- Pamela Banting (Author)
Body Inc.: A Theory of Translation Poetics. Turnstone Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- D. G. Jones (Editor), Bernard Pozier (Editor), and Louise Blouin (Editor)
Esprit de Corps: Québec Poetry of the Late Twentieth Century in Translation. Muses' Company (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Dean J. Irvine
D.G. Jones’s editorial introduction to Esprit de Corps: Québec Poetry of the Late Twentieth Century in Translation articulates
vital questions of canon, culture, identity, poetics, politics, and translation specific to French Québec poetry. Providing English- language readers with a textual map of what he assumes will be an unfamiliar literary territory, Jones offers both historicist and materialist analysis of the literary industry of French Québec poetry in the late twentieth century. The editorial perspective on the poetry is the local product, Jones notes, "of Quebeckers themselves— more exactly, of the writers associated with Ecrits des Forges," the Trois-Rivières-based publisher of Esprit de Corps. Conceived as a part of "a more comprehensive anthology of Quebec poetry from its beginnings" also published by Ecrits des Forges, Esprit de Corps presents "their view of the canon of Quebec poetry" to the English-language reader—not from Quebec City, nor from Montreal, but from Three Rivers. (Jones’s translation of Trois-Rivières here, and omission of accents elsewhere, signals his assumed monolingual reader.) According
to Jones, the significance of the publisher’s location in Trois- Rivières is that "The poetry, perhaps the culture, is becoming decentralized." Resistant to the idea of a single cultural or political identity for Québec, Jones makes plain that "this collection of poems is not that of the Bloc, of some single national voice." Read as a poetics of French Québec literary production, the poetry anthology itself becomes a metonym for the multiple sites and histories of material culture.
The poetry selected for Esprit de Corps coheres around the tropes of both body and spirit manifested by diverse poets writing in disparate times—from Rina Lasnier (b. 1910) to Serge Patrice Thibodeau (b. 1959). from mid-century to fin de siècle. "In fact," Jones writes, "many of the poems in this selection might prompt one to translate the phrase literally, as bodily spirit—or change it to esprit du corps, the spirit or consciousness of the body." It is not revealed whether the tropic coherence of the poetry is a deliberate editorial construction, or if the material of French Québec poetry itself rather reflects the poets’ general preoccupation with the corporeal and spiritual in the late twentieth century. In any event, the temporal signal in the subtitle of Esprit de Corps suggests that here esprit is meant to encompass its multiple connotations as vital principle, essence, and mood of French Québec poetry of the late twentieth century—in short, the Zeitgeist, or the spirit, in Jones’ words, of "a body of texts." Reminding the reader of John Glassco’s 1970 anthology The Poetry of French Canada in Translation, Jones notes that there Glassco represents the spirit of a "poetry of exile" but that "there is a more positive kind of esprit de corps that emerges here." The problematic of translation from French into English, as well as the viability of the industry of poetry translation in Canada, is foregrounded in Jones’s final comments: "Let’s face it: this is poetry in translation, and the reader has heard no doubt that the phrase is an oxymoron, the thing an impossibility." Nonetheless, the collaboration often different translators in Esprit de Corps shows that translation is possible for French Québec poetry, and that they have attempted to translate both spirit and letter of the poetry. Furthermore, in keeping with the larger project of Ã‰crits des Forges, the collaborative project of translation for Esprit de Corps décentres the idea of the single translator, and instead incorporates not only an anthology of French Québec poetry in translation but a group of largely Quebecker translators and/or editors. Esprit de Corps is also a publishing project in collaboration with The Muses’ Company, an English-language publisher based in Winnipeg. This emphasis upon collaboration, not upon individualism or separatism, forges a real sense of community in and around the anthology. In offering French Québec poetry to anglophone readers, the reading community beyond the borders of the anthology and francophone Quebec may well migrate into a world of translation—in body and spirit.
Not only in counterpoint to Esprit de Corps, but in the very absence of Canadian French-language poetry from Pamela Banting’s Body Inc.: A Theory of Translation Poetics, there appears to be a linguistic gap that is invisible to the author. Attending to what she calls the postcolonial Canadian long poem, Banting exclusively selects western Canadian poets—Fred Wah, Robert Kroetsch, and Daphne Marlatt—to advance her theory of translation poetics. In counterdistinction to the practice of interlingual translation (between languages) and intralingual translation (between writing and speech) predicated upon mimetic theories of representation, "which elides the body in favour of maintaining a distance between materiality and its mental reproductions," Banting claims that her theory of "translation poetics functions only by means of the body’s material differences, physical locality and linguistic and other histories." Banting need not, however, elide poets other than those writing in western Canada, nor the linguistic history of French Canada, nor the literary history of interlingual translation in Canada in favour of recuperating the body for her theory of translation poetics. One could nominate Nicole Brossard, for instance, as a non-western Canadian and non-anglophone candidate. Banting herself gestures toward numerous other Canadian writers, including Brossard, in her preface. This is not to say that bracketing Wah, Kroetsch, and Marlatt is not conducive to Banting’s innovative and complex theory of English-language Canadian long poems. Rather, it is to say that, broadly speaking, any study of "translation" in Canadian literature should consider the essentialist implications of the non-differentiated signifier "Canadian," especially in the context of English-language texts.
What is at stake in both Esprit de Corps and Body Inc. are two intertwined theories of linguistic and cultural materialism: one foregrounds the materiality of language in relation to the body, the other the material of language in relation to the sociopolitical and historical forces of cultural production. While translation in the traditional mimetic sense is rejected in Body Inc. for its complicity in colonialist and imperialist reinscription of source texts into the cultural values of target texts, one can hardly imagine the abandonment of the project of interlingual translation represented by Esprit de Corps. Jones admits that poetry in translation might be an impossibility, but would not translation without the principle of mimesis at all also be an impossibility? Would not the requirement that all translation poetics interface with the body limit the kinds of texts available to the translator? Nevertheless, Esprit de Corps not only carries over the spirit and the body of the text from French into English, but articulates in translation the materiality of language in relation to the body and the act of translation itself in relation to what Banting calls "material differences, physical locality and linguistic and other histories" of a body of French Québec poetry in the late twentieth century.
- Family History by Claire Wilkshire
Books reviewed: Hard Light by Michael Crummey and Memoirs from Away: A New Found Land Girlhood by Helen M. Buss and Margaret Clarke
- A Truly Public Discourse by Margo Gouley
Books reviewed: An English Canadian Poetics: Vol. 1: The Confederation Period by Robert Hogg
- That Tyrant, I by Rick Gooding
Books reviewed: Tacoma Narrows by Mitchell Parry, The Village of Sliding Time by David Zieroth, and Then Again: Something of a Life by Iain Higgins
- Texte(s) et intertextes by Georges Bélanger
Books reviewed: Amour et pince-monseigneur by François Désalliers and Styx by Roger Magini
- Of Selves and Others by Carole Turner
Books reviewed: Wild Mouse by Chris Chambers and Derek McCormack, Somewhere Running by Nathalie Stephens, Hypothesis by John Barton, and ashes are bone and dust by Jill Battson
MLA: Irvine, Dean J. Translation Incorporation. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 24 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #159 (Winter 1998), Gay and Lesbian Writing in Canadian Literature. (pg. 169 - 171)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.