Re-newing the Written Word

By: Alice Whitmore  

As a literary translator, creative writer, cultural critic, and early career academic, I traffic in words and their fluidity; in the crossing of borders, both literal and literary; in the re-creation and re-contextualisation of literature that pushes and renegotiates the boundaries of genre and style. This paper sets out an interdisciplinary approach to translation practice and theory that combines the creative and the theoretical in an ethics of alienation, unease. and literary "violence" —not the violence of extremism, but the gentle madness of poetry: Antoine Berman’s “violence immédiate de la Parole tragique,” Derrida’s “via rupta,” and the "forcener doucement" that designs and inhabits the dynamic verges of culture. Literary translation is impossible for me if not accompanied (or flanked, or otherwise "paralleled") by creative writing, and the two crafts inevitably bleed into one another, sometimes to such an extent that I am unable to extricate the two. The inherent interdisciplinarity of my translation methodology is also borne out in my engagement with theory and criticism. My 2017 Ph.D. thesis was the among the first of its kind at Monash University, in that it comprised both a creative component—in my case, the Spanish-to-English translation of a novel by Mexican author Guillermo Fadanelli—and an "exegetical" critical component. The critical component, by turns anecdotal and densely theoretical, borrowed from a number of frameworks, among them comparative literature, cultural and literary studies, philosophy, social anthropology, and translation ethics. This somewhat "bastardised" approach to scholarship is coherent within the broader context of the thesis, which argued above all for hybridity, multilingualism, and creativity across all spheres of thought and culture. The thread that holds all this together is the elaboration of an "alienating" translation ethics rooted in the concepts of estrangement, unease, literary "violence," and innovation — all concepts that I believe are endemic and essential to literary language. This paper will argue that, as a reflection and a refraction of literature, translation intensifies literature’s already deeply ethical aspects; both facilitate the approximation and (re)reading of a cultural or social Other, and, at their best, both favour multi over mono, difficulty over complacency, dynamism over stasis. Both translation and writing, then, realise the disruptive and generative function of literature, exposing and perpetuating "violent" and innovative literary practices across the shifting boundaries of language, culture, and genre. Guillermo Fadanelli himself, a self-styled purveyor of "literatura basura" [trash literature], offers an apt example of this. By refusing to adhere to the rules of cultural hierarchy and good literary manners, Fadanelli exiles himself from both mainstream and "legitimate" culture, preferring the no-man’s land of the Dostoevskian non-hero. Fadanelli’s ironic embrace of the ugly, the shocking, the incongruous, the mutant, and the ephemeral, his double rejection of frivolity and elitism, and his constant flirtation with hypocrisy are illuminated and reinforced by a broad (counter)cultural context of alienation, transfiguration, and violent interaction. This context, at once informing and responding to the trash/basura aesthetic, provides the framework for a hybridising ethics of scholarship and translation that speaks to the re-newal of literature from the liminal zones and “impassioned margins” of culture.

"Translation", " Literature"
Literary Humanities
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Dr. Alice Whitmore

Assistant Lecturer in Spanish and Latin American Studies, School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics, Monash University, Australia
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Alice Whitmore is the Pushcart-Prize nominated translator of two novels —Guillermo Fadanelli's See You at Breakfast? (Giramondo 2016) and Mariana Dimópulos's All My Goodbyes (Giramondo 2017)— and a number of poetry and essay selections, in publications such as Asymptote, Seizure, Reinvention, and The AALITRA Review. Her academic and creative writing has been published by The Translator, New Directions in Translation Studies, the Journal of Iberian and Latin American Research, the Sydney Review of Books, Penguin Specials, Going Down Swinging, Tincture, Verge, Voiceworks and Mexico City Lit. She is the Translations Editor for the Cordite Poetry Review and an assistant editor for The AALITRA Review, and lectures in Spanish and Literary Studies at Monash University. Her research interests include comparative and contemporary Latin American literature, the literary city, and interdisciplinary translation studies.