Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 10005
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Wiscombe , Samuel C., Jr.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: The Female Translator of Old English and Rooting for a Grisly Supper with the Boar
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 33, 3 (Spring 2000): Paper presented at the Thirty-Fifth International Congress on Medieval Studies, The Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, May 4-7, 2000, Session 105: "Old English Editing."
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Gender Masculinity in Literature Translation Women Scholars
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
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  • Abstract: A paradox exists in scholarship, and that is that the further one delves into higher education, the more indecisive one becomes. The pursuit of understanding Anglo-Saxon is no different, particularly when the element of textual study is added. Suddenly, Ælfric has been forced to write in Reformist cursive, and stemmata, like ivy, strangles in a new color and smooth shape the chipped dignity of old art. Clearly, “Editors unavoidably rewrite and interpret the poems they publish” (Allen J. Frantzen, Desire for Origins [New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1990], 172). Sparing the theories from which “unavoidably” derives, the reader’s question then, begging immediate response, is “to what degree” the editor’s intrusiveness? This is the indecision turned argument that has always haunted Tanselle’s “single great enterprise” of textual transmission and reconstruction from otherness. Adding to the academic roil is a possible speciational aspect of Tanselle’s ghost when it approaches Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry: not only could the question be posed as “to what degree” one should intrude, but, also, “who” should intrude. A sensitive topic indeed, but one that needs addressing. This inquiry, when connected with gender, is a question fraught with hazards to the professional health of the scholar when asked in an age of “enlightenment” brought on by political correctness; and even more distressing is the possibility that it has no satisfactory resolution. Is it, then, even worth asking? Yes, to put it simply—essentially if the goal of the editor is to preserve and purvey the invariable core of the text—because of the very revisionist nature of modern scholarship. Certainly as Elizabeth Elstob shows, it is not a matter of a female editor’s intelligence whether or not her translation of Beowulf or the Battle of Maldon or any of their like is accurately acceptable; it is, however, a matter of that scholar’s motivation and the degree of her Feminist ideological subscription, particularly if it brings about a degree of emasculation to an older society that would never tolerate it. Male editors, of course, are not free of their agendas, but it does seems plausible that the violent primitivism inherent in the Germanic root of some Old English poetry speaks to something less likely to betray it in the male than in the female. The female editor is possibly at a disadvantage then. A provocative theory by Sanford Budickstates that there is a crisis in alterity because there is no such thing as an entrance into another culture; the understanding of other is not really an understanding of other, but rather an understanding of what is not the translator nor the other culture, but something in between ("The Crisis of Alterity," in The Translatability of Cultures [Stanford UP, 1996], 1-22). Unfortunately for the female editor of Anglo-Saxon heroic poetry, and perhaps just as unfortunately for readership in general, the male only has one gulf between himself and the source language/culture, while the female has two: a jump between the feminine and masculine, and another farther jump between the masculine and its remote, even celebratory, occurrence of an "Iron John" character. [Reproduced by permission of the editor Robert L. Schichler and the editors of the Old English Newsletter.]
  • Author's Affiliation: Wayne State University
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2000.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
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