This volume consists of three essays and a substantial introduction describing the theories and procedures underlying the McGill University-based GRETI (Groupe de recherche en traductologie) in (re)translating William Faulkner’s The Hamlet. It also includes a chapter presenting the end-product of the project, the (re)translation of Faulkner’s narrative itself.
Corinne Durin’s introduction lays out the point of departure of GRETI’s ambitious undertaking. First of all, invoking translation theorists Henri Meschonnic and Antoine Berman, the group sought to apply the latter’s notion of decentering (as opposed to annexion, which creates the illusion that the text has been written in the target language) in translating Faulkner’s text. The (re)translation process was thus to be driven at once by theory and praxis, a dialogical process in the Bakhtinian sense. On the praxis side, one of the main aims of the project was to counter the predominance of the tragic elements in French Faulkner translations prevailing even in René Hilleret’s translation of The Hamlet, considered to be a work in which Faulkner’s humour plays an essential part. What is more, the group meant to tackle the obliteration of the regional connotations, particularly slang expressions characteristic of the southern United States, the kind of obliteration that resulted in Hilleret’s “standardized” French version.
In her introduction, Durin also briefly touches on a significant reorientation with regard to the group’s paratextual apparatus, which initially had included a microtextual component relating to lexical and formal translative decisions which would have resulted in an English-French glossary of specialized terms as well as a data base of Faulkner’s stylistic devices and their possible translations. This microtextual approach was abandoned in favour of a macrotextual model relating to issues such as decentering, appropriation, and the use of Québécois vernacular to render Faulkner’s southern U.S. narrative and dialogue. The shift in focus coincided with a change in the translation approach itself, moving from what the group calls survernacularisation to a dévernacularisation that would make the text more accessible to all francophone readers while at the same time addressing concerns about reactions of the Quebec readership.
The opening chapter of this volume, also by Durin, describes “la politique de traduction du GRETI” as a consideration of all the translation options available to translate what the group considered to be crucial features of Faulkner’s work. Essentially, this politique was a matter of reinstating elements that had been lost or obliterated in Hilleret’s translation, notably the humour and the speech mannerisms of the southern U.S. But it also went so far as to challenge French conventions for marking dialogue, and the original place names were retained and put in italics.
Some of GRETI’s policies, such as the decision to retain appellations (such as “Mr”) and place names (which it put in italics), hardly break new ground in literary translation (would any translator title Flaubert’s novel Mrs. Bovary, or, in Anne Hébert’s Kamouraska, refer to Madame Rolland as “Mrs.”, and situate her on “Parlour Street”?). However, the group’s decision to use Québécois vernacular to translate the sociolect characteristic of the southern U.S. as it occurs in Faulkner represents a breakthrough, both in terms of translation theory, particularly in view of GRETI’s self-mandated projet progressiste, and in terms of the translated work itself. This decision, which resulted in an exponential expansion of discourse markers of both class and region, is bound to influence future translations of works in which these elements come into play. One need only think of existing English tranlations of plays by Quebec writer Michel Tremblay, in which regional discourse markers are for the most part lost.
Annick Chapdelaine contributes a chapter reflecting the group’s shift in orientation from microtextual to macrotextual elements, offering in-depth thematic and stylistic analysis of Faulkner’s text and comments on the significance of specific themes and the use of formal elements in the translation process undertaken by GRETI. In addition to Faulkner’s humour, it was the pervasiveness of the multiple voices and how they are used that came to stand at the centre of GRETI’s undertaking: “l’omniprésence des « voix », leur modulation, leur jeu, était un trait essentiel de l’oeuvre, et c’est par leur restitution dans la traduction que le lecteur francophone accéderait à la richesse de l’écriture faulknérienne.” Somewhat surprisingly, given the implicitly hermeneutic approach of her previous analysis of The Hamlet (and the approaches used by Gillian Lane-Mercier in the subsequent chapter), Chapdelaine follows Stephen Ross’s reading of Faulkner, characterizing the latter’s narrative strategies as resisting interpretation and metaphorically describing the rhetorical effects of his text as resulting in a “monument” to be contemplated and appreciated rather than interpreted. According to Chapdelaine, a further challenge to GRETI was thus to render this “monumental” effect, created by Faulkner’s rhetorical strategies, in the translation.
Gillian Lane-Mercier’s essay titled “L’impossible unicité : le conflit des subjectivités et des réceptions,” opens with a discussion of the problems of sociolinguistic authenticity in the translation of sociolects. At issue here are configurations of character and language features that diverge from an implicitly or explicitly designated “norm,” the socio-ideological positioning of the author with respect to these configurations, and finally, the positions to be assumed by the “ideal reader” (Lane-Mercier uses the term “lecteur modèle”, whom she subsequently describes in terms reminiscent of the reception theorists), as distinguished from empirical readers. Thus sociolects in literary texts represent a crucial strategy in orienting the reader, “le lieu par excellence du croisement, voire de l’entrechoquement, de subjectivités disparates.”
Lane-Mercier argues that the translator’s own position with regard to the social and ideological positions presented in the text manifest themselves particularly in translation of direct speech, where the non-overlapping of social, cultural and ideological values make translative choices particularly problematic. Broadly speaking, the paths open to the translator are either to obliterate the sociolect markers present in the original text or to replace the original sociolect with an “equivalent” in the target culture. As Lane-Mercier points out, such translative decisions are ultimately ethical ones, determined by how a given society views the Other and by the position taken by the translator in mediating between them. Thus, as Lawrence Venuti, whom the author cites, has observed, “[the translator] wields enormous power in the construction of national identities for foreign cultures, and hence […] potentially figures in ethnic discrimination, geopolitical confrontation, colonialism, war.”
Thus the translation process is at its most visible (and vulnerable?) in the fault-line (faille) created by the non-overlapping between cultures in the language of the original text and that of the target text, a process in which the translator must meet the horizon of expectations of the target culture in rendering a text produced by a culture whose horizon of expectations were quite different. The role of the translation critic, then, is to identify the translative position and hence the translator’s subjectivity seen, in this context, as an “effect,” or a textual strategy, examining the translative strategies in terms of the ideological, political and ethical considerations that underlie them.
In the GRETI project, these translative positions were multiplied, given the number of individuals participating in it, giving rise to a corresponding multiplication in “le conflit des subjectivités et des réceptions” as well as to constant negotiation concerning not only the translation of the text itself, but the readership it was to target. Given the crucial role of the sociolect used in Faulkner’s text, a principal focus of this negotiation was how to translate it into the target language, a negotiation ultimately leading to the decision to render Faulkner’s use of the language used in the southern U.S. early in the twentieth century by using the vernacular of rural Quebec. GRETI was thus applying the principle of “resistive” translation, going against implicitly or explicitly expressed norms as to which French dialects or patois are “acceptable” in the literary context and which are not (Québécois speech being classified in the latter category), and contradicting the dominant values of the target polysystem as well as the expectations of the target culture’s readers. The GRETI project thus found itself contesting established translation practises: “[le projet de GRETI] s’inscrivait […] en porte-à-faux par rapport à la pratique traditionnelle dominante dont il ne cessait pas de récuser la tendance au monologuisme, à l’ethnocentrisme et à l’effacement du travail du traducteur.”
Lane-Mercier subsequently introduces a lengthy and eloquent excursus on the status of rural Québécois vernacular speech, invoking Chantal Bouchard’s splendid studies of the contexts, causes and effects of its stigmatization. It is Lane-Mercier’s illuminating observations on the effects of this stigmatization in terms of the perception of Self and Other throughout the postcolonial francophonie that allow the full significance of GRETI’s decision to translate Faulkner’s “country white” sociolect into rural Québécois vernacular to emerge as the projet progressiste it set out to be: “Le choix d’un vernaculaire par nécessité « locale » doit son étrangeté et son altérité non pas au fait qu’il permet un accès à l’étrangeté et à l’altérité du Hamlet, mais à son statut marginalisé relativement aux institutions culturelles dominantes de la société d’accueil.”
What is more, in GRETI’s theoretical discussion of its own shift from survernacularisation to dévernacularisation, deficiencies of some of the theoretical models which constituted its point of departure became evident, notably in the literal translation approach of Antoine Berman, to whose memory the book is dedicated.
Nevertheless the praxis side of the project has not been submerged by theory. Chapter 2 presents GRETI’s unannotated “devernacularized” version of Book I, the Faulkner work that the group has titled Le Hamlet. Responding to its own critical examination of the hierarchies that come into play in the transcultural mediation that is literary translation, GRETI has rewritten Faulkner for all the francophonie. What is more, it has done so in a rural Québécois vernacular that is eminently readable.
This volume articulately cracks open traditional translation theory and practise in a multiplicity of ways. Its detailed chronicling of the shifts in focus—and their motivations—as they were made throughout the project offers illuminating insights into theoretical and practical problems with which literary translators are constantly confronted, creating a new and original frame of reference for literary translation as a whole.