Aliens & Translators: Translation as common language in science fiction and fantasy

Abstract : Even if SF and fantasy fiction may appear, a priori, as spaces of discovery of languages as well as new worlds, a closer examining leads to rectify this first impression: these fictions are fundamentally locations and spaces of translation, allowing in particular exchanges and communication between different planets, creatures, universes. They thus interrogate the very notion of “common language” and state translation as lingua franca at a cosmic, interplanetary, interracial level, although in its most hazardous, random, fanciful, not very fluent dimensions – by the presence of central figures of translators and linguists or the topical device of pseudo-translation. In this paper I will therefore discuss the idea of translation as common language within a syllabus of texts that function – I shall argue – as emblem both of the translation act and of comparative practice. Narrating various and diverse world enables to interrogate the very activity of translation as well as its imperatives, processes and constraints. These fictions thus offer a tentative vision and understanding of translation – resolutely opposed to the illusion of transparency (Benjamin) and the presumed invisibility (Venuti) of the translator or the imperatives of “fidelity” and total allegiance to the original. What is at stake when reading the fictions seems to us the image of our comparative practice as scholars and teachers: it allows the exploration of unknown worlds through translation, the fictional immersion in a universe that is sometimes radically other, a “épreuve de l’étranger” (Berman) par excellence, experiencing defamiliarisation and renewal of our gaze enabled and rendered accessible through translation as “common language” and even shared language: we hear bits of alien languages, of discourses, a couple of words, specific sonorities and morpho-syntactic characteristics of the alien tongues (although alien utterances need not be included at all); we are led to get out of ourselves, we experience a different perception with its limitations, we have to detach ourselves from an unilingual apprehension of the world, “a mindset or ethos that operates only in terms of one language” (Chaudhurai). A large set of examples will be addressed, including Stanislaw Lem (Głos Pana, 1968), Ursula K. Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness, 1973; The Word for World is Forest, 1972; Always Coming Home, 1987), Samuel Delany (Babel-17, 1966), Suzette Haden Elgin (Native Tongue, 1984), or Walter Moers (Zamonien cycle, 1999–).
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Communication dans un congrès
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https://hal-univ-paris3.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01426611
Contributeur : Anne Isabelle François <>
Soumis le : mercredi 4 janvier 2017 - 16:56:23
Dernière modification le : mercredi 22 mars 2017 - 12:04:49

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Anne Isabelle François. Aliens & Translators: Translation as common language in science fiction and fantasy. XXI. Congress of the ICLA (International Comparative Literature Association), University of Vienna, Jul 2016, Vienne, Austria. ⟨hal-01426611⟩

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