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differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 12.2 (2001) 70-85

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Delirium and Desire in Nicole Brossard's Le Désert Mauve/Mauve Desert

Susan Holbrook

"le ravissement" dit L. pour saisir
le sens
d'une expérience mentale où
fragments et délire
de l'éclat traduisent une pratique
de l'émeute
en soi comme une théorie de la réalité
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
je n'arrête pas de lire

(Brossard, Amantes 11)

"the rapture" said L. to grasp the sense
of a mental experience where
fragments and delirium
from the explosion translate and
experiment on riot
within the self as a theory of reality
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
i don't stop reading/deliring

(Godard, Lovhers 16)

Hurtling home on the C-train, Calgary's rapid transit car, I read Nicole Brossard's Amantes. Actually, I am reading Barbara Godard's translation, Lovhers. Actually, I am reading them both, one book planted on the fingers of my left hand, the other planted on the fingers of my right. Reading this poetry means looking back and forth. That phrase tumbling in French, how does Godard spin it in English? What shifts between this and that French word, this English, that French? And more often, what does that word mean? Sometimes a French-English dictionary triangulates my field of reading, so that interpretation is a juggle: three texts spinning, aerial. Fingers slipping in and out of contiguous pages, head moving back and forth as if in a slow shake of amazement, eyes tracing transformations in shape, sound, sense. French lessons, English lessons. The train stops before I can extricate my hands from Amantes and Lovhers, and I rise abruptly, fingers in spastic collusion with books, making delirious signals. The yellow sign at the C-train tracks announces "Look Both Ways for Trans."

The vertiginous act of reading back and forth has skewed my vision, absenting the "i" from "Trains." But perhaps my error springs [End Page 70] not from bleary eyes but from a wish--Octavio Paz tells us, "as always when we talk about accidents, we also talk about desire" (qtd. in Honig 153)--for what I am faced with is a bold-face imperative, black on yellow, to embrace the unusual hermeneutic I practiced on the train. Reading a translation does not necessarily entail looking back and forth; many translations are read as if original, as if the original had been borne whole through a field of linguistic equations. But to read the action, the across, you need to look both ways. You may swing your jaw slowly from left to right and back or, as in the apprehension of a pun, there might be a frenzied shake between meanings. Perhaps it is even possible to look both ways at once, left eyeball going one way, right another. This may be the poet's cross-eyed gift.1

Barbara Godard's translation of Amantes emerges out of a complex back-and-forth traffic of sounds, signs, nodes of associative potential. Brossard's writing, with its neologisms, polyvalencies, puns, and indeterminacies, demands an attentive, creative translator. In her translator's preface, Godard comments on how her interaction with such an experimental poetic results in the asymmetrical distribution of linguistic play across texts. While some associative clusters arise only out of the English incarnation--Godard cites as an example her spinning out of "sinks" and "ink" in "Igneous Woman"--a pun central to Amantes, "délire," appears in English as ramified paraphrase (11). "Délire" appears in Brossard's text both as a single word and in the recurrent, punning statement, "je n'arrête pas de lire" (11). The pun, a notoriously untranslatable figure, is spelled out in Lovhers as "i don't stop reading/deliring" (16). In the French, délire (or de lire) signifies variously as "reading," "delirium" and, as Godard points out, "dé-lire, to unread or unfix reading" (11). Working in English, unable to accommodate this particular semantic cluster within one word, Godard concretizes the bipolar constitution of the...


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pp. 70-85
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2004
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