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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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As written works are always deeply imbued with the ideologies and values of the society in which they are produced (Medvedev 1928), the ‘arche- typal’ postmodern text is a thoroughly fragmented and unstable entity (Eagleton 1987; Hassan 1985) which crosses generic boundaries and f louts discursive norms, calling into question the roles of the text’s participants, hybridizing and satirizing societies and cultures, and playing with notions of time and space. Similarly, the transfer of any text from one national language to another ref lects the ethos of a given period (Gentzler 2001) and approaches to this have consequently multiplied over time. Thus, if translation has always been a challenging process, it appeared to become particularly so in the late twentieth century. Not only are translators now frequently confronted with fragmented, decentred STs, so too are they operating in a climate in which a plethora of conf licting approaches to translation coexist (Gentzler 2001; Munday 2001; Venuti 2000). Against this background, Preserving Polyphonies contended that, to date, translation theory currently of fers no satisfactory response to the mul- tidimensional challenge of rerendering postmodern texts. If many theorists now recognize the impossibility of achieving complete equivalence in trans- lation and, when rerendering the fragmented, decentred postmodern text, a process of ‘rewriting’ is instead deemed more appropriate (Lefevere 1992a; 1992b), examination of a number of key concepts from some of the major phases of translation theory nevertheless suggests that such an approach may not always be the most suitable. Through both detailed investigation...

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