Presentation Notes & DQs : Louise von Flotow

Dis-Unity and Diversity

Feminist Approaches to Translation Studies

By Louise von Flotow



  • Feminist Translation Studies as a contemporary discipline
    • Cross cultural nature of TS
    • **Have you encountered this work before, if so, where? What fashion was it discussed…academic journal, literary theory, research, etc.?
  • Her essay looks at the contextual and cultural differences that are obtained between participating translations/scholars
  • Factors:
    • Identitypolitics
    • Positionality
    • Historicity **(Nietzsche)
      • Issues of value judgements
    • FOCUS
      • Dis-unity
      • Diversity
      • Complexity
        • PRODUCTIVE
      • Unity


 Introduction 2

  • Feminist work is diversifying
    • Attempting to confront gender difference barriers, stereotypes, and assumptions
  • Alice Parker
    • Polysexual and Multigendered approaches to translation
    • She writes about lesbian translation
  • Survival Strategy
    • Appreciation of diversity
      • “Survival depends on a nonreductive appreciation of diversity and complexity that cluster around two poles: responsibility (the ability to respond), and desirability (the ability to desire)”
    • **There needs to be more talk about diversity in order to develop ways to appreciate the complexity of diversity. It is not a subject that should be casted off as unimportant, instead it should be “enlarged”. You have to have the RESPONSIBILITY or action to discuss and confront the problems, along with the DESIRABILITY or willingness to talk about the subject.
  • Criticism of diversity also needed
  • Diversity + Complexity
    • Productive progress – in response to “responsive and desiring criticism”
      • **Thus, there must be someone willing to listen and hear the criticism as well as the critic wanting to understand the other side of the story
        • What is the result if the criticism is unconstructive and does not desire to be discussed?
      • “totschweigen” (to silence to death)
      • univocity and consensus
        • People who just agree and have apathy do not take the time to understand the complexity of the situation
      • Criticism
        • Cultural or ideological conditioning
        • Academic ambition **(Translating to be heard)
        • Institutional constraints

Thesis : current diversity and dis-unity & it’s underlying state of affairs

  • Cross cultural
    • Shows the divide in social, cultural, economic and political oppression of women
      • Thus, getting rid of stereotypes
    • Feminist Thinkers use acknowledge these factors:
      • Identity politics
        • The writer/critic’s identity has an effect on their perceptions and writing
      • Positionality
        • The effect of this identity is relativized by institutional, economic, and other factors
      • Historicity
        • Perceptions/interests/topics change with the times as does identity


Disunity in feminist work: undermining consensus

  1. Mainstream English translations of third world women’s texts – for Anglophone consumption
  2. Elitist and inaccessible work which has little to do with socio-political concerns ascribed to Anglo-American feminisms
  3. Theoretical incoherence & hypocrisy in feminist translation and feminist critique of patriarchal theories


 #1 Mainstream ‘translatese’ of third world material

  • Spivak, Politics of Translation….. “translatese”
    • Rhetoricity
      • It’s lost, only want to translate in order to share texts
        • More of a task then meaningful
      • Women, from the North/West, who translate the texts want to make the voices of women from the third world countries visible.
      • However, they domesticate the texts in order to make them accessible, therefore ruining the distinction of the cross-cultural differences
    • Ex: literature of woman in Palestine resembles that of a man in Taiwan
      • No gender distinction!!!!!
    • Ruins texts
      • Trying to be “democratic with minorities”
      • Appropriation
      • Misrepresentation
      • Guilty consciences
        • Freud, translator’s unconscious
          • Wants to make writing accessible to people
            • Puts the power in hands of translator
          • Who has the power – the translator or the source author, or both?

Elitist translation

  • English translations by Quebec radical feminist Nicole Brossard
    • Deliberately feminist perspectives make the ST even more obscure
      • Privilege sound associations and extend complex word play
        • **What is von Flow suggesting here about deliberately feminist perspectives – how can this be confronted better?
  • Only benefit bilingual speakers who can understand the linguistic nuances
  • Academic “elitists”
  • French-speaking & English-speaking Canadians have inherently different political relationships to their respective languages — because of historicity
    • **Is Brossard suggesting a truth about the Whorf hypothesis?


Hypocrisy translation

  • Rosemary Arrojo
    • “hypocritical” “anxious” “theoretically incoherent”
      • by Anglophone “women and men” who apply feminist activism to translation
    • Sometimes translators
      • Assume a right to intervene in the TT to take a position on feminist activism
        • Mitigate ‘offensive terms’ – machismo or misogyny
        • Make visible the implicit feminist message
        • Implant feminist thought
      • “work faithful to ST”
        • not congruent with their feminist politics
        • therefore, theoretically incoherent
        • and anxious …. “cannot let go of fidelity-ethic”
      • “criticism of ‘male violence’”
        • hypocritical and unproductive
      • “generalized references to post-structuralist theories with which some textual interventions are justified travesties of these theories”
    • Arrojo forgets…
      • Historicity
        • Exploring women’s aggression, anger, and agency
      • Notices biases of ST author and theorists she wants to undermine
      • Forgets her own “positionality”
    • “After all, if we cannot be really faithful to the texts we translate, if we cannot avoid being faithful to our own circumstances and perspective, we should simply make an effort to accept and be open about our ‘infidelities’ and try to forget the unnecessary guilt they bring”
      • **Is it really unnecessary guilt?


Who “we” are

  • Who are “we” – women
  • Beauvoir comments on this, — women only receive what men grant to them —
    • “The reason for this is that women lack concrete means for organising themselves into a unit which can stand face to face with the correlative unit. They have no past, no history, no religion of their own; and they have no such solidarity of work and interest as that of the proletariat. They are not even promiscuously herded together in the way that creates community feeling among the American Negroes, the ghetto Jews, the workers of Saint-Denis, or the factory hands of Renault. They live dispersed among the males, attached through residence, housework, economic condition, and social standing to certain men – fathers or husbands – more firmly than they are to other women.”
  • Should we only accept our infidelities?
  • Are only women involved in this?
    • Hypocrisy?


Gillam vs. Spivak

  • Gillam
    • Wants the text made meaningful and accessible for the TC & introduce feminist’s activists
  • Spivak
    • Resists the homogenizing demands for “easy-reading” of the TC feminist reader
      • Two unlike cultures
        • Want to highlight cross-cultural differences in order to see the diversity
      • Which do you find the most productive for feminist approaches to TS?


*** Mike’s Q

 While dis-unity and diversity are desired in order to refrain from creating homogenizing women’s literature, is there a certain level of dis-unity by which women of varying cultures are unable to achieve empathy or relatedness? 

**** Becky’s Q:

 Gillam wants feminist text made meaningful and accessible for the translating culture. We have spoken often in this class about what makes a text considered to be meaningful. Some theorists believe that it is the act of translation itself that makes a text meaninful, others that the text has staying power. For Gillam, it seems that the accessibility factor is derived from the translation but the meaningfulness comes from somewhere else.

What does Gillam mean by “meaningful”? How does she propose to achieve this? Does she agree with some of the translators who believe in inserting feminist discourse into their translations?


  • Recent talk of feminist translation is due to Anglophone response or response to translations into English
  • Nobel Prize of women writers? (English to ?) (? to English)

 Feminist rewritings of the Bible


Factors motivating ‘responsible and desirable’ disunity

  • Nicole Jouve Ward
    • “No one who writes today can or should forget their race and their gender. The “I” who has written this book is white: privileged, yes, middle class, yes; and everything it has to say is limited and coloured by unconscious western European assumptions”
    • Subjectivity and positionality affect the approach of the writer


*** Laura’s Q — Mike, too

For Wards autobiographical approach to criticism in which you take into account your place in life, while I think this is helpful thing to keep in consideration while writing and looking into a piece, because you cannot escape your bias, could this also be used as excuse for any potential ‘misreadings’ or offensiveness in the work being produced?

Mike “or loss of fidelity of ST”


  • Identity politics
    • Incorporates the academic’s identity as a specific individual, with identifiable cultural/political characteristics that determine his/her insights, opinions, and prejudices
      • Spivak writes in “I”
      • Her experiences impact the way in which she translates and views translation


  • Positionality
    • Shift to “construct meaning, a perspective from which values are interpreted and constructed – differently at different time”
      • **Then, must we translate these values differently based on context? And historicity?


  • Historicity
    • Gendered subjectivity — concrete habits, practices and discourses –
      • Fluidity, as well
      • “Change with the times and with the political and institutional constellations that determine concrete opinions, real possibilities, or real obstacles”
        • Impact identity politics and positionality


*** Sophie’s Q

Considering how there are differing opinions on what feminist translation should look like, and that this is encouraged by Luise von Flotow, is it possible to claim that you are translating using feminist theory without having to explain yourself and your choices?

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