Quebec Studies

Gained in Translation: Working on Réjean Ducharme

Quebec Studies (2010), 50, (1), 47–56.


47 Gained in Translation: Working on Réjean Ducharme Will Browning Boise State University Once upon a time there was an unknown author in his twenties who wrote so well that people at first didn't believe that his novels were actually written by him. The more he withdrew from public view, claiming that the texts spoke for themselves, the more the press hounded him for interviews and information. The man: Réjean Ducharme of Montréal, Québec. The time: the mid-1960s. The publisher: Éditions Gallimard of Paris, France. My goal: to translate as many of Ducharme's nine novels as possible into English, thereby expanding access to his wonderful, quirky, inventive prose. So far, I have translated the novel in verse La Fille de Christophe Colomb (1969) (The Daughter of Christopher Columbus, Guernica Editions, Toronto, 2000) and the masterful Va savoir (1994) (Go Figure, Talonbooks, Vancouver, 2003). The particularly challenging translation of Le nez qui voque (1967) as Miss Take (Talonbooks, Vancouver, forthcoming in 2010) is in its final stages. It is this text, which concerns a young man and his obsession with a young woman, which I propose to analyze here. His obsession provides liberation for the translator, a freedom to follow the text. Last but not least, I have also undertaken the translation of L'Océantume (1968), whose working title is Bitternest. This title evolved from the play on words between "ocean," "sea," and "bitterness" in the French original ("l'océan," "la mer," and "l'amertume"). It is strange and yet liberating to have no contact with Ducharme. The closest we have come to communication was in a note that he wrote to me inside the cover of the book Trophoux (2004), his collection of photographs of sculptures made from recycling the detritus of Montreal's streets and published under the pseudonym of Roch Plante. The note reads: "à Will Browning, en l'assurant que je suis de tout cœur avec lui — Réjean Ducharme" ("to Will Browning, with the assurance that I am with him with all my heart — Réjean Ducharme"). Therein lies the great paradox: he is with me in spirit, through the presence of his writing, even though his own absence from the literary scene has surpassed forty years. His absence forms a presence that accompanies me as I work. His absence inspires me to recreate in English a similar textual effect. That effect is the essence of the translator's work. According to Nida, "A translation of dynamic equivalence aims at complete naturalness of expression, and tries to relate the receptor to modes of behavior relevant within the context of his own culture...." (cited in Venuti 159). In this essay, I propose to hold a translation seminar with and for the future reader of Miss Take (Le nez qui voque), and, more broadly, for any reader of Ducharme. The challenge for the translator is to render Ducharme's prose faithfully and vividly, and above all to avoid a stilted or monotonous tone (unless, of course, the original has it). In the following Québec Studies, Volume 50, Fall 2010/Winter 2011

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Ducharme, Réjean. La Fille de Christophe Colomb. Paris: Gallimard, 1969. Translated by Will Browning as The Daughter of Christopher Columbus. Toronto: Guernica Editions, 2000. La Fille de Christophe Colomb Google Scholar

Ducharme, Réjean. Le nez qui voque. Paris: Gallimard, 1967. Translated by Will Browning as Miss Take. Vancouver: Talonbooks, forthcoming 2011. Le nez qui voque Google Scholar

Ducharme, Réjean. L'Océantume. Paris: Gallimard, 1968. Translation by Will Browning in progress as Bitternest. L'Océantume Google Scholar

Ducharme, Réjean. Trophoux. Outremont: Lanctôt Éditeur, 2004; published under the pseudonym of Roch Plante. Trophoux Google Scholar

Ducharme, Réjean. Va savoir. Paris: Gallimard, 1994. Translated by Will Browning as Go Figure. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2003. Va savoir Google Scholar

Nida, Eugene. Toward a Science of Translating, with Special Reference to Principles and Procedures Involved in Bible Translating. Leiden: Brill, 1964. Toward a Science of Translating, with Special Reference to Principles and Procedures Involved in Bible Translating Google Scholar

Simon, Sherry. "Translating and Interlingual Creation in the Contact Zone: Border Writing in Quebec." Post-colonial Translation: Theory and Practice. Eds. Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi. London and New York: Routledge, 1999. Post-colonial Translation: Theory and Practice Google Scholar

Venuti, Lawrence. "Translation Studies." Introduction to Scholarship in Modern Languages and Literatures. 3rd edition. Ed. David G. Nicholls. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2007. Introduction to Scholarship in Modern Languages and Literatures Google Scholar

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Author details

Browning, Will