Translating across spheres

Francosphères (2020), 9, (2), 127–130.


Translating across spheres

Before COVID-19 took centre stage, in what feels like another world away now, Amaleena Damlé and I hosted an event entitled ‘Translating Across Worlds: Translation, Creativity, and Intercultural Politics in Contemporary Francophone Women’s Writing’, in collaboration with independent publishing house Les Fugitives (see ‘Les Fugitives: An introduction’, this issue).1 The translation and creative writing section of the present issue tourne sur this event, specifically the translation workshop and roundtable discussion with Tunisian novelist Colette Fellous and her translator Sophie Lewis. Mauritian author Ananda Devi was not able to make it to the event due to acute bronchitis, though her voice came through in the creative workshop she organized, which was led by Amaleena Damlé (more on this in the next issue).

The title of the event was inspired by the fourth volume of the multilingual journal Apulée: revue de littérature et de réflexion, entitled Traduire le monde.2 Named after the second-century Amazigh writer Apulieus famous for the novel Metamorphosis, which he wrote when Algeria was under Roman rule,3 the purpose of the revue is to decentralize Eurocentric world literature structures. Rather, it situates itself within the wider framework of (decolonized) literatures from across the world and indeed of the world, comprised as it is of multiple genres and languages alongside their French translation. Its fifth issue, entitled Les Droits humains, was made available online to increase accessibility during the global pandemic, and centres on ‘la liberté d’être libres’:4

Avoir une voix et la faire entendre, mais aussi, surtout quand on est en position privilégiée, être à l’écoute de toutes ces voix qui ont été étouffées. Lorsque ce don d’être et de s’exprimer, qui est un droit de naissance, est confisqué ou bafoué, cela équivaut à une injustice, à une violation et à un appel à l’action.5

Human rights discourse, and particularly the right to public healthcare, has become all the more pressing in view of COVID-19, while the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted ‘le droit universel à la respiration’ where this has so often been denied to Black people in particular (more on this from Amaleena Damlé in the next issue).6 In Peau noire, masques blancs, writing specifically about French Indo-China within the wider context of colonialism and racism, Frantz Fanon speaks of an impossibility to breathe.7 This impossibility leads to necessary revolution in order to reach a new breathing space, free from the suffocating presence of colonialism and its afterlives. Fanon advocates regaining a voice through the process of ‘désaliénation’ (rather than an essentializing Négritude),8 whereby decolonial nostalgia and critical utopianism can be mobilized through ‘differentiated solidarity’,9 in the audacious hope of lasting change:

Si à un moment la question s’est posée pour moi d’être effectivement solidaire d’un passe déterminé, c’est dans la mesure où je me suis engagé envers moi-même et envers mon prochain à combattre de tout mon existence, de toute ma force pour que plus jamais il n’y ait, sur la terre, de peuples asservis.10

Such ‘désaliénation’ and ‘engagement’ involves resistance against auto-exoticization, which Josephine Goldman (this issue) explores in relation to female voices - and bodies - in the Antillean francosphère, within the wider multilingual context of the Caribbean. In her analysis of Simone Schwarz-Bart’s Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle and Suzanne Dracius’s L’Autre qui danse, Goldman notes how ‘these authors adapt Glissant’s opacité, which reclaims otherness as inviolable cultural specificity, to centre women as fully fleshed subjects enacting resistance’.11 Meanwhile, Charlotte Mackay (this issue) reveals the interrelatedness of ecological, memorial, and diasporic spheres in Cameroonian author Léonora Miano’s Les aubes écarlates, advocating an ethics of plurality in this time of crisis:

Dans cette décennie proclamée celle des personnes d’ascendance africaine par les Nations Unies et au beau milieu d’une crise sanitaire qui fait ressortir l’état avancé de la crise écologique à une échelle mondiale mais également la persistance d’anciennes inégalités entre les peuples que l’on espérait propres à une ère lointaine, il importe plus que jamais de repenser notre rapport collectif à la Terre, à ses habitants humains et non-humains, et à la pluralité des perspectives qui la compose.12

Such a plurality of perspectives is particularly apparent when translating across inter-ethnic/-religious spheres, as Adi Saleem Bharat (this issue) demonstrates in his analysis of Thierry Cohen’s novel Avant la haine. Bharat ‘charts the broad contours of how a particular vision of Jewish-Muslim relations comes to define Jewish-Muslim interactions primarily through divergent ethnoreligious and transnational political identifications, when interactions in the past were often defined by other more fluid, complex, and intersecting identifications’.13 The focus on interactions resonates with the recently published volume Jewish-Muslim Interactions: Performing Cultures between North Africa and France (2020), which combines the notions of spheres and ambiances in its conceptualization of Jewish-Muslim interactions:

Drawing attention to interactions moves away from narratives of conflict, trauma, and nostalgia, which pit Jews and Muslims against one another or depict past experiences of relatively peaceful coexistence in irremediable terms. Interactions too are a way of distancing often empty notions of vivre ensemble […] which can restrict relations to institutionalized interfaith dialogue limited to religious, political, and diplomatic contexts. […] [R]ather than describing interactions as ‘Francophone’, we see them as existing within multilingual and transcultural spheres […] encompassing interreligious ambiances […]. Spheres and ambiances evoke influence and affect, contingent publics and atmospheres, all of which are in contact with one another, and thus undergird our exploration of the transcultural, the interactive, and the dynamic.14

In other words, translating across cultural spheres allows for new ways of interacting or conversing with each other - s’entretenir - and new ways of seeing one another - s’entrevoir - which are at the root of the word ‘interview’, and so it is fitting that the articles in this issue are accompanied by two entretiens. In her interview with Jean-Bernard Marlin, Siham Bouamer focuses on the bittersweet film Shéhérazade (2018), set in Marseille and inspired by Italian neorealism. Karin Schwerdtner’s interview with novelist Lydie Salvayre centres on what it means to address an issue (or a readership) through the act of self-reflexive writing. Salvayre’s concluding words open up new beginnings: ‘Parler, penser d’une seule voix, et toujours la même, et toujours aux mêmes, me semble dangereux. Que les adresses soient multiples m’enchante - littérairement, poétiquement, philosophiquement et politiquement’.15

See Kim Sanderson, ‘Translation, Creativity, and Intercultural Politics in Contemporary Francophone Women’s Writing’, sandersontranslations, 19 March 2020 >> [accessed 24 July 2020]. ‘Translating Across Worlds’ is the first in a series of events bringing together writers, translators, academic researchers, and students to reflect on the role translation and creativity have to play in representing and shaping intercultural politics. Thanks go to the Society for French Studies, the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Living Texts and Translation Studies Research Groups, and St Aidan’s College, Durham University for their support.

Hubert Haddad (ed.), Apulée #4 - Traduire le monde (Paris: Zulma, 2019).

See Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès, ‘Qu’est qu’un romain?’, in Apulée #1 - Galaxies identitaires, ed. by Hubert Haddad (Paris: Zulma, 2016), pp. 19-21.

Hubert Haddad, ‘La liberté d’être libres’, in Apulée #5 - Les droits humains, ed. by Hubert Haddad (Paris: Zulma, 2020), pp. 11-13, available online >> [accessed 11 August 2020].

Rebekah Vince, trans. by Khalid Lyamlahy, ‘Pour ainsi dire… et écouter’, in Apulée #5 - Galaxies identitaires, pp. 357-58.

See Achille Mbembe, ‘Le droit universel à la respiration’, Analyse Opinion Critique, 6 April 2020, available online >> [accessed 24 July 2020].

‘Ce n’est pas parce que l’Indochinois a découvert une culture propre qu’il s’est révolté. C’est parce que “tout simplement” il lui devenait, à plus d’un titre, impossible de respirer’. Frantz Fanon, Peau noire, masques blancs (Paris: Seuil, 2015[1952]), p. 220. For a recent audiovisual exploration of what it means to breathe in the context of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, see Gaël Faye, ‘Respire (Clip Officiel)’, YouTube, 25 August 2020 >> [accessed 24 November 2020].

See Fanon, pp. 11-12, pp. 34-35.

See Michael Rothberg, ‘From Gaza to Warsaw: Mapping Multidirectional Memory’, Criticism, 53.4 (2011), 523-48 (p. 538).

Fanon, p. 221.

Josephine Goldman, ‘Embodied Antillean Women: Rejecting Auto-Exoticism and Renegotiating Opacité in Simone Schwarz-Bart’s Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle and Suzanne Dracius’s L’Autre qui danse’, Francosphères, 9.2 (2020), 131-48 (p. 148).

Charlotte Mackay, ‘Les aubes écarlates de Léonora Miano: écologie, mémoire et conscience diasporique’, Francosphères, 9.2 (2020), 149-66 (p. 166).

Adi Saleem Bharat, ‘The Politics of Nostalgia and Pessimism: Jewish-Muslim Relations in Thierry Cohen’s Avant la haine’, Francosphères, 9.2 (2020), 167-91 (p. 169). See also Adi Saleem Bharat, ‘The Case Against “Jewish-Muslim Relations”’, Jewish-Muslim Research Network, 21 July 2020 >> [accessed 24 July 2020].

Samuel Sami Everett and Rebekah Vince, ‘Introduction’, in Jewish-Muslim Interactions: Performing Cultures Between North Africa and France, ed. by Samuel Sami Everett and Rebekah Vince (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2020), pp. 1-20 (pp. 7, 4-5); and Samuel Sami Everett, ‘Une Ambiance Diaspora: Continuity and Change in Parisian Maghrebi Imaginaries’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 62.1 (2020), 135-55.

Karin Schwerdtner, ‘Lydie Salvayre: écrire pour s’adresser, s’adresser pour écrire?’, Francosphères, 9.2 (2020), 203-11 (p. 211).


Author details

Vince, Rebekah