Strategies for Translating Obscenity: Medical Language and Sanitization in Malay Rāychoudhurī’s Poetry

Daniela Cappello


The Bengali ‘obscene’ (aślīl) poetry of the Hungry Generation is heavily pregnant with ‘dirty’ sexual imagery. In particular, the poem “Prachanda Baidyutik Chutar” and its English translation “Stark Electric Jesus” (1964) by the Hungryalist Malay Raychoudhuri concern the description of the female ‘sexual body’, male masturbation and bodily fluids. The use of a Bengali ‘medical’ vocabulary for portraying the ‘sexual body’ achieves a double operation of ‘sanitization’ of the semantic sphere of sex, unsuitable subject of poetry, and of ‘ironic inversion’ where the low dirty content embodied by masturbation and sexual activity attains the higher status of poetry, while downplaying the overtly mechanical Bengali lexicon of medical sciences. My attempt at re-translating some controversial passages of this poem helps laying out some methodological principles for developing a ‘contextual’ practice of translation in resistance to traditional notions such as accuracy and faithfulness.


Keywords: obscenity; sexual body; masturbation; medical lexicon; sanitization.

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