Theses Doctoral

The Translator's Visibility: Scenes of Translation in Contemporary Latin American Fiction

Cleary, Heather

This dissertation explores the proliferation of novels written in Latin America over the past quarter century that feature translators as protagonists, asserting that the mobilization of this figure in fiction allows contemporary writers a means to reflect on the place and shape of literature in the context of shifting paradigms of cultural production and consumption, to address the uneven distribution of cultural capital still prevalent in discussions of World Literature, and to present dynamic, reciprocal notions of creativity over and against hierarchical models of intellectual influence.
In my analysis of the metaphorical weight of the literary figure of the translator, I examine the engagement of three central tropes of translation theory in contemporary fiction, setting close readings of the corpus in the context of both the region's longstanding tradition of translation--epitomized in the last century by, but not limited to, the work of Jorge Luis Borges and Haroldo de Campos--and theories of translation and cultural exchange presented by Walter Benjamin, Jacques Derrida, Gayatri Spivak, Lawrence Venuti, and Silviano Santiago, among others. Following an introduction that situates my dissertation within the broader discussion of World Literature and early reflections on the literary representation of translators in the field of translation studies, the study's second chapter explores the metaphor of translation as reproduction in both a biological sense, as seen in Luis Fernando Verissimo's Borges e os orangotangos eternos (2000), and a biogenetic one, in the form of the conflation of cloning and translation in César Aira's El congreso de literatura (1999), to explore the extent to which these works go beyond the simple inversion of the discursive hierarchy inherent to the notion of influence to posit a non-linear model of cultural exchange. The third chapter defends what I describe as translation's right to untranslatability--a mode of translational reading grounded in the recognition of cultural specificity--as it appears in narratives centered on translation failure at the level of the cognate, those terms in which two languages would appear to be at their closest; in this analysis, I focus on Salvador Benesdra's El traductor (1998) and Alan Pauls's El Pasado (2003). The fourth chapter looks at the mobilization of the textual space of the translator's footnote in Mario Bellatin's El jardí­n de la señora Murakami (2000), in relation to precursors such as the writings of Rodolfo Walsh and Moacyr Scliar, to argue that Bellatin adopts the persona of the translator as a means of destabilizing traditional notions of authorship and originality. Finally, a coda proposes two avenues for future research: one based on an extended analysis of the topographical space occupied by the translator in these narratives, and another on the alignment of translation with new models of authorship and creativity that have emerged in the digital age.
In this way, the study both establishes a connection between Latin American cultural studies and translation theory, and expands the "fictional turn" of translation studies--which tends to analyze the narrative representation of translators in relation to the concrete realities of the practice--to include the symbolic mobilization of translation as a commentary on broader cultural dynamics.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Alonso, Carlos J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 30, 2014