Thursday, January 05, 2006

the task of the outsider

I am reading A Place in the Sun? Women Writers in Twentieth-Century Cuba, by Catherine Davies, and enjoying it very much. Here is a lovely quote from her introduction to the book, where she describes having tea first with Dulce María Loynaz and then with Nancy Morejón. I found myself marking up this passage, which is relevant for all translators:

The task of the outsider is to make connections between these apparently heterogeneous spaces without reducing the complex cultural map to a monochromatic transparency.

This book is about opening windows on to interior spaces: the inner spaces of women's lives, offices and homes but also the inside pages of their books. The greatest homage a critic can pay to a writer is to open her book and read her work attentively, to enter not only the shade of the living space to take tea, but to enter the ofen unvisited, unread world in the book. To read literature seriously means to tread carefully, to avoid the obvious. My aim is to enter into dialogue with the texts to which I had access, to examine their multiple layers of meaning, to communicate their discursive universes to other readers, to create ripples. It is, perhaps, the greatest and riskiest form of cooperation with a writer. I invite readers to open these windows and look through them with me. The woman writer may be surprised at what I see between the casing of her book. Where she sees patriotism I see sex; where she sees love I see horror; where she sees God I see mother. She sees animals, I see woman, she sees revolt, I see conformity; she sees sex, I see revolt.

This is so exactly how I feel, and what I aspire to as a reader, critic, and translator! How beautifully expressed! So relevant to the work I'm doing of re-evaluating and interpreting and translating! As I typed this passage a few weeks ago, I felt that it was the embodiment of the practice of feminist scholarship in a book by Liz Stanley and Sue Wise, Breaking out: Feminist consciousness and feminist research, and also in various books by Dale Spender which advocate direct dialogue with the subject of scholarship/research/literary criticism whenever it's possible. In other words, conversation, with all its risks, is key to taking apart the offensive pose of objectivity...

Then, just now as I looked at the back of Davies' book, I realized she's at University of Manchester, where Stanley and Wise also work or worked. Hell, they probably know each other. I don't know how to explain it, but this realization made me laugh at myself... as I realized yet again they are real people who talk to each other; which further made me think "And I could write to them, or call them up; the conversation continues, and... can include me. I can not just cite this book in my humble book; I can ask, and respond, and get responses in return." Which was a happy and freeing thought and one I am still not used to, in part because most of the poets I translate are dead and don't talk back.

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