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La génétique hors manuscrits

(re)Visiting the Translator’s Archive: Toward a Genealogy of Translation in the Americas

María Constanza Guzmán
p. 45-58


Le sujet traduisant se trouve au cœur des études de traductologie de ces dernières décennies, qui ont abordé sous divers angles le travail et le rôle des traducteurs. Ces derniers temps, les écrits de traducteurs et la conception qu’ils se font de leur pratique ont à leur tour suscité l’intérêt des chercheurs. Les divers documents associés aux traducteurs offrent un précieux matériau pour comprendre comment se sont diffusés leurs savoirs et leurs pratiques. Cet article développe les travaux que je mène depuis quinze ans sur les traducteurs de la littérature latino-américaine du xxe siècle et sur le concept d’archive du traducteur. Espace à la fois matériel et symbolique, celle-ci permet d’étudier – au plan épistémologique et méthodologique – la position sociale et géopolitique des traducteurs. Après avoir défini ce concept, cet article examine l’application de la critique génétique à la traductologie, offre une analyse comparée des archives de traducteurs de la littérature latino-américaine, et propose une réflexion sur l’archive comme expérience.

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1Being able to enter an archive is a privilege, and visiting a personal archive is an exceptional one. Looking through someone’s papers, notes, recent and old documents, letters, photos, clippings, entails taking part in the continuum of stories and revelations offered by the material traces of a life. Entering an archive is akin to coming into somebody’s home, looking at their intimate space. One may sift through their documents, look at the objects chosen to be kept, bits of memory—both individual and collective. Such is the experience of reading through a translator’s archive.

  • 1 . The term “translator studies” was proposed for work that focuses “primarily and explicitly on th (...)
  • 2 . I have discussed extensively various aspects of Rabassa’s life and work in articles and in the b (...)
  • 3 . I consulted translators’ collections housed in special archives and library collections; I consu (...)

2The subject who translates has been at the center of translation thinking in the first decades of the twenty-first century. Building on trends in translation studies, including the problematization of the translator’s invisibility, and also on important late twentieth-century shifts in the humanities and social sciences vis-à-vis the critical need to focus on subjectivity and agency, a large body of work today focuses on translators and addresses various ways to approach the translator conceptually and methodologically1. As part of an ongoing research program centered on the experience of translation in the Americas, I have focused on studying translators of Latin American literature. This led to the book Gregory Rabassa’s Latin American Literature: A Translator’s Visible Legacy (2010)2, and to other writings on translators and their work. Part of this project has involved examining specific translators’ writings, conducting interviews (see Guzmán 2009, 2010 and 2014), and studying translators’ published and unpublished archival materials3.

  • 4 . In 1998, discussing future research, Daniel Simeoni mentioned the need to incorporate to transla (...)

3Continuing this line of enquiry for over fifteen years I have sought to configure sociographies of translators by studying them as singular cases while viewing them in their social and geopolitical situatedness4. This has also been part of a desire to understand translation as a site for the circulation of knowledge and narratives historically and today in the Americas, taking as an axis the subject who translates. I have aimed to go beyond the strictly biographical in order to historicize and situate the translator’s role in the creation and circulation of Latin American literary narratives. Framing translation in the Americas is not part of a geopolitical deterministic move to territorialize translation and construct an exceptionalist and fixed narrative for the continent. Rather, it is a strategic choice, to place translation within the traceable contours of social relations between the north and the south, a specific geohistorical and political specificity, and seeing it at play within particular set(s) of relations. It also follows the impulse for a place-based translation approach aiming to attend to the (trans)local. Through this composite lens, I seek the contours of the subject who translates.

1. The translator’s archive

4Translators’ materials are a fertile ground for studying and understanding translation and the translating subject. Translators’ bodies of texts comprise the translations themselves and translators’ writings and accounts about their work. These are in the form of articles and interviews, and also of footnotes, prefaces and other paratexts, and various instances of what Feltrin-Morris calls “loci of visibility” (2018: 10). They also comprise manuscripts and unpublished pieces, such as drafts, proofs—the so-called avant-textes, as well as letters, contracts, and other such materials. Reading through them is greatly revealing and productive. However, approaching translators’ texts quickly prompts complex questions about the mode in which they should be engaged, the way they will or can be incorporated into an epistemological narrative, and to what end(s). On the one hand, one is dealing with the result of something of a curatorship, as the materials become accessible upon having been selected—and organized, if at all—based on a perceived sense of relevance and value. On the other, when working with this type of documents, one faces the question of the boundaries of the “archive”. Upon engaging these questions and the challenges posed by looking at translators’ materials, it becomes clear that although this body of works is crucial to understand the life and work of a translator, it is not sufficient.

  • 5 . I present a more detailed explanation of the notion of translator’s archive in earlier articles, (...)

5Translators’ statements ought to be read along translators’ biographies and histories as, together, they form an “archive” of intellectual production, what I call the translator’s archive5. I frame and explain the translator’s archive as a composition of the translations themselves, and of other writing products and practices, in the context of the translator’s life. I articulate this archive as both a material and a symbolic space, one characterized both by its materiality as well as by diverse aspects of the intellectual and personal history of an individual translator, and the social and symbolic conditions of translation production.

[T]he translator’s archive as a concept is a more complex composition that is not limited to the archive’s materiality, to translator’s written statements, but which includes translators’ biographies, their practices, the agents involved in the translating event, and the relations among them. The translator’s archive is a discursive formation and a dynamic and organic composition” (Guzmán, 2013: 179)

  • 6 . I take the word “imaginings” from Spivak’s translator’s preface to Imaginary Maps, in which she (...)

As an operational notion, the archive enables me to refer to the collection of texts and documents that pertain to the translator, and which, in turn, enter in relation among themselves and with other narratives and forms of discourse. At the intersection between the social, the political and the intimate and subjective, the examination of translators’ archives reflects their self-understanding and the “theories” of language and of the world that inform their practice and their “imaginings”6.

  • 7 . Their marginality may itself be a reason to look at these materials. They have the potential to (...)

Besides the fact that translations are traditionally viewed as detached from the subject who translates, as if they were unmediated renditions of the author’s work and consciousness—and perhaps also as a result of this perception—translators and their work(s) are not part of the map of literature as it is conventionally constructed. As subject to what Douglas Robinson calls the translator’s “‘desirable’ subordinated or instrumentalized subjectivity” (2001: 7), beyond paratexts translators have not generally claimed a legitimate discursive space within the field of literature. Despite their marginality, translators’ documents are fundamental for literary study7. According to Pascale Casanova, rather than taking texts in isolation, literary investigations should contemplate the “configuration” to which texts belong, with which a work of literature “enters into relation and resonance,” and which forms the basis for its singularity and originality:

Everything that is written, everything that is translated, published, theorized, commented upon, celebrated—all these things are so many elements of a vast composition […] The singularity of individual literary works therefore becomes manifest only against the background of the overall structure in which they take their place. Each work that is declared to be literary is a minute part of the immense “combination” constituted by the literary world. (2004: 3)

Even though the task of comprehending such a totality is utopian, given the inherently fragmented nature of the archive, and although they have not been considered part of the “literary universe” as conventionally constructed, translators’ documents are part of that “immense combination.” Translators and their works are thus embedded in that complex and intricate composition of literature.

6Any examination of the translator’s archive needs to account for its possibilities and its limits. Like those of other cultural agents, translator’s archives are fragmented and disperse. However, as it is, at least in part, a repository of translator’s documents, the archive is a symptom of the translator’s conceptual repertoire and of the relationship between her works and other narratives. Admittedly random and fragmented, it sheds light not only on the translations themselves, but also on the mappings of literature.

  • 8 . Moretti proposed “distant reading” as a way of taking the necessary critical distance from the t (...)

7Thus, the translator’s archive relates to the larger spectrum of literature that becomes accessible through “distant readings”8. When foregrounded to render it visible, translation still appears embedded within the landscape of practices of writing and interpretation. The examination of the translator’s archive is key to understanding the place of literary translators and their social situatedness and agency at large. It sheds light on the material and symbolic conditions of the production and reterritorialization of narratives, the formation of canons, and the discursive construction of global collective images. The translator’s archive allows for an examination of the translator’s work, self, and self-understanding, and of the way translators’ narratives enter in relation with other forms of discourse.

  • 9 . Cronin posits “ecology” to answer the question: “Is there a way of attaching value to what trans (...)

8Focusing on the translator does not imply embracing a reified notion whereby thinking of the subject who translates falls (back) into a form of authorial sacralization—i.e., it is not aimed to re-place the author for the translator as an authority figure. Rather, it is part of a contemporary questioning of the liberal philosophy’s understanding of the individual and of the very notion of the human. Such a notion is reminiscent of a sense of what Michael Cronin has presented as an “posthumanist ecology of translation” (2016: 239), i.e., “situating value elsewhere”—other than the text, the author, the individual, in this case—and in the world, keeping in mind a sense of place and of relatedness9.

2. Composing the archive as an imperative for a translation genealogy

9The translator’s archive has epistemological and methodological relevance for a genealogy of translation, i.e., the historiographic approach to the study of translation as a form of thought and knowledge that unfolds in and as discourse, attending to the contingencies of its emergence and to the workings of its production. What is critical from this approach for the conceptualization of the translator’s archive is positing it as a generative, dynamic, multidirectional, and relational space that is not aimed at a fixed collection but offers a form of engagement.

10For Foucault, genealogy concerns “the effective formation of discourse”. He marks the distinction between criticism and genealogy stating that, while “criticism analyses processes of rarefaction, consolidation and unification in discourse, genealogy studies their formation, at once scattered, discontinuous and regular” (1985 [1972]: 233). On the analytical level, a genealogy points to an interpretive exercise aimed at a critique. This is the basis of the archive at large, in its initial conceptual proposals and various reconceptualizations. It is part of a genealogy in as much as it is a means of unveiling practices of cultural production.

11In contrasting the notion of the archive to that of literary canon, Ríos-Font refers to its productiveness as it unlocks the indefiniteness of the “archive” of literature (2004: 221). Invoking Borges’s Library of Babel, she notes that the archive as an image “insinuates the possibility of readdressing the “sacred” texts, and of finding new ones that may tell us something about themselves, as well as hinting at the composition(s) of the archive itself”. She points to understanding the archive beyond its materiality, and notes: “the archive is also a metaphor […] the imaginary space that exceeds the bounds of the canon, where other systems of thought are possible, and where we are forced to confront the specificity of our universals” (ibid.).

  • 10 . Ríos-Font locates the difference in emphasis in Foucault’s focus on the archive’s epistemologica (...)

12While acknowledging their differences, Ríos-Font traces the beyond of the archive’s materiality in Foucault’s and Derrida’s earlier articulations. For Foucault, “The archive is not the collection of a culture’s documents, or the institutions that exist to preserve those, but rather an abstract ‘complex volume, in which heterogeneous regions are differentiated or deployed’” (Foucault, quoted ibid.: 223). It is the background of discursive formations and “governs the appearance of statements as unique events,” but it is also “that which determines that all the things said do not accumulate endlessly in an amorphous mass, nor are they inscribed in an unbroken linearity, nor do they disappear at the mercy of chance external accidents; but they are grouped together in distinct figures, composed together in accordance with multiple relations” (Foucault, quoted ibid.: 224; emphasis mine). Recognizing the impossibility of the totalizing impulse is key to the notion of archive: “Neither the discursive formation nor the archive can be expressed as totalities; only their local functioning is available to the researcher […] its history defies any generalizations and the historian can only catch a glimpse of it through its multiple manifestations” (ibid.; emphasis mine). It is aiming to “scrutinize a specific instance of discourse,” that the exercise “becomes an attempt to uncover the discursive formation”. Describing the archive “becomes, in turn, a way of establishing our own presence within it, of ‘diagnosing’ the insufficiency of our constructions and the presuppositions that govern them” (ibid.: 225)10.

13Although her discussion is not directly about translation but concerns traditional practices of studying literature as archive, Ríos-Font’s argument intersects with the translator’s archive, and, specifically, to the aspects that tie it to a genealogy, in three main ways. First, regarding what constitutes the archive, the futility of the totalizing impulse, and the recognition of the archive’s dialectic, its possibilities and limits. Second, as pertains to ways of engaging the archive, the need to relinquish “hermeneutic authority” and the drive to fix memory—i.e., identifying discrete objects, ripping their relations apart, and rendering them in collections of artifacts of the past. Lastly, as an epistemological act, the recognition of the researcher’s inscription and the fact that the archive’s interpretation and the narratives it generates are subject to the researcher’s presuppositions and constructions.

14In relation to the Americas specifically, several authors have also redefined the notion of the archive as a way of making sense of cultural memory and intellectual history and, in some cases, to address questions of circulation and transmission. Particularly relevant for the translator’s archive is González Echevarría’s use of the notion for a genealogy of Latin American narrative. He sees the archive as a way to understand the relations between fiction, discourse, and memory, and to investigate the novel as part of the textual economy of its historical and geopolitical specificity (1990: 8). Another re-elaboration was proposed by Taylor (2003), who relates the archive to writing and performance in building cultural identity and memory. Both authors employ the term strategically and grant it specificity so as to account methodologically for their particular goal. Although different, their perspectives frame and contextualize the discussion on the archive for a genealogy of hemispheric cultural production aiming to situate it within larger socio-historical discourses. They hint to a Latin American archive in which narratives—textual, visual, embodied—are ingrained in larger discursive and ideological structures.

15Brent Hayes Edwards’s brings together the notions of “translation” and “archive” in The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation and the Rise of Black Internationalism, a study of transatlantic cultural history. Ignacio Infante notes that the cultural and literary history Edwards proposes relies on “a new archive previously unavailable as such and that emerges precisely by critically tracing the material residues of that translational circulation […] [I]t is a literary and cultural history that does not follow or reinforce a previously given national, linguistic, or methodological framework (2013: 186; emphasis mine). For Edwards, such a project requires “unearthing and articulating an archive” that is not “a site or mode of preservation of a national, institutional, or individual past, but instead of a ‘generative system’”: in other words, a discursive system that governs the possibilities, forms, appearance, and regularity of particular statements, objects, and practices” (2003: 7).

16These views point to the archive as a generative and relational space, a form of engagement that is provisional, contingent, and open to plural possibilities. It is precisely in this sense that it is most productive for analyzing transnational and translocal understandings of culture as entwined while still existing in difference and specificity. Moreover, they point to the epistemological exercise of engaging the archive as always already tied to theories and cultural formations and artifacts as discursive formations. This is key for a genealogy, as it makes the act of narrating the archive akin to storytelling. The study of cultural practices is about tracing the past but also about writing it and activating it in the present. It is a form of memory in itself and also an event, an instance of memory-making.

17The ways in which the archive can be read are multiple. One way to activate it, especially with attention to its heterogeneity and its non-hierarchical set of relations, is to read it rhizomatically, in such a way that diverse points can be connected, as an assemblage. According to Deleuze and Guattari, in the assemblage—premised on multiplicity—there is a radical challenging to the subject-object split. Things of differing status form collective assemblages of enunciation through lines of articulation and segmentarity (1987: 7). Reading the translator’s archive as an assemblage, it becomes a signifying organism and allows viewing recombinations across translators’ texts, their bodies, their histories, to make visible lines that cross dates, textual matter, borders, and territories. Within the logic of the assemblage I can glimpse convergences among a date, a story, and a footnote, I can see lines between the archive’s apparent exteriority and its interiority, in an acentered plurality where dissimilarities are in flux with points of convergence. In the case of translators’ theories of language, for instance, the assemblage reveals lines of relation among the translator’s consciousness, sedimented theories of traceable or untraceable origin, family histories, and imaginaries of subject and place.

3. The distance between genetics and genealogy

  • 11 . These include Rose’s proposed “stereoscopic reading”, i.e., “using both the original language te (...)
  • 12 . The related areas I identify here are based upon the ways in which, according to Cordingley and (...)

18Inasmuch as translators’ materials, both published and unpublished, are part of the scope of the translator’s archive, its subject of analysis shares elements with work done by genetic criticism, and specifically with “genetic translation studies”. The common elements are the attention to manuscripts and unpublished materials and the acknowledgement of the constraints and conditions of rewriting involved in the translator’s work. These imply engaging in multi-textual forms of reading for literary study11, recognizing linguistic multiplicity in translation praxis and its collective and collaborative nature, and the fact that translations “feed into or stimulate other creative works of the author-translator.”12

  • 13 . Contrasting genetic criticism with textual criticism, Ferrer notes the former is aimed at “the p (...)

19Nevertheless, despite these evident connections there are significant conceptual differences between the translator’s archive and genetic criticism. One is a question of emphasis: Whereas the translator’s archive is part of an articulation of the subject in the world, translation praxis being an aspect of this existence, the emphasis of genetic criticism is not on the subject, but focuses on texts13. Another—more profound—conceptual difference has to do with the epistemological desire that drives each of these two different approaches. “Genetic criticism”—and “genetics”, the very term—invokes an orientation toward a particular disciplinary and methodological type of claim. Cordingley and Montini describe “genetic translation studies”, as a “growing field of research”, as follows:

Over the past decade a new field of research has emerged that may be termed “genetic translation studies.” It analyses the practices of the working translator and the evolution, or genesis, of the translated text by studying translators’ manuscripts, drafts and other working documents. Genetic translation studies focuses therefore on the transformations of the translated text during the process of its composition. (2015: 1; emphasis mine)

  • 14 . This can be seen from titles such as “Toward a Science of Literature: Manuscript Analysis and th (...)

There are at least two ways in which the translator’s archive as a concept aligned to—and oriented toward—a genealogy differs from this vision. The first one has to do with the genetic approach’s focus on the “transformations” of the text during the process of its making. While the translator’s archive grants a great deal of importance to manuscripts and paratexts, it does not restrict itself to them and, importantly, does not use them to resolve a finished text’s unknowns. The second has to do with the notion of “evolution”. Like “genetics”, “evolution” evokes claims in line with scientific research’s aim for definite answers to a specific set of research questions14. Inasmuch as “genetic translation studies” is inflected by a scientificist view of knowledge, a fundamental difference between genetic criticism as such and the translator’s archive is the fact that the archive is part of a project for a translation genealogy—embracing the dialectic of knowledge production and/as (its) critique. Genetic analysis aims to look for a source, i.e., for explanations of a textual phenomenon by looking at its origins, as in the case of looking at drafts in order to explain translation decisions. In contrast, the space that emerges in/out of a genealogy is a space of exposing and also of engaging and questioning. It is one where existing and dominant (historical) narratives are put into question and other (counter-) narratives are allowed to emerge. It exposes conditions of production while problematizing fixed spatializations and linear temporalities and continuities, thereby putting into question the very ideas of source and origin.

  • 15 . In the introduction to Genetic Criticism, the editors identify moments in this movement: “for ge (...)
  • 16 . Simeoni writes persuasively about the “geopolitical unconscious” of disciplinary claims in relat (...)
  • 17 . According to Van Hulle, French genetic critics employ the term “modern manuscripts” to distingui (...)

20Both the framing of the volume Genetic Criticism (Deppman et al., 2004) and the one proposed by Cordingley and Montini in “Towards a Genetics of Translation” (2015) are remarkable efforts to reconfigure traditional genetic criticism to turn it into a twenty-first century framework that can be in conversation with contemporary approaches in literary studies and cultural theory. However, the epistemological foundation inherent in “genetic” will likely run into tensions with historiographic approaches of a more social and political focus and, particularly, those centering on the “subject” and the “agent”15. Whether or not genetic translation studies in fact constitutes “an emerging discipline”16, or if it is—as seems to be the case—a “perspective”, anchored in a particular epistemology, the translator’s archive, despite its areas of intersection with studies of “modern manuscripts”17, does not fully fit within that framing. It responds to a desire for a cultural historiography but is open to intersections with a variety of approaches. It is an entry point, a “way of seeing”—to invoke John Berger—a mode of engaging, as it were, with the translator’s experience, an aspect of the subject in the world, and does not claim to produce typologies nor to establish definite terms for its study.

4. Translators in the Americas: The archive and/as cultural memory

21Translation played a crucial role in the path Latin American literature followed throughout the 20th century and continues to shape the way it circulates and is inscribed in the world of literature. Contemporary Latin American writing is to an important extent a function of its international reception. Specifically, translation into English was instrumental in the internationalization of Latin American works. As active agents in this continuum of literary and cultural production, translators played a central role in shaping Latin American writing as it exists today.

  • 18 . I elaborate on the similarities and differences among these translators in the article “Translat (...)

22I have investigated the context of translation of Latin American writing by looking at various translators’ life histories, at various overdetermining factors of their practice, and at the ways they articulate their views of their role as agents of language and culture contact in the Americas. The comparative exercise has revealed a perspective of North American translators of Latin American literature as a collective, their understandings of their practice, their views on writing and textuality, and their characterizations of their own image as agents in the construction of the Latin American imaginary18.

  • 19 . Regarding translation scholarship about Latin America, a work that greatly influenced my own was (...)

23My focus on translators and/in Latin America has been in conversation both with translators’ own narratives of their work, and with works by other scholars who have focused on the role of individual translators—e.g., Willson (2017 [2004])19. In both types of works—scholarly and translator’s own accounts—I was able to trace the existence of narrative webs that went from texts and other forms of self-disclosure to letters and manuscripts to published works, and then to individuals themselves and collective entities and institutions. It was in this context that the concept of the translator’s archive emerged, and I have found it illuminating when it comes to understanding the place of translation praxis and of translators’ agency in the Americas in the twentieth century.

24Translator Gregory Rabassa (1922-2016) was a central figure in a turning point in Latin American literary history. He began to translate, and his translations to be published, in the sixties and seventies, the so-called literary Boom and a time when Latin American literature became internationalized. Rabassa translated over fifty novels and his translations of books such as Cien años de soledad [One Hundred Years of Solitude] marked the beginning of a worldwide recognition of Latin American literature within the world republic of letters. They also helped shape, narratively, the contours of Latin America within the world’s imagination. Looking at his archive is a way of tracing the relations that unfolded in that process and the conditions that led to its realization.

  • 20 . Waisman’s views are partly informed by his work on Borges’s “theories” of translation (2005).

25After looking at Rabassa’s case, I looked at the archives of two other contemporary translators of Latin American literature into English, Suzanne Jill Levine and Sergio Waisman, who, like Rabassa, translated works that defied certain formal and aesthetic orders of their time. Whether or not they were aware of their role, these and other twentieth-century translators of Latin American literature created a path toward a narrative “social existence” (Venuti, 2000: 484). Looking at the elements that constitute their translator’s archives, and specifically to their writings on translation, we can see that, although they coincide in resisting and challenging the notion of impossibility of translation, there are significant differences in the way they reflect on their practice. This is partly due to the fact that they formulate the act of translation according to their respective conceptual repertoire. In Rabassa’s writings, intimate, playful, and largely anecdotal, one can observe a more romanticized conception of translation and textuality. For him, translation is a craftsman’s work as well as an art, and one has no access to its inscrutable and mysterious process. Levine, on the other hand, sees translation as a form of collective creation and also as a locus to understand Latin American literature today. To her, translation is clearly inscribed by her own self as a woman translator, who creates, recreates, struggles, and negotiates with the texts until their realization. Her reflections bring to the fore a view of translation as constant creative and productive tension, and of the translator as a self-aware agent. Similarly to Levine, Waisman situates himself actively with respect to the text. He views translation as writing, and the translator and the writer in a position of interdependence. For him translation and writing are practically interchangeable: translation is one of many readings in a continuum of readings of which any text is part20.

26One sees in Levine’s and Waisman’s reflections a focus that is not present in Rabassa’s: an agential awareness leading to a deliberate political positioning, marked partly—and differently, in each case—by the recognition of the material conditions of literary production and circulation and, in particular, of the asymmetric relationship between Latin American authors and the institutional forces of the world republic of letters. Levine discusses what it means to translate in the context of “the formal and linguistic complexities of twentieth-century fiction” (1991: xii) and relates the translation of Latin American narratives to “the complex political history of the big American continent” (ibid.: 9). She is aware that translation participates in the exclusions inherent in canon-formation and affirms that, despite relatively positive changes in the second half of the twentieth century in terms of a relative openness of publishers and readerships to literature in translation, cultural, political and market pressures continue and lead to the perpetuation of such exclusions (2005: 315). Both Levine and Waisman display in their written reflections an awareness of the symbolic and cultural capital of English-language translation and recognize what Jean Franco calls the literary institutional and market “repressive selectivity” (2002: 261). Their self-understanding is informed by the way they view their role as cultural agents at their specific historical junctures and engage with it.

  • 21 . This is a reference to Spivak’s remarks in the “Translator’s Preface” to Mahasweta Devi’s Imagin (...)

27It is all the more important to situate Rabassa, Levine, and Waisman given the profound effect of English-language translation within and beyond the literary. Within the realm of literary practices—part of the larger spectrum of social practices—translation into English is “the most widely accepted means of symbolic exchange” (Cronin, 1998:152). It generates new (potential) readerships and is a condition of possibility for translation into other languages. This pivotal role of English-language translation in recent history is a significant feature when it comes to reading translator’s archives upon the axis of north-south relations, as translators’ documents reveal the workings of these relations as well as the translators’ perceptions of the positions they occupy in such a context. Each translated novel, and each translator’s view on how that novel inserts itself in north-south narrative and symbolic negotiations, is part of that larger discursive and social fabric. According to Levine, “self-referential inquisitions by prose translators provide useful models for translation studies as well as models of self-questioning for all interpreters” (1991: xiii). Levine points to translation as “ethical action” as her view of translation is geopolitically situated21.

  • 22 . I am grateful to J. Price for pointing out Said’s use of the concept as “cultural material” in O (...)

28Latin American literature in translation participates in shaping global images of Latin America, and the work of translators has produced and will continue to produce effects that exceed the literary. The examination of their translator’s archives illuminates the discursive base of images of Latin America as they get constructed in and through literature in translation. It offers a non-essentializing way of attending to the interplay between global and regional-local specificities. Upon examining translator’s archives in light of other “cultural material” of their times—their multiple singularities come to the fore despite their similarities22. The extension and depth of translators’ legacies is revealed, as are the multiplicity of events and effects with which they are associated in the territories of the interpretive communities they generate intersubjectively. Brought together, they generate plurivocal narratives. Such heterogeneity of voices is indicative of a larger heterogeneity, that of Latin American literature itself and of its relation to larger “worlds” of literature.

29Translation, like writing, is both part of a subject’s body and of her archive, as much as it is part of cultural history. The translator’s archive is illuminating of specific “translation zones” that is, as “linguistic hot spots” on which a “subset of politics at large, with particular agendas and strategic interests” is superimposed (Apter, 2006: 130). Levine’s remarks on translation as part of a “complex political history” echo Apter’s characterization. In the translation zone, the act of translation is both intimate and personal, and collective and bound to communities. Like writing, translation may be a response of love; it may be one of anguish for what a work engenders in its readers, or one of awakening, as one becomes aware of history (histories) and feels compelled to bear witness and tell someone’s story, to voice it and make it known.

The archive as experience

30I titled this article “(re)Visiting the Translator’s Archive” for two reasons. The most obvious one is the gesture of re-approaching an argument already offered in the past in an attempt to insert it within current debates, gauge its possibilities, and refine parts of it based on ongoing explorations and observations. The second reason, which originated from looking back—and again—at translators’ documents, is the unfinished, recursive nature of the experience.

31In The Hawthorn Archive: Letters from the Utopian Margins, Avery Gordon describes her archive project as both “an imaginary and real infrastructure for intellectual work”, “an idiosyncratic methodology for a research-based writing practice” in a form “neither quite academic nor artistic but something in between, a form borne of failure and a form that itself fails in many crucial ways” (2018: v). She notes that, after spending “a good amount of time in these archives, it became clear that there was an exclusionary zone of tremendous magnitude”, and that precisely in that zone or blind spot one might find “fugitive moments of comprehension” that could yield a genealogy for more adequate histories and theories toward a livable and humane social existence (ibid.: vii-viii). A genealogy of translation is enriched by attending to “fugitive moments of comprehension” emerging from the translator’s archive, its material traces as well as its cracks and empty spaces, what is absent amidst what remains.

32Reading and interpreting an archive is never completed. The materials, in their open and somewhat raw nature, continue to elicit and prompt new questions, thereby offering the promise of new paths for enquiry. Moreover, there is something in the experience of visiting the archive that exceeds the academic narrative—within and beyond the scholar’s positionality—reminiscent of Joshua Price’s reflection on epistemological “bewilderment”. As “sensing, glimpsing, then breathing in other ways of being” […] “Bewilderment is meant” to have “one’s confidence shaken as one plunges into one’s work and follows all the contradictions it engenders” (2008: 356). This is a call for a scholarship grounded on a more “egalitarian”, subject-subject relation. In it, “the house of cards that is one’s home, one’s discipline, institution, tradition, one’s bedrock, is cast aloft and comes down a-tumbled” (ibid.: 360).

  • 23 . This image of the attic comes from a comment by Carol Maier—who has also greatly inspired my wor (...)
  • 24 . Here also as in Spivak’s “Translator’s Preface” (1995: xxv).
  • 25 . Avery Gordon and others write eloquently about the transformative aspects of archive research an (...)

33One may or may not be invited, or welcome, to visit a translator’s archive. Either way, there is a phenomenological aspect to the experience of encountering its materiality. Coming into contact with unpublished materials—which may be in digital or facsimile form, in a library collection, or in dusty boxes kept for years in an attic23—is an existential, multi-sensory, and embodied—even somatic—experience. If physically present, one feels the temperature in the room, takes in the smells, touches the paper, notices its fragility, sees its color, discovers drawings, struggles to decipher handwriting. Few have the privilege of seeing a translator’s marginalia, unsolved queries, false starts, scribbles. Reading her letters. In these and other unexpected pieces of the archive one is able to witness the material traces of a life, of a translator’s “secrets”24—that is, of those that remain, either by accident or by choice. As such, the experience cannot, in justice, be confined to the building of an argument, i.e., to the imperative of reason. The witness-companion leaves, but the experience remains. Telling it becomes a testimony of a relationship; it is an ethical act, as narrating the encounter with the archive is a high calling. Whether or not actually paying a visit again is a possibility, the experience will continue to transform, (re)visit, haunt you25. The translator’s archive, an organic, relational, generative space, is constituted, also, by its (being) experience.

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, 2005, “The Latin American Novel in English Translation”, in Efraín Kristal (dir.), The Cambridge Companion to the Latin American Novel, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 297-371.

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1 . The term “translator studies” was proposed for work that focuses “primarily and explicitly on the agents involved in translation, for instance on their activities or attitudes, their interaction with their social and technical environment, or their history and influence” (Chesterman, 2009: 20).

2 . I have discussed extensively various aspects of Rabassa’s life and work in articles and in the book Gregory Rabassa’s Latin American Literature: A Translator’s Visible Legacy, which provides a bibliography of materials on and by Rabassa.

3 . I consulted translators’ collections housed in special archives and library collections; I consulted Rabassa’s papers at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at the University of Boston; I also visited the collection of translation-related materials at the Lilly Library of the University of Indiana at Bloomington.

4 . In 1998, discussing future research, Daniel Simeoni mentioned the need to incorporate to translation studies “sociographies of single (modern) translators’ professional trajectories” (emphasis mine). To this end, he proposed carrying out interviews or biographical research (1998: 31). I understand sociography as a non-restrictive notion to study the translation event in light of the agents that participate in it, their relationships, and the social and political circumstances that condition it.

5 . I present a more detailed explanation of the notion of translator’s archive in earlier articles, including “Translating Latin America: Reading Translator’s Archives” and “Translation North and South: Composing the Translator’s Archive.”

6 . I take the word “imaginings” from Spivak’s translator’s preface to Imaginary Maps, in which she reflects on how she imagined her translation’s readership(s) (1995: xxiii).

7 . Their marginality may itself be a reason to look at these materials. They have the potential to reveal lesser studied aspects of narrative production.

8 . Moretti proposed “distant reading” as a way of taking the necessary critical distance from the text, or texts themselves, to view larger mappings that offer more complex ways of approaching the fundamentally unequal world of literature (2000: 56-57).

9 . Cronin posits “ecology” to answer the question: “Is there a way of attaching value to what translators do that does not involve the sacrifice of a sense of collective responsibility?” (2016: 239)

10 . Ríos-Font locates the difference in emphasis in Foucault’s focus on the archive’s epistemological aspect and Derrida’s on its ontological one (2004: 231). Derrida calls into question “hermeneutic competence”, i.e., the inherent authority of subjects over what constitutes the archive and how to interpret it. “[R]ight on that which permits and conditions archivization, we will never find anything other than that which exposes to destruction […] introducing, a priori, forgetfulness and the archiviolithic into the heart of the monument” (Derrida quoted ibid: 232).

11 . These include Rose’s proposed “stereoscopic reading”, i.e., “using both the original language text and (one or more) translations while reading” to investigate the “interliminal” space of translation for literary criticism (1997: 90).

12 . The related areas I identify here are based upon the ways in which, according to Cordingley and Montini, “a genetics of translation” can help “reorient translation studies” (2015: 9-10).

13 . Contrasting genetic criticism with textual criticism, Ferrer notes the former is aimed at “the process of writing, “that can only be approximately reconstituted from existing documents” […] “[I]t does not go beyond the existing documents toward an ideal text that never existed anywhere, but instead strives to reconstruct, from all the evidence it can muster, a historically attested chain of events” (2002: 49). While there is a recognition that the “process” can only be “approximately reconstituted”, the analytical emphasis is on “texts” and “documents” for the purpose of “reconstructing” a “chain of events”.

14 . This can be seen from titles such as “Toward a Science of Literature: Manuscript Analysis and the Genesis of the Work” (1989 article by Pierre-Marc de Biasi published in Genetic Criticism, p. 36-68. Emphasis mine)

15 . In the introduction to Genetic Criticism, the editors identify moments in this movement: “for geneticists, instead of a fixed, finished object in relation to which all previous states are considered, a given text becomes—or texts become—the contingent manifestations of a diachronous play of signifiers” (Deppman et al., 2004: 5). The authors do not shy away from the contradictions embedded in the project for a literary “genetics”. Even then, the need for such an approach to become a school or a “discipline” is unconvincing.

16 . Simeoni writes persuasively about the “geopolitical unconscious” of disciplinary claims in relation to the history of disciplines, and relates this specifically to translation studies (2008).

17 . According to Van Hulle, French genetic critics employ the term “modern manuscripts” to distinguish them from other types, such as ancient manuscripts or those produced by scribes (2014: 6).

18 . I elaborate on the similarities and differences among these translators in the article “Translating Latin America: Reading Translators’ Archives” (Guzmán, 2012b). There and in other pieces, such as the book on Rabassa and “Jill Levine and the Spider Woman” (2012a), I provide details about each translator’s life and statements. Given the scope of this article, here I offer a brief discussion of these materials.

19 . Regarding translation scholarship about Latin America, a work that greatly influenced my own was Patricia Willson’s La constelación del sur. In the prologue to the 2nd edition, looking back at the place of translation in the humanities and social sciences, she notes that “this practice and its agents is at the heart of any reflection in comparative literature and cultural history and concerned with the dissemination of knowledge across linguistic boundaries” (2017: 7, my translation). In terms of individual translator’s accounts, in the last decades there have been several book-length works by translators on translation, such us Rabassa’s own If This be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents, Felstiner’s Translating Neruda: The Way to Machu Picchu, and Levine’s The Subversive Scribe.

20 . Waisman’s views are partly informed by his work on Borges’s “theories” of translation (2005).

21 . This is a reference to Spivak’s remarks in the “Translator’s Preface” to Mahasweta Devi’s Imaginary Maps (1995: xxv).

22 . I am grateful to J. Price for pointing out Said’s use of the concept as “cultural material” in Orientalism (287).

23 . This image of the attic comes from a comment by Carol Maier—who has also greatly inspired my work—in a session on translator’s manuscripts at an ALTA conference over fifteen years ago. That session, in which Breon Mitchell (the driving force behind the Lilly library collection) also took part, was the first time I reflected on translator’s archival materials.

24 . Here also as in Spivak’s “Translator’s Preface” (1995: xxv).

25 . Avery Gordon and others write eloquently about the transformative aspects of archive research and the ways in which the experience as such inflects the act of writing.

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María Constanza Guzmán

María Constanza Guzmán enseigne à la faculté de Traduction et au département d’Études hispaniques de l’université York (Toronto, Canada). Outre de nombreux articles en traductologie, elle a notamment publié Gregory Rabassa’s Latin American Literature (Bucknell UP, 2008) et cotraduit (avec Joshua Price) un roman de José Pablo Feinmann, Heidegger’s Shadow (Texas Tech UP, 2016). Elle a récemment dirigé un numéro sur la traduction en revue dans Translation and Interprating Studies (John Benjamins, 2019), et publié Mapping Spaces of Translation in Twentieth-Century Latin American Print Culture (Routledge, 2020).

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