much of the novel corresponds with the arrival of Hurricane Hugo in 1988. As has become current in recent fiction from the French Caribbean, the novel not only includes direct discourse in Creole but its French is also heavily inflected by this language and by regional linguistic practices.
This is not to say that it is a mere reflection of French Caribbean language, but that the language plays off the spectrum of language available to speakers of both French and a Creole developed largely from a French lexical base.
After completing readings in translation theories of postcolonialism and hegemony and creating a bibliography designed to fill in gaps we identified in the group's preparation, the students and I divided the first chapter and began translating in pairs who in turn solicited feedback from the entire group. When several students asked to continue the project in subsequent semesters, we translated on our own but brought all our work to the group for critique. Group time in both instances entailed arguing over translation details and working to develop consistency among the various sections.
To make decisions, we used Quaker-style consensus — a crucial aspect of this experiment since one of my questions was how to 128 go about collective translation. A Quaker model of consensus decision making can be described as a network of ideas originating from but not representing various individuals. While it may seem naïve tó allude to individuals, in many ways, this process takes into account notions of subjectivity insofar as it allows for contradictory ideas to emerge from the same source. The objective is for everyone to listen carefully while weaving together all ideas until there is a sense that an agreement can be reached. Like a node on a network, the decision agreed upon becomes simultaneously the product of all ideas and the point of reference for subsequent decisions. To make the process as equitable as possible, group members present ideas and express differences with care (all the more so when they are in positions of power, as was my case), at times accepting the will of the group so as not to lead to an impasse. However, if anyone holds a strong opinion, it is important that it be expressed and considered seriously to ensure that a critical perspective is not overlooked and if possible, to integrate the diverging point of view into thefinaldecision. For our group, decisions submitted to this process of consensus ranged from lexical choice to matters of our own organization and translation methods.
Working with eight people to achieve the unity of consensus (and I underscore unity, not unanimity, which implies another kind of accord) takes time, patience, and a commitment to the process itself. At times the going was slow for us. For example, the second sentence of the novel, Rien que les immondices, was brought up for debate at least three times. "Debris," my initial preference given the novel's posthurricane opening, might relay the idea of the destruction of something that had appeared to be more intact, i.e., Éliette's immutability and by extension, that of Guadeloupe. I saw in "debris" a lack of judgment that is less certain in the other alternatives we debated — "trash" and "filth" — which for me initially implicated all of Guadeloupe's inhabitants and suggested a more negative metonymy for the island. When in our final editorial session for this chapter we reached consensus on making the second sentence "Nothing but filth," students marked the occasion and our collaboration by having this quote printed on t-shirts.
In enrolling in the project, students dreamed of seeing their names figure under that of Gisèle Pineau on the colorful cover of a paperback and perhaps even of earning a few US dollars from a publisher. However, as we read about and discussed postcolonial issues and the status of translation on the North American continent, their objectives shifted. At the end of the initial semester, which included 129 three days of collaboration with the author on our campus, I asked students to take a stand on the future of our work. Half the group took the position that we should not be the ones to try to publish the translation in English. They argued either that using consensus with such a large group was too difficult to advance in the work or that we did not have the skills and cultural knowledge they felt were required.
All students nevertheless agreed that L'espérance-macadam ought to appear in English, largely due to its content. During Pineau's visit, she told moving stories about the ways the novel had spoken to survivors of incest who in turn thanked her for writing about the experience. These stories had already been corroborated during the semester when one student took me aside to say that she might not be able to continue working with the group if her classmates kept making off-the-cuff comments about the "grossness" of incest. It is significant that despite — or perhaps because of — her history, which she has since shared with me, she persevered and ultimately stood with the other half of the group in calling for us to take up the entire translation project ourselves. As a result, several students continued working with me both on the translation and on independent studies of gender and translation and identity theories of the French Caribbean.
IL A Word on Authors (We Thought Were Dead) and Translators
Beyond reasons of theme, students took the position that the novel ought to appear in English for another key reason that is, I believe, germane to questions of consensus and of translation in general.
Namely, and despite my mini lectures on twentieth-century literary criticism and the fallacy of authorial intention, students argued that our efforts could fulfill the wishes of the author, who expressed enthusiasm for our work and articulated a desire to extend public dialogue by publishing in English. My point is that for these students, the author was indeed living, and they situated the significance and the signification of the novel in her stated desires, in what she could explain to us, and in what might be called "the text itself. Suggestions that we might at times "improve" on the original, that we should question certain representations in the novel, and that we should not wholeheartedly adopt the author's explanation of a given passage struck them as almost sacrilegious.
The students' difficulty in distancing themselves from a living author is not necessarily something that I want to discourage, since I also hold that consultation should take place as widely as possible and 130 that living authors' wishes should play into the "consensus" process that moves any document through translation and into publication in another language. Here, too often this "consensus" becomes a matter of deferral on the part of authors and translators to institutions determining publishing, marketing, and even copyright practices rather than a means of challenging certain power differentials. Nevertheless, and as I hoped the students would see, it is in demystifying the paternity attributed to "author" (and to ourselves as "translators") that a more egalitarian form of consensus can ultimately take place. I build this notion on Michel Foucault's proposal that "author function" rather than "author" be used to suggest the system organizing discourse. This "author function" does not concern all discourses in the same manner and can be defined by a series of complex operations rather than the spontaneous attribution of a discourse to its producer. Above all, it does not allude to a real individual because, as with my description of consensus decision-making at its best, it can elicit multiple subject positions (p. 153). Foucault implicates the terms "work" and "writing" in his critique since they insinuate the authority of the producer of the discourse and thus participate in the myth of the author. I add the word "text" to this list given that, as Tony Bennett argues, in calling on that which is found in the "text itself," we create a hierarchy of readings according to their conformity to that which an analysis of the "text itself confirms to be the most correct or most authoritative (p. 10).
More appropriate, Bennett suggests, is the study of the text and its public as "activated" culturally. This approach allows for recognizing the material, social, and ideological ties that inevitably structure both "text" and public (p. 12).
In adopting these ideas, it is important not to erase the question of the conditions of production of a discourse often linked with the more simplistic notion of the author. Feminist and postcolonial critics underscore the relations of power that permit some discourses to be produced by certain people and to circulate in certain venues while others never reach specific audiences or are never produced. Foucault ultimately predicts a return to the circulation of discourses as they were in the distant past, that is, a time when the author function will disappear to be replaced by another system of constraints where the questions asked will no longer concern the life and authority of the author but rather the modes of existence of the discourse: its use, its circulation, and those who appropriate it; and the resulting questions of subjectivity. These questions, I suggest, are indeed paramount to translation. But the "modes of existence" are 131 inflected precisely by the "life" of the author, which all too often determines his or her authority. In translating L'espérance-macadam, we straddle the divide between a discourse's "modes of existence" and the possibility of dialoguing face to face with an author whose life and authority, as mediated by publishers and other institutions, is hardly defunct; in short, we are still far from the death of the author function as Foucault imagines it. For this reason, it seems only appropriate to include consultation with Pineau in our efforts.