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69 c h a p t e r 3 Resisting Self-Translation Jorge Semprun, Language Authenticity, and the Challenge to World Literature You should have done the Spanish version yourself. You wouldn’t have simply translated, you’d have been able to transform. To transform your original text, to try to go farther with it. This would have created a different book, which you could have turned into a new French version, a whole new book! You say so yourself: this experience is inexhaustible . . . you will have realized every writer’s dream: to spend your life writing a single book, endlessly renewed! carlos fuentes to Jorge Semprun, on the subject of Le grand voyage, as recounted in L’écriture ou la vie1 I would need bilingual readers, in any case, who could shift from one language to the other, from French to Spanish , and vice versa, not only without effort, but even with joy, in the intense pleasure of places and of language games. jorge semprun, Le mort qu’il faut2 The Hidden (Self-)Translator Modern-day French writers dedicated to translating most, if not all, of their literary corpus demonstrate a commitment to a particular literary aesthetic grounded in the complementarity and tensions between languages. Such “committed self-translators,” as we could call them, from Nancy Huston and Raymond Federman, to contemporaries like Vassilis Alexakis, Brina Svit, and Anne Weber, differ from a separate category of recent bilingual writers, whose forays into self-translation are more sporadic, if still significant. These “occasional self-translators ” include writers like Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt (1928—), who translated only his La Traversée des fleuves (1999) and L’Esprit de chapter 3 70 retour (2011) into his native German, despite having authored more than a dozen other texts; Andreï Makine (1957—), who translated La Fille d’un héros de l’Union soviétique (1990) into his native Russian to convince French publishers of the novel’s authentic origins; and Jorge Semprun (1923–2011), whose 1993 memoir Federico Sanchez vous salue bien / Federico Sánchez se despide de ustedes constitutes his one and only self-translation, despite a successful and prolific career as an author in both French and Spanish. This chapter centers on Semprun’s example, as it opens up a broader discussion of how a single self-translated text, in the context of an author’s wide-ranging literary, political, cinematic, and theatrical oeuvre, might help to rethink world literature theories that foreground translation as a measure of literary transnationalism. If one were to ignore popular wisdom and judge a book by its cover, it would not be clear which edition—Federico Sanchez vous salue bien, or Federico Sánchez se despide de ustedes—Jorge Semprun authored first. The books were published almost concurrently in 1993—the French edition by Grasset appeared in November, and Tusquets released the Spanish in December—and neither cites a translator. In fact, while the copyright page of the French edition announces “all rights to translation, reproduction, and adaptation reserved for all countries” (tous droits de traduction, de reproduction et d’adaptation réservés pour tous pays), the Spanish edition makes no reference to the French rights to all foreign editions and even states its own rights of ownership. On the paratextual surface at least—and in keeping with a relatively widespread tendency among publishers to obscure translation details3 —Semprun’s memoir presents itself as two original texts. Semprun did indeed compose both texts about his three-year stint as minister of culture of Spain. In the seemingly deliberate decision to prepare and publish the editions simultaneously, Semprun and his editors shrouded the book in an aura of mystery and concealment that most self-translations, published consecutively—often with a significant time delay between them—lack. Semprun himself seemed only too willing to perpetuate that aura. When the book first came out, Bernard Pivot interviewed Semprun on his talk show Bouillon de Culture and expressed his surprise that Semprun chose to write this book in French: “On pouvait se dire, s’il y a un livre qu’il va écrire en langue espagnole, c’est bien celui-ci. Alors pas du tout, vous l’avez aussi écrit en français.” (One would have said, if there’s one Resisting Self-Translation 71 book that he’s going to write in Spanish, it’s definitely this one. But not at all, you wrote this one in French as well.) Semprun responded by defending his choice and mentioned...


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