Academic journal article Criticism

Beginning Again

Academic journal article Criticism

Beginning Again

Article excerpt

BEGINNING AGAIN Translating Women edited by Luise von Flotow. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2011. Pp. 341.139.95 paper.

"It is time to write about 'women and translation again," writes Luise von Flotow at the start of her introduction to this collection of essays. Why again? The 1980s and 1990s saw a rash of writing about feminism and translation, born out of the effervescence of a period rich in questions about identity and language. First came occasional brief essays by women translators and then more serious attempts at theorizing translation and gender-in the form of essays and then books. Von Flotow recalls this history, giving a particular nod to feminist Bible translators who had already been addressing gender issues. She might also have mentioned the influential work of Gayatri Spivak, whose singular works on translation and gender were published during the 1990s.

Years have passed, though, and overviews of work in translation studies routinely make reference to questions of gender of translation, but always to the same-now very dated-sources. Thus, von Floto w's stimulating and welledited collection is timely, giving fresh energy to a field that was being reduced to a life in citation.

What kind of new work has emerged? In this collection, three historical essays examine British women translators of botanical texts in the early nineteenth century, the nineteenth-century Russian writer/ translator Karolina Pavlova's translations from the German, and the eighteenth-century Helen Maria Williams's celebrated translation of Paul and Virginia (1787). But the bulk of the fifteen essays are devoted to examinations of contemporary or near-contemporary writers translating or translated-Adrienne Rich, Simone de Beauvoir, Alejandra Pizarnik, Ulrike Meinhof, Marie Vieux-Chauvet, or the gender issues involved in translating Tahar ben Jelloun; or again Emily Dickinson and Japanese Sci Shônagon in contemporary translation. Pilar Godayol contributes a valuable look at the tradition of the Catalan women's translating tradition-a tradition she herself has contributed to by her numerous anthologies in Catalan.

Sandra Bermann's essay on Adrienne Rich draws the portrait of a poet who found "words, forms, inspiration and connection" (102) through non-English languages and cultures. Her reading of nonEnglish poets, her early translations from the Dutch and Yiddish (including Rachel Korn), and her participation in the "ghazal" project had an immense impact on her writing: "I can't emphasize enough how much my poetry has been stretched, enlarged, strengthened, fortified by the non-American poetries I have read, tangled with, tried to hear and speak in their original syllables, over the years" (98). In her poem "The Art of Translation" (1999), however, Rich shows the translator at the heart of political action. The translator is

stopped at passport control:

Occupation? No such


Journalist, maybe spy?

That the books are for

personal use

only-could I swear it?

That not a word of them

is contraband-how could I

prove it?


Luise von Flotow's thoughtful essay on translation as remembering is devoted to Ulrike Meinhof, a figure who was at the very heart of political action in the 1960s and 1970s in West Germany, but it is the journalist and humanitarian that Flotow wants us to read. …

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