The Translation Memoir as Autotheory

Grass, Delphine (2022) The Translation Memoir as Autotheory. In: Life’s Not Personal: A Creative – Critical Conference on Experimental Life Writing., 2022-06-262022-06-26.

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The past twenty years has seen something close to a boom in translation memoir writing and publishing. Corina Gepner, Anne Carson, Kate Briggs and Diane Meur to name a few have taken to the page to think and reflect on their literary translation practice in ways that both mix the critical and the ‘personal’, mapping their practices experientially as well as theoretically. The authors just cited stand out for their textual exploration of translation as a craft, focusing on the thinking processes and embodied textual engagements with texts as a form of deeply situated critical theory akin to what Lauren Fournier and others have recently defined as ‘autotheory’ [Clare Ralph 2020; Lauren Fournier, 2021; Max Cavitch 2022]. They represent a form of autobiographical writing on or about translation practice which can both be mapped on the memoir form and deviate from it in so far as, borrowing the words of Maggie Nelson, they ‘exceed the boundaries of the ‘personal’' to reach an exploratory and experimental theoretical practice of both self and translation [Maggie Nelson, 2015]. Unlike traditional models of translation theory, their critical insights are not presented as a definitive vision of what translation is or should be, but rather stage translation writing as an encounter, a meeting that takes place at a particular time and place in their history as practitioners. In doing so, they are able to draw on the strength of the ‘weak’ but living ties between doing translation and theorising translation [Sedgwick 2002, Kathleen Stewart 2008]. This form of ‘weak’ theorising which does not petrify its object into a definitive version is what will interest me here as a counterpoint to other forms of doing translation theory. In this paper, I will argue that what marks and defines “the translation memoir as autotheory” is a process of ‘unlearning’ disciplinary boundaries and forms in order to explore the embodied theoretical experience of translation practice. In my presentation and analysis of these works, I aim to dispel several myths about translation practice as atheoretical or simply mimetic, and to advocate for a form of translation theory as weak theory: a form of theory open to creative critical practice and autotheoretical experimentation.

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Contribution to Conference (Paper)
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Life’s Not Personal: A Creative – Critical Conference on Experimental Life Writing.
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25 Nov 2022 16:20
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12 Sep 2023 05:50