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Reciprocity in Literary Translation: Gift Exchange Theory and Translation Praxis in Brazil and Mexico (1968-2015)

  • Author(s): Gomez, Isabel Cherise
  • Advisor(s): Kristal, Efraín
  • Passos, José Luiz
  • et al.

What becomes visible when we read literary translations as gifts exchanged in a reciprocal symbolic economy? Figuring translations as gifts positions both source and target cultures as givers and recipients and supplements over-used translation metaphors of betrayal, plundering, submission, or fidelity. As Marcel Mauss articulates, the gift itself desires to be returned and reciprocated.

My project maps out the Hemispheric Americas as an independent translation zone and highlights non-European translation norms. Portuguese and Spanish have been sidelined even from European translation studies: only in Mexico and Brazil do we see autochthonous translation theories in Spanish and Portuguese. Focusing on translation strategies that value taboo-breaking, I identify poet-translators in Mexico and Brazil who develop their own translation manuals. Working through and moving beyond the ideas of Mexican and Brazilian avant-garde theorists, I analyze writers for whom questions of translatability are oriented towards reciprocal two-way exchange, rather than either assimilation or transculturation.

I demonstrate that—while in theory Octavio Paz defines translation as an act of resistance to a poet’s own voice—in his practice as a translator Paz imports his own poetic concerns into the works he translates. His contemporary Rosario Castellanos adopts and opposing theoretical stance while employing a similar practice, where her translated poems become an autobiographical performance of her intersectional vocation. I then trace the development of José Emilio Pacheco’s “approximations,” translations he describes as both cultured and barbaric. Haroldo de Campos and his concept of the “cannibal translator” who “transcreates” from all traditions opened the field for many Brazilian translators. Augusto de Campos, Paulo Henriques Britto, and Clarice Lispector each translate with their own manual, while they benefit from Haroldo’s expansive translation norms. Translation theories from Mexico and Brazil come into contact in translations of Brazilian modernismo into Spanish for a Latin American canon published by the Biblioteca Ayacucho. In each chapter, close reading of essays about translation, translation paratexts, and selected translations reveal the function of literary translations as gifts from one writer to another, from one culture to another, or amongst translators.

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