The Caribbean in Translation

Remapping Thresholds of Dislocation

by Laëtitia Saint-Loubert (Author)
Monographs XIV, 256 Pages
Series: New Comparative Criticism, Volume 8

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • A Note on Translations
  • Introduction The Caribbean in Translation: On Textual Thresholds and Archipelagic Crossings
  • Chapter 1 Relocating Thresholds in Caribbean and Translation Studies
  • Chapter 2 Mediating Authenticity for Caribbean Literatures in Translation
  • Chapter 3 The Trial of the Border: From Inhospitable Thresholds to Liminal Reciprocities
  • Chapter 4 (Re)translating Césaire’s Cahier: Towards a Decolonization of Paratextual Practices?
  • Chapter 5 Sub-Liminal Correspondences: Transoceanic Creolizations in the Making
  • Chapter 6 Towards a Caribbeanization of Translational Practices and Transnational Literary Circulation
  • Conclusion Rethinking Translation Studies from Caribbean Meridians: When Thresholds Become Relational Ecotones
  • Appendix
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series Index

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This book is the revised version of my PhD thesis which I submitted at the University of Warwick, UK, in October 2017. I wish to warmly thank my supervisors, Susan Bassnett and Fabienne Viala, for their guidance, insightful advice and constant support during my PhD. My special thanks also go to Charles Forsdick and Pierre-Philippe Fraiture for their helpful feedback during my viva and for their renewed encouragements since.

This work could not have been possible without generous funding from the Yesu Persaud Centre for Caribbean Studies (YPCCS) at the University of Warwick, for which I am most grateful. In addition to a PhD studentship, the YPCCS offered me extra funding for a research project I conducted in Puerto Rico from August to December 2016, which was crucial to the development of this work. I am, once again, very thankful to its members and generous donators for the unique research opportunities they offered me.

My warmest thanks extend to all the members of the Instituto de Estudios del Caribe at UPR, Río Piedras, and in particular to Lowell Fiet, Humberto Garcia-Muñiz, Oscar Mendoza Riollano and Nadya Menéndez Rodríguez for welcoming me with such generosity in Puerto Rico and for facilitating my stay in San Juan. Thank you also to Carlos Roberto Gomez Beras for opening the doors of Isla Negra Editores to me and for including me as part of his ‘family’ in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Thank you to Stefan Antonmattei for his generous help with Chapter 4. A special thought to Lory Gúzman and Daniel Nina in Puerto Rico who offered me a sense of home and greatly contributed to this work through simple acts of kindness and a sense of solidarity beyond compare.

A version of Chapter 3 appeared in the eighteenth online issue of Miranda. Chapter 6 was also initially published as an article in a 2017 issue of Mutatis Mutandis, published by the Grupo de Investigación en Traductología and Universidad de Antioquia. I acknowledge these journals for permission to reproduce and rework some material here. My gratitude ←xi | xii→also goes out to Éditions Isabelle Sauvage for their kind permission to reprint the poème-affiche that serves as appendix to the present volume.

I am also very thankful to Peter Lang Oxford, and Laurel Plapp especially, for making this book possible.

Finally, I wish to thank my parents and my steadfast companion for their love and support, and for contributing to this project in their own way.

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A Note on Translations

Citations of primary sources originally written in languages other than English are systematically provided in their original language as well as in English. In Chapter 4, however, some excerpts from Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal are not immediately flanked by an English translation, as the ensuing textual analysis precisely intends to offer several lines of interpretation for those citations.

I have considered paratextual material such as prefaces, afterwords, glossaries, notes and cover blurbs as primary sources and have therefore cited them both in their original language and in English. However, I have considered epitextual material – that is sources situated outside the object book, such as editorial webpages, for example – as secondary sources. They are therefore systematically solely provided in English, as per editorial guidelines. In a few instances, however, I have provided secondary sources in both their original language and English, insofar as they explicitly intended to offer alternative sites of knowledge production.

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The Caribbean in Translation: On Textual Thresholds and Archipelagic Crossings

It is an immemorial experience. And yet, each beauty island: isola: so close, so small, so secret: responding, all along the chain, to that touch of sun, that same grace of wind, the same terror of earthquake or hurricane or volcano in the sky at night; the same riddims: cadence, calypso, reggae, mento, meringue; the same speech resonating out of body-language. And yet each islet feels itself locked up inside itself, with the castle of its coral skin.1

The Caribbean is a region fundamentally concerned by translation. Each island and territory of the Caribbean archipelago and the circum-Caribbean at once speaks its own languages, dances to its own riddims, and sings to its own tunes, but also shares this ‘immemorial experience’ of sameness (in difference) with the other islands and territories of the region, due, in part, to historical, geographical, cultural, sociological and linguistic affinities. Each island and territory of the region could even be said to perform continuous acts of translation through their internal exchanges, be it within the boundaries of a single island, territory or with immediate neighbours, but also externally, with more distant interlocutors and partners that also often coincide with former or neocolonial powers. Those exchanges might entail bridging linguistic and cultural differences engendered by centuries of multilingual encounters that have varied in scope and nature, as well as over time and space, but that nevertheless keep on exposing the region’s original sense of fragmentation, what Derek Walcott famously called the region’s ‘shattered ←1 | 2→histories’.2 Some would even argue that Caribbean men, women and children are beings in translation. They have, one way or another, at some point in their genealogy and personal history, experienced a form of uprooting that ties the experience of translation to an early form of relocation and, in many instances, forced displacement. Edwin Gentzler brings this point into explicit focus in Translation and Identity in the Americas, in which he argues that translation has been used as a powerful, lethal instrument in the region, causing a ‘loss of identity and psychological trauma’.3 Translation is thus equated with the original violent encounters between the conquistadores and the autochthonous populations of the Americas, which include the Caribbean basin. The figures of La Malinche and Ixil and their ambiguous roles as translators-turned-traitors in historical accounts of the Americas further attest to that point.4 Whilst situating contemporary translation practices within the intricate web of (neo)colonial legacies that have characterized and continue to impact the Caribbean, this book seeks to examine how translation, together with non-translation and mistranslation, has informed and continues to inform our reception of Caribbean literatures no matter where we are located as readers. That said, the volume is by no means intended as a historical account of translation in the region, although detailed and specific references to historical, political, ideological, cultural and economic factors will be provided tangentially to anchor translation practices within their specific contexts of production ←2 | 3→and reception. Rather, this work is meant as an entry point into the complex circuitry of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Caribbean literatures circulating across languages, within as well as outside the region, through networks and systems that remain largely regulated by the asymmetrical forces of globalization and the politics of neocolonial imperatives.

To date, the region has not been the object of a single book-length study dedicated to translation, despite its pressing issue for the region and the long-held ambition of creating a truly pan-Caribbean literary canon.5 While a number of journal issues, articles and book chapters have been devoted to the translation of Caribbean literature, often from one language into another, this book represents the first in-depth attempt to explore Caribbean literatures6 in translation, on a regional as well as on a global level.7 It explores various genres, which include novels, short stories, poems, plays and essays from a variety of islands and territories, as well as from the Caribbean diaspora. For the purpose of this study, I have adopted a multidirectional approach to translation, which means that Caribbean texts originally published in French, English, Spanish and various Caribbean Creoles will be analysed, where possible, alongside their translations into various languages, mostly of European origins, although not exclusively. It goes without saying, however, that the book cannot lay claim to exhaustivity, given the region’s vast, complex and entangled linguistic, socio-historical and geopolitical realities, as well as my own limitations with respect to ←3 | 4→academic positioning and linguistic proficiency.8 As such, the book simply hopes to be a step in the direction of further intersectional studies that bring together translation and Caribbean theories to examine the region from an explicitly comparative lens, across its multiple languages, cultures and literary histories. The volume therefore makes ample use of citations in various languages, following a line of argumentation that aims to echo Caribbean linguistic diversity and resist a monolinguistic reading and artificial mapping of the region’s literary output. Much in the same vein, although world literature theory will be of sporadic use in the volume, its main purpose will be to illustrate, by contrast as it were, the specific concerns it raises in the respective fields of Caribbean and translation studies. One of these issues is encapsulated in the very expression ‘world literature’, which seems to conceive of literature circulated on a global scale as a monolith, mostly written or translated – and subsequently studied – in English, and which has been criticized on these specific grounds.9 When it comes to Caribbean studies, German scholars working in TransArea studies, among which Ottmar Ette and Gesine Müller, have suggested renaming those literatures that circulate across borders and languages, referring to them as ‘literaturas del mundo’ [literatures of the world] (Müller) or as ‘transarchipelagic worlds’ (Ette) to stress their specific, yet interconnected ←4 | 5→nature. Their aim is to promote alternative models to the core-periphery paradigm traditionally found in global literature studies.10 Müller in particular has stressed the importance of addressing the particular and the local in the study of Caribbean literatures disseminated transnationally, whilst noting power differentials in the circulation of these texts depending on the (European) language they were originally written in:

Mientras que las literaturas del caribe anglófono han disfrutado de una amplia recepción como ‘literatura mundial’ y, al mismo tiempo, podrían ser orientativas para los conceptos de las ‘literaturas del mundo’, la canonización en el caso de la literatura del Caribe hispanohablante, y especialmente del Caribe francófono, solo se ha producido en casos excepcionales o no se ha producido en absoluto.11

[While the literatures of the English-speaking Caribbean have enjoyed a wide reception as ‘world literature’, and, at the same time, could be described as ‘literatures of the world’, when it comes to the Spanish-speaking Caribbean and, particularly to the French-speaking Caribbean, canonization only occurred in exceptional cases or has not occurred at all.]12

Although Müller’s article does not focus on Caribbean literatures of Creole expression, let alone examines local publishing incentives that have directly emerged in the region, it nonetheless calls our attention to the fact that most contemporary canonical Caribbean fiction is marketed as part of a global trend known as literatures of the world or literaturas del mundo. To her, Caribbean literatures constitute part of this canon – that is, some more than others.13 In turn, I believe that the role that translation ←5 | 6→plays in the circulation of Caribbean literatures as part of those literaturas del mundo must be invoked to stress how, despite the label’s merit when it comes to recognizing the diversity and plurality of the works it encompasses, nevertheless falls short of addressing crucial issues of uneven access and invisibility. As a matter of fact, for scholars and more generally readers based outside the region, important swathes of the literature produced and circulated locally – often, although not exclusively in vernacular languages and Creoles – remain largely unknown, owing, in part, to literary insularism and to an overall lack of digital repositories and publishing practices, despite some noteworthy incentives in those areas.14 Conversely, Caribbean literatures that circulate outside the region as part of global literary exchanges hardly ever reach the shores of some Caribbean-based readers depending on the latter’s location and their often very limited access to translated works of fiction and non-fiction.15 Bearing in mind those issues, the book examines ←6 | 7→the intricate interplay of relations and (dis)connections that emerge when studying Caribbean literatures in translation. It uses the notion of textual thresholds as its premise to investigate how paratextual spaces – among which foot/endnotes, prefaces, afterwords, parenthetical asides, ellipses, but also glossary entries, illustrations and cover blurbs – are employed by various cultural agents (authors, publishers, readers, translators, critics, etc.) to present translation as a decolonizing enterprise.

Textual thresholds and the necessary (re)framing of Caribbean literature

In his seminal work Seuils, translated by Jane E. Lewin as Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, Gérard Genette reaches the conclusion that thresholds are meant to be crossed.16 In his framework, textual thresholds come in various guises, but their primary function remains to open up into a text, operating as an entrance or a doorway, thereby suggesting movement and the possibility of a progression, alongside a stepping into another spatial reality. When they refer to a literary work, thresholds point to those elements in a book that allow access to the text, that present it not only in the sense that they introduce the work, as Genette reminds us, but also in the sense that they literally and physically turn the text into a real object, a tangible entity in the world.17 As ←7 | 8→a physical reality, the threshold may take diverse forms, often suggesting the presence of a framework – such as doorways, windowsills or mirrors, to name but three – but it may also represent lines of demarcation as manifested, for example, in physiological boundaries separating bodies of water and landmasses.18 As a narratological tool, the threshold may appear as a footnote, an apposition, a dash or a parenthetical comment, suggesting the porosity of the text, as well as its intricate architecture. Whatever its shape, the threshold generally manifests itself as an entrance and a transitory space, implying at once movement and contact. It is defined not only in relation to two distinct zones, but also as the margin or the line itself. The threshold is therefore a dual space that allows impermeability and contingency at one and the same time, a manifestation of liminality understood in its most literal sense, based on the limen, the limit. As such, it is an intervening site that both separates the text and the off-text whilst operating as a transitional zone and as a site of transaction, as shall be further developed when paratext is studied within an array of translational strategies.

Genette’s conceptualization of the paratext has gained much currency across disciplines over the last decades, not least in the context of translation studies, which has led scholars to consider paratexts as potential sites of translator visibility and agency. Yet, as Kathryn Batchelor notes in Translation and Paratexts, this reorientation of Genette’s framework, whilst ensuring its adaptability to the context of translation studies, also entails a ‘pragmatic approach’ that has consisted in erasing some of its original content:

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What Batchelor specifically points to here is the link that Genette establishes between paratext and authorial intent.20 In Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, translation is in fact presented as paratext, as a ‘commentary on the original text’, but, as Genette further argues in a subsequent footnote, ‘a commentary to be used with care, for the right to be unfaithful is an authorial privilege’.21 Such a view of translation would now be considered conservative, as translation scholars tend to focus instead on the discursive nature of paratexts to insist on the translator’s visibility and agency, a line of argumentation that this book similarly wishes to start from, develop, but also complement and complicate by focusing on Caribbean literature. Where Genette’s theory is concerned, the volume seeks to depart from his semiotic approach to remap textual thresholds within a Caribbean and archipelagic context. To that end, the volume adopts a Glissantian approach to literature and translation so that liminality can be reappraised specifically for, within, but also beyond a (strictly speaking) Caribbean setting, seeking to invite scholars in neighbouring disciplines to further engage in the discussion.22 Drawing on Glissant’s conceptual framework, the following chapters are interwoven by a series of notions borrowed from Glissant’s theoretical works and inherent to his Poetics of Relation.23 Developed in the manner of a multi-rooted rhizome, each notion is meant to dialogue with other Caribbean frameworks so that ←9 | 10→translation can be envisaged from a variety of latitudes. To that end, the corpus I have chosen includes texts produced – that is written, edited, published and targeting readers – in the Caribbean as well as outside the region, to interrogate the porosity of literary circulation both on an international and on a regional level.


This book investigates twentieth- and twenty-first-century Caribbean literatures in translation. Covering three of the largest linguistic areas of the region – the so-called English-, French- and Spanish-speaking Caribbean – the volume offers a comparative study of the region’s literary output across a variety of genres: poems, novels, short stories and essays. Caribbean texts and their translations are analysed through the prism of the threshold, which serves a dual purpose. On a textual level, thresholds correspond to paratextual elements (e.g. prefaces, afterwords, foot/endnotes, glossaries, blurbs) that are used by various cultural agents to frame Caribbean literatures for global, regional and local audiences. On a broader level, thresholds, which both open into but also signal a limit or break, allow the author to examine and remap routes of (non)circulation for Caribbean literatures within regional, national and transnational frameworks. Analysing liminality alongside Glissantian notions that interrogate authorship, transparency, originality and hospitality in translation, the book tests the applicability of relational thinking to the imperatives of translation and literary circulation. Ultimately, the author asks whether traditional core–periphery models of global literary traffic can be challenged, inviting the reader to envisage alternative pathways of cultural exchange from Southern, archipelagic locations.
This book was the winner of the 2018 Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition in Comparative Literature.

Biographical notes

Laëtitia Saint-Loubert (Author)

Laëtitia Saint-Loubert completed a PhD in Caribbean studies at the University of Warwick. She is a practising literary translator and has worked as an instructor of French and English at the University of Warwick (2015–2017) and Université de La Réunion (2017–2020), respectively. Her current research investigates Caribbean literatures in translation and focuses on bibliodiversity and non-vertical modes of circulation for Caribbean and Indian Ocean literatures. The Caribbean in Translation: Remapping Thresholds of Dislocation is her first monograph.


Title: The Caribbean in Translation