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Traduire en poète

Geneviève Henrot Sostero
Simona Pollicino

Partie II. Le traducteur poète : apologues

Translating Benjamin Fondane: modernity and its linguistic discontents

Andrew Rubens


This paper emphasises the correspondences between the activities of modernist poetry on the one hand and translation on the other, each overtly working at the limits of language(s). In a case study of the poet Benjamin Fondane (1898-1944), the metaphysical anxieties manifested in his major oeuvre Le Mal des Fantômes are brought to bear on the task of recreating the world in language, a task whose impossibility and endlessness is made evident in the work of the translator. I argue for the benefits of considering the translated poem as a poem about a poem, a paraphrase which interprets the source poem as its subject just as the source interprets a subject from reality, making explicit the source and translation’s complementary and always-unfinished attempts to reach behind language and towards a reality or meaning which is ultimately impossible to define in all its plenitude. Questions of rhythm and the interrelation of the different elements constituting the poem are brought to the fore to demonstrate the way in which modernist poetry and its translations stretch to breaking point Steiner’s assertion that ‘a poem concentrates... those energies of covertness and of invention which are the crux of human speech’ (After Babel, 1977).

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The romanian-French poet Benjamin Fondane, born in 1898, established himself among the avant-garde circles of 1920s and 1930s Paris through his essays on philosophy and aesthetics – most notably a study of rimbaud, Rimbaud le Voyou – and with the impressive body of poetry he eventually composed into the book Le Mal des fantômes, a coherent chef d’œuvre organised into five ‘long poems’ of around 60 pages each. His poetic approach was greatly influenced by his encounter with Dada and a resulting metaphysical loss of confidence in language – which initially led him to abandon poetry. However, despite his mistrust of meaning within a fragmentary modern world, he eventually confronted this philosophical and linguistic breakdown through poetry itself, ceaselessly questioning the limits of language, rewriting his poems even after they had been published. In an essay titled Mots Sauvages (1929), he outlined the halting, uncertain stance of his renewed engagement with poetry, and its synonym...


University of Glasgow
Andrew Rubens is a researcher and translator. A founding member of the Association Benjamin Fondane, he is writing a thesis on the poet and philosopher at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. His translations of Fondane’s poetry (with Henry King) and prose (with Bruce Baugh) are published by New York review Books. He is a former editor of the journal eSharp and has taught at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. Other translations include a biography of Jean Genet by Dominique Eddé, an essay by Jean-Luc Marion and articles for Charlie Hebdo.

© Artois Presses Université, 2017

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