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27 c h a p t e r 1 Self-Translation and Strangeness Nancy Huston’s Aesthetics of Translatedness Great books are written in a kind of foreign language. marcel proust, Contre Sainte-Beuve1 Echoing Proust’s famous quote formulated in the early years of the twentieth century, Gilles Deleuze argued in a collection of essays published at the close of the century that any great writer “is always like a foreigner in the language in which he expresses himself, even if this is his native tongue.”2 To what extent did this idea of being a foreigner to language mean the same thing in 1909 as it did in 1993? Proust was prescient in his ability to articulate what would become one of the guiding principles of modernist literary aesthetics: unsettling conventional literary idioms, inventing new linguistic codes, aspiring to create a dissonant, unfamiliar style. Deleuze calls this process one of “minorizing” language, making any language “scream, stutter, stammer , or murmur,” and the great writers he cites as masters of such a form—Proust, Kafka, Céline, Artaud, Beckett—all reflect this modernist moment of the early to mid-twentieth century.3 In the same year that Deleuze published his essay collection, the Anglophone Canadian writer Nancy Huston, who had been living and writing in France for two decades, caused a stir in her native country when her novel Cantique des plaines won Quebec’s foremost literary prize, the Prix du Gouverneur général, awarded to the best French novel written by a Canadian. Critics opposed the jury’s selection on two grounds: first, that Huston herself, a native of Calgary , was not a Québécois writer, and second, that her novel, though translated by the author herself, was composed originally in English and published as Plainsong, and thus should not have been eligible for a French-language prize. The controversy converged around the chapter 1 28 question of foreignness—the foreignness of Huston as a non-Francophone Canadian, and the foreignness of her novel as originally English —though of a distinctly different sort than what Deleuze had in mind when he praised the idea of writing “like a foreigner.” Instead, the Huston polemic raised critical questions about the hazards of writing, literally, as a foreigner and demonstrated how the practice of self-translation could acutely unsettle popular perceptions of linguistic and national belonging. Using Huston’s example as a touchstone , this chapter explores how the notion of foreignness in literature took on new forms and stakes at the close of the twentieth century, and how the practice of self-translation in particular could reimagine modernist principles for contemporary reading publics. Language Controversies and the Imperative to Self-Translate Before 1993, Nancy Huston’s literary career had been contained entirely in France and almost exclusively in French. Paris had become her home in 1973 after studying abroad as an exchange student from Sarah Lawrence College. She decided to prolong her stay, and in the 1970s she became an active member of the feminist movement, wrote and published a master’s thesis under Roland Barthes on the subject of transgressive speech, titled Dire et interdire, contributed short essays to Les Temps modernes, Sorcières, Histoires d’elles, and Les cahiers du GRIF, and received her first book contract for a long essay that interrogated the western myth of the “petite fille,” or young maiden.4 The only English that Huston wrote at the time were translations, both published and unpublished, of Barthes’s texts.5 For as much as Barthes served as the primary inspiration for Huston’s theoretical writings, his death also marked her turn to fiction. It was in 1980, the year of Barthes’s death and the beginning of her relationship with her future husband Tzvetan Todorov, that Huston began composing her first novel, Les Variations Goldberg, published in 1981. The novel earned Huston her first literary prize, the Prix Contrepoint, and she wrote primarily works of fiction in the 1980s, publishing Histoire d’Omaya in 1985 and Trois fois septembre in 1989. Across interviews and essays, Huston has offered several explanations for why, in the earliest phase of her literary career, she felt compelled to write in French: English was too deeply imbricated with academic expectations of “good” writing; by handicapping her, Self-Translation and Strangeness 29 French paradoxically gave her the liberty to write freely; she was unable to write about emotion in a language too reminiscent of a culture and period of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780810132061
Related ISBN
9780810132047
MARC Record
OCLC
930760533
Pages
185
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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