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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 3 The Translator as Interlocutor: an Eclectic Approach to Reading and Translating Claude Sar


raute Owing to their peculiar character and multiple layers of complexity, Sarraute’s writings clearly lend themselves, in many respects, to a Bakhtinian analysis. At the level of the ‘Text’, these writings are medleys of intra- and intergeneric references, generic imitations and parodies and seemingly transcribed con- versations containing colloquial language. The ‘Participants’ in these texts are equally complex and unstable. Authors, characters, and readers are acutely self-conscious, their self-views f luctuate and their roles are often reversed. ‘Social, Cultural, and Political Issues’ form the core of Sarraute’s sub- ject matter and, in her work, issues pertaining both to France and to other peoples and cultures are described. In her portrayal of France as a culturally disparate, kaleidoscopic totality, Sarraute has frequent recourse to ironic and subversive tones. Her texts are, moreover, underpinned by the notions of ‘Time and Space’ and her deliberate manipulation of these creates fur- ther disjointedness and f lux within her work. Thus, each of Sarraute’s writings proves a challenging, and at times puz- zling, read for an SL audience. In addition to their dynamism and various complexities, these texts have a tendency to position their readers incon- sistently. Sarraute, who constantly interacts with her audience, confides in her readers, advises and guides them and encourages their participation in her work, yet also reproaches them. Her reader’s own identity is, then, inherently unstable. As a consequence, Sarraute’s writings have, over the years, elicited very diverse responses. Many of these have been positive. Nevertheless, other readers have regarded...

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