Exposing Myself : Reading, Translating, Rewriting Marie Nimier’s La nouvelle pornographie.

Sita Monsef-Rao (sita.monsef-rao@ualberta.ca)
Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Alberta
October, 2008
 

Abstract

If writing erotica or pornography is an intimate process for any author, equally, if not more so, is the act of translating it: the translator of erotica enters into the very personal space of a stranger, walking alongside, reliving the other’s fantasies, experiencing corporal and spiritual sensations of love, desire and lust, then reinterpreting these for the foreign reader. Thus, translating erotica is undoubtedly a most intimate gesture.

Through the process of reading and translating erotic literature, I have pondered numerous questions: How and why does the translator approach the erotic text? How does the interaction of objectivity and subjectivity come into play for the translator of this genre? Essentially, what is the rapport between author, translator, reader, and narrator in the context of the pornoerotic? Furthermore, in what ways is the translator’s procedure similar or different from that of literary translation in general? Undoubtedly, the challenges of translating pornography or erotica include and yet surpass those encountered in other types of literary translation.

Beginning with an examination of the elusive definitions of erotica and pornography, intertwined with delimitations of literature and mass-produced fiction, I explore in this MA thesis the issues and problems that arose during my experience of translating Marie Nimier’s auto-fictional novel La nouvelle pornographie. On the practical side, there were specific lexical difficulties as well as challenges in recreating in English sexual desire and physical interactions written in French. On the professional side, struggles with censorship, taboos, and the questionable academic suitability of this marginal genre; all of which make the study of pornography and erotica, along with the practice of translating, it a transgressive and an uncomfortably intimate act.