Of cracked lenses: Cultural translation, opacity and the African novel
This article investigates the function of different languages in African fictional texts by focusing on the kinds of social relationships expressed by narratives that tell their stories bilingually, or even multilingually. I argue that the layers of different languages within a text invite translation, both literally and figuratively. Alongside the postcolonial reading, which interprets the juxtapositions of different languages by stressing the contestatory function of re-placing language, the reading advanced by this article explores such devices as forms of cultural translation. Cultural translation, it is argued, can account for the counter-discursive reading that analyses relations of power; it can also account for a reading that foregrounds less hierarchical forms of address and thus expresses the quest for alternative subjectivities and relationships. The latter, the article suggests by adapting Judith Butler's theory of an ethics of opacity, is gestured towards in narratives whenever the limits of intelligibility or translatability are exposed. © 2010 Taylor & Francis.