Louise von Flotow – Sacrificing Sense to Sound

*my comments 

Suzanne Jill Levine describes wordplay as “puns”

These “puns” :

  • they place sound above meaning and yet have a semantic bond between the words!
  • Even though there is a focus on sound, there is still a network of signifiers!

Women’s writing of 1970s-80s

  • wordplay to “undermine assumptions of meaningfulness in more conventional language.”
  • “the complicity that wordplay creates a willing reader and the text is extremely difficult to reproduce in translation”
    • the reader gives the wordplay meaning, and interprets sound differently
  • Von Flotow
    • examined strategies of supplementation and exploitation for wordplay
      • Berman’s deforming tendencies
    • Ex: feminist wordplay in German by Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology
      • “difficulty in the differing political contexts: German readers interested in such material were viewed as lagging behind”
      • translation with pedagogical agenda
      • copious footnotes
    • Ex: Michelle Bourse, French translation of Agua Viva
      • musicality of words, forms, juxtapositions
        • these express what has so far remained inexpressible
      • need a “mimesis” , “imitation” or Bourjea terms “imitation phonétique”
      • The TT reproduces and/or riffs the sound of the ST
  • Nicole Brossard
    • describes women’s difficult access to and position with conventional language
    • “chats pitres tristement” & “chapitres”

Mimetic Translation

  • paronomasia – wordplay
  • Translators of experimental women’s writing resort occasionally to mimetic translation
    • Levine sees this as the most radical
  • Worries that it’s focused on individual words rather than the lexicon as a whole
  • favors graphic and phonetic aspects of ST & does not focus on semantic meaning
  • BERMAN: enrichment of ST – because the translation sounds foreign.
    • experience foreign in their own language
  • Valesio
    • deformation of semantic content
      • creates interlinguistic paronomasias, wordplay across languages
        • Ex: Catullus’ poem by Celia and Louis Zukovsky
          • justify by interpretation
  • Who wants to read children’s nursery rhymes with footnotes?

The “Sonorous Plot” of Feminist Writing and Mimetic Translation

  • Discussion about translation and experimental writing
  • four anglophone francophile women academics, writers, and translators
  • their texts were “easier to listen to than read”
  • bringing French Quebec writers to English speaking Canada
    • sound as sense
    • with difficult material, it was suddenly not difficult because of the “sense as sound”
  • Godard
    • “ventriloquist translation”
    • translator visibility ”
  • La tentation
    • follows ST closely
    • no attempt to explicate
    • sound where meaning was impossible without
  • “Sonorous Plot”
    • ascribed to Nicole Brossard
    • described as a “weave that is created when “one phoneme leads by homophony to the next” and “the sound of words, not their syntax, make the textual connections.”
    • little room for interpretation based on sound!!!! (emphasizing certain words – brings about certain meanings)
  • Brossard’s use of the feminine possessive pronoun
    • “ma” after “espace” : “l’espace (ma)/ parmi tous les âges, les rides/versatiles de la femme inattendue”
    • women taking over the masculine space for feminine use
    • translation to repeat sound points to cultural reference

Challenge of reading mimetic translations

  • Reading experience different when you know the meaningfulness of the texts already
  • no ST “communicative value” for some feminist texts in Canada
  • Texts with “deliberate mis-translation”
    • foreignizing of syntax and semantics
    • ELITIST TRANSLATIONS – academic elitist

Presentation & DQs : Translation of Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”

Toril Moi

“While We Wait: The English Translation of The Second Sex”

  • Margret Simon’s critique of the translation by H.M. Parshley
  • NEED for new translation
    • Increase in reading of Beauvoir and feminist theory
  • The Second Sex, almost 1000 pages long
    • English translation have omissions and mistakes on every page


Knopf – hardback

Vintage – paperback

(both of Random House)

= knew of the problems since the early 1980’s… “The Second Sex” was published in 1949, first translated in 1953 by Parshley

Essay by Elizabeth Fallaize

The Translation

  • Damaging to Beauvoir’s intellectual reputation
  • Difficult to discover what Beauvoir actually thought about important feminist issues

Cuts and Omissions

  • Parshley wanted to omit the equivalent of 145 pages from the original two volume 972 pg French edition — 15% of the text
  • “translated and edited by Parshley”
    • “edited” missing in 1953 edition

History of Women

  • cut 78 women’s names and eradicated just about every reference to socialist feminism
  • Middle Ages section left with a 1/3 of the original length
  • Cut descriptions of women’s oppression and anger, while keeping intact references to men’s feelings
    • #1


  • 35 pages, ½ of chapter on “The Married Woman” was cut by P.
  • removes quotations from French sources while occasionally expanding B’s references to American culture
  • eliminates her copious literary references
  • !!!!! comes across as B’s opinion rather than a well-supported analysis of a specific historical and cultural situation




  • cuts Virginia Woolf, no mention of her
  • not ideologically innocent

Moi on Eleven pages of Housework

  • seven quotations of different people
  • none are in translation

Beauvoir discusses Hegel’s analysis of marriage

            **Parshley’s translation is a summary of a quotation from Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

  • Which covers over half a page is B’s text
  • B did not write this, neither did Hegel
    • #2


#3 Existentialist vocabulary

  • Authentique
    • Carried out in good faith, not trying to deny freedom and responsibilities
    • “inauthentic”
  • The text analyzes the way in which sexist society tells women to be “inauthentic”
  • Translating that word as “genuine” “real” “true” turns her “questions about women’s freedom into moralizing sentimentality” (IN TEXT)


Four points on page 1014

  1. Beauvoir’s existence, Parshley’s essence
    1. “existence precedes essence”
      1. women are made, not born
      2. “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
  1. Subjectivity
    1. Sujet
      1. Sometimes “subject”
      2. Theory goes out the window
  1. Hiding Hegel
    1. Unaware of references to Hegel
    2. “poser” – ordinary French verb
      1. B uses it where she speaks of the subject (either a person or a group)
        1. “positing itself”
          1. Hegel’s development of the self-conscious subjectivity in the master-slave dialectic
        2. Never translates “poser” philosophically
          1. “regards”
          2. “assumes”
  • “stand face to face with”
  1. “readily volunteer to become”
  1. Alienation alienated
    1. aliénation – used in terms of Lacan and Hegel
    2. as “projection”
      1. footnote to Lacan
        1. question her understanding of Lacan

Traduced by translation

  • First example of transgender people


Letter to the Publishers

  • Responses from Knopf and Vintage
    • Answers 3 months later saying…
    • Parshley never translated French… his hermeneutic motion “” (1030-1031)
    • Beauvoir’s thoughts on book “”
      • Her thoughts after reading Simons’ essay (1032)

Presentation Notes & DQs : Louise von Flotow

Dis-Unity and Diversity

Feminist Approaches to Translation Studies

By Louise von Flotow

LINK TO PPT: https://docs.google.com/a/bucknell.edu/presentation/d/1mo06gZTBPvVJqa1SMT2hfg5JVyQf31sIFTuwmkW1Lws/edit?usp=sharing


  • 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?

Venuti – The Difference that Translation Makes

*my comments

“The Translator’s unconscious”

William Weaver

  • translating as an unreflective process
  • translator’s choices are “unconscious”
  • many choices are linguistic and cultural values
  • rules of translation process as unconscious too

The irreducible differences in translation

  • There are differences in ST & TT before a translator translates
  • Goal for Translation Studies: ultimately ethical one of developing a practice that describes, explains, and takes responsibility for the differences that translation inevitably makes

Derrida’s body of the ST

  • To relinquish materiality – that is the driving force of translation
  • translation creates another signifying chain proliferates semantic possibilities
  • translation as recontextualizing (domestication)

compensation – A translator may decide to vary the form and meaning of ST because the differences are so prominent and do not occur at the same points in the ST

  • a remainder may be unconscious on translator’s part, but highly significant in relation to the ST and the target culture
  • Bass’s misconstrue of the passive and active voices
    • meaning is still retained
    • why the error?
      • it reveals what we can call the “translator’s dream” that a translation will restore the ST in it entirety, in its materiality, without loss or gain, that the translation will establish such a similarity to the ST as to overcome the irreducible differences between languages and cultures”
  • The translator’s unconscious can emerge through variations on linguistic and discursive structures through a remainder


Neruda’s poem translated by Walsh

  • close to Spanish
  • standard dialect of English
  • Walsh wanted to be insignificant during translation process
  • his practice/translation contradicts his intention

(Missing pages on Walsh’s translation of Neruda)

The unconscious motivation of false cognates

  • False cognates can potentially show a slip or desire in the translator’s unconscious
  • False cognate – a translating-language word that closely resembles a source-language word in form, often because of a shared etymology, but that nonetheless signifies a very differentt meaning between the two languages that have undergone different historical developments
  • Usually unexperienced translators make this mistake

(Missing pages on false cognates)

The Translator, the Name-of-the-Father, and the Mother Tongue

  • Oedipal Triangle
    • lies at heart of Freudian psychoanalysis
    • For Lacan, “Name-of-the-Father” is used to designate the symbolic function that the father comes to assume in the chain of signifiers constitutive of the subject
  • Translator is placed between
    1. the Name-of-the-Father in the form of a source author and text
    2. the mother tongue and the translation produced in it
  • Law of translation is the source author and text
  • The translating process may reveal the translator’s repressed desire to challenge the source authority by releasing an unconscious remainder
    • How much of a translation do we make our own unconsciously because we, the translators, want to be visible?

Some Conclusions

  • Similarity in translation
    • between ST & TT
    • between TT & values in target culture
  • the irreducible differences in translation motivate the reductive search for such similarities, even with hoping to show the differences
    • Advocating for foreignization strategy
  • A cause of irreducible differences in translation is the translator’s unconscious
  • Is there a difference between the male and female translator’s unconscious?