Literature text as world reversing: Reversed worlding in a translation of verbal art

Fang Li and David Kellogg

Because translators begin where authors end – with a completed text – their task may be conceptualized as a reverse worlding, or ascent from actual text to imaginary context. This article argues that the same is true, mutatis mutandis, for all verbal art, and that within verbal art, it is truer of the texts that Hasan (1985, 101) refers to as ‘literature text’ and less so of those she calls ‘literary text’ that have some extra-artistic purpose. We demonstrate this empirically using an extreme example, the lipogrammatic French novel La disparition (Perec 1969) and its English translation A Void (Perec 2008). We also argue for a certain chastity in theory – a theory of translation for verbal art which excludes both the nonverbal and texts that are not purposefully artistic. Moreover, we say that there needs to be a corresponding chastity in practice – a theory of world inversion that rests not on a political program, but rather on a scientific understanding of the world and the proper place of words within it.

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Table of contents

Look at the word groups ‘world reversing’ and ‘reversed worlding’ in this article’s title and subtitle, and imagine you are looking at a pinned butterfly. The body transfixed by the pin is perfectly symmetrical, and if the butterfly were to close its wings, the reversed patterns on them would match up precisely. Now draw an imaginary diagonal linking the first word of the title with the last word of the subtitle and draw another line linking the first word of the subtitle with the last word of the title, the X formed by the two lines is the Greek letter Chi (Χ), hence the rhetorical trope called chiasmus. Together with the imaginary butterfly, this chiasmus will give us four headings to work: ‘literature text as world reversing’, ‘reversed worlding in the translation of verbal art’, ‘literature text in the translation of verbal art’, and ‘reversed worlding as world reversing’.

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