Tag Archives: literature

An interview with Dr Analía Gerbaudo, Part 2

Last week, we brought you part 1 of an interview with Dr Analía Gerbaudo, who was Global South Visiting Fellow at Oxford last term. Today, our undergraduates Stephanie and Sarah bring you the concluding part of this interview, which covers Dr Gerbaudo’s experience founding a literary magazine and an insight into her own writing.

SL & SW: En 2014, usted fundó la revista literaria El Taco en la Brea, además de ser la directora de la editorial Vera cartonera. ¿Qué la inspiró a fundar una revista literaria? ¿Qué desafíos enfrentó al fundar la revista y qué desafíos sigue enfrentando al ser la directora de una editorial?

AG: Mis fantasías de intervención son pretenciosas. Porque sé que es imposible, me encantaría que nuestra revista tuviera el impacto que tuvo en el campo intelectual argentino Punto de vista. Sé que es absolutamente imposible que una revista universitaria tenga el alcance y la llegada que esa revista cultural tuvo en Argentina, en Latinoamérica y más allá, entre 1978 y 2008. Siendo un poco más realista, y en un orden más “nano”, me interesa que los resultados de investigación realizados con fondos públicos puedan ponerse a disposición en una revista on line, de calidad y con acceso abierto para todo aquel que necesite utilizarlo.
La editorial cartonera también se mueve en una tensión entre lo pensable y lo posible, tanto en términos de producción como de circulación y consumo: se intenta contribuir a generar nuevos lectores porque se apuesta a la lectura como una de las vías privilegiadas en la construcción de agencia política. Se intenta, entonces, acercar un bien simbólico de calidad a bajo precio: el libro es un objeto suntuoso incluso para un amplio sector de la clase media baja argentina y de nuestro estudiantado universitario, aun cuando la carrera elegida haya sido letras (recordemos que las carreras de grado universitario en Argentina son gratuitas: a ellas acceden estudiantes de ingresos económicos diversos).  Y como en el caso de la revista, nuestras fantasías de intervención también tienen un ángulo desmesurado y delirante: estamos trabajando en una página Web para colgar todos nuestros libros cartoneros en acceso abierto. Intentamos con esto generar una circulación que vaya más allá de Argentina. Intentamos generar una circulación que contribuya a incidir en la configuración de la Word literature.
Nuestros desafíos son los que atraviesa cualquier espacio institucionalizado en un país inestable como Argentina, con políticas públicas variables. Es decir, nuestros desafíos son poder sostener la calidad a pesar de la falta de financiamiento. Parece una tontería pero tener dinero para invertir en un buen diseño o para algo básico como comprar el papel (en el caso de la cartonera) no son cosas aseguradas. Como Sapiro muestra en sus análisis de la producción literaria bajo la ocupación alemana, el acceso al papel era un problema. En Argentina, el acceso al papel fue un problema no sólo bajo los regímenes dictatoriales. Este es un ejemplo, entre otros. Podríamos analizar con detalle qué relación hay entre, otra vez, activismo y trabajo intelectual en países periféricos como Argentina, Chile, Brasil, Bolivia, constantemente jaqueados por diferentes formas de violencia estatal dados los vaivenes entre ciclos expansionistas de derechos  y posdictaduras.

SL & SW: In 2014, you founded the literary magazine El Taco en la Brea, in addition to being the director of the publishing house Vera cartonera. What inspired you to found a literary magazine? What challenges did you face in founding the magazine, and what do you continue to face in being the director of a publishing house?

AG: My “fantasias de intervención” are ambitious.Although I know it is impossible, I would love for our magazine to have the same impact as the cultural magazine Punto de vista did on the Argentinian intellectual scene. But I know that it is absolutely impossible for a university magazine to have the same reach and reception that Punto de vista had in Argentina, in Latin America and beyond, between 1978 and 2008. When I’m being a bit more realistic, and on a smaller, more “nano” scale, I want the research results carried out with public funds to be made available in a quality, online magazine, with open access for anyone who needs to use it.
The cartonera publishing house also shifts in a tension between what is conceived and what is possible, as much in terms of production as circulation and consumption. It aims to generate new readers because it is committed to the discipline of reading as one of the privileged methods involved in the construction of political agency. We therefore also have the intention of symbolically reconciling high quality with a low price. Books are a luxury even for a wide section of the lower-middle class in Argentina, as well as for our university students, even when the degree chosen is literature (getting a university degree in Argentina is free, accessible to students from diverse economic backgrounds). And, as in the case of the magazine, our “fantasias de intervención”also have a boundless, delirious element: we are working on a web page to upload all of our cartonero editions with open access. With this, we aim to circulate our work beyond Argentina, and generate a circulation that contributes to underscoring the shape of “world literature”.
Our challenges are those that cross into any institutionalized space in an unstable country like Argentina, with changing public politics. That is, our challenges are to be able to maintain quality despite the lack of funding. It seems silly but having money to invest in a good design or for something basic like buying paper (in the case of the cartonera books) is not assured. As Sapiro demonstrates in her analysis of literary production under Nazi occupation, access to paper was a problem. In Argentina, access to paper was not only a problem under dictatorial regimes. This is one example among others. We could, once again, analyse in detail what the relationship is between activism and intellectual labour in peripheral countries such as Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Bolivia – countries constantly rocked by different forms of state violence, given the see-sawing between the expansionist cycles of rights and the post-dictatorial regimes.

SL & SW: Habrá estudiantes que cuando lean esta entrevista tendrán interés en estudiar sus obras. ¿Qué consejos les daría a ellos y a las personas cuyo idioma nativo no es el español si le preguntasen: “por dónde empezar”?

AG: La línea de trabajo que desarrollo se abre con un libro que publiqué en 2016: en Políticas de exhumación. Las clases de los críticos en la universidad argentina de la posdictadura (1984-1986) ensayo una articulación metodológica entre las teorías de Jacques Derrida y de Pierre Bourdieu para analizar cómo se enseñó la teoría literaria y la literatura argentina en mi país durante los primeros años de la restitución “democrática”. En ese libro se muestran modos de leer y de enseñar literatura y teoría literaria desarrolladas entre 1984 y 1986 por algunos de los mejores críticos de argentina: Beatriz Sarlo, Josefina Ludmer, David Viñas, Enrique Pezzoni y Jorge Panesi. Enviar a leer ese libro es enviar a leerlos a ellos. Esa es otra de mis fantasías de nano-intervención más poderosas.

SL & SW: There are students reading this interview who will be interested in studying your works. What advice would you give them, and other people whose native language isn’t Spanish, if they ask where to begin?

AG: The line of work I have developed opens with a book that I published in 2016: in Políticas de exhumación. In Las clases de los críticos en la universidad de argentina de la posdictadura (1984-1986) ) I try out an interactive methodology with the theories of Jacques Derrida and Pierre Bourdieu to analyse how literary theory and Argentinian literature was taught in my country during the first years of the “democratic” restitution. This book shows the ways of reading and teaching literature and literary theory developed between 1984 and 1986 by some of Argentina’s best critics: Beatriz Sarlo, Josefina Ludmer, David Viñas, Enrique Pezzoni and Jorge Panesi. In recommending this book to others, I’m urging them to read these critics too. This is another of my more powerful “fantasias de nano-intervención”.

Concluding thoughts from Stephanie and Sarah

Throughout the course of this interview, Gerbaudo gives us an insight into her time at Oxford, the instrumental role of Oxford academics in furthering discussions and a taste of her own approaches to literature and literary theory, especially under censorship and dictatorship. She highlights the influence of Jacques Derrida on her own work, focussing on exhumation policies in her study of historical literary practices. Words are undeniably powerful as she demonstrates with her current role as director of Vera Cartonera editorial. Through her ambitions for the future of the literary magazine, Gerbaudo provokes us into questioning the role of activism, translation and publication in the global dissemination of literature.

We would like to thank Professor Gerbaudo for taking time to talk to us and we hope this taster of her work will inspire others to explore her work further.

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.

German Classic Prize – ‘Der Sandmann’

Earlier this month, the Oxford German Network launched their third annual ‘German Classic Prize’. This is an essay competition for sixth formers (those going from Year 12 into Year 13 over the summer), which is designed to explore and celebrate a different ‘classic’ German text each year.

This year, the prize focuses on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s ‘Der Sandmann’ (1816) – one of the most captivating short stories in German literature and a masterpiece of Gothic fiction. Hoffmann’s eerie and mysterious tale centres on a young, impressionable student called Nathanael, who becomes convinced that he is pursued by a shadowy figure called Coppelius. Filled with Doppelgänger, mechanical dolls, alchemistic experiments, inexplicable fires, uncanny optical toys, and misaddressed letters, ‘Der Sandmann’ explores the power of the imagination as it erupts into a dark obsession.

The Oxford German Network is offering free study packs to Year 12/ Lower Sixth students who wish to take part. You can find more details about this here – be sure to request a study pack by midday on 10 June 2019.

In connection with this prize, the Oxford German Network has also produced a fantastic video podcast series about the text. One of these videos forms part of a special tie-in with our Virtual Book Club.

The episode below is a discussion between doctoral student, Karolina, and three undergraduates about an extract from Hoffmann’s short story. The full story is available here, and the extract under discussion begins ‘Seltsamer und wunderlicher’ and runs until ‘nicht anzufangen.’

Virtual Book Club: Italian Episode

In January, the Virtual Book Club returned with our first ever Spanish episode. Swift on its heels, here is the second episode of 2019, which focusses on Italian. This episode is a discussion of an extract from Le città invisibili (Invisible Cities), by Italo Calvino. The discussion is led by doctoral researcher Rebecca, with undergraduates Pauline and Maga. If you would like to sign up to receive a copy of the text, or to receive information about future episodes, please email schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

Out last Italian episode is available here. Stay tuned for the next episodes in French and German over the next few months!

Bringing Kafka’s Castle to Life

To celebrate publication of the new critical edition of Franz Kafka’s final, unfinished novel Das Schloss (The Castle), Carolin Duttlinger and Barry Murnane from the Oxford Kafka Research Centre hosted a day of activities with sixth-form students, two student workshops on editing and adapting Kafka, and a podium discussion to discuss the legacy of the novel. The day-long event brought together specialists from Oxford, Roland Reuß and Peter Staengle, and award-winning playwright Ed Harris, who recently adapted the novel for BBC Radio 4. In this blog post Barry Murnane, Associate Professor in German at St John’s College, introduces Kafka’s novel.

Playwright Ed Harris with the students on the study day

Das Schloss is not exactly the most obvious introduction to Kafka’s works. Written over a period of about seven months in 1922 while Kafka’s health was deteriorating (he had been diagnosed with what was probably tuberculosis several years earlier), Das Schloss is a rambling narrative that tells us how a protagonist known only as K arrives in a snow-covered landscape dominated by a castle and has to find his place in the local community:

“It was late evening when K arrived. The village lay deep in snow. There was nothing to be seen of the Castle Mount, mist and darkness surrounded it, and not the faintest glimmer of light showed where the great castle lay. K. stood on the wooden bridge leading from the road to the village for a long time, looking up at what seemed to be a void.” (Franz Kafka, The Castle, transl. Anthea Bell. Oxford: OUP, 2009, p5)

Calling himself a “Landvermesser”, or “surveyor”, K finds himself in the middle of a society that is apparently dominated by a gigantic bureaucracy and he becomes involved in constant conversations with the locals trying to understand how this bureaucracy works.

Kafka in Spindelmühle, the winter resort where he began writing Das Schloss

For one reason or another, K never seems to ‘arrive’, however, and ends up constantly walking and talking in circles. On the one hand, he seems blameless because the castle authorities are not exactly forthcoming with any information. On the other hand, K appears at least partly responsible for his failure in that he treats the locals as little more than stepping stones on his way to the castle, including a potential lover called Frieda. It’s unclear how the novel would have ended: Kafka’s friend and first editor, Max Brod, says that Kafka told him on his deathbed how the novel was meant to finish with K being ‘accepted’ into the Castle and its community, but it seems a long way to go before K. would be accepted anywhere, never mind by the Castle authorities. Instead, we see a novel project trailing off into a “scheinbare Leere”, the seeming void, that K looks into at the start of the novel.

Thanks to the new critical edition of Das Schloss edited by Peter Staengle and Roland Reuß and published by the Stroemfeld-Verlag we now get a real sense of how Kafka actually wrote. Their edition reproduces the exact manuscript alongside an easy-to-read transcription, warts and all. The new edition is ground-breaking, but it puts an emphasis on scholars to make the overload of information it provides accessible. There is no easily consumable narrative of K against the Castle: we see passages where K is a less than positive hero figure, stubbornly refusing to actually listen to what people are telling him and treating women with little respect. One interesting thing is that the material of the manuscript itself shows no real sign of a struggle as Kafka begins to run out of steam with the project: the ductus of his handwriting remains smooth, flowing, perhaps even more so than at the start.

It is astonishing how relevant Kafka’s discussions of bureaucracy and social life in The Castle still are. With Oxford German Studies looking to build up to the centenary of Kafka’s death in 2024, the new edition of the novel is an ideal opportunity to discuss Kafka’s legacy and importance today.

Virtual Book Club: German episode

The Virtual Book Club returns once more, this time with an episode focussing on German. The German episode features a discussion about a short story by Franz Kafka, ‘Der Kaufmann’ [The Tradesman]. Here, Joanna Raisbeck leads the discussion with undergraduates Hannah and Colleen, as they consider the questions: what is the tradesman worried about?; what does he think about in the lift?; and why do you think he has these thoughts in the lift?

If you would like to receive a copy of the text, which will be provided in both the original German and an English translation, or if you would like future Virtual Book Club updates, please email us at schools.liaison@mod-langs.ox.ac.uk

Announcing the 2018 German Classic Prize!

Budding Germanists out there might be interested in delving into a ‘German Classic’: Friedrich Schiller’s Maria Stuart. For the second year, the Oxford German Network is running an essay competition for Sixth-Formers who have studied German at GCSE level (you do not need to be studying German at A Level or equivalent). There are prizes of £500, £300, and £100 to be won. The deadline for submissions is noon on Wednesday 12 September 2018. More information is available here or read on to find out more…

The Prize celebrates a classic text of German literature, with resources to make it accessible whether or not you have experience of German literature. This year, the prize focuses on Friedrich Schiller’s play Maria Stuart, a fascinating historical drama about how Elizabeth I came to have Mary, Queen of Scots executed. The great centrepiece of the play is a gripping confrontation between Elisabeth and Maria – in fact, it never happened but it makes for electrifying drama.

You will find a rich array of material including podcasts and YouTube links on Maria Stuart: http://www.ogn.ox.ac.uk/content/german-classics-prize. Candidates may also request a special reader with extracts from secondary literature on the work (see contact details on the website).

The task: Write a 2000 to 3000-word essay in English, independently and unsupervised, over the summer holidays between Lower and Upper Sixth/ between Years 12 and 13.

The prize, and funding of the accompanying resources, have been generously donated by Jonathan Gaisman, QC, a highly distinguished commercial barrister who was introduced to German literature at school and still finds German literature and culture the most intellectually rewarding part of his life. He would like to give young people the opportunity to be inspired as he was when he first encountered German literature.

Students willing to have a go at undertaking this challenge have the possibility of winning a glittering cash prize worth £500, £300 or £100. All participants will get a certificate of participation.

The prize is aimed at German learners in the UK. It does not assume that participants will be taking English beyond GCSE or that they have a prior interest in literature. The rationale for asking Modern Languages students to write an essay in English is to give an opportunity for UK learners to engage with a linguistically and intellectually challenging German work in the linguistic medium they are most comfortable with. While participants may want to use a translation to support their understanding, we recommend reading the work in the original to get the most out of it and take advantage of the opportunity it offers for expanding German competence. All quotations must be in German.

Friedrich Schiller by Ludovike Simanowiz

As with all the Oxford German Olympiad competitions, we aim to create a level playing field for students from different backgrounds, schools, and levels of linguistic competence. The submission form must be signed by the participant’s teacher, who is also asked to submit the essay online. All sixth-formers in UK schools with a GCSE or equivalent UK qualification in German are entitled to take part, including students who are not taking a German A-level or equivalent qualification. Native and near-native speakers of German are not excluded but are required to declare their linguistic status on the submission form. Our prime criterion is the quality of intellectual and imaginative engagement with the work evident in the essay while taking account of prior opportunity.

Any questions should be addressed to the German Classic Prize Coordinator: Joanna Raisbeck, joanna.raisbeck@some.ox.ac.uk.

Viel Glück!

An Introduction to Effi Briest

This post was written by Katie Wilson, a first-year student of French and German at Oriel College. Katie gives us a glimpse of one of the texts studied in the first year of the German course at Oxford, and makes the case for Effi Briest as an early feminist novel.

Theodor Fontane’s Effi Briest is the first text we study in Hilary Term (in Oxford, this is the term that runs from January to March) of the first year, and the first German novel we study during the degree. The text is about seventeen year old Effi, who is forced by her parents into an arranged marriage with an older man: Baron Geert von Innstetten. Becoming quickly entrapped in her inevitably unhappy marriage, Effi seeks to fight against boredom and depression in her marital home in any way that she can. We read the novel following the study of four German plays in Michaelmas Term (the term that runs from October to December). As interesting as they are, the plays are primarily focused on male characters, and all written by male authors. There are female characters in only some of the plays, and they’re not the heroines that female students want to read about.

Theodor Fontane (1819-1898), portrait by Carl Breitbach

The novels for Hilary Term don’t look much more promising on the surface. There’s still no female authors, and we’re treated to a round of soldiers, a magician and an ungeheuren Ungeziefer (the ‘monstrous bug’ of Kafka’s metamorphosis)*. Fontane’s novel, however, is a game changer. Although it’s written by a man, the novel is structured so that we share our experiences with the female protagonist. When Effi’s bored, Fontane takes up page after page to explain her boredom, so that we’re bored with her. When Effi’s happy, we’ll only experience a page of excitement because time flies when we’re having fun.

This is no accident. Sharing Effi’s experiences means we’re naturally sympathetic towards her, so when she takes actions that were unforgivable in her Victorian Prussian context – ie: having an affair with married womaniser Major Crampas – we understand her motivations and direct our animosity towards the privileged few that oppress Effi.

Hanna Schygulla played Effi in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 adaptation. (Prod Co: Tango Film Prod, Dir: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Phot: Jürgen Jürges, Dietrich Lohmann, Ed: Thea Eymèsz, Art Dir: Kurt Raab).

Of course she’s young, naïve, and perhaps not the greatest heroine we could have hoped for. However, Effi Briest ticks all the boxes for a first wave feminist text that highlights women’s issues in Fontane’s context. Everyone should be very excited about studying this author!

* If you’re curious about translating the phrase ‘ungeheuren Ungeziefer’, check out this article by professional translator Susan Bernofsky.

Conversations with Moroccan Poet Abdellatif Laâbi

This post was written by Khalid Lyamlahy, a doctoral student at St Anne’s College. Khalid’s research looks at Moroccan identity in a post-colonial context, examining the concepts of nostalgia and revolt in the works of three contemporary Moroccan Francophone writers : Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine (1941-1995), Abdelkebir Khatibi (1938-2009) and Abdellatif Laâbi (born 1942).

Poet Abdellatif Laâbi


On February 20-21 2018, the University of Oxford hosted Moroccan poet Abdellatif Laâbi for a two-day event, supported by The Ertegun Graduate Scholarship Programme in the Humanities and the Maison Française d’Oxford (the French cultural centre in Oxford). The event provided a unique opportunity to discuss and engage with the work of one of the major voices of Francophone poetry.

Born in Fez in 1942 under the French protectorate, Laâbi was only fourteen when Morocco gained its independence in 1956. Laâbi taught French in Rabat and cofounded in 1966 with a group of Moroccan poets and artists the journal Souffles-Anfas, one of the most influential platforms for cultural and political production in postcolonial Africa and the Global South. A political activist in the Moroccan Left, Laâbi was arrested in 1972 and spent more than eight years in prison. After an international campaign for his release, he left Morocco and went into exile in France. Laâbi has published a wide range of works including poetry collections, novels, essays, autobiographies, children books, and translations, as well as a series of articles and interviews. In 2009 he was awarded the prestigious Goncourt Prize of Poetry, and in 2011, the Grand Prix de la Francophonie de l’Académie Française. His works have been translated into English, Spanish, German, and Italian, among other languages.

The first day of the event was introduced by Jane Hiddleston who provided a synthetic introduction of Laâbi’s trajectory and literary production. The first panel, chaired by Toby Garfitt, included talks by Andy Stafford and Khalid Lyamlahy on the motif of light in Laâbi’s work. In two equally enthusiastic presentations, Stafford discussed the at once ambivalent and rich meaning of a series of occurrences of the word “soleil” (“sun” in French) in Laâbi’s early poetry, while Lyamlahy reflected on the presence and absence of light in Laâbi’s writing, demonstrating how the poet recovers, protects, and brings light to his readership. For the Moroccan poet who has long lived behind bars, light is a source of hope, inspiration, and generosity. As he writes in one of his prison poems from 1978:

Bonjour soleil de mon pays
qu’il fait bon vivre aujourd’hui
que de lumière
que de lumière autour de moi
Bonjour terrain vague de ma promenade
tu m’es devenu familier

(Good morning sun of my land
how good it feels to be alive today
so much light
so much light around me
Good morning empty exercise yard
you have become familiar to me)

This extract is written as a dialogue between the jailed poet and the Moroccan sun. By repeating the word “lumière” (“light” in French), Laâbi celebrates life and creates a sense of freedom that resists incarceration and confinement.

Participants on the first day of the event at the Maison Française, Oxford

The second panel took the form of a conversation between Lyamlahy and Laâbi’s wife Jocelyne who is also a writer. Jocelyne has published a historical novel, an autobiography in which she recounts her life in Morocco and struggle for Abdellatif’s release, in addition to several collections of Moroccan tales which she gathered and translated into French. During the conversation, Jocelyne explained how she came to writing, commenting on her interest in Moroccan popular culture and, more broadly, the history of the Arab world. She also read some excerpts from the new edition of her Moroccan tales, Avec la rivière mon conte s’en est allé (Al Manar, 2018) which means “With the river my tale went away”, a closing formula used by Moroccan storytellers at the end of their tales.

In the final panel, moderated by Catriona Seth, Abdellatif Laâbi discussed the challenges of being a writer “from the periphery” and how this position shapes his approach to poetic creation and language. Significantly, Laâbi described his literary career as a “miracle”, a word that refers to both his background as the son of a Moroccan craftsman whom nothing predestined to become a writer, and to the sense of wonder and sensitivity that characterizes his poetic work.

Prof. Catriona Seth in conversation with Laâbi

The second day of the event opened with a discussion on language and politics in North Africa. James McDougall and Kaoutar Ghilani spoke about the evolution of language politics in the Maghreb, and the effect of colonialism and nationalism on linguistic dynamics in the region. They provided an instructive and complementary overview of the Arabisation policy and the teaching of foreign languages in both Algeria and Morocco, while Laâbi reaffirmed the necessity of recognising local dialects and promoting linguistic diversity in the region.

After this, Laâbi and his translator André Naffis-Sahely discussed the practice and values of translation. Drawing on his experience as a translator of Palestinian Arabic poetry into French, Laâbi defined translation as an act of love, dialogue, and deep understanding of the original text. Similarly, Naffis-Sahely drew on the legacy of the late British poet and translator Sarah Maguire to argue that translating consists in taking not only an aesthetic but also an ethical position. The discussion was then followed by a bilingual reading of Laâbi’s poetry in both French (by Laâbi) and English (by Naffis-Sahely).

This two-day event was a unique opportunity to engage with the deeply humanist and thought-provoking voice of Abdellatif Laâbi. Subtle and powerful, sensuous and rebellious, his poetry is not only a record of a life of commitment and dignity, but also a call to remain vigilant and reinvigorate the dynamics of resistance in an age of violence and intolerance. Laâbi reminds us that writing is the most valuable act of sharing. In his words,

Ton écriture est ton seul bien, celui que tu n’as jamais monnayé et que personne n’a jamais pu acheter. Et ne crois pas que tu en sois propriétaire. Ce bien n’est tien que dans la mesure où tu le distribues chaque jour, chaque nuit, surtout quand tu traverses les périls.

(Your writing is your only asset, the one that you have never sold and that no one has ever been able to buy. And do not imagine that you are its owner. This asset is yours only so long as you share it every day, every night, and especially when you are crossing perilous territory)

A display of Laâbi’s books