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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 2 Dialogism and the Polyphonic Text


When seeking a paradigm which can assist in theorizing writings as com- plex and dynamic as those of Claude Sarraute, the most prominent point of reference in mid- to late twentieth-century literary analysis is the work of the Russian philosopher, Mikhail Bakhtin, and the Circle of thinkers to which he belonged. Bakhtin was born in Orel, south of Moscow, in 1895.1 He was raised to be bilingual in Russian and German and was schooled in Vilnius and Odessa, two multilingual and multicultural Russian cities. In 1918 he joined a group of thinkers who were inspired by the study of German philosophers, and it was in this group that he met his contemporaries, Pavel Medvedev (1892–1938) and Valentin Voloshinov (1895–1936), who were later to become key figures in a distinct group: the Bakhtin Circle. Until the early 1920s Bakhtin and his fellow thinkers studied Kant’s thought on the interaction of the mind and the World, and Einstein’s theories of relativity. These questions, in particular the concept of relativity, were to prove highly inf luential to many of the Circle’s later works. In the 1920s Bakhtin wrote a series of methodological and critical writ- ings which focused on anthropological and sociological issues (Todorov 1939/1995: 12).2 From 1929 to 1935 he concentrated on language and liter- ary criticism and later began to reinterpret literary history, paying much attention to the roles of folk humour and carnival in literature. In the last phase of his writing, until his death in 1975,...

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