Luise von Flotow (University of Ottawa): The “letter” of the text: when women translate the Bible word-for-word

What does it mean to translate the “letter” of the text, or to translate “word-for-word” when it comes to the Bible? And what role does commentary play in the work of Bible translation by women?  In this presentation I propose to study the ‘literalist’ aspect of the work of three women translators and commentators who produced versions of the Bible or of excerpts of the biblical text: Julia Smith 1878, Elizabeth Cady Stanton 1895, and Mary Phil Korsak 1992, and analyse samples of their translations as commentary. Though separated by a century, they are connected – for one thing because they focus on the “letter” of the text but also because they refer to each other, recognizing the preceding woman’s translation decisions, and are deliberate in their work with the words of the text.  

I will refer to Antoine Berman’s work on ‘literal translation’ and translation as commentary and examine certain English Bible translations by women, where both word-for-word translation and commentary are part of an ‘activist,’ feminist agenda.  And I will bring in Berman’s 1995 work on the need to understand the socio-cultural and personal situation of a translator in order to understand the outcome of their translations: in regard to the women engaged with biblical texts, these questions are important. Why do Smith, Stanton and Korsak deem their work on these traditional texts necessary, worthy of the considerable effort they invest, and the risks they incur in tackling and tampering with a “sacred” text.

Their motivations and the contexts within which they work are presented here along with a discussion of their careful attention to the words of the text. My presentation will thus engage with two points in the CfP: the motives for the retranslation of sacred texts and the strategies for retranslating sacred texts.

About the author

Luise von Flotow has taught Translation Studies at the University of Ottawa in Canada since 1996. Her main research interests have focused on feminist and gender issues in translation, translation as cultural diplomacy, and audio-visual translation. Publications include articles and books authored and edited in these areas. Most recent books include : The Routledge Handbook on Translation, Feminism and Gender, eds. Luise von Flotow and Hala Kamal, forthcoming 2020;  Por casualidad y otras razones: traduccion y diffusion de la literatura, la dramaturgia y el cine de Canada en Latinoamerica, eds. Marc Charron, Luise von Flotow and Claudia Lucotti, Bonilla-Artigas Editores, 2018; Translating Women, Different Voices and New Horizons, eds. Luise von Flotow and Farzaneh Farhazad, Routledge 2017; Translation Effects: The Making of Contemporary Canadian Culture and Translation, ed. with Kathy Mezei and Sherry Simon, McGill Queens UP 2014; Translating Women, ed. University of Ottawa Press 2011; Translating Canada. Charting the Institutions and Influences of Cultural TransferCanadian Writing in German/y. eds. Luise von Flotow and Reingard Nischik, University of Ottawa Press 2007; Translation and Gender. Translation in the ‘Era of Feminism’ St. Jerome Publishing and University of Ottawa Press 1997.

She is also a literary translator, working mainly from German and French to English. Recent publications include:  They Divided the Sky. Re-translation of Der geteilte Himmel, by Christa Wolf, 1963, University of Ottawa Press, 2013; Everyone Talks About the WeatherWe Don’t. ed. Karin Bauer. Political columns by Ulrike Meinhof, annotation and introduction by Karin Bauer, Seven Stories Press, New York, 2008; and  The Four Roads Hotel, tr. of France Théoret`s L’hôtel aux quatre chemins, Toronto, Guernica Editions, 2017; The Stalinist’s Wife, tr. of France Théoret’s La femme du stalinien, Toronto Guernica Editions, 2013; Such a Good Education, tr. of France Theoret’s Une belle éducation, Toronto, Cormorant Press, 2010.

The most recent translation is Tout le monde parle de la pluie et du beau temps. Pas nous! the French translation of Everybody Talks About the Weather. We Don’t! (ed. Karin Bauer 2008), 2018 at Editions Remue-ménage, Montreal, in collaboration with Isabelle Totikaev.