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Preserving Polyphonies

Translating the Writings of Claude Sarraute


Claire Ellender

To date, translation theory offers no satisfactory response to the multidimensional challenge of rerendering postmodern texts. As the existence of linguistic and cultural plurality in these writings is now widely acknowledged, many theorists recognise the impossibility of achieving complete equivalence in translation. If the fragmented, decentred, postmodern source text (ST) is to be rerendered in the target language (TL), a process of ‘rewriting’ is deemed necessary. Nevertheless, such an approach, if taken too far, may not always be the most appropriate.
Focusing on the French journalist and novelist Claude Sarraute, whose postmodern writings offer a suitable body of texts for study, this book seeks to determine effective means by which the translator can first read and analyse postmodern STs and subsequently preserve their intricacies in the TL. To provide an original response to this challenge grounded in both theoretical and practical evidence, the author refers to the work of the Bakhtin Circle; concepts from literary theory, stylistics and translation theory; and translations of a body of texts as variegated in character as those of Sarraute. Using the approach which she recommends, the author then explains how she rerenders in English a collection of Sarraute’s polyphonic writings.


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Literature is one of the independent parts of the surrounding ideological reality, occupying a special place in it […]. The literary structure, like every ideological structure, refracts the generating socioeconomic reality, and does so in its own way. But, at the same time, in its ‘content’, literature ref lects and refracts the ref lections and refractions of other ideological spheres (ethics, epistemology, political doctrines, religion, etc.). That is, in its ‘content’ literature ref lects the whole of the ideological horizon of which it is itself a part. — Medvedev 1928/1978: 16–17 Central to Pavel Medvedev’s words, and the work from which they emanate, is the conviction that literary systems always occur within the ideological milieu of a given era.1 Indeed, history of fers ample evidence to confirm the axiom that literary texts are deeply imbued with the cultural values of the society in which they are produced. It was, for instance, no coincidence that works written in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries were inf luenced by classical models, at a time when there was renewed interest in classical antiquity throughout Europe, nor that the literature of the Enlightenment emphasized reason and individualism rather than tradition, when these issues were dominating seventeenth- and eighteenth-century thought. It was not by chance that writers in the 1800s and 1900s were preoccupied with the notions of inspiration, subjectivity, and the primacy of the indi- vidual, nor that subsequent modernist writers favoured more experimental literary techniques. Works produced during the postmodern period are a further case...

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