Living in translation
in Bad English
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Chapter five considers the novelists Leila Aboulela and Xiaolu Guo, for whose women protagonists translation is a permanent and inevitable state of existence, and English a linguistic medium to be travelled into and out of. Aboulela writes in the conscious recognition of a global Islam in which the majority do not speak the language of the Qur’an, Arabic, and about Muslim communities in Britain in which multilingualism and transnational connectivity are everyday facts. For Guo, the back-and-forth transit between English and Chinese is at the centre of a ‘multimodal’ way of seeing in which all kinds of systems of meaning – linguistic, visual, filmic – are in dynamic, mutually energising relation and tension with one another. Comparing these two very different writers as examples of what Waïl Hassan calls ‘translational literature’ reveals two very different conceptualisations of the relationship of the individual to language and the nature of translation. Aboulela, regarding translation as fidelity, finds earthbound acts of translation inevitably falling short, and imagines spaces beyond the constraints of human signification and exegesis. Guo, seeing translation as iconoclastic and transformative, invests in it as a form of self-dissolution and self-remaking with individually and collectively radical creative potential. 


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