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101 c h a p t e r 4 The Erasure of Self-Translation Hector Bianciotti and the Language of Memory “I hope, Sir, to cause you neither surprise nor chagrin in saying that some people may find it baffling that such a prized champion of our language speaks it with an accent that does not really belong to pure tradition. . . . And nevertheless we can rejoice about it . . . one can be a great French writer and love our language, even when one comes, indeed, from elsewhere, even from very far away.” jacqueline de romilly, response to Hector Bianciotti’s acceptance speech into the Académie française1 In his thank-you remarks upon accepting a seat in the Académie fran- çaise on January 23, 1997, Hector Bianciotti not only paid the customary respects to the prior seat-holder, in his case André Frossard, but also emphasized the moment at which he, an Argentine author born in 1930 into an immigrant family on the outskirts of Córdoba, first began writing in French: “One day in 1980, without realizing it, I had started writing a short story in French,” and, as he adds in a later interview, “The sentence pleased me. I was incapable of renouncing it. Since then I’ve written in French.”2 After writing the story in question , “La barque sur le Neckar,” in French, Bianciotti would go on to translate it into Spanish, as “La barca en el Néckar,” and publish it in his sixth and final Spanish-language text, El amor no es amado (1983), a collection of fictional short stories. This story marks, for Bianciotti, a definitive conversion from Spanish- to French-language writing—a conversion that would lead to a prolific and celebrated literary career in France until his death in 2012 and, as the ultimate sign of success and acceptance into the world of French letters, the title of académicien. Yet Bianciotti’s self-translation of the story from French back into Spanish, while a fact he has willingly acknowledged in interviews, occupies an awkward place in his narrative of conversion, chapter 4 102 as it belies the idea of a total language break.3 In fact, Bianciotti’s brief encounter with self-translation has become functionally erased from the text’s publication history itself: when the short story collection was published in French as L’amour n’est pas aimé in 1982—the year prior to the release of the Spanish edition—Bianciotti’s longtime translator, Françoise-Marie Rosset, was credited with the entirety of the French translation, including “La barque sur le Neckar.” In its role as an absent, mythical self-translation, the story suggests the power of Bianciotti’s linguistic conversion narrative in constructing a literary project. In as much as this book has been concerned with the ways that varying commitments to self-translation open up different modes of reading across languages, this chapter, building upon and expanding out from some of the questions raised in Chapter 3, is interested in self-translation as failure and impossibility, as a literary act that can only be suppressed. I examine how Bianciotti’s bilingual project as a whole—and his engagement with autobiographical representation in particular—depends crucially on a strict separation between languages that cannot be breached by self-translation. Bianciotti’s 1977 Le traité des saisons, a translation of his fifth and penultimate Spanish-language text, La Busca del jardín, earned him his first literary prize: the Prix Médicis étranger for the best foreign -language book in French translation. La Busca del jardín marks a turning point in Bianciotti’s career that extends beyond (but goes hand-in-hand with) literary recognition: it both announces his imminent conversion to writing in French and serves as the first volume of what I call his autofictional tetralogy. The three subsequent volumes —Ce que la nuit raconte au jour (1992; What the Night Tells the Day), Le pas si lent de l’amour (1995; The Ever-slow Pace of Love), and Comme la trace de l’oiseau dans l’air (1999; Like a Bird’s Imprint in the Air)—were all composed and published originally in French. This chapter examines, through Bianciotti’s tetralogy, how bilingual writing can retheorize autofiction as a critical contemporary genre. Bianciotti embraces the generic category in a 2001 article written for Argentina’s La Nación entitled “Autoficciones”—whose debt to “ficciones” is tacitly made clear by its adjacency to...


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