English as a Literature in Translation.
Fiona J. Doloughan's new study is an examination of contemporary novels in English through the prism of translation. Taking her departure in the translational turn in Humanities, Steven G. Kellman's influential concept of literary translingualism, and English's role as a lingua franca for non-native speakers worldwide, Doloughan sets out to discover how writers who have found English as opposed to having been born into it (e.g., Eva Hoffman, Ariel Dorfman, Xiaolu Guo) and bilingual writers or writers for whom a non-standard variety of English is the starting point (Gloria Anzaldua, Sandra Cisneros, James Kelman) are changing the expression of literature in English.
Doloughan's interest lies with what she coins as "narratives of translation," that is, "works that thematize, narrativize and/or are structured around, questions of language, cultural identity and what it means to translate oneself or one's culture" (79). The main focus of the study is not primarily the way the examined writers are changing the English literary language of today's globalized world; rather, it is the thematic aspects that dominate--that is, how experiences of switching languages and/or moving through cultures are expressed in the chosen works.
It is an optimistic narrative Doloughan is writing. She wants "to suggest that the prototypical notion of language as loss, and translation of self and other as a predominantly painful and traumatic experience, have given way to a greater sense of what is to be gained, both at the individual and societal levels, through access to different languages and cultures" (1). She regards this development as correlating with a more positive understanding of bi- and multilingualism in linguistic research as well as in society.
While literary multilingualism undoubtedly is a vehicle for renewing literary expression, a question already extensively explored in literary scholarship (e.g., Doris Sommer's Bilingual Aesthetics from 2004 and Hana Wirth-Nesher's Call It English: The Languages of Jewish American Literature from 2006, just to mention a couple of works), the narrative of "from loss to gain" is problematic. Firstly, the chronology of the chosen works contradicts it. The most radical argument for linguistic and cultural hybridity as gain, not loss in the study, Anzaldiia's classic Borderlands/La Frontera from 1987, is actually the oldest of the works, preceding Hoffman's story of language learning as the loss of another language in Lost in Translation (1989) by two years. It also precedes, by over a decade, Ariel Dorfman's memoirs with their eroticization of language ties in terms of bigamy--itself an excellent illustration of the monolingualist conception of the mother tongue as "a family romance" described by Yasemin Yildiz in Beyond the Mother Tongue (2012).
Secondly, the transformation of literature in English by writers with a background in other languages is not a new phenomenon. Multilingual modernists like Beckett. Conrad, and Nabokov that Doloughan briefly mentions (162) were not exceptions to monolingualism; instead, translingualism, exile, and textual multilingualism are constitutional traits of European literary modernism (cf. Languages of Exile, eds. Englund & Olsson, 2013).
The highlight of Doloughan's investigation is the chapter on Kelman's use of Scottish dialect in How Late It Was, How Late (1994), as well as his "pseudotranslation" in Translated Accounts (2001). Here, we are dealing with internal linguistic variation marked by power differences, which offers a more nuanced dynamic where foreign and domestic become ambiguous categories. In this context, the question of loss and gain is pushed to the background in favor of an exploration of the ethics of storytelling through linguistic choices, something Doloughan explores with theoretic input from Bakhtin, Bhabha. and Spivak, among others. I would have liked to see this discussion on negotiation of form and theme continue in the chapter on Guo's novels; instead, the accented English that Guo apparently struggled to get right is primarily mentioned as illustrative of the main character's process of second language acquisition.
Another concern is the linkage between language and culture. Doloughan does discuss the shift between essentialist versus constructivist views of culture. Even so, bilingualism is too often coupled with biculturality without any discussion of the contingency of this link. This "count-ability" of languages and cultures, in the plural, implies a view of them as systems or entities, a view that itself is a part of the monolingual paradigm Doloughan is challenging, and also something that has been increasingly contested in translation studies (e.g., Naoki Sakai, 2009) and sociolinguistics (e.g., Jan Blommaert, 2010).
In connection to this, a more thorough critical discussion of the concept of translation would have benefited the study. Doloughan does broaden the concept to encompass the transmission of culture or experiences, something that works very well for her analyses. Less visible are reflections of the mechanisms of translation itself. Translation is commented upon as the creation of a bridge, and the writer is dubbed "a bridge between cultures" able "to mediate difference" (62). Here, the "culture," "experience," or "language" being translated comes across as pre-existing the translation process. Whether memoirs or novels, the texts discussed are creative works: in them, culture, experience, or language is also created through translation. In this sense, translation does not simply mediate difference; it also marks it.
Literature in English is, without a doubt, a literature in translation, and the errand of Doloughan's book is topical. Although the reshaping of literature in English by writers outside of the linguistic norm is not a new feature, Doloughan's work foregrounds what this transformation looks like in contemporary literature, and how new kinds of writers are involved--something which is of great interest for research today. To reason with Derrida, the conception of language as something of one's "own" and something to be owned as a commodity is illusory, has always been. But hopefully the time has come for a broader recognition in literary studies of what Doloughan so poignantly formulates, namely that English is not "a bounded and monolithic linguistic entity rooted in a particular geographic area or areas but... a relatively fluid and porous material base situated at the confluence of other languages and other varieties of English" (3).
JULIA TIDIGS, University of Helsinki
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2016|
|Previous Article:||Transcultural Writers and Novels in the Age of Global Mobility.|
|Next Article:||Translingual Narration: Colonial and Postcolonial Taiwanese Fiction and Film.|