Dawn Fulton (Smith College)
Against Translation: Literary Cannibalism in the Caribbean
Recent critical work by Guadeloupean writer Maryse Condé proposes "literary cannibalism" as a specifically Caribbean mode of "writing back" to the former colonial power. Tracing a literary history through the Brazilian antropofogia movement to Martinican critic Suzanne Césaire to Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman, Condé points to the New World etymology that offers a stage for post-empire revenge, the chance to rehabilitate the negatively connoted term "cannibal" in order to assert a new non-colonized Caribbean identity. Thanks to its violent origins, she claims, this project is a particular kind of rewriting, one inspired by Oswaldo de Andrade's avant-garde insolence and thus affiliated with irreverence, parody, and sacrilege.
In this paper I would like to take up the implicit parallels between literary cannibalism and translation to discuss the critique of postcolonial frameworks of crosscultural exchange suggested by these Caribbean rewritings. Condé's own literary work, as a francophone engagement with an anglophone canon (Brontë, Shelley, Hawthorne, Faulkner) points to important affinities between literary cannibalism and translation and reminds us of the linguistic tensions at stake in such exchanges, even when, as in Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, the language of the cannibal (Rhys) is nominally that of its prey (Charlotte Brontë). In turn, postcolonial theories of translation demand the visibility of the translator as an acknowledgement of the epistemological violence inherent in translation and its inscription in the legacy of imperialism. And yet the transgressive impetus of literary cannibalism seems to dispense not only with the revered status of metropolitan literary canons but also with the possibility of a faithful rendition of colonial contact. Fidelity, I will argue, remains the defining condition of translation, even when the exchange is motivated by the condemnation of imperial violence. In its refusal to be bound by the terms of fidelity, literary cannibalism sets new stakes for cultural exchange beyond the hierarchies of colonialism and furthermore suggests a revision of postcolonial translation theory as a model of postcolonial reading practices.