Nancy Huston in Self-translation. An Aesthetics of Redoublement.

Falceri, Giorgia (2017) Nancy Huston in Self-translation. An Aesthetics of Redoublement. PhD thesis, University of Trento.

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Self-translation is a fairly recent branch of studies. Despite its existence as a literary and linguistic phenomenon was proved to date back to ancient times, its practice in the globalized Twentieth Century has lately led scholars (concurrently with the cultural turn in translation studies) to delimit and deepen a field of enquiry that is transdisciplinary in nature, its focus being on multilingual writers who translate their literary works themselves. The phenomenology of self-translation depends on a variety of factors: the type of bilingualism of writers; the geo-political and social standing of the languages involved in their production; the literary traditions they combine; the scopes and consequent strategies for self-translation, etc. As a worldwide phenomenon, thus, self-translation is far from being satisfyingly mapped. For this reason, exhaustively investigated case studies are still needed as a preliminary step for further research leading to universal considerations. Nancy Huston is a prolific bilingual author of both fiction and non-fiction writing, born in Anglophone Canada but living in France since the early Seventies. While secondary bibliography exploring single couples of her self-translated texts presently covers a good deal of her novels, a comparative analysis of the evolution of this practice on a vast span of time was still missing. The aim of the present thesis is precisely to provide such analysis on a selection of Huston’s novels from Plainsong / Cantique des plaines (1993) to Danse noire (2013)/ Black Dance (2014). The thesis is subdivided in two main parts, each of three chapters. Chapter I provides an heuristic overview of self-translation, reporting the most influential bibliographical material that has focused, in turn, on: the theoretical debate ignited by self-translation around the dichotomic relation between ‘originals’ and ‘translations’; the existing typologies of self-translated text; the history of this practice over the centuries; its sociolinguistic assumptions and aftermaths; a short overview of scholars that discourage the thinking of self-translation as a category with its own autonomous epistemology. The last section of the chapter, instead, is devoted to presenting the theoretical and methodological devices that enabled a comparative reading of Huston’s self-translated versions. Jan Hokenson and Marcella Munson’s focus on self-translated versions as a single bilingual text, Marilyn Gaddis Rose’s stereoscopic reading, Anton Fedorov’s functional equivalence and the self-translation categories of Michaël Oustinoff set the basis to analyse Huston’s self-translations (published as autonomous texts) as ‘twin texts’ alongside a chronological axis of development of her aesthetics. Being often described by its performers as a physically and psychologically fatiguing enterprise, self-translation is usually engendered by profound intimate motivations. For this reason, Chapter II is devoted to investigate those motivations in Nancy Huston’s biography. As it is typical of the post-modern, hyper-self-aware writer, Huston has imbued her fiction and non-fiction writing with self-portrayals recounting her childhood in Calgary (e.g., Nord perdu (1999)/Losing North; Longings and Belongings. Toronto: McArthur and Co., 2005); her adolescence in the U.S.A, and the life-changing decision to move to Paris for a Junior Year abroad that actually never came to an end. Tutored by Roland Barthes at the École de Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Huston became a writer in the French language: first as an essayist for feminist reviews, then, after publishing her thesis (Dire et interdire, éléments de jurologie; Paris: Payot, 1980) and after her marriage with Tzvetan Todorov in 1980, by launching into fictional writer with a debut novel Les Variations Goldberg, that Gérard Genette defines a “petit chef d'oeuvre.” For the following ten years, Huston carries on publishing in French two novels (Histoire d’Omaya. Paris: Seuil, 1985 and Trois fois septembre. Paris: Seuil, 1989), as well as intimist correspondence and essay: Lettres parisiennes. Autopsie de l’exil (Paris: J’ai lu, 1987) and Journal de la création. (Paris: Seuil, 1990). Especially in these latter works, reflections on her ‘voluntary exile’, ‘false bilingualism’ and the revolutionary discovery of motherhood abound. Together with a neurological illness and a psychological crisis in 1986/87, experiencing motherhood and facing the choice of which mother-language to teach to her own daughter, urged Huston to analyse her choice to hibernate into the French language and culture, reaching the conclusion that – although up to a point this language had endowed her with freedom and inspiration – she should nonetheless make an effort to repair the break with her native tongue. English was connected to a traumatic childhood experience: when Nancy was six her parents split up and her mother left the family. Chapter III analyses in-depth the unfolding of Huston’s reasoning on her two languages and the different place they occupy in her mind and in her writing, focusing especially on the first novel she wrote in English (Plainsong) which is incidentally also the first she chose to self-translate and the first one where Canada is recognized as a constitutional element of her identity as a writer. Expatriation and bilingualism ineluctably call for a question and redefinition of a personal sense of identity. Rather than being restricted into non-fictional writing, these phenomena are transformed into literary themes and become an essential features of her novels (in the form of varying motifs). Concurrently, the act of self-translation becomes a compulsory step in her literary aesthetics: « Il y a deux versions de tous mes romans […] pour moi c’est important qu’il ne manque pas une page ou un paragraphe et que l’éditeur américain approuve ce que l’éditeur français approuve et inversement. Je tiens à ce que les deux versions soient identiques dans la mesure du possible. » The purpose of the Second Part of the thesis is essentially to test this declaration of translating poetics. After having preliminarily compared all the couples of self-translated works, four text where selected that varied significantly for their linguistic genesis and the way in which they were self-translated – but shared the thematic explorations fuelled by Huston’s own bilingual and expatriate standpoint. Hence, Chapter IV illustrates a comparative reading of the novels L’empreinte de l’ange (Arles: Actes Sud, 1998) – first written entirely in French and subsequently self-translated into English as The Mark of the Angel (London: Vintage, 2000). This ‘doxal’ translation exemplifies Huston’s research for equivalence: a balanced care to maintain the prosodic rhythm, the wordplays, the images of the first version whenever possible, and to compensate for those elements that are inevitably lost due to the intrinsic features of each language. In Chapter V, two differently bilingual works are analysed that show how self-translation can be exploited as a creative literary device. The first draft of what later became Instruments of Darkness (Toronto: Little, Brown and Co., 1997) and Instruments des ténèbres (Arles: Actes Sud: 1996) was written alternating chapters in English with an equivalent number of chapters in French. Limbes/Limbo. Un hommage à Samuel Beckett (Arles: Actes Sud, 2000), instead, is a side-by-side edition of two monolingual texts resulting from a bilingual pastiche inspired to Beckett’s writing style and literary poetics. The mutual influence of the two linguistic systems is evident on different textual levels: the prosodic rhythm and the diffused isomorphisms bear witness of an aesthetics of translation aimed at privileging the phonetic body of the text. Chapter VI takes into consideration one the latest twin novels by Huston, Black dance and Danse noire. Symmetrically to the first novel, the first draft was the English one (since part of the novel is set in Montreal); however, a great deal of dialogues were written in Quebec French. The double self-translation resulted in very asymmetrical products. While the Standard English text published in the U.S.A displays only few scattered interferences of the French language, the version whose narrative language is Standard French depicts a richly multilingual panorama, with interjections in German, Portuguese, Quebec French, and local varieties of English. The conclusive remarks are tripartite, focusing in turn on the texts, on the author, and on the wider picture of self-translation in global literature. From a thematic perspective, the novels share an extensive use of polyphony, the constant presence of music, multicultural sets of characters. From a translational perspective, the most evident feature is a constant attention to “phonetical rubbings and rhymings” of each language and for creating equivalent musical patterns in translation. Comparison showed, though, that strategies of self-translation are negotiated from context to context and from text to text, even within the corpus of a single author. As regards the author, self-translation can be read as an aesthetic device for healing the author’s linguistically and culturally fragmented identity: the literary corpus in fact physically redoubles (either from French to English or from English to French), thus fulfilling the fantasy of the other self in the paper, if not in the flesh. In the framework of current research on global literature, eventually, self-translation posits as a practice that overcomes national boundaries and is part of a larger ethical calling.

Item Type:Doctoral Thesis (PhD)
Doctoral School:Humanities
PhD Cycle:29
Subjects:Area 10 - Scienze dell'antichità, filologico-letterarie e storico-artistiche > L-LIN/12 LINGUA E TRADUZIONE - LINGUA INGLESE
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