Max Jacob’s writing gives a glimpse of debauchery, the kind that might lie at the collapse of linguistic functioning or on the other side of cliché and metaphor. In taking on washed-up subject matter like the story of Don Juan, Jacob gives new life to staid texts— literary history is used against itself as the means to imagine an otherwise. Yet Jacob’s work poses a problem to translation. As is true of translating most surrealists, the task of the translator becomes more about capturing sound than meaning, more about the feeling of a word than its definition; speech over language.
Some liberties were admittedly taken in translating this text. To keep meter and rhythm, some French words were exchanged for ones with entirely different meanings in English. The sounds and connotations of English words, I hope, evoke the playfulness and tone of the original. I also kept the Chapter sub-headings in French (or semi-French) since, again, the materiality of language is definitively prioritized over the meaning of the words.
This text, neither poem nor drama nor prose but something veritably non-disciplinary, was found in an archival collection of Pierre Reverdy’s short-lived journal Nord-Sud. Though a good portion of Jacob’s work has been translated into English, his writings from this journal have mostly been overlooked. This might be because the orthography is difficult; the words seem somehow unedited and difficult to parse out. Yet I kept the punctuation, spacing, and capitalization exactly as they appear in the original in order to leave a remainder or reminder of the historical context within the text—to keep the rules out, so to speak.
– Mimi Howard
Pierre Autin-Grenier (b. 1947) is a French author living in Lyon and the Vaucluse. His many works are difficult to classify, and the trilogy from which the pieces featured here are excerpted is no exception. They feel very much like prose poems, but combined they read (dixit the author) as autobiography. These pieces are excerpts from the first volume of the trilogy entitled Je ne suis pas un héros (1993). The second volume is called Toute une vie bien ratée (1999); the third, L’eternité est inutile (2002). The three volumes together form Une Histoire, which can be translated as either A Story or A History. Among their many charms are their syntactical idiosyncrasies and the author’s prodigiously refreshing use of set phrases and clichés.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Published since April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).