Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Translating Oral Micro-Histories Ethically: The Case of Elena Poniatowska

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

Translating Oral Micro-Histories Ethically: The Case of Elena Poniatowska

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

"?Quien ordeno todo esto?" [Who ordered this?]. Elena Poniatowska 
(1971/2012, p. 219).

One of the most interesting characteristics of Latin American literature is, in my opinion, that in many cases we are dealing with a literature which shows a great commitment to social problems and, as a result, aims to narrate the history of events which took place in the past from points of view which are very different to the official history. This could obviously be said about many other literatures, but in this paper it is our intention to focus on a specific work which exemplifies a new way of seeing history which originated in the United States, France, Italy and India in the mid-1960s. This paper sets out to show that Elena Poniatowska's La noche de Tlatelolco [Massacre in Mexico] is a clear example of the critical conception of history of scholars like Hayden White (1987, 1978a, 1978b, 1975), Dominick LaCapra (2013, 2004), Alun Munslow (2013), Robert Young (1990) and many others who changed historiography in the 1960s. These historiographers considered history to be a narrative, a text that translates reality, and, therefore, they consider that the author of the historical text is the translator, among many other things, of the events that took place.

The section "The historian as rewriter" explains this idea of the authors mentioned above who--proceeding from a post-structuralist perspective and assuming that there is not a real source 'text' in the form of actual events--understand that the historian rewrites and interprets, and gives one translation among many. In the following section, we apply this new way of understanding historiography to Elena Poniatowska's novel La noche de Tlatelolco, where the official history of Mexico is rewritten by the oral histories of those who were the authors/historians/translators of the massacre of Tlatelolco, a massacre which until then had only been told by the official historians. The paper goes on to examine the role of the second "author", Poniatowska, who rewrites these oral histories. The ultimate aim of this paper is to reflect on the ethical responsibility of the interlinguistic translator in the face of a novel that is itself two translations of specific historical events: that of the subaltern protagonists who translate history in the sense of Hayden White, and the intralinguistic translation Poniatowska makes based on these narrations. This latter aim takes into account Hayden White's idea that history "turns into an efficient mode of developing scholarly self-reflection" (D'hulst & Gambier, 2018), something that Gambier applied (2007) some time ago to the field of translation. Finally, the paper will examine what happened in the interlinguistic translation of La noche de Tlatelolco into English.

2. The historian as rewriter

In the 19th century, Leopold Ranke defended the idea that history is an objective, neutral discipline that gives a single account, the only true one, of events that took place in the past. Opposing this view of history, critical historiography of the 1960s understands the historical text as a narrative, and, therefore, assumes that there is not only one History (with a capital H), but many histories, those of the conquerors and also those of the conquered. The most important question is not "What is history?", but "Who decides? On what grounds, and to what end?", since the 'facts' of history are simply those which historians have selected for scrutiny (de Certeau, 1975/1988; LaCapra, 2013; Munslow, 2013, 2010, 2007, 1997; Trouillot, 1995; Vidal, 2018).

Taking this way of interpreting history in the mid-1960s as their starting point, many scholars have pointed out that history has been for a long time a way of legitimising Power. Thus, we have the beginning of the Indian "Subaltern Studies", the macro approach of the French Annales School or the micro approach of the Italian microhistorians. They are different approximations to history, but they all share the idea that history is not a neutral objective science that should be left in the hands of the conquerors, but that the history of ordinary people and the communities in which they lived should be written (for more detailed analysis of these new ways of constructing history see Rundle, 2012, 2018; Rundle & Rafael, 2016; Vidal, 2018). …

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