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Pauline Henry-Tierney
Manchester University
United Kingdom
Vol. 3 (2013), Articles
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In this paper I examine how transgressive references to gender, sexuality and the body are translated in two texts by the Québécoise writer Nelly Arcan, her debut autofictional narrative Putain (2001) and her final (retroactively auto)fictional title Paradis, clef en main (2009). Throughout her oeuvre, Arcan seeks to liberate women from stereotypical frameworks of reference by asserting women’s gendered, sexual and corporeal subjectivities in previously taboo discourses on prostitution, incest, sexuality, anorexia, matrophobia and suicide. Through her candid and explicit writing style, Arcan elaborates her own specific écriture au féminin which incorporates a linguistic, thematic and physical visualization of women within her texts.These two novels have been translated into English as Whore (2005) by Bruce Benderson and Exit (2011) by David Scott Hamilton respectively. However, analysis of the target texts suggests that neither translator adopts a gender-conscious approach which compromises the specificity of Arcan's idiolect in the Anglophone context. Through a comparative analysis of examples from the source texts and translations under the categories of gender, sexuality and the body, I discuss how the translation practices work counterproductively to obfuscate Arcan’s textual visualisations of women. In terms of references to gendered identity, by removing or neutralising Arcan's grammatically feminised language in Putain, the translator obfuscates Arcan's idea of the importance gender plays in shaping maternal relationships. Similarly, in Exit, Arcan's subversive feminist wordplay is distorted resulting in women being reinserted into patriarchal frameworks of reference. My analysis on Arcan's portrayal of sexuality underlines how sexual euphemisms in the translation downplay the narrator's potential for sexual agency in Whore, while misleading translation choices for feminist neologisms relating to women's sexuality in Exit eschew Arcan's efforts to verbalise women's lived sexual realities. Lastly, inconsistency in the translation of female corporeal vocabulary distorts the neutral tone Arcan employs in Putain to ensure women's bodies are not eroticised and the translator's decision to condense references to the female body in Exit undermines the significance Arcan places on corporeal connections between women. Thereafter, I move on to consider the wider implications of the translative process such as how paratextual elements also have an impact upon Arcan's reception in the target culture. I argue that in both Whore and Exit, the paratranslators intentionally sensationalise the autofictional elements of Arcan's texts. In short, my analysis contends that through a non-gender conscious translation practice, the celebrity of Arcan is promoted in the Anglophone context but to the detriment of Arcan’s écriture au féminin.

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