Just one week until our conference – here’s the details!

Translating Feminism


In just one week our conference will take place at Glasgow Women’s Library.  Thursday’s first  panel considers ‘Rescripting Gender: Translating Between and Among Writing and Cultural Systems’ and this is followed by our second panel discussing themes relating to ‘Translating the Reproductive Body’. The last panel of the day speaks on ‘Feminist Creativity through Poetry’. After Thursday’s conference a knowledge exchange workshop will take place – all conference attendees are welcome to attend.


Rescripting Gender: Translating Between and Among Writing

SPEAKER 1. Ruth Abou Rached, University of Manchester, UK

Gendered activism in transit: the Arabic feminine re/scripted in and by English translation


Written Modern Standard Arabic has two gendered characteristics: the first, as a language of public discourse and faith, it is considered sacrosanct and second, it can in turn cipher and over-write all forms of spoken Arabic while not being anyone’s mother tongue. As the past singular masculine is considered the “root” of most words in Arabic, this means the singular generic masculine appears to grammatically and socio-linguistically underpin and construct how Arabic-speakers articulate and express themselves within the public sphere. As a written script, however Arabic denotes the feminine in the public sphere as distinct from the masculine root in singular, dual and plural forms of address. In other words, while the generic masculine is often used in Modern Standard Arabic to refer to mixed gender groups, the possibility for distinct feminine presence is ever present, a potential used to great political effect by women writers and translators working with Arabic in different language settings. In this paper, I explore how two women’s engagements with the Arabic feminine address have become literally re-scripted in and by English translation. I first discuss why Muslim scholar Laleh Bakhtiari’s “literal” transliteration of the Arabic feminine into the English version of the Holy Quran resulted in a fatwa and counter-fatwa from Muslim community leaders in North America – despite her clearly articulated politics of being “faithful” to the original (gendered) Arabic version. The second example is how Iraqi writer Alia Mamdouh’s overt use of the Arabic generic feminine alongside Modern Standard Arabic to re/construct women-centred realities in her novels challenges and defies (English) translation. The aim of my paper is: one, to shed light on how the overtly gender-marked characteristics of Arabic as a public and “scripted” language has been exploited by women in different geo-political patriarchal contexts and two, to invite engagement and debate on how intersectional feminist translation analysis is useful to analyse how activist writing in differently gendered scripts shift and move in translation.


SPEAKER 2. Julia C. Bullock, Emory University, United States

Feminist Translation and Its Discontents: Translation Strategies in the 1997 Japanese Version of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex


The Japanese language poses a unique set of challenges for the feminist translator. The complexity of the written language, which is a composite of four separate scripts—three phonographic (hiragana, katakana and Roman lettering) and one ideographic (Chinese characters)—often produces a text that is at war with itself, literally sending mixed messages through a layering of meanings that frequently conflict with one another. The meanings inherent in Chinese characters remain, but are overlaid or challenged by significations that are specifically Japanese. The translator must also cope with a host of everyday vocabulary words associated with women’s bodies, experiences, and culturally embedded roles that are overwhelmingly negative in implication because of their ideographic associations. This paper explores the aforementioned challenges through analysis of an avowedly feminist translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex that was produced by a team of female translators over a period of ten years and published in 1997. Their work was informed by a desire to rectify what they saw as an erroneous or misleading previous translation by a male scholar of French literature in the early 1950s, which they argued resulted in generations of Japanese women failing to appreciate the relevance of Beauvoir’s feminist message for their own lives. I will discuss the consequences, both positive and negative, of their deliberately activist approach to translation, with particular attention to the linguistic and cultural challenges they faced in improving upon this earlier, “problematic” translation of Beauvoir’s work.


Translating the Reproductive Body

SPEAKER 2.  Maud Bracke, Uniersity of Glasgow, United Kingdom 

Liberating the reproductive body: Luciana Percovich and the translation of the sexed self (1970s-80s)


Active in the Milanese feminist movement of the 1970s-80s, and specifically in women’s writing initiatives (Libreria delle donne, Via Dogana) and women’s health groups (Gruppo per una medicina della donna), Luciana Percovich can be considered a key figure of European ‘second-wave’ feminism. Her biography – with a family background in Russia and France and her own travels to the UK for studies and to West Germany for social activism among Italian immigrants – offers insight into the processes of re-signification, across linguistic and cultural context, of embodied experiences and how these gain political meaning.  The paper focuses on a theme that has been central to feminist thought since the 1970s: the ways in which a renewed relationship with one’s body can, through original self-expression, subvert patriarchal language and create new languages and insights. This is analysed in relation to Percovich’s writings, her translations (of, among others, texts by Barbra Ehrenreich and Deirdre English and Evelyn Fox Keller) and her grassroots activism in self-managed women’s clinics. Much of Percovich’s work centred on how women might re-appropriate their reproductive bodies – a key issue in 1970s feminism in Italy and beyond. She understood the full re-appropriation of the reproductive body, and the reclaiming of autonomy with regard to choices around whether, when and in what circumstances to have children, as central to wider processes of gendered liberation. It is argued that Percovich’s thinking between and through different languages contributed in significant ways to her ability to articulate a new sense of self for women, and that she did this, centrally, by importing narratives of the body from one language to another.  The analysis is based on interviews by the author with Percovich and Silvia Tozzi (a fellow activist in the feminist health movement), Percovich’s articles from the 1970s-80s, and her source-based memoir of the feminist health movement in 1970s Italy (Percovich, La coscienza nel corpo: Donne, salute e medicina negli anni settanta (Milan: FrancoAngeli, 2005)).


SPEAKER 3. Ursula Hurley and Szilvia Naray-Davey, University of Salford, United Kingdom

She would give birth to a child again. But not for him. Just by him. Decolonising the reproductive body via co-translation of Anna T. Szabó’s short fiction


We offer a practice-based account of a collaborative feminist interlingual translation project, in which we reflect critically upon our efforts to relocate contemporary Hungarian short fiction by women into UK English. The focus of this account is Anna T. Szabó’s short story, “Moon and Palm”. We engage Eve Ellen Frank’s concept of literary architecture to “unbuild” the Hungarian text into English. Through this process of unbuilding we aim to evolve feminist translation practices which decolonise in various ways. At the level of plot and character, Szabó’s story narrates a young Hungarian woman’s experiences as she conceives and then gives up a child to a visiting American professor. The child loses her mother tongue along with her birth mother, becoming estranged from maternal language, territory, and ties, as she is appropriated by the Anglophone Western elite. On a visit to her estranged daughter, in the space of the coloniser, the protagonist reclaims her agency via an elemental epiphany. She returns to Hungary to continue a relationship with a “blue-collar” Hungarian man, and to reclaim her maternal role. The bodily territories of the source text are complex. How might we first understand and then honour them in the target language? How might we help readers in the dominant Anglophone context to access the experience of a protagonist whose language and territory have been colonised in so many ways? In particular, how do we negotiate the specific challenges of Hungarian, with its non-gendered grammar and its “other” literary heritages? While we do not claim to have found the answers, we offer our findings to date.


Feminist Creativity through Poetry

SPEAKER 1. Sarah Valle Camargo, University of São Paulo, Brazil 

Translating Adrienne Rich to Brazilian Portuguese: the recreation of rhythmic ambivalence as a revision of the tradition


This communication’s purpose is to present some considerations about the translation of Adrienne Rich’s set of poems Twenty-One Love Poems (1929-2012), incorporated in The Dream of a Common Language (1974-1977), to Brazilian Portuguese. Based on Alice Templeton’s critic, we aim to explore the notion of dialogue as well as the critical review of the love sonnets’ tradition performed by this sequence of lesbian poems, perhaps the first one written by a major North American poet and her first work to address the theme openly. This paper outlines examples of strategies used in the poems’ translation, resultant of my yet unpublished master’s research, used to recreate rhetorical-formal traits such as rhythmic ambivalence and “anti-aesthetic” features. Formal traits such as these matter in the translation process once they are implied in the act of “re-vision” of the tradition. They reiterate the challenge faced by Rich in the search for a feminist language in confrontation with the masculine canon, as she reworks classic poetic forms from another perspective, looking for the “dream of a common language”, that would align the poetic and the political aspects. In this act of translation we deal not only with the recreation of traditional portuguese verse forms, but with the notion of “tradition” transposed to a social-political context where worldwide female authors are finally brought to light and published and women’s studies and feminist translation studies start to flourish with more strengh. The unearthing of Adrienne Rich’s work in Brazil is now in course due to the efforts of small and independent publishers in a movement to unveil lesbian literature and give it prominence, nationally and internationally, since this literary tradition has been almost completely obliterated by translators and editors in the last decades. Thus, I present a translation poetics with a critical view of Rich’s “second wave” feminism brough to the current reality of a country with its own decolonial academic struggles. The communication approaches the work of translation theorists Haroldo de Campos, Mário Laranjeira, Paulo H. Britto, Derek Attridge, Mona Baker, Myriam Diaz-Diocaretz, Lori Chamberlain and Olga Castro.


SPEAKER 2.  Melissa Tanti, McMaster University,  Canada

The Translating Subject: Feminist Knowledge Production in Multilingual Literary Works


This work is from a larger manuscript called The Translating Subject: Tracing the History of a North American Feminist Literary Avant-garde, which looks at the emergence of multilingualism as a literary aesthetic within writing communities across the Canadian-American border in the 1980s to the present. This paper examines multilingualism in the work of Canadian poet Erín Moure with particular attention to its effects on the reader who alternately revels in and grapples with translating the texts’ ultimate incomprehensibility. Multilingualism is a trend that has emerged within women’s writing in the last thirty years as a strategy that permits the post-colonial writer to resist discursive colonization, as well as a way for many women to express bi-cultural identity through bilingual writing and what Evelyn Nien-Ming Ch’ien calls “weird English.” Moure writes in multiple non-English languages as part of a queer feminist knowledge project that challenges the dominance of English as a lingua franca and in so doing creates estrangement with the Western Humanistic philosophical systems upheld therein. Moure uses multilingualism as a way to access bodily knowledge by moving away from the primacy of sight on which the written word relies, encouraging the use of tongue, ears, glottis, throat, lips, breath and body as the reader wraps her mouth around unfamiliar sounds for which Moure provides a glossary only in the first book of the Elisa Sampedrín series. The level of difficulty progresses as the texts move from trilingual with glossary in the first book, Little Theatres, to multilingual in O Resplandor and The Umemntioable with no aids in either of these two final books. Her multilingual texts introduce sense-making apparatuses that revalue the body — admonished in Platonic and then humanistic privileging of intellect over the senses – to produce a non-assimilable language that defies the western rationalist impulse to mastery. Per the back cover of Little Theatres, “Moure’s poems beckon new sounds, droplets, as if they would help us open to the other without admonishment, so that we might bear our tongues again: agasallo, cortesia, pataca, amor.”

Images of Power and Cartography of the Invisible: Carmela García’s (in)Visible Women at the IVAM in Valencia, June 2017

Alessia Zinnari has written a guest post about a wonderful feminist art exhibition that she visited in Valencia. Read on to find out more, and there are links at the bottom if want to delve deeper into the fascinating world of Carmela García.

When I visited the IVAM (Valencian Institute of Modern Art) last month, I was lucky enough to catch photographer Carmela García’s (Lanzarote, 1964) exhibition. Once confronted with the material on display, I couldn’t help but think of Translating Feminism. The title of this inspiring and thought-provoking exhibition is ‘Images of Power – Cartography of the Invisible’, and combines two projects completed by García in 2017: ‘Imágenes de(l) poder’ and ‘Cartografía de lo invisible.’ The exhibition forms part of a broader focus on the urban space and living the city, the theme chosen by the Institute of Modern Art for this summer’s exhibitions.

Images of Power/Cartography is a feminist photographer’s map of the invisible, a map created and populated by women and their lives: not only a topographical map, then, but also an historical and a social one, which keeps track of these amazing women’s struggle to live, to be valued and to leave a mark in history. ‘A map that ceases to be a more or less objective instrument and becomes a cultural artefact for the construction of identity and new imaginative worlds which places the central focus on what is excluded by the hegemonic culture.’ – as the museum’s leaflet explains. García tells us stories of powerful humans that, for many reasons, have remained hidden in history, and she reminds us that each and every one of us has a contribution to give to the world, and that everyone can be iconic in their own special way.

García’s lens is empowering in its portrayal of modern women heroes; the photographer is incredibly aware of the energy that her subjects emanate, and she frames forceful images in which these women occupy the centre of the photograph, while immersed in their native landscapes – different areas of the city. Some are individual portraits, but the majority are group portraits that convey the importance and the strength of community, as well as its picturesque beauty. Even though only one picture portrays a group of musicians (the batucada feminist band Tiakatú), the pose of some women in the group compositions recall that of rock bands, in a voluntary process of systematic iconification of the subjects captured on camera. Even though seemingly fixed in time and space, these subjects hold within their eyes the untamed fire of a constant dynamism, which finds its maximum expression in the pictures that deal most explicitly with feminist and political activism. To accompany these Images of Power are the documents and pictures of the Cartography of the Invisible project; a collection of precious material such as pictures of protests, of feminist meetings, of writers, artists, poets, activists, sisters, women. I am unfortunately unaware of whether this is a private collection of the photographer or if these are images and documents taken from an archive, but what I am sure about is that I struggled to contain my excitement when I saw that one of the documents of the collection was a map of ‘espacios’, spaces of and for female expression, which included the feminist antifascist magazine, Revista Pasionaria.

In a video interview made to introduce her exhibition, Carmela García explains how her intention is to portray, ‘real women. With no pose, who are just being themselves…mujeres de verdad.’ She also confirms that she worked on the idea of ‘collective as a modus operandi,’ and she associated these reflections and personal histories with the city of Valencia. The entire project is inspired by and constitutes an homage to the living memory of the communist militant Alejandra Soler, hija predilecta (honorary citizen) of Valencia, whose presence could almost be felt in that room. García majestically manages to fulfil her intention of re-naming and re-mapping the space of the city through a feminist, activist and artistic lens, in ‘a poetic construction of a cartographic account that is situated between reality and the fiction of another reality in which women take their place as major subjects of knowledge and understanding.’

You can find more information on García’s fascinating and empowering projects at her website: http://www.carmelagarcia.com/es.

At this link you’ll find more info on the exhibition at IVAM, which will be on until September 17, 2017: https://www.ivam.es/en/exposiciones/carmela-garcia/.