A translation of worlds : Aspects of cultural translation and Australian migration literature
Abstract: This study explores the exchange of cultural information that takes place in the meeting between immigrant and non-immigrant characters in a selection of Australian novels focusing on the theme of migration: Heartland (1989) by Angelika Fremd, A Change of Skies (1991) by Yasmine Gooneratne, Stella’s Place (1998) by Jim Sakkas, Hiam (1998) by Eva Sallis and Love and Vertigo (2000) by Hsu-Ming Teo. The concept cultural translation functions as a theoretical tool in the analyses. The translation model is particularly useful for this purpose since it parallels the migration process and emphasises the power relations involved in cultural encounters. Within the framework of the study, cultural translation is defined as making an unfamiliar cultural phenomenon familiar to someone. On the intratextual level of the text, the characters take on roles as translators and interpreters and make use of certain tools such as storytelling and food to effect translation. On the extratextual level, Fremd, Gooneratne, Sakkas, Sallis and Teo represent cultural translation in the four thematic areas the immigrant child, storytelling, food and life crisis.The first theme, the immigrant child, examined in chapter one, explores the effects of using the immigrant child as translator in communication situations between immigrants and representatives of Australian public institutions. In these situations, the child becomes the adult’s interpreter of the Australian target culture. The role as translator entails other roles such as a link to and a shield against the Australian society and, as a result, traditional power relations are reversed. Chapter two analyses how the second theme, storytelling, is presented as an instrument for cultural education and cultural translation in the texts. Storytelling functions to transfer power relations and resistance from one generation to the next. Through storytelling, the immigrant’s hybrid identity is maintained because the connection to the source culture is strengthened, both for the storyteller and the listener. The third theme, food as a symbol of cultural identity and as representation of the source and target cultures, is explored in chapter three. Source and target food cultures are polarised in the novels, and through an acceptance or a rejection of food from the source or target cultures, the characters symbolically accept or reject a belonging to that particular cultural environment. A fusion between the source and target food cultures emphasises the immigrant characters’ cultural hybridity and functions as a strategic marketing of culturally specific elements during which a specific source culture is translated to a target consumer. Finally, the fourth theme, life crisis, is analysed in chapter four where it is a necessary means through which the characters experience a second encounter with Australia and Australians. While their first encounter with Australia traps the characters in a liminal space/phase that is signified by cultural distancing, the second encounter offers a desire and ability for cultural translation, an acceptance of cultural hybridity and the possibility to become translated beings – a state where the characters are able to translate back and forth between the source and target cultures.
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