On 25 February 2020, Rebekah Vince and I hosted ‘Translating Across Worlds’ at Durham University, a one-day symposium designed to stimulate reflection on questions of translation and intercultural politics in contemporary francophone women’s writing.1 The event was organized around two specific works, Ananda Devi’s Les Jours vivants (2013) and Colette Fellous’s Pièces détachées (2015), both of which had been recently published in English with the award-winning feminist press Les Fugitives as, respectively, The Living Days by Jeffrey Zuckerman (2020) and This Tilting World by Sophie Lewis (2019).2 Held in collaboration with Les Fugitives, ‘Translating Across Worlds’ featured a translation workshop with Colette and Sophie, a creative writing workshop conceived by Ananda, and a panel discussion. Academics, students, translators, and writers spent the day thinking about different forms of translation and transposition against the backdrop of Fellous’s and Devi’s writing, linked by the themes of colonialist legacy, nationalism, extremism, and marginalization foregrounded in each of their works. The event was guided by a series of questions: what happens as translation carries texts dealing with pressing issues into new languages and cultural environments? What potential does creative writing have in coming to terms with traumatic legacies and offering fresh perspectives on the world? How do literary texts engage with contemporary politics in the face of rising populism and extremism? What role do memory and fantasy play in imagining alternative futures?
Sadly, Ananda was not able to be with us on the day, as she was suffering from acute bronchitis, but she generously shared with us the materials for the creative writing workshop she had planned to lead. This session was inspired by her own collaboration with the Musée des Beaux Arts in Lyon, for whom she had written a short text in response to the painting La Monomane de l’envie ou la hyène de la Salpétrière by Théodore Géricault. Ananda provided us with her prose text, as well as three images: the Géricault painting, Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and Lucien Freud’s Queen Elizabeth II. The task for the creative writing workshop was to choose one of the paintings as a piste de réflexion, and we drew inspiration from Ananda’s words, from her writing, and from the broader themes of translation, transposition, intercultural politics, and women’s writing that framed the day.
The creative endeavours and exchanges that began at the symposium have since evolved into different forms, and an earlier issue of Francosphères contains a transcription of the panel discussion that took place between Rebekah, Colette, and Sophie during the event, as well as excerpts and translations from Pièces détachées/This Tilting World.3 In this dossier, we return once more to ‘Translating Across Worlds’, this time to Ananda Devi’s writing, as well as to the creative writing pieces inspired by her workshop. The pages that follow constitute a return, then, but also a renewal. Fresh conversations about Les Jours vivants/The Living Days emerged in written exchanges between myself, Ananda, and Jeffrey, as we discussed Ananda’s portrayal of the city of London, and reflected via the novel on enduring legacies of Empire, white supremacy, Brexit, Black Lives Matter, and on a world choked by its own politics of consumption, and by the threat of ecological collapse. Meanwhile, my own critical readings of the novel took on new hues in the light of the bewildering chokehold of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the spirit of translation and transposition, this dossier contains three elements that drift - fugitives - across time, between languages, through media, touching on the creative and the critical. We begin with a bilingual conversation between myself, Ananda, and Jeffrey. There follows a selection of creative writing in French and in English, with Ananda’s beautiful reflection in French on the Géricault painting, and poems and prose written in English during the creating writing workshop, accompanied by their sensitive rendering in French by academic, novelist, and translator Khalid Lyamlahy. The dossier closes with an article written by myself on Les Jours vivants, and on Devi’s delicate yet incisive probing of the struggle for breath, one of the most striking features - across worlds - of our living days.