Feminist Approaches to Translation Studies

In the article “Dis-Unity and Diversity Feminist Approaches to Translation Studies,” Luise Von Flotow introduces three dis-united and contradictory theories by Spivak, Gillam and Arrojo. Then she discusses the potential factors of the conflict and also the factors contributing to the complexity of feminist theories in translation. Identity politics emphasize that the identity of the writer/ critic/ translator may effect their writing/ perception/ translation. Positionality indicates that “the effect of this identity is relativied by institutional, economic and other factors” (Von Flotow, 4). The historical dimension points out the limits of the subjectivity of the writer/ critic/ translator in certain time period in certain area. However, these three factors seem to be very similar and inter-related to me that I cannot differentiate one from the other. What’s the interrelationship between these three factors?


Mahony in Hermeneutics and Ideology: On Translating Freud argues that the structure of language may “lead, though not restrict, native speakers, to conceptualize in certain ways” and the language Freud uses theoretically and therapeutically is figurative. Translators when translating a text from different language structure should be aware of how the author and the the translator would think differently. He also proposes that translation of psychoanlysis should be different from other translation that the translator should dig into the unconscious part of the author in his writing. Though he admits that it sounds risky, it is still important for the translation of psychoanalysis. I agree that the translator should be aware that he stands in a position different from the author, but can he acknowledge all the difference? When the translator adds footnotes identifying the meanings “that might have escaped the conscious awareness of the author,” is there anyone to identify the role that the translator’s unconsciousness plays? And how to differentiate the influence from one’s unconsciousness and from the structure of language that one’s in?

Thick Translation

Appiah emphasizes that there’s certain educational and institutional purpose behind literary creation and translation, and he proposes “thick translation” to “urge to continue the repudiation of racism… to extend the American imagination… and to develop views of the world elsewhere that respect more deeply the autonomy of the Other” (341-342). This is definitely significant for translations from “cultures of the minority” into “cultures of the majority.” However, what will Appiah argue for translations from culture from the majority into culture of the minority, for example, the translations of Western literature into Chinese culture? Should there be any resistance or confinements in order to keep the Chinese culture and to maintain the overall diversity of world culture?

Translation and World Literature

When discussing the necessity of translating “mss,” David Damrosche argues that it is not very important to deliver the accurate meaning of “mss” since the important message here is the action of getting undressed. Readers are aware that they are reading an ancient Egyptian poem so they will not relate modern cloths with what the speaker in the poem wears. However what are the qualifications to determine what should be accurately translated and what not? Damrosche also claims that “some literary works, indeed, may be so closely dependent on detailed culture-specific knowledge that they can only be meaningful to members of the originating culture or to specialists in that culture; these are works that remain within the sphere of a national literature and never achieve an effective life in world literature” (Damrosche, 420). I believe that every “good” literary work embeds both universality and the uniqueness of its own culture, so how can one determine the life of a literary work in the sphere of world literature by evaluating the percentage of its cultural specificity? For example, many ancient Chinese stories are about love, a universal topic. However, the way to present love conflict behind love must be very different from western romantic stories and are dependent on the knowledge of Chinese culture. Does it mean that because of such difference, they shall only remain important in China? In addition, Damrosche’s argument pre-supposes the existence of world culture different from specific cultures, then what is the world culture?


I like the idea that the translation is a continuous life of the original work. Languages keep evolving and changing, and one cannot deny the importance of translation in the development of languages and the formation of “pure language.” However, what does Benjamin mean when he say that “… the original is changed. Established words also have their post-maturation”? I think the change happened to the original language comes from readers’ responses. If readers are not the intention of a work of art or a translation, then can they affect the original, which is the already-established words?


“But if after what I have urg’d, it be thought by better Judges that the praise of a Translation Consists in adding new Beauties to the piece, thereby to recompence the loss which it sustains by change of Language…” (Dryden, 41).

It is interesting to see how Dryden and Derrida regards translation as a debt, however, is it possible to recompence the loss by adding new beauties into it? While the loss is inevitable, does the changes made by translators, which are not contained in the original, make the translation less like the original text, or recompense the loss?

Untranslatability —- word

“In Chinese two ideograms correspond partially to the word: the ideogram that translates the notion of word or term, the character ci  詞, was only recently imported (after 1920)  whereas the unit of analysis remains the character zi 字 (Allenton, “Terminologie de la grammarie chinoise”). ”

In western linguistic system, “the word” usually refers to an independent semantic entity. However, in Chinese, as the quote above suggested, there are two ideograms corresponding to “the word.” This was very confusing for me when I tried to explain Chinese in English before, as I didn’t really understand the difference between “word” “character” and “letter.”  For example, 飲料 is a “word” means all kinds of drinks. Separately, 飲 means 1) verb, to drink; 2) noun, drinks; 3) noun, liquid traditional Chinese medicine; 4) bear and experience; 5) fade and hide. 料 means 1) verb, have thought/ guessed; 2) noun, materials; 3) noun, raw food; 4) noun, ingredients; 5) verb, to take care and to clean up; 5) a quantifier used in traditional Chinese medicine. Both zi 飲 and 料 are zi 字 and can be seen as a separate word, and together 飲料 is a ci 詞, a word which means drinks. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to translate “the word” in Chinese

Roman Jakobson

I really like the idea that “translation from one language into another substitues messages in one language not for separate code-units but for entire messages in some other language,” which means that even in interlingual translation, both intralingual and interlingual translations are involved. When doing translation, the translator has to find several synonoyms or circumlocutions in the target language in order to understand what is signified by the code-unit in the target language, and then he or she has to translate the cloud of all the associated signified into source language and then do an intralingual translation in source language again. I haven’t realized that usually interlingual language does not appear solely until I read this article, and the considerations needed for these two kinds of translations definitely add difficulty and complexity to the translator’s work and make the translation prone to more loss.

However, I don’t understand that “language differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.” Who is the judger to determine which is the most indispensible meaning of a word in certain context and which is to be sacrificed? Is there any essence of language? Or is Roman Jakobson suggesting that certain loss is inevitable, negligible and will not damage the meaning being conveyed, and therefore it is possible to achieve equivalence once the most essential meaning is conveyed?


Target text—-Translated by Karen S. Kingsbury

As soon as the door closed behind her, the drawing room fell into shadow. Two squares of yellow light streamed in through the glass panes in the upper part of the door, landing on the green tile floor. In spite of the gloom, one could see, on the bookshelves that lined the walls, long rows of slipcases made of purplish sandalwood into which formal-script characters had been carved, then painted green. On a plain wooden table in the middle of the room, there was a cloisonné chiming clock with a glass dome over it. The clock was broken; it hadn’t worked in years. There were two hanging scrolls with paired verses; the crimson paper of the scrolls was embossed with gold “longevity” characters, over which
the verses had been in-scribed in big, black strokes. In the dim light, each word seemed to float in emptiness, far from the paper’s surface. Liusu felt like one of those words, drifting and unconnected. The Bai household was a fairyland where a single day, creeping slowly by, was a thousand years in the outside world. But if you spent a thousand years here, all the days would be the same, each one as flat and dull as the last one.

Source text

倾城之恋  张爱玲



In the very first pages Schleiermacher differentiates interpretation and translation, and thinks that translation is superior to interpretation. “Translator must bring different powers and skills to his work and be familiar with his writer and the writer’s tongue in a different sense than the interpreter” (page 44). However, what usually happens in the daily life (at least in China) is that the interpreter is higher-esteems and receives higher salaries rather than the translator. If it is more difficult and more honorable to be a translator, why they are not better paid?

He also mentions the significance of the presence of the author very briefly, and I’m wondering that how can a translator manifest his presence in translation? Schleiermacher proposes two ways to translate: one is to leave the readers in peace and move the writer towards them, and another is to leave the writer in peace and move the readers towards him (page 51). In either process, how can a translator manifest his role and importance and which approach might make greater emphasis on the translator?