Marija Bulatović
Faculty of Philology
University of Belgrade

Translational – Transnational[1]

Times of Mobility: Transnational Literature and Gender in Translation / Jasmina Lukić and Sibelan Forrester with Borbála Faragó (ed.). – Edition 1. Includes bibliographical references and index. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2019, 344 pages, ISBN 978-963-386-329-9 (hardcover), ISBN 9789633863305 (pdf), LCCN 2019042192 (e-book), price $75/ €68/ £58

These rather challenging times we have globally witnessed have shown us that the current society we live in is in constant change, fluctuation, fluidity and mobility. Taken as a keyword of the contemporary societal structures, ‘mobility’ becomes the central question in many spheres and different issues as follows: ideological, political, economic, cultural, dialogic, gender etc. The study Times of Mobility: Transnational Literature and Gender in Translation, edited by Jasmina Lukić and Sibelan Forrester with Borbála Faragó[2] and published quite recently by Central European University Press, seems to address specifically the latter two aspects of gender and dialogue relations, however taking into account the political, economic, cultural and ideological notions. The study gathers seventeen authors, both male and female, experts in the field of literary, cultural, translation and gender studies.

Two major conferences preceded the appearance of the discussed study. The first conference was held at the Central European University in May 2013 under the title “Transnational Women’s Literature in Europe,” organized by Jasmina Lukić. The second conference on transnational literature was also organized by Jasmina Lukić as Visiting Cornell Professor at Swarthmore College in 2014–2015 and Sibelan Forrester, Professor of Russian at Swarthmore College. The conference entitled “Transnational Literature and Translation” was held at Swarthmore College in February 2015 focusing on the critical intersection of two growing fields of studies – transnational studies and translation studies. The incentive for this kind of proceedings was, as explained by the editors, the issue of migrations, economic and political situation but also the fluidity of the literary field nowadays.

To be precise, the subject of the newly published study is the issue of gender in a transnational dialogue, i.e. transnational aspect within gender, cultural and, moreover, translation studies. Regarding the content, besides the acknowledgements and bibliographical references with index, the study is divided into three major chapters: the first part, “From Transnational to Translational”, the second part entitled, “Reading across Borders”, and the third, “Transnational in Translation”. A brief overview of the content implies the key notions – transnational and translational.

What is transnational according to the study and could it be translated? Transnational represents a nationalities-in-dialogue, a-national, cross-cultural, transcultural, cosmopolitan, neo-nomadic, border-crossing phenomenon. The aspects of the transnational entail cultures and literatures in dialogue, translation as cultural phenomenon mediation, postcolonial (does one exist without the other?), identity and borders issue, migration and globalization. The overall impression is that ‘transnational’ inevitably incites the revision of many concepts such as: the concept of a nation, the concept of the state, ethnicity, identity, citizenship and gender. Moreover, the usage of the term ‘transnational’ implies the revision of the concept of European (connected with the ongoing EU crisis as the broader context) and world literature but also ‘transnational literature’[3] feeding on the national cores but ‘deterritorializing’ the cultures taken as holistic entities.

From Transnational to Translational: Chapter One

The first chapter of the volume is comprised of five articles dealing with individual cases, i.e. novels written by migrant women authors, and the issue of language, semiotic and cultural transferability.

The first article entitled “Translational Migrations: Novel Homelands in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane” by Susan Stanford Friedman discusses cultural encounters as fundamentally translational. The borderlands between cultural differences generate the narrative based on the triad ‘transnational – translational – transcultural[4] in the novel by Bangladeshi-born British woman writer. Transnational does not erase the nation, it engages dialogically with it. The gap between the languages is the creative space for an intercultural encounter, which means that translational is a dynamic site (it implies more than a mere transfer of one semiotic system into another since it exists within the political, economic, institutional, religious, intellectual, aesthetic, familial, sexual aspect, and so forth). Friedman here uses the concept of translation as a metaphor “for understanding how the foreign and the familiar are interrelated in every form of cultural production” (p. 24) following the theory of cultural studies scholar Nikos Papastergiadis. Friedman metaphorically takes Ali’s novel as a translational and transcultural (cultural blending and cultural translation) phenomenon based on the migration themes. Not being formalistic in terms of Western forms of modernity, the transcultural hybridity of the novel is not to be confused or equalized with intertextuality. The text becomes a diaspora place, site of transculturation, a new way of ‘belonging’. The transnational becomes inherent in the national as Friedman’s text seems quite an inspiring road map for further research since, although ‘transnational’ phenomena are not of recent coinage, it is often necessary and rather fruitful to reflect on them within the context of the world migrations and crisis bringing into the scope the fast development and omnipresence of new technologies.[5]

The second article entitled “Theorizing Women’s Transnational Literatures: Shaping New Female Identities in Europe through Writing and Translation” by Eleonora Federici and Vita Fortunati advocates translation as a hermeneutical category, inherent in literary studies as co-creation. The article discusses two case studies: Ornela Vorpsi, Albanian writer and Lilia Bicec, Moldovan author, migrant women writers in Italy dealing with the issue of strengthening the identity through cultural nomadism. The dialectical relation of feminism and nationalism (opposed concepts but also constructed through each other) is discussed and transdisciplinary methodology for the insight into minor transnational literatures and cultures is encouraged, having in mind the heterogeneity of the latter. Through a transversal perspective, ethics and responsibility are constructed via a dialogue between different marginalized societal positions, activities, topics and communities as well as between minor ‘transnationalisms’. Introducing ‘transnational sensibility’ as a methodology – transversal skills and sense of intersubjectivity – by opening up and via thorough reassessments and engagement in the world, the narrative of responsibility is built! Moreover, translation is considered as an act of responsibility[6] and the translator as a ‘cultural agent’ (pp. 57-58). Translation is seen as opening up the text to the world[7] within the act of ‘internationalization’ (pp. 58-59).

The third article entitled “Crossing Borders in Perilous Zones: Labors of Transport and Translation in Women Writers of Exile” by Azade Seyhan discusses the genre of autobiography as a self-translation[8] form seeing the very translation as a mode of liberation, of non-censorship. The article provides one of the possible answers why women write in a foreign language denoting translation as a self-censoring tool illustrated by the case of Emine Sevgi Özdamar, Turkish woman author in Germany. On the other hand, Canadian and Algerian women novelists and their translanguage of solidarity, symbiosis of self and community is elaborated in the fourth article entitled “Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquidity and Transnational Women’s Literature: Nancy Huston and Assia Djebar as Case Studies” by Sonia Fernández Hoyos and Adelina Sánchez Espinosa. The essay places into the spotlight the notion of liquid society[9] – the flux and rapidly changing order, transience as a constant – setting up the terrain for reformulation of literary studies and transnational studies.

The closing first chapter article entitled “Traveling Theory as Theory in Translation: Transnational and Transgenerational Perspectives” was written by the editor herself – Jasmina Lukić. Starting with the idea of transnational literacy as developed by Susan Stanford Friedman (2001), Lukić argues for a corresponding notion of transgenerational literacy as a prerequisite for a transgenerational dialogue. Traveling theory as theory in translation and the act of translation itself are seen as political concepts as well. The notions of ‘locational feminism’, ‘transnational literacy’ and ‘minor transnationalism’ are illustrated with a play analysis of a Croatian woman author living in London – Tena Štivičić. Lukić argues for a concept of generational literacy as a tool for understanding and interpreting the traveling of theory across symbolic generational borders. What is more, generationality is often denoted as one of the more rarely used categories of intersectional analysis which makes this article even more alluring.

Reading across Borders: Chapter Two

The second chapter is also comprised of five articles dealing with phenomena beyond the text (an outside-text?): dance, cityscapes, digital sphere, imagination and so on.

The first article entitled “Translation into Dance: Adaptation and Transnational Hellenism in Balanchine’s Apollo” by Grace Ledbetter deals with Balanchine – one of the most influential Russian-born American choreographers of the 20th century. Relying on the idea of the text as structuration, an open structure, Ledbetter takes the example of Homeric Hymn to Apollo as a narrative ‘translated’ into the choreography-syntax of ballet, putting into the focus the translation theory along with the adaptation theory and reception theory.[10] Just as in an act of translation, the adaptation, as “an act of both intercultural and inter-temporal communication” (p. 145) and the transmediation of Homeric hymn, tends to be rather successful, at the same time holding to its ‘Greekness’. The gender perspective is provided through Terpsichore’s dance as a Russian contribution element emphasizing intersemiotic transpositions as remediation. The conclusion of the article is that the meaning of Apollo’s Greekness is an irreducible and ever-shifting plurality (p. 152) – a true transnational matter.

The second article entitled “Stories from Elsewhere: The City as a Transnational Space in Doris Lessing’s Fiction” by Ágnes Gyӧrke depicts London as a transnational space discussing also narrative strategies in Lessing’s fiction. The reductive view is given by depicting the city as a psychogeography and creative space outside the laws of physics – dreamscapes. The city as a transitory realm does not rely on the past but steps out as a ‘performative’ place for women to investigate further their subjectivities and build their future. Transformation of the city seen as the circulation of the metropolis is a process parallel to the identity shifts. The transnational aspect in this case means dynamic and open, even liquid as mentioned in the previous chapter.

The third article entitled “The Mobile Imagination in European Women’s Writing: Parallels between Modern and Postmodern Times” by Vera Eliasova investigates ‘mobility’ as ‘innovation’, taken metaphorically. The ‘mobile imagination’ is seen as an aesthetic category with a political dimension, from British modernist women writers (Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield) to Central and South European ones (Iva Pekárková and Dubravka Ugrešić) as followers of the aesthetics in question. Eliasova encourages the cultural parataxis as a method of reading proposed by Susan Friedman: the imperative to cross-reference the text from different national backgrounds in order to shed a new light on the ‘geopolitical conjuncture’ (p. 172). Mobile imagination and pervasive sense of wonder (wonder-wander) introduces the modern flâneur as a nomad and the central figure of narratives seen as transnational forms of writing.

The fourth article by Madalina Nicolaescu entitled “Romanian Women’s Migration: Online Versus Offline Stories” comments on the lack of gender perspective in Romanian migration research. However, Nicolaescu considers online stories as a transnational site of reader encounters. Due to the political and economic features, migration in Romania is mostly associated with success. Nicolaescu examines the recent Romanian fictional narratives on migration by contrasting them with their non-fictional online alternatives (p. 195). The common element noted is that stories written in Romanian were obviously designed for Romanian audience. The article advocates that “the geographical, linguistic and communication site from which the transnational stories are produced has important effects on the narrative and ideological positions adopted” (p. 196). Online stories are more resourceful and more determined to overcome the patriarchal gender definitions.

Maria-Sabina Draga Alexandru introduces the fifth article entitled “From Traveling Memoir to Nomadic Narrative in Kapka Kassabova’s Street Without a Name and Twelve Minutes of Love: A Tango Story” about translating the subjectivity into tango (bodily roots of subjectivity). Relying on Rosie Braidotti theory, the article advocates the diasporic cultures as traveling cultures producing narratives as nomadic textuality – overcoming imperialist binaries and denationalizing the authorial status. Once again, we come to the concept of liquid transnational modernity and – nomadic texts. Nomadic texts display a nomadic textuality, a “situated form of heterogeneity” characterized by the fact that “each text seems to grow from another” (p. 215). From translation to transposition (same content but different code): nomadic thinking is activated and the body is taken as a site of deep trans-formative experience and practices.

The sixth article written by Dejan Ilić and translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać brings another insight into Ugrešić’s prose entitled rather poetically “Through the Looking-Glass: On Recurring Motifs and Devices in the Prose of Dubravka Ugrešić”. The author explores the text through motives and devices of the world of Carroll’s Alice. Relying on the notion of ‘poetic justice’ coined by American philosopher Martha Nussbaum, Ilić further investigates the device of ‘defamiliarization’ (of words and of worlds/reality) and emphasizes the frequent motif in the text – the child’s primer. Ilić considers that Ugrešić establishes a clear connection between the devastation of society and the devastation of language, between the erasure of memory and the imposition of a new past as the only valid one (p. 231).

Transnational in Translation: Chapter Three

The third and final chapter of the study consists of four articles bringing up to the table the issue of translating the ‘untranslatable’.

Given in a form of almost an anecdote, the first article entitled “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” by Michael Kandel is rather a confession of a celebrated translator and storyteller on the mere difficulties in translating poetry and literature in general. However, theory, seeking wider perspectives and higher principles, tends to oversimplify the encountered difficulties (p. 244). Writer is global, translator is local, writer is unique, and translator is one of the mirrors, Kandel argues. Kandel agrees that the act of translation is an act of interpretation (translator is a critique indeed) but also an ‘act of selection’ (translator takes the role of an editor, or even writer, as well) – being faithful through betrayal (of the literal meaning). Kandel argues that the translator may seem as a secondary author and digital humanities play an important role of a functional tool for him or her. The act of translation also requires the grains of the ‘non so que’, the mobile imagination necessary for being a writer, editor, artist.

“Translating Folktales: From National to Transnational” is the second article of the final chapter written by another editor of the study – Sibelan Forrester. Forrester takes folklore as an exemplary transnational field and dissemination of folktales as an example of crossing linguistic borders to be part of world literature. Folklore, as proto-literary phenomenon, is considered to be the ‘childhood of nations’ having its political dimension. Having in mind that folklore formed a basis for secular European literature from Apuleius to Boccaccio and Chaucer (p. 259), what is in question is the creativity within community and the issue of ‘ownership’ inside the paradigm of the nation-building projects and illumination of the past. Forrester notices that women were more often accepted as collectors of folktales than writers, due to their role in the patriarchal society – nursery.[11] It is worth saying that folktales might be the very best ‘exercise’ of translational activities within the context of the transnational axis bringing into question the ‘translatability’ of the ‘ethos’. Due to its oral tradition, every folktale in essence is already a translation – translation sometimes suffers less distortion than the very original tales which suffered political, cultural, gender or class censorship and deformation.

The third article entitled “Transnational Rivalry and Consecration: Croatian and Serbian Writers in Translation” by Ellen Elias-Bursać brings up the notions of ‘rivalry’ and ‘consecration’ as theoretical tools or categories. Based on Pascale Casanova’s premises – the critical nationalist writers are less likely to be translated – Elias-Bursać categorizes the writers of the 1980’s Yugoslavia into three groups:

· ‘critical nationalists’: there is not a single woman in this category and almost all of them were completely absent from the international translational field since they did not aspire for universality,

· ‘critical intellectuals’ (Kiš, Pekić, among women Irena Vrkljan) and

· ‘Postmodernists’, the ones who, among women writers, had the greatest visibility, such as Dubravka Ugrešić.

The strong relation between the ‘literary landscape’ and ‘social landscape’ was more than obvious regarding ideology and struggles for legitimacy and the ‘aesthetics of displacement’. However, now, when the era of literature as a blood sport is over (p. 288), translation is seen as one of the ‘consecrating agents’ “that move literature through the hierarchies dictating relations within the international literary field” (p. 289). Translation also becomes one of the human rights to international existence and visibility and has shaped the trajectory of culture overall, especially today having in mind the condition of world literature (p. 297). An unanswered question however arises: what is actually the picture of world literature today, or even further, what does world literature today represent?

The final article of the final chapter entitled “China Comes to Warsaw or Warsaw Comes to China: Melech Ravitch’s Travel Poems and Journals” is written by Kathryn Hellerstein. During a visit to China in 1935, Melech Ravitch, one of Warsaw’s most influential literary figures in the interwar period, wrote a travelogue and poems about what he saw there (p. 303). Hellerstein denotes translation as a cultural bridge. China is portrayed by the Yiddish writer traveling by train through Manchuria. The impressions are articulated only by transporting the spectacle of China into the language of Warsaw (p. 308) giving this article, inter alia, as well as to the whole study, an exotic flavor.

Final remarks

Due to the complexity and variety of the analyses gathered in the proceedings, it seemed best to present it strictly linear since it might grab attention of wider audience, both academic and non-academic. Albeit being presented by different experts, each article of the study discussed is based on its own theoretical grounding. However, there is a specific layer in every single article manifested by an individual analysis and interpretation of the concrete cultural or literary phenomenon. This individual analysis is actually a specific research perspective of each expert (comparative, cultural, thematic, phenomenological and postcolonial, etc.).

It is noticeable, however, that the study Times of Mobility: Transnational Literature and Gender in Translation offers a broad spectrum of research perspectives but taking the gender insight as a constant. Each article, at its individual level, lays stress on the feminist layers of the findings, sources and relevant references. Those feminist layers entail either specific women writing or different feminist elements in the very writing.

What also seems as the study milestone is a certain ‘common agreement’ on the concept of transnationalism and its relation to the act of translation. There are no confronted hypotheses since the authors mostly rely on the premises previously stated in the study and the articles intertextually communicate on a transnational level.

The translation is, however, taken in the study as a broader term,[12] almost a metaphorical one. This might be a good (but also risky) strategy of building pillars of new theory through metaphoric thinking. However, perhaps the most important aspect of the study lies in the emphasis of the strength and responsibility of language and translation and their crucial roles: a) fashioning the image of other nationalities and cultures, but also b) establishing a form of ‘metaphoric dialogue’ via diverse codes and media in order to reduce various prejudices and clichés and enrich both natural and intellectual properties. This is why Times of Mobility: Transnational Literature and Gender in Translation as an up-to-date study is a good read which deserves high ratings.

[1] This book review essay was supported by the project Knjiženstvo: Theory and History of Women's Writing in Serbian until 1915, ref. no. 178029, funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of the Republic of Serbia.

In relation to the study subject, it is worth mentioning that two years ago, in October 2018, Knjiženstvo Project Leader, Prof. Biljana Dojčinović, participated in a Central Conference held at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, presenting the paper „ Knjiženstvo as a Research Project in (Trans)National Memory“. The main topic of the conference was „Memory in Post-Conflict Societies in Central and Southeast Europe“, and it was held in the period of October 23-25, 2018. The key term ’transnational’ is inevitably connected with the identity and its shifts, depicting ethnicity, contesting national myths and also memory. Project Knjiženstvo and its database represent the transnational web and dialogue between the authors, works and reception, as well as one of the transnational sites of memory.

[2] All of them, except for Faragó, are the authors of the respective articles included.

Borbála Faragó teaches at the Central European University, Jasmina Lukić is a Professor of Gender Studies at the same University, while Sibelan Forrester is Professor of Modern and Classical Languages and Russian at Swarthmore College.

[3] The term ‘transnational literature’ within the abovementioned context was used explicitly by Azade Seyhan, Fairbank Professor of German and Comparative Literature, to “designate the fast-growing body of writing by those who live ‘in between’ languages and cultures” and write ‘outside the nation’ (p. 1). Albeit being reflected before within the 1990s mass migration in Islamic world, Seyhan used the term ‘transnational literature’ in her 2001 study entitled Writing outside the Nation, which was one of the first extensive studies to elaborate on the issue taking into account all major aspects of the subject – language, translation, migration and denationalization, i.e. deterritorialization, but also the emergence of new technologies as an indicator of a rapidly changing society.

[4] An anthropological term which denotes the effect of exchange and encounter between two cultures.

[5] The editors mention different methods of technology use nowadays: from war technologies used for control and surveillance to everyday technology (mobile phones, etc.), as a form of consolation, used to create a connection with the group or individual who is far away.

[6] Paraphrase and emphasis added.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Autobiographical writings are forms of identity construction and a negotiation of transculturality.”(p. 56)

[9] The idea of ‘liquid society’ denotes uncertainty and insecurity which might prove to be the main features of contemporary society.

[10] Quite recently, in 2016, based on doctoral research, a study on choreodrama in Serbia in the 20th and 21st century was published. Authored by Prof. Vera Obradović Ljubinković, using the gender approach, the study informatively comprises the work of main Serbian women choreographers. Moreover, the author points out the openness of the ’body scription’ relating its syntax to Barthes theory of the body grammar and the notion of l’écriture. The book review was published in Knjiženstvo Vol. 8 and is available online: http://www.knjizenstvo.rs/sr/casopisi/2018/prikazi/corpus-mobile#gsc.tab=0

[11] Nursery rhymes, lullabies.

[12] The Latin origin of the word points to ’transferability’, i.e. conveyance of something or someone from one place to another.


Марија Булатовић
Филолошки факултет
Универзитет у Београду

Транснационално и (не)преводиво

Marija Bulatović
Faculty of Philology
University of Belgrade

Translational – Transnational[1]

Times of Mobility: Transnational Literature and Gender in Translation / Jasmina Lukić and Sibelan Forrester with Borbála Faragó (ed.). – Edition 1. Includes bibliographical references and index. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2019, 344 pages, ISBN 978-963-386-329-9 (hardcover), ISBN 9789633863305 (pdf), LCCN 2019042192 (e-book), price $75/ €68/ £58

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