Tamara de Inés Antón (2017)

Translating Central American Life Writing for the Anglophone Market

A Socio-Narrative Study of Women’s Agency and Political Radicalism in the Original and Translated Works of Claribel Alegría, Gioconda Belli and Rigoberta Menchú



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Abstract | At a time when scholars have rekindled the old debate about what is world literature and how can one study it (Casanova, 2004; Moretti, 2000, 2003; Damrosch, 2003, 2009), this thesis analyses the canonisation of Central American Revolutionary women’€™s writing as it moves toward the ‘centre’€™ and becomes part of the world literary canon. Drawing on a core-periphery systemic model, this thesis examines how translation for the Anglophone market involves the marginalisation at various levels of the narratives of political radicalism and the erotic that feature in the life writing works of Gioconda Belli, Claribel Alegría and Rigoberta Menchú. The dataset chosen for this study consists of the Spanish originals and English translations of La mujer habitada (1988) and El país bajo mi piel (2001) by Belli; No me agarran viva (1983) and Luisa en el país de la realidad (1987) by Alegría, in collaboration with her husband Darwin J. Flakoll; and Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú (1983) and Rigoberta: La nieta de los mayas (1998) by Menchú. To develop this core-periphery systemic model, I have drawn on the work of scholars in the field of the sociology of translation such as Pascale Casanova (2004), Johan Heilbron (1999, 2010) and Giselle Sapiro (2008). In the context of the study, peripheralisation has been reconceptualised to assist in locating the texts included in the dataset within a hierarchical power structure (external level of peripheralisation); and identifying the shifts that arise during the translation and circulation of the ontological and public narratives underpinning such texts (internal level of peripheralisation). The study of the internal level of peripheralisation will draw on narrative theory, as elaborated by Margaret Somers and Gloria Gibson (1994), Somers (1997) and Mona Baker (2006). The choice of narrative theory employed in the thesis aims to foreground the impact that translation and the publishing field have on the selection and consecration of a literary genre; facilitate the comparison between the texts and paratexts of the originals and their English translations, and disclose the mechanisms through which the agency of the woman/author is neutralised, and the narratives of sexuality, body, political radicalism and feminine subjectivity are constructed in the original and reinterpreted through translation. This comparative (para)textual analysis questions the nature of the process by which peripheral texts have accessed the Western canon. In light of the findings, the thesis advocates the need to redefine the concept of canonisation in order to acknowledge a possible conflict between the new assumed centrality of the consecrated/translated text and the layers of peripheralisation that might still be constraining the original narratives. Secondly, these findings draw attention to a gap in world literatures scholarship. By assuming the autonomy of literature as an artistic form, world literature scholars might be in danger of obscuring the potential for manipulation inherent in translation practice, particularly in spaces favouring domesticating approaches to translation. Thirdly, this work aims to serve as a reminder to scholars and activists not to overlook the impact of literary translation on the circulation of theories and narratives, particularly in the case of highly canonical texts such as that of Rigoberta Menchú (1984).


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