Translation Failure in Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room

Thursday, April 14, 2016
12:00pm – 1:30pm

Storrs Campus
Rainbow Center; Student Union 403

The Out to Lunch Lecture Series continues with a presentation by Margaret Breen, entitled, “Translation Failure in James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room.”

This talk focuses on a classic of LGBTQ literature, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, published in 1956. While critics of Giovanni’s Room have focused on narrator-protagonist David’s strategy of rhetorical evasion and have rightly linked it to Baldwin’s exploration of homophobia and racism, they have overlooked a key context and aspect of this strategy: David’s account depends largely on his role as a translator. David tells the story of his love affair with Giovanni in English, even as their relationship plays out in French. Translation is a primary narrative vehicle for David. Within this context, David’s rhetorical evasion may, in turn, be understood as in part a failure in translation. In this talk, Breen will examine two different strands of translation failure. The first of these concerns the actual languages used to communicate in the novel, French and English, as well as the striking absence of Giovanni’s primary language, Italian. The second aspect regards the issue of cultural translation and entails reading the novel through a comparative cultural lens and so complicating the understanding of this novel as an American literary work.

Attendees are encouraged to bring their lunches.

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