Women's Poetry and The Sexual Politics of Babel

Van Dyck, Karen

In this article I explore the connection between babble and Babel, two states of language which accentuate deterritorialization, that is the foreign and unempowered status of the writing or speaking subject. By babble I mean the confusion within one language usually associated with infants who have not yet mastered the language, or a Cassandra figure who has lost control of the language. By Babel I mean the confusion caused by a multitude of different languages and the problems of translation that ensue. Although the Oxford English Dictionary in its definition of "babble" reports that it cannot trace any direct connection with Babel, it does admit that "association with that may have affected the senses." In the popular imagination both babble and Babel are seen as nuisances, posing as they do the impossibility of one to one equivalencies between words and things. It is this similarity that prompts me to consider how the specific babble of recent women's poetry in Greece might provide some insights into the more general question of Babel and translation which critics from Roman Jakobson to Walter Benjamin to Jacques Derrida have analyzed. In a larger work I trace the ellipticism of recent women's poetry -- in particular Rea Galanaki's, Jenny Mastoraki's and Maria Laina’s -- back to the seven-year dictatorship which ended in 1974 (Van Dyck 1990). My hypothesis is that what began more generally as a ploy for evading censorship under the dictatorship actually became a distinguishing feature of women's poetry after the regime's fall. While most poets, with the lifting of censorship, assumed that poetry could speak clearly again and say what it meant, women poets continued to write poetry that was difficult to decipher. This babble, initially marginalized, or doubly marginalized, if we consider modern Greek literature's own marginal status in relation to other major literatures, has, in the 1980s, slowly begun to gain recognition as a viable alternative writing style. Let us first examine how women's poetry turned its minor status into an empowering strategy of resistance, and then what its various styles of deterritorialization might teach us about translation more generally.

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Journal of Modern Greek Studies

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The Johns Hopkins University Press
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July 9, 2015