Queer Translation as Performative and Affective Un-doing
This contribution aims to theorize on the interconections between queer theory and translation by focusing on the recent translation into Italian of Undoing Gender (Butler 2004) by Federico Zappino with the title of Fare e disfare il genere (2014), which constitutes an interesting example to start reflecting on the topic. This translation proposes to retranslate a previous La Disfatta del genere (2006) whose title suggested a hypothetical defeat (disfatta) instead of the idea of renegotiation, of a doing and undoing, which the retranslation wanted to foreground.
As stated by Butler, the book revolves around what it means to undo dominant restrictive understandings of gender and sexuality, but also about the experience of “being undone.” Since gender is something we do with other people, it results that it can’t be possessed but it rather possesses or dis-possesses us. Thinking about gender as undoing and as a way of acting together offers interesting insights for the discipline of translation studies, as it brings to mind the concepts of performativity (Robinson 2003) and affectivity. Performativity can be found in the fact that thinking of translation as a copy (see Butler 1990) of an original which does not exist, destabilizes the very idea of originality. This not only confirms the concept of translation as creation (a notion stressed in last 20 years of studies on the subject) but it also tells us something about the productivity of translation. Fare e disfare il genere was presented, after its publication, in various activist LGBTQ spaces in Italy and has contributed to create new events and networks of affect. Affectivity, thus, is linked to the relational aspect of gender, mentioned earlier, since according to Gregg and Seigworth (2010) and Ahmed (2004), it arises in the in-betweeness, in the relationships between bodies and objects. The insistence on affect and relationality is also found in the many reviews of Fare e disfare il genere, often written by activists who participated in the discussion held during the book presentations and which read this translation as a call for rethinking welfare and social justice in Italy in the actual political climate of neoliberal austerity. Their reflections point toward the need to recognize our vulnerability, and dependance to others, as a force through wich social transformation is possible. A reading of the book in its relationship with neoliberim is also confirmed by the project Gender between Neoliberism and Neofundamentalism (Zappino 2016a), which took inspiration from Fare e disfare il genere (2014).
Translation, as a consequence, by being implicated in these discourses can be understood as a tool for productive performative and affective un-doings.