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CR: The New Centennial Review 2.3 (2002) 203-209
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The One in the Other
I will explore the place of two elements in Jean-Luc Nancy's L'Intrus: that of the figure (or the gesture of offering an image or picture), and that of the text's narrative voice. My attention to the role that figure and voice play in the writing that distinguishes this text is dictated, in part, by title: I am reminded that my task, following Walter Benjamin's admonition to the translator, is to inscribe within the translated version an audible trace of the text's first or original language; to be sure, it is also to inscribe what one might term the narrating voice's singular tonality, rhythm, or gait. My task—or duty? I am tempted to say, my place before the law—as translator, as I hear it—is thus to convey in English the strangeness of the original so that the gap or margin that becomes perceptible between the two languages in translation will remain to some degree audible to its reader. Thus these questions: How much intrusion from one language into the other would be considered too much? Who gives the just measure; who decides on the proper degree of intrusion? And to what end?
The translator's aim would thus be less the production of a seamless and polished text in the language that is foreign to the original's, than a [End Page 203] particular attention, attunement, or openness to their differences. It is the ear, after all, that is summoned here to attend to the steps; to the aural, vocal, and conceptual gestures; and to the intensities or muted tonalities that mark the passion or imperative to speak or to write. A turn of thought, like a turn of phrase, is akin to a signature, as the porte-manteau terms auto-bio-graphy and physio-graphy attest. The questions of property and the proper, motifs whose strains will sound in response to their more overt thematic treatment in Nancy's L'Intrus, will be left to their own echo; the bridging work is too extensive to be undertaken here.
Let me begin by relating how, after the fact, at first reading of Nancy's text in French, I mistook the strangeness of the L'Intrus' voice or voices as being "neutral," indeed nearly unrecognizable. I heard it as though written in a voice that in no way wished to intrude. But can what is mute or muted in a text be said to "intrude" on the reader's ear, as though by default? Perhaps, but not necessarily at a first reading, if my own experience is telling. At first reading (or first draft), my ear thus mistook a strangeness in the tone or hurried step of the narrating voice for a "breezy" or "off-hand" note: I attributed this textual effect to the text's use of ellipsis; also to its apparent rush or reluctance to stop too long in any one place. Rarely, for example, does it develop its thought at any length (I will return to this point). Another of the traits of L'Intrus that seemed at first reading unremarkable is its frequent use of such common French connectives as "donc," "pourtant," and "mais." Although these are received by the reader's ear in French without the least difficulty, they nonetheless follow each other, in English translation, with such speed that, unless unusual care is given to their rendering in translation, a gap or margin begins to yawn open between the phrases in English that these connectives so effortlessly bridge in French.
Let it be said that what is at stake here is the voice "proper" of the text—its elliptical, I would say almost ragged, weary, or "voix blanche" (as in the expression "nuit blanche" [sleepless night]): this voice would be a kind of voiceless, almost breathless, voice. Its linking of phrases seems to produce pauses in rhythm, so that a beat is skipped and then an extraneous one occurs...