"It translated well": the promise and the perils of translation in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior

Bolaki, S. (2009) "It translated well": the promise and the perils of translation in Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior. MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S., 34(4), pp. 39-60. (doi: 10.1353/mel.0.0056)

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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/mel.0.0056


The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts (1976) is Maxine Hong Kingston’s story of growing up in America as a daughter of Chinese immigrants. The story is told in five short narratives in which the narrator rewrites her mother’s “talk-stories,” claiming a place in a maternal descent line and in Chinese folklores and legends. The attempt “to tell ancient stories [in] a new American way” (Pfaff 26) links Kingston’s project with translation. Several critics have drawn attention to this trope in ethnic writing and in The Woman Warrior in particular, focusing on linguistic puns, instances of successful and failed translation, and accusations of betrayal; these critics employ the insights of translation theory, from Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator” to recent postmodern interventions by Homi K. Bhabha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (see Klucznik; Liu; Lee; and Cutter, Lost and Found).<br></br> Translation can, indeed, be conceptualized in many ways in The Woman Warrior. This essay draws on translation theory, but the intention is to explore translation in a cultural rather than strictly linguistic sense, examining its function in narratives of growing up between or “on the border of” cultures. Ethnic American texts often revise forms such as the bildungsroman and deploy the trope of translation in order to explore antagonisms and possibilities of reconciliation between “dominant” and “marginal” cultures and languages. The prefix trans- suggests the act of traversing, and translation is sometimes taken to mean a simple movement of meaning from the “original” language or the source text to the translating or target language. There is a long debate as to whether translation is mutually enriching

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Bolaki, Dr Styliani
Authors: Bolaki, S.
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PR English literature
College/School:College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Journal Name:MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the U.S.

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