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«Translating the Revolution: Otherness in Cuban Testimonial Literature Raquel de Pedro Ricoy Meta : journal des traducteurs / Meta: Translators' ...»

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Article

"Translating the Revolution: Otherness in Cuban Testimonial Literature"

Raquel de Pedro Ricoy

Meta : journal des traducteurs / Meta: Translators' Journal, vol. 57, n° 3, 2012, p. 574-591.

Pour citer cet article, utiliser l'information suivante :

URI: http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/1017081ar

DOI: 10.7202/1017081ar

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Translating the Revolution:

Otherness in Cuban Testimonial Literature raquel de pedro ricoy Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK r.de_pedro@hw.ac.uk RÉSUMÉ La présente contribution, qui se fonde sur des théories pertinentes du domaine, examine les questions liées à la traduction de témoignages littéraires d’auteurs cubains, sous l’angle de l’inévitable représentation du Soi en tant qu’Autre. La conception de la traduction en tant qu’articulation de l’altérité fait l’objet d’un intérêt croissant en traductologie.

Le cadre général de recherche issu de cette tendance n’est certes pas sans mérite ;

toutefois la nécessité d’un cadre de recherche spécifique à chaque pays est mise en relief par la position particulière de Cuba sur la scène politique contemporaine – et par l’affirmation de son statut d’« exception » – qui l’a tenue à l’écart des contextes culturels préalablement étudiés. Au vu de cet isolement de Cuba, il convient de mettre en lumière la différence entre la littérature cubaine éditée, traduite et lue en dehors de Cuba d’une part, et la littérature cubaine éditée et lue à Cuba d’autre part. Les résultats d’une recherche menée à la fois sur la bibliographie et sur le terrain indiquent, certes, qu’éditeurs et experts en littérature mettent beaucoup d’emphase sur l’importance de l’altérité.

Cependant, il apparaît que leur intérêt se focalise en réalité sur la diffusion de l’expérience cubaine vue « de l’intérieur » (en contrepartie des écrits cubains produits par les auteurs exilés). Dans ce contexte, ils mettent l’accent sur « le caractère universel » de l’expérience humaine et mettent en doute toute altérité qui entraverait le processus de traduction.

ABSTRACT Drawing on existing theories in the field, this paper seeks to explore the issues that surround the translation of Cuban testimonial texts, emphasizing the inevitable portrayal of the Self as an Other. The notion of translation as an articulation of otherness has become a focus of interest in contemporary translation studies. Notwithstanding the worth of the general framework that has emerged as a result, the need for country-specific research is underscored by Cuba’s unique location on the contemporary political map – and its alleged “exceptionalism” – which sets it apart from cultural contexts that have been previously studied. Because of the isolated nature of Cuba, it is important to highlight the gap between the Cuban literature that is published, translated and read outside Cuba, on the one hand, and the Cuban literature that is published and read in Cuba, on the other. The results of bibliographical research and fieldwork indicate that, although publishers and literary experts alike place great emphasis on the significance of otherness, their interest centres on the dissemination of the Cuban experience seen “from inside” (so as to counterbalance Cuban narratives produced by exiles). In doing so, they underscore the “universal nature” of the human experience and play down any alterity that may hinder the translation process.

MOTS- CLÉS/KEY WORDS Cuba, exceptionnalisme, altérité, révolution, témoignage littéraire Cuba, exceptionalism, otherness, revolution, testimonial literature

–  –  –

1. Background Drawing on existing theories in the field, this paper arose from a research project seeking to develop a conceptual framework suited specifically to the translation of Cuban testimonial texts that engaged with the realities of socio­cultural development in Cuba, emphasising the representation of the Self in the source text and its inevi­ table portrayal as an Other in translation. In addition to this specific focus, it was envisaged that the research would have wider applicability, since it can be generalized to the study of texts originating in non­hegemonic cultures and their translation.

This translation project (which is still in progress) will involve the translation into English of post­Revolution testimonial short stories by Onelio Jorge Cardoso (1914­ 1986), Manuel Cofiño López (1936­1987), María Elena Llana (born 1936), Eduardo Heras León (born 1940), Julio Travieso (born 1940), Mercedes Santos Moray (born 1944), Mirta Yáñez (born 1947), Francisco López Sacha (born 1950), Marilyn Bobes (born 1955) and Aida Bahr (born 1958). These stories have not been previously trans­ lated into English and they provide a snapshot of narrative produced in Cuba since the Revolution.1 Given the lack of access to representations of post­1959 Cuba outside the island, a selection of Cuban short stories from the five decades of Revolution to be translated for publication will offer fictional (literary) narratives reflecting a wide range of experiences throughout the revolutionary period.





Thanks to a grant from the Carnegie Trust, I was able to visit three libraries, attached respectively to the Casa de las Américas, the Instituto de Literatura y Lingüística and the Facultad de Artes y Letras in Havana. The bibliographical research I conducted enabled me to access journals that are not readily available outside Cuba and to gain an understanding of the historical evolution (early 1960s­2000s) of the paradigms for “understanding” Cuba, both within the country and overseas (from the prevalence of the premises of Cuban exiles in the two decades following the Revolution to the boom in less biased socio­cultural studies which started in the 1980s). I was also able to look at academic papers specifically analyzing the develop­ ment of Cuban story­telling and I found that there is substantial contemporary theorization as to translation within Cuba which is little known elsewhere.

I also conducted interviews with two editors working for major publishing houses, José Quesada Pantoja (Publishing Editor, Pueblo y Educación) and Victor Malagón (Chief Specialist, Arte y Cultura), who provided me with very useful insights into publishing policy in Cuba. I also interviewed Daniel García (Director, Instituto Cubano del Libro), with whom I discussed the selection of authors for the project and who gave me three anthologies and one contemporary collection of Cuban short stories, so that I could have an overview of the types of narrative that are deemed worthy of publication in Cuba.2 At the Instituto de Literatura y Lingüística, I met with Gisela Cárdenas Molina (who is the President of the Asociación de Lingüistas de Cuba and the Secretary of the Academia Cubana de la Lengua) and its Chief Researcher in Cuban Literature, Emmanuel Tornés (writer, literary critic and university professor).

Our discussions, during which their experience and knowledge was of invaluable help, revolved around the thematic and narratological evolution of Cuban tales from the triumph of the Revolution onwards.

All the interviewees expressed their support for the translation project and emphasized the importance of disseminating works by authors (some of whom belong 576 Meta, LVII, 3, 2012 to the Cuban literary canon) who are virtually unknown abroad, as a way of coun­ terbalancing the notions regarding “the Cuban experience” that are derived from the translations of exiles’ narratives.

Additionally, I held two meetings with colleagues from the Facultad de Lenguas Extranjeras (FLEX) of the Universidad de La Habana and led four translation work­ shops in collaboration with them. These afforded me the opportunity to exchange opinions with academics, postgraduate students and professional translators on issues pertaining to the project, such as the semiotic dimension of translation, intertextual­ ity and perceptions of genre and discourse.

2. Introduction In his comprehensive overview of scholarly approaches to Cuba, Kapcia claims that “all research disciplines must come to terms with aspects of the Cuban reality that do not easily fit paradigms” (Kapcia 2008: 649). Literary studies are no exception: the dichotomy between the works of post­Revolution Cuban exiles and those of writers who are based in Cuba is rarely tackled from an academic perspective. Whereas many of the members of what has become known as la diáspora cubana, from Cabrera Infante (1929­2005) to Zoe Valdés (born 1959), have published their works to great international acclaim and have even made the transition to other media, such as cinema, successfully, Cuban authors who reside in their homeland are virtually unknown elsewhere. This can be partly attributed to the apparent lack of interest on the part of foreign publishing houses to disseminate their work in Spanish and, cru­ cially, in translation.

On the other hand, literary translation within Cuba has traditionally been pro­ lific.3 One of the five associations that make up the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists (Unión de Escritores and Artistas de Cuba, UNEAC), the Asociación de Escritores, actively engages with translation projects and provides a forum for the discussion and dissemination of issues that pertain to literary translation (ranging from its history to copyright and other legal concerns). Similarly, Casa de las Américas has promoted the publication in Spanish of works by Caribbean authors who write in English or French, as well as those of Brazilian writers. The site cubalit­ eraria.com devotes one of its pages (Traduttore/Traditore) to reflections by leading Cuban intellectuals on translation­related matters. The dissemination of foreign literary production is further encouraged by translation awards, such as the Premio José Rodríguez Feo for literary translation. However, translation from Spanish into other languages is dispreferred.

In stark contrast with this trend, publishing experts in Cuba, such as José Quesada Pantoja (2008 – see the Interviews section) and Victor Malagón (2008), as well as Daniel García (2008), emphasize the importance of spreading works by authors (some of whom belong to the Cuban literary canon) who are unknown abroad, as a way of counterbalancing the notions regarding “the Cuban experience” that are derived from the translations of exiles’ narratives. Thus, it is important to highlight the gap between the Cuban literature that is published, translated and read outside Cuba, on the one hand, and the Cuban literature that is published and read in Cuba, on the other. As indicated above, although studies on the former are substantial, a theoretical approach to the translation of the latter is an original line of research.

translating the revolution The most popular “autochthonous” genre in Cuban literature is the short story, especially in the form of testimonial literature. Due to the relative isolation of Cuba which ensued as a result of the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 and was accentu­ ated by the collapse of Communism in 1989, as well as because of domestic political and social factors, the siting of this type of literature in a wider tradition of translated fiction is of particular interest. Arguably, what differentiates the narratives produced in Cuba from those by Cuban writers who reside abroad is the immediacy of the experience that is recounted, undoubtedly tinged by national ideology and subjected to constraints. The key is that, whereas Cuban exiles evoke, often with nostalgia, sometimes with bitterness and always critically, a reality of which they are no a lon­ ger part, the authors based in Cuba tell their readers about a context which is very much their own and which, more often than not, they share with them. Thus, the former communicate with a wider and more varied audience, who frequently have preconceptions about a country they have never visited or of which they have the necessarily limited experience afforded to visitors. The latter, on the other hand, can establish a more complicit relationship with their readership (which is not to say that they do not seek to challenge them), based on recognition and familiarity. Exoticism versus propinquity, alterity versus commonality becomes, therefore, the basic distinc­ tion from the point of view of the reading experience. The literary production of exiles is located in foreign polysystems, which have their rules and norms as to what gets published and how, based on cultural preferences and commercial consider­ ations. In the same way, both aesthetic criteria and market forces determine what gets translated and into what languages. The dissemination of the works by Cuba­ based writers is also affected by institutional and pragmatic4 constraints, but, as stated above, it generally only happens through the medium of the Spanish language.

The question arises, then, of how best to tackle the translation of Cuban testi­ monial works, of how the construction of meaning can be facilitated via translation when the subject is an “Other” that does not easily fit into established paradigms. In fact, as Kapcia remarks, drawing on Hoffmann and Whitehead (2007), “The case for ‘exceptionalism’ in the study of Cuba […] has been stimulated by the contradiction between Cuba’s seemingly inexorable movement towards transition and the continu­ ing evidence of the system stubbornly bucking the trend” (Kapcia 2008: 627).



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