Elisa Sampedrín

Translation as step outside time

The Pim Pam Man

That’s Maurice Blanchot, from the start of his Le pas au-delà, translated by Lycette Nelson as The Step Not Beyond twenty years after its French appearance, in a strange bit of torquery that at times infects English, for the title would be more literally translated as The Step Beyond/The Not-Beyond. At first sight. Lycette Nelson, in her introduction, was well aware of the problem of the sound wave and its oscillation. For, with “pas” being “step” and negation, the second particle of negation placed “au-delà”, on the far side of, the verb (the first particle, the “ne”, is found in French on the near side of the verb, rubbing up against the subject), I understand her desire to insert a “Not” in the title beside “Step”. But the dual meanings, in Blanchot, work in self-obliterating oscillation, and do not cohabit shared space-time. The Step into the dark, the no-life-after-death. Deepstep Come Shining, as CD Wright might have titled it.

Except, in all these cases we lose the sonority of Blanchot’s title, its playful sound, which could be rendered perhaps as The Pim Pam Man. In French, the sonority and repetition, the clipped syllables, however unrelated they are to meaning, inevitably infect the meaning, and point us to the absurdity of the title, to its instability. Out of Step Way Out.

In Spanish, Cristina de Peretti translated the title as El Paso (no) más allá. Following her example, could we say The Step (Not) Beyond? But this destabilizes too far; the grasp the reader in French has on the words and alternation of meanings is now far too lost in graphisms.

'But do we need to know a second language to translate?'

leaving Pierre Dorion...
leaving Pierre Dorion...

There is a sense in which every reading of a text by an individual is a translation, because ink and paper, or pixellated light and darkness, are “read” through a body, an individual apparatus impossible to replicate in terms of its cells and experiences and the ways that experience has affected its neural maps and capacities. This body may not even know its own filters and how they act when it “reads”. Because of this, we can study literature, which is the act of sharing readings and benefitting from other filters: in reading groups, in university classrooms and cafeterias and libraries, and on-line with brilliant teachers, in cafés, in living rooms, on ferries, at bus stops.

One question I am sometimes asked is: given this, is it possible to translate without having a second language? It’s a sly question, for people know very well that Elisa Sampedrín, my nemesis-polynym who has no interior, has done this.

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