Una sola muerte numerosa (Strejilevich 1997)

Argentine writer Nora Strejilevich was also a victim of a male-controlled society. Kidnapped in 1977 during the last Argentine dictatorship (1976—1983), she was kept prisoner in the clandestine detention and extermination centre “Club Atlético” in Buenos Aires. After her release, Strejilevich went into exile in Canada, where she decided to give testimony of her experience of the human rights violations committed during the Argentine dictatorial regime through literature. Strejilevich narrates the untold and unofficial history through her testimony Una sola muerte numerosa (1997), her most acclaimed literary work. The book was awarded the National Award Letras de Oro (Golden Letters) for Hispanic Literature in the United States, and was translated into English (A Single Numberless Death, 2002) and into German (Ein einzelner vielfacher Tod, 2014).

Strejilevich underscores the place occupied by Latin American women in testimonial literature (Zambrano and Strejilevich 2016). She affirms that womens characteristic way of writing, speaking, and thinking — typically regarded as a flaw of the “weaker sex” — is a praiseworthy virtue and a political act. For her, the testimonio genre is closely connected to women, since by writing their testimonies women make public what others might think belongs in the private sphere. Strejilevich s own text Una sola muerte numerosa attests to this. The following fragments reveal how women’s private life is brought to the fore in the Spanish text and how significant a role metonymic language plays in this process.

La veo amasar su pasado en la estrecha cocina de madera que da al patio solitario.

  • (Strejilevich 1997,32)
  • 1 watch her kneading the past in the narrow wood kitchen that looks out onto the lonely patio.
  • (Strejilevich 2002, 26)

Ante todo, tu aspecto señorial no va con el delantal y los guantes de goma.

(Strejilevich 1997,34)

You have a stately presence, an aristocratic look that doesn’t go with the apron and the rubber gloves.

(Strejilevich 2002, 27)

Metonymic expressions such as “el delantal" (“the apron”), “los guantes de goma" (“the rubber gloves”), and “amasar su pasado” (“kneading the past”), employed in the source text to evoke women’s status and role in Argentina’s dictatorial regime, are recreated in the translated passages. Captive in the confined space of the house and reduced to a subservient role that is performed for a patriarchal figure, women are portrayed in the duties imposed upon them as housewives. The translation of these extracts exposes how the kitchen becomes women’s cage. Past dreams and the freedom of youth vanish when the heavy burden of social dictates falls on the character. Then, all that is left for the woman is “kneading the past” in the kitchen, with the apron and the rubber gloves on, all of them metonymies of her place in society'. Here the translation easily transfers the metonymic language, thus easing the cross-border transit of the disruptive mechanisms which operate in the source text to counteract mainstream hegemonic discourses about gender.

In the second fragment, the source text further emphasizes gender relations by establishing a metonymic contrast between “aspecto señorial” (master-like appearance) and “el delantal y los guantes de goma” (the apron and the rubber gloves). In Spanish, “señorial" (master-like) alludes to “señorío” (mastership) — meaning the territory belonging to the master (señor) — and, consequently, expresses mastery or command.2" Here,“aspecto señorial” (master-like appearance) conveys a positive evaluation through a man-related metonymic expression, as opposed to “el delantal y los guantes de goma" (the apron and the rubber gloves), evoking the woman as a degraded female figure. In this manner, the source text introduces a metonymic binary opposition between the male and the female figures in positive and negative terms, respectively. In the translated text, however, the expression “a stately presence, an aristocratic look” removes this shade of meaning. It conveys the notion of“dignity,” but not that of male superiority. In so doing, the translation relocates figurative meaning in a genderless terrain, presenting the reader with a less complex interpretation of the gendered relations of power evoked in the source text. From a feminist translation perspective, this lack of engagement with the rhetoricity of the source text advances a more gender-neutral version of the source culture.

Metonymy in Strejilevichs narrative also brings to light how men’s control over women is exerted through physical and sexual violence.

Interminable año de observar cuerpos deslizarse por la calle con su pesada carga sexual. . . . En la hora de historia imagino ejércitos de violadores, en la de geografía continentes de carne, montañas como esa barriga.

(Strejilevich 1997,21)

An endless year of observing bodies tread down the street, each with its heavy sexual cargo.. .. During history class I envision armies of rapists, in geography I imagine continents of flesh, mountains of fat like that belly.

(Strejilevich 2002, 16)

In this passage, the different metonymies operate together to create a female perspective on men and women. The emphasis on human bodies and their sexuality reveals the narrators anxiety over male sexual dominance. Indeed, the narrative exhibits women s physical vulnerability — the “heavy sexual cargo” — and the threat of sexual assault by men. This idea is supported by the metonymical reference to male figures as rapists (violadores), flesh (came), and a fat belly (barriga) — in allusion to the sexual assault the character suffered in a lift when returning home from school. Here the translation has reconstructed the same network of metonymic relations as in the source text. It is worth noting that the last metonymy has been adjusted to preserve the full meaning potential of the source trope. In the source text, the Spanish noun “barriga" (fat belly) conveys both the meaning of belly and that of fat, and presents a negative evaluation on the part of the enunciator. The metonymy embodies not only the reference to the assaulting man but also to the disgust the girl feels towards him. In the translation, this metonymy has been recreated through the noun phrase “fat like that belly.” Certainly, the noun “belly” alone does not express the full meaning of the source text. The translation manages to compensate for the loss of meaning with the noun phrase, thereby incorporating the notion of fatness, which is so significant in the source text. The relative ease with which issues of sexuality travel through translation in these cases suggests a narrower cultural gap between the source and target texts. This reveals how feminist translation strategies may be influenced by the type of discourse involved. It appears that the more universal the metonymic categories at play in the source text — vis-á-vis the allusion to culturally entrenched concepts and practices — the more accessible and easy to reconstruct they become for translation.

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