Gained in Translation: Working on RÃ©jean Ducharme
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: RÃ©jean Ducharme of MontrÃ©al, QuÃ©bec. The
time: the mid-1960s. The publisher: Ã‰ditions 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'OcÃ©antume (1968),
whose working title is Bitternest. This title evolved from the play on words
between "ocean," "sea," and "bitterness" in the French original ("l'ocÃ©an,"
"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: "Ã
Will Browning, en l'assurant que je suis de tout cÅ“ur avec lui â€” RÃ©jean
Ducharme" ("to Will Browning, with the assurance that I am with him with
all my heart â€” RÃ©jean 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
QuÃ©bec Studies, Volume 50, Fall 2010/Winter 2011