A lacanian perspective on literature, translation and the reader's (inter-)subjectivity : read my text and tell me who you are

  • On Yee, Franziska CHENG

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


My purpose in this research is to raise some theoretical issues in the study of literature and translation. One dominating attribute of a piece of literary text is its poetic linguistic features, e.g. ambiguity, irony, contradictions and linguistic tension. However, these traits of literary texts are theorized by Julia Kristeva as the manifestation of the drive’s dismantling of what Jacques Lacan characterizes as the Symbolic, hence an almost schizophrenic collection of disruptions of the relation between the signifiers and the signifieds. I intend to push this argument further into the realm of translation, arguing that even though it is impossible to achieve an equivalent translatum, it is possible to contain most of the meanings, or even plausible to create extra layers of meanings to the text through rendering the target text with the application of theories and the utilization of homophones. This exploratory thesis takes Translation as its broad topic. More specifically, I am interested in the theory of translation, as well as the practice, as it applies to ‘transgressive’ texts in English being translated into Chinese (as language and culture), Jeanette Winterson as a case-study example. In the body of this paper, I provide an experimental translation of the first few complex sentences of the beginning of the first Sappho chapter in Art & Lies (2005), which demonstrates how the application of Lacanian psychoanalysis may help in the interpretation as well as translation of complicated literary texts. The target text would, ideally, preserve multiple layers of meanings and can be read in some other meaningful way after the application of interdisciplinary theories. In this dissertation, I embrace a heuristic rather than a correctness-based approach to translation which focuses on the explorations of various possible creative multileveled translations. I do not attempt to translate Winterson according to traditional translation norms, and do not attempt to apply Lacanian theory to translation in a rigid and dogmatic way. In other words, the production of the best, or even a defensible way to translate, is not my purpose of translation and hence is not any underlying premise of the birth of this thesis. Moreover, in this dissertation I investigate the nature of reader’s intersubjectivity in reading, as neither writing nor translation may be separated from the reading activity. As for intersubjectivity, I refer to the subjectivity of the reader which is dominated by Other, for sub-ject is a person who is controlled and voiced over. The two prevalent manifestations of the Other in reading is the Other as Author-God and the Other as Text. It is the reader’s intersubjectivity (rather than simply subjectivity) because these Others do not exist ontologically but only “survive” as an unconscious force in our mutual consciousness, something similar to a shared belief, a collective phenomenon. By discussing and comparing the two Others, the Other as the Author- God and the Other as Text, I demonstrate how these two seemingly contradictory Others do not bring about dramatic differences in the two subjectivities.
Date of Award2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of English
SupervisorDouglas Jack ROBINSON (Supervisor) & Ersu DING (Supervisor)

Cite this