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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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CHAPTER 1 Claude Sarraute and her Writings


Claude Sarraute was born in Paris in 1927 to wealthy and successful par- ents. Her father was the owner of a legal firm and her mother, Nathalie Sarraute, the internationally acclaimed writer of experimental, psychological literature. Nathalie (née Tcherniak) was born in Ivanova, Russia, in 1900 and, as a young child, moved to France with her parents. The family was of Jewish descent and endeavoured to conceal this; in the intellectual and highly cultured circles in which the Tcherniaks moved, it was considered inappropriate to share such information. Claude herself did not learn of her Jewish heritage until she was eight years old. Anti-Semitism was prevalent in France at the time and the extrême droite was active and very vocal. In this climate, Claude found it particularly dif ficult to accept her Jewish identity. She captures her distress, albeit amusingly, in one of her earlier works: In a solemn mood, [my grandfather] told me: ‘I’m Jewish, you’re Jewish and Jesus Christ was Jewish’. I don’t give a shit about Jesus Christ. Too bad for him. That’s his problem. But me! What a disaster! I took half a century to get over it. (1987: 90) Claude’s family employed an English nanny to raise her and English became her first language. She pursued her interest in this at school and at univer- sity, studying law and English at the Sorbonne. Following her education she met and married an American, Stanley Kudrow, an editorial writer for Time, with whom she lived...

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