Narrating the Self in Self-translation

deadline for submissions: 
October 30, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
Ticontre. Teoria Testo Traduzione

Since the beginning of the 21st century, the literary practices of multilingual writers have gained increasing interest among researchers and have been discussed in terms of translingual literature (see Kellman 2000), language memoirs (see Nic Craith 2012) and questions of identity (see Besemeres 2002). An increasing number of multilingual writers have chosen to self-translate their works, thus writing the same text in different languages. While the practice of self-translation has a very long and rich tradition and continues to be widespread around the globe, for a long time it did not receive much critical attention within literary and translation studies. However, research on self-translation has consistently grown over the last decades, as bears witness the steady increase of conferences (Pescara 2010, Bologna 2011, Perpignan 2012, Cork 2013, Vitoria-Gasteiz 2015) and journal issues dedicated entirely to self-translation (e.g. Quimera 2002, Atelier de Traduction 2007, Quaderns 2009, Oltroceano 2011, Orbis Litterarum 2013, Tradução em revista 2014). In 2012, Anselmi acknowledged the existence of “self-translation studies” as a “rapidly growing subfield within translation studies”. This is also confirmed by the growing number of entries in the bibliography on self-translation, which comprises over 1,000 entries of published and over 200 entries of unpublished material. The vast majority of these entries involve single case studies. Researchers have been concerned primarily with identifying translation strategies (see Oustinoff 2001), as well as the reasons for self-translating (see Anselmi 2012) and have aimed at reconstructing the history of self-translation (see Hokenson & Munson 2007). The recently published special issue of Glottopol 2015, moreover, has discussed self-translation from a sociolinguistic point of view.


In self-translators’ autobiographical and autofictional texts, a central place is devoted not only to the moment of writing, but also to that of translating – and their experiences seem to bring these two distinct moments closer than ever before. The multilingual thinks, speaks and writes in at least two languages, lives and is shaped by different cultures and sometimes travels among distinct geographic areas. Together, all of these elements contribute to form his/her vision, his/her personal Weltanschauung. Moreover, the self-translator chooses the task of translation, i.e., the task to put these different elements in relation with each other, in order to conceive, show, describe, understand the difference, the gap between them, which is, more often than not, a problematic or painful one. Indeed, many self-translators show a tendency to take position with respect to their multilingualism, i.e., to explain, discuss, legitimize, or more simply narrate, this feature, which is, evidently, not taken for granted. Their ‘linguistic identity’ is, on the contrary, a matter of the utmost relevance, and its composition is variously defined by different authors who are driven by their experience to reflect upon the implications of being from a different country than the one they live and write in, for instance, or of publishing the same books in different languages and for different readerships. This “surconscience linguistique” (Gauvin 1997:6) can especially be observed in their ‘narrations of the Self’, which are often written by migrant writers. According to Alain Ausoni, self-translating their autobiographical works allows them to “échapper au double silence de l'étranger” (Ausoni 2013:77). Since the self-translator is narrating the same events at least twice, these works are of exceptional value in order to analyse how language shapes self-narration (in the different forms of autobiography, life-writing, autofiction, language memoir). Frequently, the first version is written in the second language, enabling the writer to distance himself from the narrated events; however, as soon as the process of self-translation starts, the initial linguistic distance is removed. What kind of identity struggle does a bilingual author and self-translator thus experience? How is the narration shaped by the language in which it is told? According to Rita Wilson, “self-translation is closely linked to the representation of self” (2009: 186); hence, does self-translation alternate the representations of the self? How does the self-translation process change the perspective on one’s own life and the story that is being told? A most eminent example is Vladimir Nabokov’s Conclusive Evidence. A memoir (1951), translated into Russian as Drugie berega (1954) and eventually back into English as Speak memory. An Autobiography Revisited (1967). Nabokov describes this writing and translating experience as a “re-Englishing of a Russian re-version of what had been an English re-telling of Russian memories in the first place.” (Nabokov 2000:10)


Many other self-translators have thematised their experiences of multilingualism, cultural exile, writing and translating: Ariel Dorfman, for instance, who recounts the inner conflicts of living within and between two languages and cultures in Heading South, Looking North: A Bilingual Journey, 1998 / Rumbo al Sur, deseando el Norte: un romance en dos lenguas, 1999. Further language memoirs have been written and self-translated, to name but few, by Esmeralda Santiago (When I was a Puerto Rican, 1993 / Cuando era puertorriqueña, 1994); Gustavo Pérez-Firmat (Next Year in Cuba. A Cubano’s Coming of Age in America, 1995 / El ano que viene estamos en Cuba, 1997); Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt (La traversée des fleuves. Autobiographie, 1999 / Über die Flüsse. Autobiographie, 2001) and Carlo Coccioli (Piccolo Karma, 1987; Petit Karma, 1988, Pequeño Karma, 1988). The question of language choice is at the center of both Paris-Athènes (1989) by Vassilis Alexakis and Moreno (2003) by Brina Svit. Other self-translators like Julien Green (Le langage et son double / Language and its shadow, 1987) and Nancy Huston (Nord perdu, 1999 / Losing North, 2002) have reflected about questions of bilingualism and identity in various essays.


This issue aims at investigating how self-translation shapes the writing of multilingual authors in their self-narrations. We will accept original contributions exploring single case studies, as well as more ample questions related to - but not limited to - for example:


- transcultural / transnational memory in migrant, self-translating writers;

- forms of autobiographical works/language memoirs/autofictions where linguistic and cultural identity are shaped by the passage from native language to acquired language;

- language choice (native vs. acquired; vernacular vs. codified variety) and directionality of the translation process;

- (self-)translation as a thematic device and as a call to literary creation;

- re-self-translation;

- reinvention of the self through translation and rewriting;

- (self-)censorship made visible through self-translation.


Contributions on `interior' or `mental' self-translation will not be taken into consideration for this monographic section. We will accept contributions in Italian, English, French and Spanish. All potential authors are requested to send a 300-word abstract and a bio-biblio\-graphical note (150 words) to: by July 10th, 2016.

Contributors will receive abstract acceptance by July 30th. Accepted contributions must be submitted by October 30th, 2016 and will undergo peer review before publication (publication of the issue: May, 2017 ).