Category Archives: Comparative Literature

An interview with Dr Analía Gerbaudo, Part 1

This blog post was written by Stephanie Long and Sarah Wadsworth, who are in the final year of their degrees in Spanish. Here, they interview Global South Visiting Fellow, Dr Analía Gerbaudo and discuss literature and political activism, and the role of the translator. Dr Gerbaudo gave this interview in Spanish, and Stephanie and Sarah have translated it into English. As this interview is quite long, we will be publishing it in two parts – check back next week for part 2.

At the end of 2019, we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Dr Analía Gerbaudo, a Global South Visiting Fellow appointed by the Research Centre for Humanities (TORCH) here in Oxford. She is Professor of Literary Theory and Didactics of Language and Literature at the National University of Litoral in her home country of Argentina, as well as the director of the independent publishing house Vera cartonera, and editor-in-chief of the online literary journal, El Taco en la Brea, which she founded in 2014. Given that one of the key aims of the TORCH project is to help diversify the curriculum at Oxford University, it seems only fitting that such a talented individual with involvement in the “cartonero” movement in Argentina – a movement dedicated to providing quality literature at an affordable price – should have received this appointment. “Translation is necessary in order for one to share texts,” Dr Gerbaudo tells us in one of her answers. For that reason, we feel privileged to have conducted and translated from Spanish the interview presented below. It is a pleasure to share with others Dr Gerbaudo’s obvious knowledge and experience.

SL & SW: Tenemos el privilegio de tener una entrevista con usted aquí en Oxford. En el verano, usted fue nombrada por la organización TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) como una << Global South Visiting Fellow >>. Según usted, ¿en qué consiste dicho nombramiento y cómo se relaciona con sus investigaciones literarias?

AG: Resulta complejo expresar con palabras lo que la experiencia habilitada por este nombramiento de TORCH me ha permitido. Se trata de algo mucho más complejo que la ya enorme posibilidad de transmitir en uno de los centros de producción intelectual más prestigiosos del mundo los resultados de mis investigaciones (siempre repito que el mapa mundial de los estudios literarios tiene tres grandes polos situados en Francia, en Estados Unidos y en Inglaterra): para alguien que estudia los procesos de institucionalización de las disciplinas, conocer las condiciones de producción de la Universidad de Oxford ya es, de por sí, una experiencia intraducible (es decir, es necesario atravesarla, no hay otro modo de sintetizar las sensaciones que uno siente cuando descubre estas increíbles bibliotecas, los equipadísimos espacios de trabajo, los edificios cuidados, los lugares de recreación, la universidad misma en su conjunto).
Y en esa línea, hay algo de la sociabilidad académica que me ha parecido muy interesante. Me refiero al modo en que los profesores que confiaron en que mi visita podría realizar algún aporte han organizado los coloquios, los workshops y las presentaciones: se trató de un trabajo realizado con una responsabilidad, un profesionalismo y una obsesión que merecen verdaderamente destacarse (además de donarme su tiempo para organizar cada detalle: recordemos que el filósofo francés Jacques Derrida nos advierte que el único bien del que se tiene derecho a ser avaros es el tiempo dado su carácter irrecuperable). El trabajo que han realizado Stefano María Evangelista, Ben Bollig y Laura Marcus es absolutamente imposible de resumir en dos líneas de una entrevista. Gracias a sus intervenciones se generaron interesantísimas conversaciones con otros profesores participantes de las actividades: con Gisèle Sapiro (CNRS, EHESS, París) trabajo desde el año 2011, pero antes de esta estadía nunca había conversado con Peter McDonald ni con María del Pilar Blanco ni con Patricia Novillo-Corvalán. Es impresionante lo que ha sucedido porque si bien trabajamos mucho durante mis semanas en Oxford, sobre el cierre de la experiencia empezaron a aparecer proyectos de continuidad de la conversación: traducciones, publicaciones en la editorial cartonera que dirijo y un largo etcétera que involucra a este grupo de personas que he mencionado.

SL & SW: We’re privileged to have an interview with you here in Oxford. In the summer, you were appointed by the TORCH organisation (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) as a “Global South Visiting Fellow”. What does such an appointment involve, and how is it connected with your literary research?

AG: It is hard to express in words just what experience this TORCH appointment has afforded me. It goes far beyond the already enormous opportunity of sharing the results of my research in one of the most prestigious centres of intellectual output in the world (I have always said that the world map of literary studies has three large poles located in France, the United States and England). For someone who studies the processes of institutionalisation within disciplines, knowing the environment of the University of Oxford is already, in itself, an indescribable experience. That is to say, one has to go through it, there is no other way to accurately sum up the sensations one feels when discovering these incredible libraries, extraordinarily well-furnished workspaces, cherished buildings, recreation areas, the university itself as a whole.
Along those lines, I have been pleasantly surprised by the great enthusiasm and interest of academic circles at Oxford. I refer to the way in which the professors – the ones who believed that something would become of my visit – have organized talks, workshops and presentations: such work was carried out with a responsibility, a professionalism and a dedication that truly deserve to be mentioned, in addition to giving me their time to organize every detail. Let us not forget what the French philosopher Jacques Derrida said: he warned us that the only good that comes from entitled greed is time, given its irretrievable nature. The work that Stefano María Evangelista, Ben Bollig and Laura Marcus have done is absolutely impossible to summarize in two lines of an interview. It is thanks to their involvement, that fascinating conversations have taken place with other professors participating in the activities. I have been working with Gisèle Sapiro (CNRS, EHESS, Paris) since 2011, but before this stay I had never properly spoken to Peter McDonald or María del Pilar Blanco nor to Patricia Novillo-Corvalán. What is truly striking is that although we worked continuously during my weeks in Oxford, towards the end of the experience, projects continuing the conversation began to appear, including translations, publications in the cartonera publishing house that I am director of, and much, much more all involving the group of people that I mention above.

SL & SW: Un artículo publicado por el blog de la facultad de Humanidades de la universidad nos dice que: “Las obras de la doctora Gerbaudo abordan la actual y complicada cuestión de la relación entre los estudios literarios y el activismo político”. ¿Cómo describiría esta relación entre la literatura y el activismo? ¿Se considera usted una activista política?

AG: Hay sobre este punto una larga deriva de una conversación y de una enseñanza de Gisèle Sapiro. Los trabajos de Sapiro muestran que no hay un divorcio entre autonomía y política, como se nos suele hacer creer: nadie le pagaba a Sartre ni a Zola por sus asunciones políticas que atravesaban su filosofía y su literatura. Mis trabajos siguen esa línea abierta por Sapiro: ninguna de las dos somos neutrales. Nuestras posiciones políticas se advierten en todos y cada uno de nuestros trabajos y en nuestras acciones públicas, incluidas nuestras investigaciones.
Suelo hablar en mis escritos de “políticas de exhumación”. Jacques Derrida ha escrito, en un texto memorable, “One transforms while exhuming”. Exhumar prácticas clandestinas de enseñanza de teorías literarias y de literatura censuradas durante el terrorismo de Estado en Argentina así como exhumar prácticas que dan cuenta de la continuidad de políticas económicas, culturales y simbólicas de la dictadura, aún bajo el orden “democrático”, es parte de mi trabajo de investigación. Si esas intervenciones pueden considerarse una forma de activismo, entonces se podría decir que soy una activista. Creo y sigo, a pesar de todo (es decir, a pesar de que no pueden tanto como uno quisiera), una tradición francesa que apuesta al poder de las palabras. Trabajamos con palabras y en ese trabajo hay una potencia y una peligrosidad notable. No por casualidad durante la dictadura argentina era complejo hacer circular un texto como How to Do Things with Words

SL & SW: An article published by the University’s Humanities faculty’s blog tells us: “Dr Gerbaudo’s work tackles the difficult, charged and extremely topical question of the relationship between literary studies and political activism.” How would you describe the relationship between literature and activism? And would you consider yourself a political activist?

AG: A large amount of work by Giséle Sapiro, derived from conversations and her teaching, deals with this subject. Her work demonstrates that neither autonomy nor politics can be divorced from each other, as we are often led to believe: nobody paid Sartre or Zola to include the political suppositions that run through their philosophy and literature. My own work follows the thread drawn by Sapiro: that neither of the two are neutral. Our political stances are apparent in each and every part of our work and in our public activities, including our research.
I often talk about the “politics of exhumation” in my writing. Jacques Derrida wrote in one memorable text: “One transforms while exhuming”. Exhuming clandestine teaching practices of literary theories and literature censored during state terrorism in Argentina, as well as exhuming practices that account for the continuity of economic, cultural and symbolic policies of the dictatorship, even under the “democratic” order, constitute part of my research work.
If these interventions can be considered a form of activism, then you could say I’m an activist, despite everything. I mean to say we cannot do as much as one would like to. I believe in and follow a French tradition that gambles on the power of words.We work with words and in such a labour, there is remarkable power as well as a marked danger. It’s no coincidence that during the Argentinian dictatorship it was difficult to circulate texts such as How to Do Things with Words.

SL & SW: El artículo dice también que usted es una “traductora activa”. ¿Qué significa ser una traductora de obras argentinas y qué opina de traducirlas de español a inglés? Por otro lado, para usted, ¿qué es lo que más le gusta de la traducción?

AG: La traducción es una herramienta fundamental, en especial en países de preponderancia monolingüe como Argentina: lamentablemente nuestro sistema educativo no afianza la enseñanza de lenguas extranjeras, ni siquiera el portugués que es la lengua que se habla en uno de nuestros países vecinos, Brasil. Por lo tanto traducir es necesario si uno quiere compartir con los estudiantes los textos que ayudan a complejizar ideas, análisis, metodologías, perspectivas de investigación, de reflexión, de pensamiento. En ese sentido, mis traducciones son de textos del francés y del inglés al español. Elijo, en cada ocasión, textos que me permitan introducir categorías teóricas o maneras de leer que problematicen las discusiones recortadas en el campo nacional y, si se quiere, latinoamericano, ya que solemos publicar nuestras traducciones en revistas on line con acceso abierto.
El inglés es hoy la lingua franca de la ciencia. ¿Cómo no ponerse contento cuando un texto o una idea se pueden hacer circular por canales que permitan su diseminación por los espacios por los que esta lengua transita?

SL & SW: The article also says that you are an “active translator”. What does it mean to be a translator of Argentinian literature, and what is your opinion on translating them from Spanish to English? On the other hand, what do you enjoy most about translation?

AG: Translation is a fundamental tool, especially in countries like Argentina where monolingualism is dominant. Unfortunately, our education system hasn’t acted to strengthen the teaching of foreign languages, not even with Portuguese – the language spoken in one of our neighbouring countries, Brazil. Therefore, translation is necessary in order for one to share texts with students that help them deal with more complex ideas, analyses, methodologies, research perspectives, reflection, and thought. In that sense, my translations are from French and English into Spanish. At every opportunity, I select texts that allow me to introduce theoretical categories or ways of reading that consider the problems found in discussions cut short in the national sphere, and if you like, the Latin American sphere, too, since we usually publish our translations in online magazines with open access.
English is the lingua franca of science today. How can one not be pleased when a text or an idea can circulate by channels allowing their dissemination in spaces where English permits them movement?

Join us next week for the concluding part of this interview…

Paper Frenchmen: Francophone Indian literature

In late November, Oxford welcomed the writer Ari Gautier and his translator into English, Prof. Blake Smith, for a discussion about Francophone Indian Literature and about Gautier’s writing in particular. Part of the ‘World Literatures’ strand of the Creative Multilingualism programme, this event was convened by Prof. Jane Hiddleston and Sheela Mahadevan. Here we reflect on a few highlights…

Currently based in Oslo, Ari Gautier spent his childhood in former French colony Pondichéry, India. He is the author of Carnet Secret de Lakshmi and Le Thinnai, two novels which creatively intersperse Tamil, Hindi, Créole and English with French, reflecting the multilingual identities of those living in Pondichéry. His works give an insight into the impact of the French rule on the lives of Pondichéry citizens, their constantly vacillating identities, the multicultural aspect of the city, the Indian caste system, and the history of Pondichéry.

The ‘World Literatures’ strand of Creative Multilingualism is interested in texts where multiple languages brush up against one another, prompting questions about the boundaries of what a language is. This research wants to explore how worldliness and cultural transfer is present within a text from the moment of its inception, and how multilingualism speaks to multiculturalism. The research aims to expose interactions between different languages within a text, not just by examining the different languages in which a text is written, but also seeking out the traces of other languages through allusions to them or even by the notable absence of certain languages in a text. Gautier’s novels, with their interspersing of at least five languages, therefore seem like a perfect fit.

Prof. Smith gave a useful overview of the status of Francophone Indian Literature. To begin with, he acknowledged that it’s not necessarily something the general English reader will be aware of. When we think of Francophonie, we perhaps automatically think of certain countries in West Africa, Canada, or French-speaking East Asia or Oceania. However, France had a colonial presence in India from the seventeenth century. That said, Francophone Indian Literature was only really published from the late nineteenth century onwards and, during the twentieth century, French acted as a secondary language for many writers who were primarily writing in other languages. Academic interest in the French colonial legacy within Indian writing is fairly recent, and Prof. Smith recommended an anthology of Francophone Indian short stories for anyone who wishes to explore further: Écriture indienne d’expression française, edited by Vijaya Rao (Yoda Press & La Reunion par Le GERM, 2008).

Photo by Muhammed Jiyadh on Unsplash

The panel then turned to a discussion of how multilingualism operates within Gautier’s writing. Here is an extract from Gautier’s novel, Le Thinnai:

— Gilbert, va m’acheter un Suruttu à la boutique. Il te reste encore de la monnaie, n’est-ce pas ?
Voyant Gilbert fouiller désespérément ses poches, mon père lui dit d’aller chez Karika Bhai et d’acheter un paquet de Suruttus sur son compte.
— Oh, je suis à la retraite depuis une bonne dizaine d’années. J’ai fait le strict nécessaire sous les drapeaux pour pouvoir bénéficier de la retraite et je suis retourné au pays, répondit mon père après s’être allumé une cigarette.
— Pourquoi vous n’y êtes pas resté ? Vous ne vous plaisiez pas en métropole ?
— Ce n’est pas une question de s’y plaire ou pas. J’avais juste envie de revenir parmi les miens. Même si je m’étais fondé une famille là-bas, il me paraissait tout à fait naturel de rentrer chez moi.
— Mais la France, c’est aussi chez vous ! Vous êtes citoyen français.
Papa laissa échapper une bouffée de fumée ; il tapotait la cigarette sur le bord du cendrier et parut réfléchir.
— Oui, je suis français. Mais je suis indien en même temps. C’est ici que je suis né, mes ancêtres sont d’ici. Mes racines sont là. Même si j’ai vécu en métropole pendant quelque temps, il m’a paru normal de rentrer chez moi. Il n’y a aucune différence entre moi et un Breton ou un Normand qui aurait envie de retourner chez lui après avoir passé du temps en dehors de sa région natale. Sauf que moi, c’est un peu plus loin… Il marqua un temps d’arrêt pour tirer une bouffée. Mais vous connaissez aussi bien que moi l’histoire de notre pays ; surtout, l’histoire de Pondichéry. Ma famille est française depuis deux générations et je fus le premier à partir en métropole. Jusqu’ici nous n’avions que le statut de Français sur les documents ; mais nous étions profondément indiens. Enfin, nous le sommes toujours. Comment pouvez-vous vous sentir français, sans avoir jamais mis les pieds dans ce pays. Mes parents viennent d’un milieu modeste et n’ont pas eu accès ni à la langue ni à la culture française. L’univers français nous était totalement étranger. La seule chose qui nous rapprochait des Européens était le culte de la religion catholique. À part ça, nous vivions dans deux mondes différents. Notre allégeance à la France se trouvait enfermée dans une vieille malle en ferraille dans l’espoir qu’un jour, un des descendants l’ouvrirait et utiliserait ce morceau de papier. Pendant longtemps, nous ne fûmes pas considérés comme citoyens français ; nous n’étions que des sujets de la nation.
—Mais, toute ces années passées dans l’armée française n’ont pas su éveiller en vous un sentiment d’appartenance à ce pays ?
Mon père écrasa la cigarette au fond du cendrier et se versa une nouvelle rasade. Il se leva pour aller servir le vieil homme et vint s’asseoir sur le petit thinnai. Il tenait le verre de whisky dans sa main droite et regardait les bulles de soda qui remontaient à la surface du verre. Il reprit la parole en se passant la main gauche sur les cheveux d’avant en arrière ; geste qu’il avait l’habitude de faire quand il réfléchissait longuement.
— Je ne connais pas votre histoire, l’ancien, mais vous avez l’air de quelqu’un qui connaît la vie. Vivre en exil est une énorme malédiction. Certes, mon éloignement fut volontaire ; mais à mon époque, nous n’avions pas beaucoup de choix. Partir était le seul moyen d’échapper à une vie indigente. Nos parents et grands-parents qui avaient opté pour la nationalité française avaient fait de nous une génération d’immigrés dans notre pays qui était la France. Indigènes de la nation, nos vies n’ont connu que les tranchées, les coups de feu et les rations militaires. Inconscients et aveugles ignorants, nous sommes partis combattre nos frères malgaches, indochinois et algériens. À aucun moment, la notion que nous étions coupables de complicité involontaire aux massacres d’un pouvoir colonial ne nous a effleurés. Nous nous battions contre des ennemis de notre Mère patrie. Nous en étions fiers. Mais malgré notre fidélité envers elle, l’idée du retour fut plus instinctive. Après tout, nous n’étions que des indigènes des Troupes Coloniales ; la France n’a jamais été notre patrie. Cet attachement ambivalent que nous avons envers elle est une anomalie de l’histoire.  

And here it is in Prof. Smith’s English translation:

 “Gilbert, go buy me a suruttu at the shop. You still have money, don’t you?”
Watching Little Gilbert fumble despairingly in his pockets, my father told him to buy a suruttu from Karika Bhai, and add it to the soldier’s account.
“Oh, I’ve been retired for twelve years now. I did the absolute minimum to earn my pension, and now I’m back.” My father answered, lighting a cigarette.
“Why didn’t you stay? You didn’t like it in France?”
“It wasn’t a question of liking it or not. I just wanted to come back to my own people. Even if I started a family there, it seemed natural to come back home.”
“But France, that’s home too! You’re a French citizen.”
My father exhaled a puff of smoke. He tapped the cigarette on the edge of the ashtray and seemed to think it over.
“Oh, I’m French. But Indian, too. I was born here. So were my ancestors. My roots are here. And after spending some time outside their own province, even a Breton or a Norman wants to go home. It’s the same with me. But my home is a little farther… you must know the history of Pondicherry as well as I do. My family has been French for generations, but I was the first one to go to France. Until then we were just paper Frenchmen; really we were Indians. Really we still are. How can you feel French, if you’ve never set foot there? My parents came from nothing; they didn’t know French or French culture. The only thing that connected us to the Europeans was the church. Besides that, it was two different worlds.”
“But all those years in the French army, didn’t they make you feel like you were part of the nation?”
My father crushed his cigarette in the ashtray and poured another drink. He got up to fill the old man’s glass and sat back down. He held his whisky in his right hand, watching the soda bubbles rise to the surface. He ran his left hand through his hair, which he always did when he had to think hard about something.
“I don’t know your story, old one, but you seem like you know a thing or two about life. Living in exile is a curse. Sure, I chose it, but back then there wasn’t much to choose from. Leaving was the only way out of poverty. Trenches, gunshots, and rations, that was all we knew. We fought our brothers in Madagascar, Indochina and Algeria. We never thought we might be guilty of anything. We felt nothing, saw nothing, understood nothing. We fought the enemies of the motherland. We were proud. But in spite of our faithful service, we wanted to come home. We were just colonial soldiers. France was never our country. What we had with it was just a quirk of history.”

The question of French culture and how far it can coexist alongside an Indian identity is central to this passage, a fact that is emphasised and complicated by the fact that the novel is written largely in French. But, of course, this passage is not entirely in French. What about that reference to a suruttu? A suruttu is a cigar, what we would call in English a ‘cheroot’, from the French cheroute, which itself comes from the Tamil curuttu/churuttu/shuruttu/suruttu. In this way, a single word, referring to an everyday item, can illuminate a complicated multilingual interaction.

Similarly the reference to the Tamil word thinnai is an example of what we might think of as an untranslatable word. A thinnai is a raised platform built adjacent to the main entrance of a house. It is common in Tamil Nadu, a state in the south of India. Traditionally, it was a place where elders could rest to talk to neighbours and friends, and where strangers could stop for respite when passing through the town. Thus, in a text written mostly in French we see how a reference to another language can evoke a whole set of cultural values – hospitality, community, conversation. The porous borders between languages can facilitate and reveal the coexistence of multiple cultures.

Gautier talked about his own multilingual background, explaining that he spoke French with his father but Tamil with his uncle. Growing up in Pondicherry, he said that every street seemed to have its own language and he moved around a lot: his universe evolved with languages. When asked about the fact that his first novel included footnotes to explain Tamil words to non-Tamil speakers, but his second novel did not, Gautier confirmed that this was a deliberate decision. Footnotes could be seen as a form of linguistic colonisation – an attempt to make the Tamil words fit more comfortably within a French-language text. By deciding not to explain the Tamil in his second novel, Gautier refused to compromise Tamil. He said that using footnotes made him feel alien to his own language.

The wide-ranging discussion moved on to cover many aspects of Gautier’s writing, including its cinematic quality, the role of received memory in constructing his narratives and the question of mythology. While we don’t have room to touch on all those topics here, we will end by mentioning one further question that was raised, and which again highlights the porous potentiality of multilingualism: the use of Creole in Gautier’s novels.

Le Thinnai includes a character called Lourdes, a servant who speaks in Creole. One of the important roles Creole plays in a novel written largely in French is to recognise a community that has been overlooked. Gautier explained that in Pondicherry there is a problematic hierarchy between what is known as ‘haut-créole’ and ‘bas-créole’. Someone who is ‘haut-créole’ is of mixed French and Indian descent, whereas someone who is ‘bas-créole’ is not of French descent but nonetheless speaks a creolised form of French. The character Lourdes is ‘bas-créole’. She insists that she speaks French but other characters think she is speaking in Creole. The inclusion of Creole in this novel therefore performs the difficulties of thinking about translingualism: how far is it a language in its own right? How far is it a corrupted form of French? Might we think of it as an enhanced form of French?

These are just a few of the questions raised by the notion of multilingualism and translingualism in World Literatures. You can dig a little deeper into Francophone Indian literature by reading Prof. Smith’s piece ‘Indian Literature speaks French‘ or follow Ari Gautier on Twitter.

Mapping Jane Eyres across the world

This post was originally published on the Creative Multilingualism blog. Creative Multilingualism is a four-year AHRC-funded programme investigating the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity.  Regular readers of Adventures on the Bookshelf will remember Prof. Matthew Reynolds’s earlier post about translations of Jane Eyre. In this post, Prof. Reynolds talks about the process of mapping different translations of the novel.

In April, Prismatic Translation’s  Associated Researcher in Digital Humanities, Giovanni Pietro Vitali, stayed in Oxford to work with me on mapping the global diffusion of translations of Jane Eyre. Giovanni Pietro’s trajectory has taken him from Pisa to Perugia, Nancy and Leipzig (where he trained in Digital Humanities); he is now a Marie Curie Fellow attached to Cork, Reading, and NYU.

Mapping Jane Eyre’s translations is a challenge, on several fronts. First, where do you locate a translation on a map? It will have been done by a translator in a certain place, or places; but then it may have been published somewhere else; and it can be read wherever there is a reader who understands its language – which is, in many cases, pretty much anywhere.

Usually, we can find no information about where a translation has been written (often translations are anonymous). We don’t want to attach the translations to particular nation states, because languages don’t correspond to nation states: think of the many languages spoken in India (or indeed the UK), or the many states that have Spanish, French or Portuguese as official languages. So we have opted for the place of publication – not endeavouring to put boundaries around the territory inhabited by a translation, but showing the point from which it came out into the world.

Yet where exactly is a place of publication? For one set of maps, which allow readers to trace the development of the cover images in connection with the place and time of publication, we have used the publishers’ street addresses (this necessitated much careful work on the part of the project’s researchers – and caused some anguish!). Here we find a by-product of looking at the world of books through the lens of Jane Eyre: tracking the translations, we discover the bits of cities where publishers cluster, and find harmonies between the books’ designs and their locales. But for the general maps, which allow us to see and understand the spread of Janes across the world, street addresses seemed too specific. For these visualisations, the city seemed the right unit of location.

When I made this theoretical decision, I hadn’t quite understood the relationship between the computer-magic of Digital Humanities and the mind-numbing, slow, human labour that lies behind it. Once you know a translation’s place of publication, the computer can do quite a good job of assigning latitudes and longitudes to the given names. But not a perfect one: it can’t know if you mean Paris (France) or Paris (Texas), the Tripoli in Libya or one of the lesser-known Tripolis in Lebanon or Greece. And you can’t know when it is going to make a mistake – which means that every point needs checking by human eye and hand. In the case of Jane Eyre the number of points that have needed checking (so far) is 543.

But latitude and longitude still do not amount to a city. For that, you need to find the outline of each city and paste it onto your map. In our case, that meant 171 cities from Addis Ababa to Zutphen. You find the outline of a city in a long list called a ‘Shape File’; and there are separate Shape Files maintained by every State. So you go to the Shape File for India and find Ahmedabad; then you go to the Shape File for Syria and find Aleppo, and so on. And on. The process is not so very painful when you are dealing with Berlin or Rome; but when it is Dushanbe in Tajikistan, or Kaifeng in China (written in non-alphabetic characters) you feel your life draining away as you struggle to be sure you have pinpointed the right place.

Then, after days of labour, the moment of magic, when you are suddenly able to witness the spread of Jane Eyres across the world, like this:

Or zoom in for a more detailed view, like this:

Map of Jane Eyre translations zoomed in

And this is only the beginning. The maps that we are currently working on organise the translations according to region and language, allowing a more analytical understanding of the processes at work; and they also show the translations unfolding year by year. So now (or, soon) you will be able to see before your eyes the startling spread of Jane Eyre translations that had already happened by 1850: Berlin, Brussels, Paris, St Petersburg, Stuttgart, Grimma, Stockholm, Groningen and – Havana!

68 ways to say ‘plain’: translating Jane Eyre

This post was originally published on the Creative Multilingualism blog. Creative Multilingualism is a four-year AHRC-funded programme investigating the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity.  The programme is split into seven research strands, one of which is ‘Prismatic Translation’. In this post, Prof. Matthew Reynolds, Co-Investigator on the strand, explains how they have been looking at translations of Jane Eyre through a multilingual prism…

I spent March mainly in Pisa, working on fifteen Italian translations [of Jane Eyre] with a group of graduate students and early career researchers co-ordinated by our collaborator in the project there, Professor Alessandro Grilli.

It was an exhilarating experience, eight or ten of us grouped around a table in an airy room high up in an eighteenth-century palazzo overlooking the oldest botanical garden in Europe (even older than Oxford’s!) sharing our findings with the help of a projector pointed at the uneven wall.

Various discoveries emerged which will make their way into the webpages that are being created and book that is being written. The earliest Italian translation, done anonymously and published in Milan in 1904, mainly follows the 1854 French translation by Noémi Lesbazeilles (née Souvestre): for instance, Bertha Mason’s ‘red eyes’ become ‘yeux injectés’ and, in turn, ‘occhi iniettati’ (injected/blood-shot eyes’). Here we can see translation, not jumping from one language to another as though they were separate boxes, but moving through the continuum of language difference, following pathways in which Italian and French are joined.

Just occasionally, however, when the French was puzzling, the anonymous Italian translator turned to the English for help. When Jane hears Rochester’s voice telepathically calling across the moors, Charlotte Bronte wrote: ‘’O God! what is it?’ I gasped.’ Lesbazeilles-Souvestres takes this in a surprising direction: ‘J’aspirai l’air avec force’ (‘I breathed in forcefully / took a deep breath’). This must have struck the Italian translator as peculiar; the English must have been checked; and a simpler equivalent was found: ‘mormorai’ (‘I murmured’ – ‘gasped’, in its sense here, is a tricky word to match). Usually in translation – or at least in people’s ideas of translation – the translator works from the original and occasionally looks at other versions for help. But here we have the opposite: the French becomes the source text and the English serves as a guide to its interpretation.

One of the researchers, Caterina Cappelli, is someone I first met when she translated my novel The World Was All Before Them for her Masters thesis some years ago. Now, she has done an extraordinary piece of research, tracking the word ‘plain’ (also ‘plainly’ and ‘plainness’) through all its 49 appearances in the novel, in 13 different translations. That is, 637 occurrences of the word. As its frequency suggests, ‘plain’ is a crucial term for Brontë. Jane is plain (not beautiful), she speaks plainly (frankly), and she likes plain (simple) things; in the story, things are heard plainly (clearly) and become plain (are understood); and the novel itself is described as ‘a plain tale’ (a realist novel, that shows the world as it is).

One of Brontë’s ambitions in her writing was to re-assess this word, creating a woman character who can be admired for her mind and principles rather than her looks, and writing a story that can be valued for its truth-telling as much or more than for its excitements. For Brontë, ‘plain’ is what the literary critic William Empson called a ‘complex word’: a bundle of culturally-charged different meanings that need a whole play or novel to open up their synergies and contradictions.

In the Italian translations, the explosion of meanings hidden in the word becomes, well, plain. This one English word is translated in – wait for it – sixty-eight quite different ways, in terms that correspond to: simple, ugly, clear, insignificant, sincere, well, open, modest, frank, easy, distinct, dull, common, smooth, white, and so on, and on. Here is a table constructed by Caterina:

And here is a visualisation:

For more on Prismatic Translation, see their pages here.

Fabulous Translation

This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we’re continuing our exploration of the exhibition ‘Babel: Adventures in Translation‘. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the Cinderella story and how it has been transferred and adapted across cultures. This week, we’re thinking about how to translate fables.

You probably know that a fable is a short story that aims to convey a moral, usually involving animals. Famous examples include ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf’, ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse’, and ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’, to name but a few.  Such stories have been popular since ancient times, and can be identified in many different traditions, including Aesop’s ancient Greek fables, and the Sanskrit Panchatantra, which are among the world’s most translated texts. These stories have enjoyed an enduring popularity and are still widely told today.

Although we might think of these stories as being primarily for children, they were originally written for adults in order to promote a moral message. But, of course, when it comes to translation, that raises all sorts of questions: how far is it possible to transfer a moral framework between different cultures and communities?; why are animals afforded such a key role in fables, and do animals have the same associations across the world?

Below, we’ve included a worksheet that was designed for visitors to the exhibition. However, you do not need to have seen the exhibition to undertand it. Take a look at some of the discussion points raised, including, intriguingly, the surprising study that found that children who were told the story of ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf’ were actually more likely to lie after hearing it! You can right click and open the images separately to see a bigger version, or access a pdf here.

Remember, the exhibition runs until 2nd June – do pay a visit if you can!

Cinderella – Translation and Transformation

In February, we brought you news of an exciting exhibition that is currently running at the Weston Library in Oxford, ‘Babel: Adventures in Translation’. The Babel exhibition is running until 2nd June. If you’re passionate about all things multilingual and interested in how translation has shaped cultures, we would recommend a visit – perhaps after coming to the Modern Languages open day this Saturday. You can also get involved in the creative translation competitions, which run until 15th May, organised by the Creative Multilingualism Programme.

For now, we thought we’d delve a little deeper into one of the exhibition cases: traversing realms of fantasy. This case includes a number of fascinating items, including translations of Through the Looking Glass, translations of the Harry Potter series, and various translations of Cinderella. As one of the curators tells us: “Fantasy allows us to travel without restriction to new places, and inhabit or invent new scenarios. Fairy tales, magical plots and even insignificant items such as a slipper can prompt inventive retellings and manifold adaptations. It’s not surprising therefore that fantasy and magic are uniquely well suited to being passed on from one cultural group to another. Translators play a vital role in that process –and it’s often futile to distinguish rigidly between translation, retelling and creation.” (Katin Kohl, Faculty Lecturer in German, Fellow of Jesus College, in the Babel Teacher’s Guide).

The story of Cinderella is an example of how a fairytale can overlap many diverse cultures. Versions of the story have been around for millenia and exist all over the world. While the premise of the story often remains the same – a young girl is mistreated by her family before escaping, with the aid of a magical creature, to a better life – details can vary from one tradition to another. The Cinderella story raises questions like: to what extent can translation be considered a process of transformation? Does the translator have an obligation to remain ‘faithful’ to the original text? What does ‘fidelity’ even mean in the context of linguistic transfer?

Here is a worksheet produced for visitors to the exhibition. It touches on versions of Cinderella from France, Germany, Ancient Greece, the Caribbean, Korea, Nigeria, and Cambodia.  If you’re interested to find out more, have a read of it (if you’re struggling to read it within the blog, try right-clicking and opening the images separately, or access a pdf here). You don’t need to see the exhibition itself to understand the material included here but we would certainly encourage you to do so!

Collaboration and ownership in cross-cultural creativity

This post originally featured on the Creative Multilingualism blog. It was written by Julie Curtis, Professor of Russian Literature at Oxford and Fellow of Wolfson College. Prof. Curtis is also the Director of Outreach for Medieval and Modern Languages. Here, she reflects on the transformation of a Russian ‘New Drama’ play, Oxygen, by Ivan Vyrypaev, into a UK hip hop version, provoking questions about translation, transformation, and creative ownership.

2002-2018: Ivan Vyrypaev’s play Oxygen, and its 16-year journey between a basement theatre studio in Moscow and a basement rehearsal room at the Birmingham Rep Theatre.

When Ivan Vyrypaev’s play Oxygen was first performed in 2002 at Moscow’s edgiest theatre, Teatr.doc, it caused a sensation. On the one hand it depicted an act of extreme violence – a young man battering his wife to death with a shovel in order to start a new relationship with a woman he believes will offer him more ‘oxygen’ – and it also used aggressively obscene language, transgressing against one of the strongest taboos of Soviet-era theatre. On the other hand, the play had a haunting beauty, deriving from the poetic inventiveness of its use of Biblical motifs, specifically the Ten Commandments, and the musical structuring of the language around refrains, patterning and other compositional devices deriving from both classical and contemporary musical traditions, such as rap.

The play became known as the flagship play of the ‘New Drama’ movement which has arisen in the era of President Putin, and which remains one of the few spheres in which challenges are still offered to official state narratives about society, politics, gender and sexuality, national identity and international relations. It was seen at the theatre by a narrow range of Moscow intellectuals, but gained wider impact within Russia when it was turned by Vyrypaev into a film in 2009; and it also attracted attention internationally – it has been staged in many countries of the world, including a brilliant production (featuring world-champion break-dancers from Russia) staged by the RSC at Stratford in 2009.

Dr Noah Birksted-Breen is a theatre director and Russian scholar who has for many years been exploring contemporary Russian drama and staging it at his London-base Sputnik Theatre. When he joined the Creative Multilingualism team, he attended an event organised by Professor Rajinder Dudrah which brought the grime artists RTKAL, Ky’orion and Royalty from Birmingham to perform on the stage of the Taylor Institution. Their verbal ingenuity, the Rastafarian frame of reference they deployed in their performance, and above all the powerful and infectious rhythms of their art provided a lightbulb moment for me and Noah – we looked at each other, and wondered aloud what would happen if we introduced them to Vyrypaev’s work….

A couple of years later, and that thought has translated into reality, with a performance based on extracts from Vyrypaev’s work being rehearsed in the Birmingham Rep by the brilliant UK rap, hiphop and grime artists Lady Sanity and Stanza Divan, directed by Noah. On Thursday I went along to watch the final research and development session, before the performance later that day curated by Rajinder at Birmingham City University. It prompted all sorts of thoughts in my mind about how issues of ownership and collaboration came together to produce this spectacular meeting of minds across two very different cultures:

  • Vyrypaev owns his text, and is very protective about performances of it across the world;
  • But Noah is one of the most admired directors of contemporary Russian drama in Britain, so Vyrypaev willingly licensed the text for Noah’s project in Sasha Dugdale’s translation, trusting to both Noah’s knowledge of Russian culture and his artistic gifts to create something which would be both new and true to the original;
  • Rajinder knows the rap and hiphop scene in Birmingham via our project partners Punch Records also from the city, and together they recruited artists who would bring their talents to bear on very unfamiliar material, originating from an entirely alien society;
  • Once Lady Sanity and Stanza Divan got to know the text, they worked with Noah on how to make it their own, retaining the skeleton of the piece and certain elements of the refrains, playing with the ideas of the male and female characters with the same name – the two Sashas became the two Jordans…
  • Lady Sanity and Stanza Divan have focused less on the violence and the obscenity, but have translated the relationship between the two to fit into the witty ‘clashing’ routines typical of rap/hiphop/grime performances; this allows them to develop a gendered rivalry which is absent from the original, with Stanza Divan using sarcasm (‘Calm down!..’ – to use a phrase typical of some male politicians…) to scorn and disparage the sharp-tongued teasing of Lady Sanity;
  • But they retain the relative social positions of the two Russian protagonists; she more educated, and from a more comfortable, secure background, he instead from a disadvantaged, broken family and dropping out of secondary education;
  • And above all they retain the message of the final section of Vyrypaev’s original, concerning the difficulties faced by the young in today’s world, where so many threats loom;
  • Did their UK hiphop theatre work absorb Vyrypaev into their British world? Or did Vyrypaev lead Birmingham’s hiphop performers into new areas? Above all, they said, they recognised that elements in the text of the original were primarily about the freedom of self-expression, and that chimed in with the same preoccupation in British hip-hop and grime art.
  • The generosity of very many different people’s collaborations brought this work of art into being: but who ‘owns’ the creative result? Is cultural transposition different from translation?

Watch the below film to find out more about the hip hop theatre version of the Russian play Oxygen.

Tracing prismatic rays of translation

This post is an extract from a longer post on the Creative Multilingualism blog. Matthew Reynolds, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, is leading a research project on ‘Prismatic Translation’. Here he reflects on translation as a creative and diverse activity.

In a poetry workshop, a 9-year old child thinks of a word. She writes it: ‘oguek’. When she begins to explain what it means to her, the sentences form the beginning of a poem :

‘My dad always calls me that,
and it tastes like sweet, sweet
yoghurt.
The colour that it brings
is green, and when my dad says it
it makes me laugh …’

You won’t find the word ‘oguek’ in a dictionary. The writer of these lines, who signs herself only ‘Maja’, observes that ‘in Polish / You say it Ogurk’; the standard spelling Polish spelling and standard English translation are ‘ogórek’ and ‘cucumber’. Nonetheless, what’s happening here cannot be defined as ‘a mistake’. Maja is not trying to write anything that might count as ‘correct standard Polish’; instead, she is putting across the particular form, sound and meanings of this word, ‘oguek’, from the idiom which she uses with her parents. In doing so, she reveals a general truth about language: everyone speaks differently, and writes differently again; and all the many words in their shifting forms take on different meanings in different situations.

Photo by Ananth Pai on Unsplash

The Prismatic Translation project responds to this diversity, and thinks it through. For us, translation is not a matter of trying to achieve correct alignments between standardised languages, but rather a creative re-making of one particular instance of language into another particular instance, using different linguistic resources.

[…]

The same principles of the variety of language use and the creativity of translation extend to classic literature. Take Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, which is the main research focus of our project. It has been massively translated worldwide: so far, we have identified 508 editions of translations, including three into Armenian and 30 into Farsi. In all these moments and locations it has been responded to and re-written in different ways. In Russia, Dostoyevsky read the book in prison. In Latin American Spanish it channelled feminist cultural awareness. In Japan, in the mid- to late-twentieth century, the moment when Jane encounters Rochester and he falls off his horse spawned a myriad imitations in manga and anime narratives.

This proliferation cannot be understood as a matter of translators trying and failing to achieve ‘the same meaning’ through translation. Rather, they remake the text in ways that put the categories of sameness and difference in question. This happens even at the level of individual words. Take ‘passion’: it is a key term in Jane Eyre’s mental drama (where it conflicts with ‘conscience’ or ‘judgement’); it is a matter of love and desire, of course, but also of sensitivity, suffering and rage; together with ‘passionate’ it recurs 49 times throughout the book. To adopt a phrase coined by the literary critic William Empson, it is a ‘complex word’.

Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash

In other languages, comparable words don’t cover the same range, so different ways of making meaning have to be found. Near the start of the book, Mrs Reed’s maid Bessie chides the young Jane not to be ‘passionate and rude’. In Greek, one translator puts αφηνιάζεις for ‘passionate’: it can be back-translated as something like ‘go crazy’. Another gives ‘θυμώνεις’ which is more like ‘get angry’. In Portuguese, we find ‘se tens mau génio’ (something like ‘bad-tempered’), or ‘exaltada’, (‘enraged’), or ‘impulsiva’ (‘impulsive’). (I am indebted to Dr Eleni Philippou, our postdoctoral researcher, and Dr Ana Teresa Dos Santos, one of our research consultants, for these examples). Ever more variations occur in other languages.

Just as with ‘oguek’, there is no point in calling these translations ‘failures’ or ‘mistakes’. Rather, they remake what Bessie says using different linguistic materials for another time and place. We could decide that none of them is quite the same as ‘passionate’; but what does ‘passionate’ mean? It is only by using other words that we can explain; and all the hundreds of other words used in the translations do exactly that, opening up the signifying potential of what is or might be going on in the scene. The text grows through multiple translation; Jane Eyre comes to exist in all the languages together, their words collaborating to co-create the world of the book and what happens within it. Our research traces these prismatic rays, and finds new ways of representing them, both in writing and via interactive visualisations online.

[…]

To find out more about Prismatic Translation see here.

What do Shakira and the works of Cervantes have in common?

This post was written by Sarah Wadsworth, a first-year Spanish & Arabic student at St Anne’s College.

“What’s the hardest thing about studying Golden Age Spanish?” my friend says, repeating the question I asked her, pretending to think. She laughs. “The fact that all the words sound the same. They all begin with ‘al’!”

Gross overestimation it undoubtedly is, but in considering the lexicon of just one Spanish text – in this case, Cervantes’ novela Rinconete y Cortadillo – I can see where she’s coming from. Words like ‘almojarifazgo’, ‘alcabala’ and ‘almofía’ abound even in this short story that we study in first year. It’s something we have both noticed, the prevalence of a little syllable which in turn speaks to a wider history of language transference.

IND119216 Portrait of Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra (1547-1615) 1600 (oil on panel) by Jauregui y Aguilar, Juan de (c.1566-1641); Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid, Spain.

For almost 800 years, there was Arabic social and cultural hegemony from Andalusia to Toledo and even into southern France at the Moorish empire’s peak in the 8th century. Though the Reconquista (‘Reconquest’) would eventually return power to the Catholic monarchs with the surrender of Granada in 1492, the effects of centuries of linguistic transference were already evident, a consequence of history that still echoes in so many Spanish words. The influence of Arabic is visible both in the esoteric terms mentioned above and in more vernacular language, as is demonstrated by the Spanish word “hasta” (meaning “until”) and its Arabic cognate “حَتَّى” or “ḥatta”. The place names Andalucía and Almería are also of Arabic origin; they are just two of the hundreds of Arabic names for various regions, cities, towns and villages across the Iberian Peninsula.

Bras’lia – DF, 17/03/2011. Presidenta Dilma Rousseff recebe a cantora Shakira Mebarak. Foto: Roberto Stuckert Filho/PR.

From the Moorish characters of numerous Spanish ballads to the magnificent architecture of the Alhambra, it is a past that continues to resonate in both Spanish literature and the language itself. But the modern twist on the tale? Given the emigration of Arabic speakers to Latin America from the 19th century onwards, there are now significant Middle Eastern communities in the New World too, like that in the Colombian city of Barranquilla. There are those with roots in both cultures who have risen to fame – the singer Shakira is just one notable example. The linguistic connections between Arabic and Spanish seem as potent today as they were more than 600 years ago.

 

Look out – it’s our Virtual Book Club!

Last month, the Modern Languages Faculty at Oxford launched our virtual book club. For all you bookworms out there, this is a chance to engage more with literature beyond your school curriculum, and in languages other than English.

Each month we will focus on a different language but will always provide the text in translation, as well as in the original language. At the start of the month, we will circulate the texts chosen, which will be poems or short prose extracts, by email. At the end of the month we will upload a video discussion of the text with some of our academics and undergraduates.

The first episode focussed on a passage from the Russian novel The Naked Year, by Boris Pilnyak. It is available below. To receive a copy of the text or to sign up for future episodes, email us at schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk with your name and school.