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25 Years

His Master’s Voice and Other Questions of Fidelity

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 4:00pm
Event Location: 
537 Heller Hall

Presented by Christi A Merrill
Associate Professor of South Asian Literature and Postcolonial Theory
Department of Comparative Literature
Department of Asian Languages and Culture
University of Michigan 


Abstract: Whose “voice” do I recreate on the page in English when translating the nonfictional “life story” Dohara Abhishap [Doubly Cursed], written in Hindi by the feminist Dalit activist Kausalya Baisantry? I ask as a postcolonial translation studies scholar, focusing particularly on a scene halfway through her account where Baisantry’s narrator describes her mother bringing home a “gramophone” and playing “His Master’s Voice” records on it, much to the envy of their neighbors. It is clear from her mode of narration that her narrator laughs in retrospect at the self-importance with which her younger self learns to place the needle on the “gramophone record,” in part because of the care with which the author transliterates these foreign terms in her Hindi prose. I draw attention to the politics of italicizing Baisantry’s Hindi transliterations of foreign terms (unlike the technical term “needle,” for instance, which she translates into the everyday Hindi word सुई [sooi]), to remind English readers of what Gayatri Spivak has called – in a note to her translations of Mahasweta Devi -  “the intimacy of the colonial encounter” as “deconstructive embrace,” one that is “not only [the author’s] message, but also her medium” (Imaginary Maps: xxxi).