Rachelle Okawa | Kent State University

NEH Group Project Description

Mónica G. Ayuso, Professor of English, CSU, Bakersfield

Rachelle Okawa, Lecturer, Comparative World Literature & Classics, CSULB

A Comparative Reading of Rosario Ferré’s “El Cuento Envenenado” and “The Poisoned Story”

Rosario Ferré has been a self-translator since the mid-eighties.  For just as long, criticism of her work has been snarled in an essentialism that assumes that language embodies the values of the culture from which it derives, that words transmit a cultural essence regardless of the context in which they are used.  Following this logic, English and Spanish are binary systems in locked opposition, irreconcilable with one another.  This backdrop fuels a gamut of harsh arguments by Ferré’s critics, who take her to task for caving into a cozy sell-out by publishing in English first to gain the largest market for literary discussions of any kind.

But current theories of translation (Derrida; 1985; Borges, 1932, “The Homeric Versions”) and of self-translation (Hokenson and Munson, 2014; Byrkjeland, 2014; Cordingley, 2013) allow us to consider Ferré a privileged author, a self-translator, who complicates the relationship between English and Spanish, the original and the translation, the source text and the target text, the monolingual and the bilingual reader. 

We proposed a reading of “El Cuento Envenenado” (1986) and its twin, “The Poisoned Story” (1991), in a complex, theory-informed, complementary relationship that, rendering it bilingual, seeks to find continuities and textual intersections across languages rather than differences, thus reversing the trend to understand translation not as a loss but as a gain.   We interpreted allusions to Góngora in the luxuriant Latinate adjectives (a distinct source of baroque embellishment) in “El Cuento Envenenado”, sound devices (like consonance and alliteration), as well as typographical manipulations that impact dialogism and social heteroglossia in “The Poisoned Story” as instances of recreation, revision, and rewriting (Anselmi, 2013).   Thus, neither of these texts is privileged in spite of the fact that many give the Spanish version the status of “original” simply because it was written first.     

With the aid of paratexts (prefaces, essays on translation, and interviews), we recovered the two versions as one textual space that shows Ferré’s evolution from the writer she was in the eighties when she wrote “El Cuento Envenenado”—when she was mostly preoccupied by the position of women in Puerto Rican society—to the postcolonial writer she became in the nineties and beyond, when, more securely established, she conceived of “The Poisoned Story” as a story of increased opacity and resistance that shows Puerto Rico as a Caribbean nation marked by two distinctive languages, neither of which is privileged over the other.

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