Translation, Migration, & Gender in the Americas, the Transatlantic, & the Transpacific
5-8 Jul 2017 Bordeaux (France)
The Vertigo of Translation: Willa Cather, Judith Butler and Translation
Véronique Béghain  1  
1 : Université Bordeaux Montaigne
Université Michel de Montaigne - Bordeaux III

In “Withholding the Name, Translating Gender in Cather's ‘On the Gulls' Road'” (2000), Judith Butler identifies Cather's nameless and genderless narrator as a figure of the translator and as what she calls “translative movement.” Butler relies, in particular, on Walter Benjamin's vision of translation as articulated in “The Task of the Translator,” while pointing out Sarah Orne Jewett's reductive reading of Cather's story as a lesbian tale in disguise, as the translation of a narrative of homosexual love into a more conventional one. Border crossing may well be seen as a central motif in Cather's story – primarily as the narrative of a journey between Europe and America that stages a genderless (Butler) or cross-gendered (Jewett) narrator. I will argue, however, that the subtitle, “The Ambassador's Story,” allows for its interpretation as an early example of “transfiction.” In this context, it is also useful to read Butler's 2000 article in the light of her other major contribution to translation issues, a 2004 article entitled “Betrayal's Felicity,” in which she offers a reading of Barbara Johnson's Mother Tongues, itself in part a reading of De Man as reader of Benjamin – as the latter further uncovers the vertiginous sense of suspended identity that possibly any account of translation, be it fictional or not, entails.

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