Female Bodies in Translation: Rethinking Agency in Postcolonial Literature

Jihyun Yun, Fordham University


Female Bodies in Translation challenges the universality of the European Enlightenment model of agency emerging from a liberal democratic society. Focusing on multilingual archives that are on the edge of English, including Jean Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark, Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road and Fiere, Kamala Das’s My Story and Selected Poems, and Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, I demonstrate how critics, when informed by the liberal notion of agency, fail to see the incommensurable density of the female characters and speakers in the texts, thereby reducing them into easily comprehensible literary tropes. The extraordinary women in the chosen texts are particular persons, grounded in this or that body, who resist critical attempts to formulaically theorize them in all-encompassing terms. These women do not speak in a liberal agent’s words; rather, their bodies speak in their own language. I reveal the complexity of these women by paying unrelenting attention to the ways in which their embodied expressions are translated into colonial, Anglophone, and anthropocentric language. As I show, these women’s vulnerable, ungoverned, uncontrollable, unravelling bodies fly in the face of the ideology of liberal tradition which outlines its subject position as a self-reliant individual. Female Bodies in Translation builds on the commitment of postcolonial scholarship that explores the murky area in which the concept of agency is conflated with the categories of autonomy, will, and humanity. In so doing, my project retrieves the inexplicable voices of ambivalence, irony, and contradiction spoken by people who are excluded from the grand narrative of known history.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Womens studies|Literature

Recommended Citation

Yun, Jihyun, "Female Bodies in Translation: Rethinking Agency in Postcolonial Literature" (2021). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI28652991.