Life Writing, Migration, and Translation
Paper 282 pp.
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Borrowed Tongues is the first consistent attempt to apply the theoretical framework of translation studies in the analysis of self-representation in life writing by women in transnational, diasporic, and immigrant communities. It focuses on linguistic and philosophical dimensions of translation, showing how the dominant language serves to articulate and reinforce social, cultural, political, and gender hierarchies.
Drawing on feminist, poststructuralist, and postcolonial scholarship, this study examines Canadian and American examples of traditional autobiography, autoethnography, and experimental narrative. As a prolific and contradictory site of linguistic performance and cultural production, such texts challenge dominant assumptions about identity, difference, and agency.
Using the writing of authors such as Marlene NourbeSe Philip, Jamaica Kincaid, Laura Goodman Salverson, and Akemi Kikumura, and focusing on discourses through which subject positions and identities are produced, the study argues that different concepts of language and translation correspond with particular constructions of subjectivity and attitudes to otherness. A nuanced analysis of intersectional differences reveals gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, and diaspora as unstable categories of representation.
Eva C. Karpinski teaches feminist theory and autobiography in the School of Women’s Studies at York University. She has published articles in Literature Compass, Men and Masculinities, Studies in Canadian Literature, Canadian Woman Studies, and Resources for Feminist Research, among others. She is the editor of Pens of Many Colours: A Canadian Reader, a popular college anthology of multicultural writing.
“Working within a thoroughly inter-disciplinary framework informed by poststructuralist, feminist, and postcolonial approaches, Eva Karpinski’s book articulates a novel and multifaceted concept of translation that approaches immigrant women’s life writing as a project of meaning transfer between differing signifying contexts. Through her nuanced close reading s of migrant, diasporic, and postcolonial self-narratives, Karpinski’s book displays the potential of translation to unsettle the conventions of the autobiographical genre, problematize monolingual understandings of the relation between language and subjectivity, and elucidate the historical and material conditions underlying the production of immigrant women’s writing, as well as the cultural politics informing these texts’ reception. What emerges through Karpinski’s versatile back and forth between the memoirs and the more theoretical analysis is a rich account of the intertwined registers of translation as textual practice and lived experience for immigrant women writers.”
— Paola Bohórquez, Canadian Woman Studies
“Eva Karpinski has taken on questions that arise for every reader in a transcultural, multi-linguistic, and diasporic world. Although she focuses on translated texts, her title, Borrowed Tongues, names all our tongues; her insights into the ethical and psychosocial dimensions of autobiography, translation, and theory will open new intellectual trade routes among us. This is a sophisticated, smart, and beautifully readable book, and an important addition to WLU Press’s wonderful Life Writing series.”
— Jeanne Perreault, University of Calgary, co-editor of Tracing the Autobiographical (WLU Press, 2005)
“The study expands the field of life writing by explicitly theorizing the relationships among translation, gender, ethnic identity, and ethics. Summing Up: Recommended.”
— J.M. Utell, Widener University, Choice
“Only recently have autobiographies been theoretically linked to translation studies, and this book offers an important glimpse into how subjectivity and power in migrant contexts is very much a product of such interlinking. More interesting, the book itself is connected to translation insofar as the process is indeed correlated to those migratory practices that are employed by migrants in their life narratives and by the respective authors as they transfer meaning from one signifying context to another. Both migrants and authors, it seems, are living and writing in ‘borrowed tongues’ which forms the core of this study.... The author...also...makes us aware of evidence of ‘non-translation’...that which memory, trauma, and recollection may not render as ‘translatable.’
— Anastasia Christou, Middlesex University, Auto/Biography Studies
“Karpinski’s work Borrowed Tongues: Life, Writing, Migration, and Translation deserves a broad audience for this reason...[it is a] serious meditation about the impact that translations have on texts, as well as the forces that influence those translations.... Karpinski beautifully weaves the disparate life stories and strategies of [her] authors into a larger narrative of resistance. In the conclusion of her book, Karpinski points out why it is important that we, in academia, pay attention to these narratives: ‘If academic institutions can be viewed as a microcosm of such transnational contact zones, I am convinced that we can benefit from the findings of research on life writing in order to learn to read each other’s stories, listen to multiple voices, and find the possibility of plurivocal exchanges....’ I can think of not better words to illustrate why [this] book [is] important for a more general audience, in addition to those who specialize in the often marginalized sub-genres of translation, theatre, and life-writing.”
— Lee Skallerup Bessette, Canadian Literature