Feminist pens, exercises in translation

There has been much debate on the subject of translatability, not only in the area of literature and the word, but also in reference to the codes that lie beyond the word. In contrast, there has been little talk—here at least—about the translatability of gender resources. Any debate on the translatability of grammatical genders or of public gender roles has been rare indeed. This shortfall has led translators to fail to perceive these issues and even some of the most skilful translators, well used to translating other linguistic resources with the greatest of precision, have ignored gender resources. An example can be seen in one of Raymond Queneau’s best-known literary works, Exercises de Style, masterfully translated (as Estilo-ariketak) by Xabier Olarra. The excellent translation plays with word and language, and the text contains numerous profound reflections on literature. I was surprised, then, by how little attention had been paid to gender resources in this painstaking translation, and by the tendency to reduce the possible meanings in this area. This was made all the more surprising given that in the original French work, Queneau himself plays in many of these exercises of style with the precision or ambiguity of grammatical gender and with the gender representations his readers are used to making. In other words, Raymond Queneau recognises the capacity of gender (both grammatical and in public roles) as a literary and creative resource and seeks to break down the grammar of language and widen and split those narrow public roles.

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