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Translating the Postcolonial in Multilingual Contexts

Judith Misrahi-Barak
Srilata Ravi

The Americas in Translation

The Emergence of Postcolonial Translation in Literary New Orleans

Anne Malena


Louisianan fiction has consistently represented society as multilingual and multicultural as well as divided by class, race and gender boundaries. Two 19th century works, in particular, exemplify this in ways that suggest problematics of translation that can be fruitfully explored from an examination of Louisiana’s colonial history and a postcolonial perspective focused on ‘bordering’. This notion was first proposed by Naoki Sakai (2010) and, through a postcolonial and translational reading of The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life (1899) by George Washington Cable and The Mysteries of New Orleans by the German immigrant Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein (1854-1855), this study will explore how useful 21st century border theories are for a deeper understanding of earlier multicultural contexts. Since both novels are set in New Orleans, this essay confines itself to the analysis of 19th century society in that city. An examination of the central role played by translation in intercultural negotiation leads to considerations of issues related to the concepts of border, bordering, culture, nation and language. Within a theoretical framework drawn from recent scholarship in the field of translation studies, this paper argues that 19th century authors were well aware of the postcolonial conditions—porous borders between languages and identities; need of or resistance to translation; continuity within discontinuity—present in New Orleans and used various strategies to evoke these in their writings as a venue for an expression of social criticism.

Texte intégral

  • 1 For more information on New Orleans’ reputation see Malena (2014).

1Louisianan fiction has consistently represented society as multilingual and multicultural as well as divided by class, race and gender boundaries. Two 19th century works, in particular—The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life (1899) by George Washington Cable and The Mysteries of New Orleans by the German immigrant Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein (1854-1855)—exemplify this in ways that suggest problematics of translation that can be fruitfully explored from an examination of Louisiana’s colonial history and a postcolonial/ translational perspective focused on ‘bordering’, a notion first proposed by Naoki Sakai (2010). This study also explores how useful 21st century border theories are for a deeper understanding of earlier multicultural contexts. Since both novels are set in New Orleans, this essay confines itself to the analysis of 19th century society in that city, which has been called a ‘true world city’ and presents specific cultural characteristics with a lasting effect that, to some extent, is still visible today (Reizenstein 2002: 3).1 I suggest that an examination of the central role played by translation in intercultural negotiation leads to considerations of issues related to the concepts of border, bordering, culture, nation and language. While it is understood that those concepts, as well as those of migration and the influence it has on cultural transformation are nothing new, I will show that a perspective based on translation as bordering reveals novel ways to think about the global and the local as well as the discontinuous ways in which they constantly interact. In New Orleans this interaction was an integral part of the 19th century canvas because of the presence of immigrants and the distinctive social classes of Creoles, free people of colour and slaves.

2New Orleans, a major shipping port, was also at the heart of the talks leading to the Louisiana Purchase. Spain, which had been in control of Louisiana since 1762, secretly returned the territory to France in 1800 and officially two years later. At that time Napoleon closed New Orleans to American shipping but the St. Domingue revolution forced him to renounce his colonial dream in the region and, in 1803, to sell the territory, including New Orleans, to the Americans (Hanger 1997: 8–9). From these events three kinds of borders emerge: one around the Crescent City because of its strategic status as a port; another, albeit still vague and incomplete, delineating the territory of Louisiana and a third, always subject to change because of European wars, loosely enclosing the French colonies in the Caribbean region, including Louisiana. January 1, 1804 marks not only the declaration of the new République d’Haïti but also an abrupt and arbitrary change of political identity for New Orleans from French to American. As will be seen below in Cable’s novel, which is set in that period, while the border around the city was politically erased it lingered in the imagination of its inhabitants through the necessity of resorting to translation to cope with the new situation.

  • 2 These scholars never specify the kind of ‘translator’ they discuss; in this study, a ‘translator’ i (...)

3From this study’s translation perspective, then, borders are conceptualized anew by translation and cultural scholars as ‘points’ (Pym 2003: 452), as ‘subject to constant reinterpretation, reincarnation and redrawing’ (Iveković 2008: 3) and even as ‘elastic metaphors’ (Fusco 1995: 148–149). Anthony Pym suggests that ‘ [r]ather than map entire literatures or cultures, one could simply map translations, represented as a distribution of points’ (455), an idea echoed by António Ribeiro who states that ‘borders, and for that matter cultural borders, are not disappearing, they are instead being multiplied and dislocated’ (188). More precisely, some translation scholars have been concerned with the ‘space’ occupied by the translator2 and by his or her positionality within that space, making use of a wide array of metaphors—‘in between’; ‘periphery’; ‘margin’; ‘migration’; ‘travel’; ‘contact zone’; ‘border culture’, to name a few. Tymoczko, in particular, has argued convincingly against the ‘in between’ metaphor in 2003, saying that the translator is ‘an ethical agent of social change’ (181) and that, when interrogating in turn the source and target texts, he or she can neither transcend nor step outside of a language system but operates instead in ‘a formal system that encompasses both languages, rather than being restricted to either’ (196). My own research has tracked translators in Louisiana who are very much functioning within a formal system that consistently encompasses at least two languages and, as Medendorp further explains, who are: ‘inextricably situated within a cultural, societal, and historical context and cannot be removed from the ideological system of that context’ (29). In other words, the border is increasingly being viewed as a point of cultural intersection, which translation creates because it no longer operates—has it ever?—between stable entities. In colonial and postcolonial situations translation happens, or not, between people who either deem it necessary in dealing with changing social and political circumstances or reject it in order to resist the influence of hegemonic power on their language and culture. As a result languages and cultures can no longer be viewed as either unified or stable because this activity of translation or non-translation creates borders within the political entity defined as a colonial, postcolonial or national whole, officially sharing the same language and the same culture but in reality crisscrossed by the languages and cultural practices of immigrants or indigenous people who have been absorbed within the nation. Already, early in the 20th century Antonio Gramsci reflected on this:

[T]he national language cannot be imagined outside the frame of other languages that exert an influence on it through innumerable channels that are often difficult to control. (Who can control the linguistic innovations introduced by returning emigrants, travellers, readers of foreign newspapers and languages, translators, etc.?). (355)

4Gramsci was obviously thinking of Italian but his perspective is useful to examine other contexts and to look closer at the influence of translators on national languages. This view also implies interrogating the concept of nation. Indeed, if a national language resembles a house of cards whose unity is constantly undermined by the presence of dialects, sociolects and other languages, as well as translation among all of those, the nation itself can no longer be seen as a unified entity. Translation is in fact distrusted, marginalized and rendered as invisible as possible to contain its perceived violent potential against the unity of the nation. But, as Lawrence Venuti has argued, the violence of translation against a nation is possible only because the nation itself and its official language amount to ‘a metaphysical concept of identity as a homogeneous essence’ (177). What Gramsci perceived almost a century ago is now part of regular discussions among translation scholars and Edwin Gentzler, in particular, is interested in exploring this phenomenon further since ‘ [m]onolingual cultures, Derrida supposes, always carry with them their silent but always ongoing process of translation that occurs beneath the surface’ (Gentzler 2008: 10). Sakai then adds to these notions his idea of a ‘bordering turn’ in the discipline and argues that it is at the border that ‘we are able to assess a language, or more precisely langue, as a unity’ because, as he points out: ‘language as a unity almost always conjures up the copresence of another language, precisely because language is not only a border crossing but also and preliminarily an act of drawing a border, of bordering’ (32). In other words the concept of border ensures the linguistic/cultural difference that is at the heart of translation and, in spite of Gentzler’s chosen title for one of his recent articles, ’Translation Without Borders’ is a notion that is here to stay.

  • 3 I use the term Yankee in the northern sense to avoid using the term American, which stands to be pr (...)

5In wanting to undo the binaries traditionally associated with translation Gentzler proposes a deeper definition of translation, ‘one that underlies the human in this postmodern, global age’. His wish, motivated by his desire for social change as is Tymoczko’s, is to do away with borders ‘dividing “us” from “them”’ and to replace binary concepts, such as self/other, ‘in which the “other” being is translated into the “same,”’ or native/immigrant, ‘in which the immigrant is labeled the “foreign”’ with a notion of translation emerging out of the reality of border writing (Gentzler 2014: n. p.). For him border writing is akin to smuggling and implicates the translator in the process because he or she helps ‘to trespass, steal, reinterpret, remap, and rethink cultural and artistic boundaries’ (Gentzler 2008: 146). In this way both Sakai and Gentzler no longer view the border as an obstacle between cultures that only translation can attempt to overcome but as a fact of translation itself. As Gentzler further explains translation is more than merely influential and, in the context of the Americas, ‘less something that happens between separate and distinct cultures and more something that is constitutive of those cultures’ (Gentzler 2008: 5; emphasis in original). He suggests further that border writing, ‘with its translational component, is not something new and fashionable that has come to the Americas recently (...). Rather, it is fundamentally constitutive of American writing, present since the Europeans arrived in the earliest of colonies, those of the Caribbean’ (Gentzler 2008: 168). Based on this view I argue that authors, such as Cable and Reizenstein, exemplify border writing and double up as translators, according to Gentzler’s definition, because they portray characters struggling against the effects of colonial language and culture, migration and borders of all kinds in order to free themselves and claim their difference by opposition to the spreading of Yankee cultural values.3 To borrow from Gentzler, translation is, therefore, constitutive of the New Orleans culture depicted in those novels.

6While the definition of translation used in this study is no longer traditional it does not cancel out the notion of interlingual translation altogether but rather keeps it in the backgound, continuing to be informed by it. Indeed, as discussed below, Cable’s writing was influenced by his translations of Creole slave songs; while it is not known whether Reizenstein practiced translation, according to Rowan, he ‘showed much more sensitivity that [his] English-speaking contemporaries to the ethnic diversity of the United States’ (xxvii). While his novel is unique, it has been argued that ‘it also fits squarely in the literary history of the city by registering and expanding a particular image of New Orleans that became popularized nationally a generation later in the “local color” fictions of George Washington Cable and Lafcadio Hearn’ (Azzarello 2014: 36). We shall see, therefore, that Reizenstein, as an immigrant having had to translate himself into American culture, appears to take for granted the notion of interlingual translation and to be more concerned with cultural and social translation while Cable uses his practical knowledge of interlingual translation as a strategy to showcase the linguistic, political and cultural struggles faced by the Creole community depicted in his novel. Genre also plays a role since Reizenstein’s serial novel was a new genre inroduced into American literature and Cable writes in the already well-established genre of the novel.

  • 4 See Powell; Souther; Thomas for recent scholarship on New Orleans.
  • 5 Only seven sates signed the Constitution in 1787 and at the time of the Louisiana Purchase the Unit (...)

7Both Cable and Reizenstein created fiction that highlights the tears and ruptures in the fabric of New Orleans society, the former at a time of increasing Americanization and the latter in highlighting difference against a background representation of the national desire for a homogeneous and unified identity. In other words, on a national level the border is set against the outside while at the local level many borders, generated by translation, operate within the given entity of the city. Both novels feature what Tejaswini Niranjana has called ‘the discrepant identities of the post-colonial “subject”’ (168) but in very different ways. Cable is concerned with racial, linguistic and cultural struggles as Louisiana Creole society is slowly transformed by the arrival of carpetbaggers and other English-speaking and business-oriented Americans from the north; Reizenstein focuses on the under layers of New Orleans society to reveal its ‘mysteries’, be they sexually deviant, criminal or marginalized while making the tribulations of an immigrant family his main plotline. Cable’s characters are what I would venture to call proto-postcolonial subjects because they evolve in a newly emerging society marking the end of a long French and Spanish colonial past and in a city that is marked by cultural difference from the rest of the nation. Although the novels’ diegetic times—The Grandissimes in 1803 and The Mysteries in pre-Civil War mid-century—differ, both narratives show that Louisiana, because of the colonial influences that have left their mark on the state, and most strikingly on New Orleans to this day4, was experiencing colonization by the United States. This is precisely why these texts are interesting from a perspective of bordering and translation. Cable sets his novel at a time when very little was known about the immense territory of Louisiana and when the nation was still in the process of working out its own interior and exterior borders.5 Furthermore, Louisiana had developed a Creole culture closer to the Caribbean than to the former British colony and this also created a linguistic border that only Louisiana residents were expected to cross by learning the national English language.

  • 6 For more information see Tregle; Jones.

8This situation, I believe, gave licence to Cable to create a dialect for his novel’s Creole characters, a stroke of genius that goes to the heart of the bordering function of translation. Indeed, these characters have to translate themselves and their cultural ways more or less successfully in order to communicate with English-speaking characters. However, Cable’s inventiveness goes even further since, as he had demonstrated in his translations of ‘Creole Slave Songs’ (1885-1886), he was fascinated by the African-Creole dialect and this led him to make his white Creole characters ‘employ linguistic forms similar to those of their African-American neighbours’ in his other works, in particular in the stories included in The Creoles of Louisiana (1884). The resulting Creole-English ‘is a pervasive dialect of ethnic intermixture’ (Jones 1999: 124) that made him rather unpopular among his white Creole readers, concerned in the 1880s with preserving the mythologized purity of their white skin and their language, be it French or Creole.6 The earlier situation that Cable chose to depict, however, was that apparently distinct social groups in New Orleans were linked to each other through reciprocal linguistic influence caused by business, social and sexual relations between their members. According to Joseph Tregle it was at the time of the Louisiana Purchase and the massive arrival of Anglo-Americans that Creole identity became a concern, which ‘for the first time made place of birth a critical issue and gave the creole label its significance’ (133–134).

9The Grandissimes opens with a masked ball, a typical form of entertainment that also illustrates a ‘confusion of identities’ that in turn suggests a ‘confusion over blood lines’, part of a culture that is ‘not open and simple but tangled and covert’ (Cleman 1975: 398). This confusion is rendered throughout by Cable’s stylistic choices, narrative techniques, and direct speech, including the occasional insertion of untranslatable African-American songs and, of course, the invented dialect. In this way he illustrates perfectly what was revealed in the above discussion about the supposed unity of language and its connection to the concept of nation. According to Gavin Jones Cable’s writing ‘goes to the heart of the cultural hybridity that, for him, characterized New Orleans society’ (124). These strategies also help in distinguishing members of the massive Grandissime family by the way they speak and by their status within a fragmented whole. Cable also creates an intermediary between the narration and the reader in the form of a young second-generation ‘Américain’ of German descent, named Joseph Frowenfeld, sole survivor of his family wiped out by yellow fever immediately after their arrival to the city. Befriended by Charles Keene, the doctor who took care of him during his illness, this character’s initial outsider perspective slowly shifts over the course of the novel as he gradually moves closer to the centre of the action, a vantage point from which he observes the network of borders or translation points within the family and the society at large. His need to understand his surroundings, The Grandissimes’ family relationships and the socio-political context, in which his fellow characters interact with each other and with him, turns him into a translator whose task is to convey to the reader the complex and heterogeneous reality portrayed by Cable.

  • 7 The term ‘heteroglossic’ is at the heart of Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism, as explained in The Dial (...)

10This reality is first imparted to Frowenfeld by Keene who undertakes to narrate the colourful history of the entire family to him in the beginning chapters: from the birth of the ancestress Lufki-Humma, a princess’ daughter from the Natchez matriarchy, to the still living patriarch, Agricola de Fusilier de Grandissime. His account, however, is a feat of irony as he weaves a subversive secondary but all important story into the expected respectable and mythical tale of a Creole family’s genealogy. For example, he mentions that ‘with Gallic recklessness’ the male founders of the family took ‘wives and moot-wives from the ill specimens of three races’ (27) and that ‘the true, main Grandissime stock, on which the Fusiliers did early, ever, and yet do, love to marry, has kept itself lily-white ever since France has loved lilies—as to marriage, that is; as to less responsible entanglements, why, of course—’ (28). The eloquence of the final ellipsis, the use of dashes and the ironic mention of France’s love for lilies are markers of a heteroglossic discourse that subverts conventional thinking.7 These strategies also make it clear that whiteness is a construct and the designation of ‘Creole’ a convenient appropriation (see Domínguez) that prepare the reader for the further subversion of white Creole utterances once the Anglophone Keene has finished his narration. Interestingly, however, the rest of his story does not focus on Agricola’s descendance but on another strand of the story, which involves Frowenfeld’s neighbours, Aurora, a penniless widowed mother and her daughter Clotilde, who, unwittingly, have a connection to the patriarch: The widow’s late husband gambled away his estate to Agricola and was killed in the duel that ensued when he accused the winner to have cheated—‘the Creoles are such gamblers, they never cheat, they play absolutely fair’ (39). As the remaining characters are introduced in the subsequent chapters, narrative strands feed into the various dialogues, creating a network of connections linking races, classes and gender. Agricola’s grandson, Honoré, has a half-brother, also named Honoré, who is a free man of colour and becomes Frowenfeld’s landlord; the story of Bras-Coupé—a Wolof prince enslaved and eventually brutally killed on a Grandissime plantation and forced to marry Palmyre Philosophe, a free woman with healing powers and other forms of agency—is told three times, first by a minor character named Raoul and then by both Honorés. However, ‘ [t]he text collapses these three tellings and remains stylistically unstable, moving uneasily from satire to sentimentality, from minstrel-show burlesque to Biblical solemnity’, suggesting that, like race relations, this is a story that can never be completely understood (McKay and Stewart 2007: 108). According to Jones, ‘Cable developed a unique style of writing, designed to overturn not just white-Creole etymology but the racial ideology this etymology attempted to uphold’ (117). Jones analyzes the ideological significance of the way different characters speak, using linguistic forms common to both ‘the French-English of white Creoles and the black English of slaves’, such as ‘ “w’at,” “de,” “wid,” “dat,” “yo’,” “nigga,” “kyah,” and “worl’.”’ (124). He also points out that Cable, by inserting songs in the narrative, ‘rather than simply recoiling from untranslatable African-American songs’, represents in this manner the ‘inability of white Louisianans to translate African-Creole lyrics’ (127) when they approximate ‘the sounds of African words’, such as ‘Counou ouaïe ouaïe ouaïe, monza’ without being aware of their significance (127). Several other characters, such as, for example, Aurora, Clotilde, the free man Honoré, Palmyre, also appear, like Frowenfeld, to be both inside and outside, marginalized by penury or racial status. As Ian Chambers explains, ‘ [i]dentities are articulated across the hyphen, the transition, the bridge or passage between, rather than firmly located in any one culture, place or position. Of course, this is both an unequal and often unexamined relationship’ (53). In other words identity formation happens on the border as a form of translation among various influences that are in turn tried on or resisted and finally either accepted or rejected until challenged anew. Cable seemed to be particularly sensitive to these dynamics in New Orleans as was his contemporary, the Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein.

  • 8 For more information about his possible reasons to leave Germany ca. 1850 see Rowan (2002: xiii-xix (...)
  • 9 For more information on Börstein and Sue’s influence on Reizenstein see Herminghouse (1985).

11Reizenstein was a German immigrant8 who settled in New Orleans and prefaced his novel with: ‘No city of the old or new continents, save perhaps San Francisco and Calcutta, displays a greater panorama of peoples than New Orleans, the Queen of the South, ruler of the majestic Gulf of Mexico’. He continues the prologue by deploring the arrival of the Americans after 1804 that turned the city ‘into a desolate chaos of morals, languages, and customs. It became a true world city, taking on a thoroughly cosmopolitan appearance’ (3). This opening confirms New Orleans as a multicultural place, albeit in a negative way, and, while the novel exploits the city’s sensationalist reputation, it does also resort to certain narrative strategies as a way of being critical of the influences that are the cause of this reputation. These attributes are among those of the serial novel genre, which, according to Herminghouse, was introduced in the United States by German immigrants who founded German language newspapers (1985: 306). Reizenstein published his serial novel, Die Geheimnisse von New-Orleans, or The Mysteries of New Orleans, in one of two New Orleans German newspapers, the Louisiana Staats-Zeitung. The novel caused a scandal, most likely because of the inclusion of a lesbian love affair but perhaps also because of a ‘problack theme’ (Rowan 2002: xxiii), and was banned. Steven Rowan, who edited and translated it in 2002 from archives, believes that it was probably never read as a book. According to him, the novel was most likely influenced by several other contemporary works with similar titles, and originally by Les Mystères de Paris by Eugène Sue (1842-1843), which was popular in Germany with ten translations by 1844; Les Mystères de La Nouvelle Orléans by the well-known Creole writer Charles Testut and even by two other German books published in the United States, the first anonymous entitled Die Geheimnisse von Philadelphia (1850) and the second, Die Geheimnisse von St. Louis by Heinrich Börnstein (1851) (xxviii).9 Finally Rowan points out that Reizenstein’s title might well have been The Secrets of New Orleans because the book ‘staged a frontal attack on the ethos of the entire American South’ (xxviii). This detail also confirms that Reizenstein had chosen a perfect genre for his book since the serial novel, following Sue’s model, depicted ‘the poor and outcast of the cities rather than the rich and noble’ and contained elements of ‘slang sex, and aggression, colorful names, subterranean passages, windy and rainy nights in shadowy side streets’ (Herminghouse 1985: 310–311).

12Reizenstein, therefore, is attentive to the linguistic, cultural, social and ideological borders within the city of New Orleans and keeps his readership entertained from episode to episode by interrupting main plot lines with subplots, introducing characters who usually behave against all conventional expectations and often using wit and irony to make his views clear. The city itself appears as a colourful character and, in one episode, is described at length as ‘having an entirely different physiognomy from all the other cities in the Union’ and as being composed of ‘three types, clearly distinguished according to district’. The First District is in the charge of the ‘modern Anglo-Saxon’ as proven by ‘the long shadows on the ground—long legs and thin, stretched necks with protruding Adam’s apples are to be found in abundance’. In the Second District, ‘the skin color grows browner, the hair shinier, the eyes darker and more curious, the necks shorter and fuller, the noses shorter, and (since elegance and gallantry have brought chewing tobacco into discredit) the teeth whiter’. The Third District is home to ‘dancing girls’, prostitutes, ‘illicit gatherings’, ‘” naked balls” and shocking orgies’ (379–380). Other characters include a humanitarian German prince, arsonist gangs led by a Hungarian criminal who claims royal heritage and a sadistic philandering priest. As befits the bordering function of translation the writer is also careful to nuance the racial and class distinctions present in his characters. For example, Sulla, an unsavoury individual, is described as a ‘veritable prototype of the fashionable Negro from the New England states’ with, among other fine features, ‘a high forehead—one should say intelligent forehead, if his black color did not preclude intelligence, according to our prejudices’ (73). Readers are, therefore, asked to sort through the contradictions of this portrait of a black man from the northern United States, whom they know to be planning to rob an African-American family. In a similar way to Cable’s use of the confusion of a bal masqué, Reizenstein employs Sulla’s contradictory traits to provoke readers’ reflection on the arbitrariness of class and race divisions. Rowan even suggests that the novel, most strikingly in its ending, ‘foretells the descent of a bloody retributive justice’ for the sin of slavery. In ‘frankly apocalyptic terms’ he portrays the destruction of the sinners at the hands of a remarkable executioner ‘the cadaverous Hiram the Freemason, a man over two centuries old, (...) a nightmarish superman before Nietzsche’s time, beyond good and evil’ (xxix). Hard to tell whether Reizenstein foresaw the advent of the American Civil War that would break out a mere five years after the publication of the novel’s last episode. The horror of this conclusion of mythical proportions, however, contrasts with frequent lighter passages in the narration and the use of other genres.

13At the close of the third book, after the Hungarian has set more fires in New Orleans and crossed the river to watch the city burning from the safety of Algiers, Reizenstein provides an account of the destruction as found in a passage from ‘the evening edition of one of the English-language newspapers’ followed by an excerpt from a ‘French-language journal’, another from a ‘German newspaper in the French Quarter’ and the following satirical remark about the Spanish press: ‘The Machiavelli of the Spanish press continues to hide in the purple folds of His Catholic Majesty’s Cloak’ (304). As Rowan does not insert notes to indicate that these passages are written in the original languages we must assume that Reizenstein wrote them in German, thus using implicit translation to render their differences. He also plays on the different styles of the various newspapers, saying that the French reporter is ‘somewhat more precise, eschewing the fatalistic tone of the English-language paper’ and that the German paper ‘has an educated and sophisticated readership due to its location’. The German quotation thanks the French press ‘for responding to the dubious theory of the English-language papers that the recent frequent fires are the result of chance’ but adds that the arsonists must be working for ‘persons who cannot bear to see a house stand for long once the insurance exceeds its value’ (303). This exercise in cultural translation illustrates to what extent Reizenstein was interested in the differences, beyond obvious linguistic ones, that translation reveals through bordering. Superficially he appears to be flattering his readers but in a deeper way he is placing them on a cultural border of which they may not have been entirely aware until the comparison makes them suddenly realize that they agree with his appraisal because they do think more highly of the French than of the English.

14In conclusion Cable and Reizenstein perform as translators in their novels because of their learned awareness of languages and their concern for social and political issues in New Orleans. Even more importantly they are sensitive to and know what Sakai has termed ‘translation as continuity in discontinuity’, meaning that: ‘The foreign is simultaneously incomprehensible and comprehensible, unknowable and knowable, and unfamiliar and familiar’ (Sakai 2010: 32). Cable brilliantly demonstrates this knowledge with linguistic and narrative strategies that reveal the borders dividing racial and social classes as constituted by overt and covert translation and, therefore, more porous than conventional divisions imply. Reizenstein uses the different genre and style of the serial novel to convey the same notion by revealing secrets in New Orleans society that are at the root of its discontinuous reality. Their writing illustrates, therefore, an early form of postcolonial translation because ‘a postcolonial perspective of translation allows for the opening up of spaces of knowledge and fields for action that have too long been secluded within the terms of mutually excluding dichotomies (Ribeiro 2004: 194). In terms of translation theory these two novels also demonstrate that the metaphors used by translation scholars remain useful, in spite of frequently appearing insufficient and inadequate to describe the intercultural complexity of translation. By provoking thoughtful debate within the field and other connected interdisciplinary fields, such as postcolonial studies, these metaphors bring scholarship ever closer to finding a common language to theorize translation in postcolonial situations. As I have suggested the coming together of languages and cultures through translation happens, not within an always already delineated space, but through a dynamic bordering process whereby cultures come into contact and also separate in a perpetual movement that is very much like a rub. The two novels chosen for this discussion help as well in illustrating the bordering function of translation at work in New Orleans’s 19th century society and still very much operative today, albeit in a much less visible way as the making of the city into a tourism mecca has since imposed on its multicultural canvas a manufactured set of colourful show business elements that efficiently mask the historical intercultural negotiations that define it. Finally the novels offer entertaining narrations that reveal translation to be ‘a critical daily process engaging all forms of communication and thought by those whose lives depend upon crossing borders’ (Gentzler 2008: 143). A lot more work remains to be done in translation, cultural and postcolonial studies to examine ‘translation zones‘ (Apter) such as New Orleans and other spaces ‘that give rise to intense language traffic’ (Cronin and Simon 2014: 121) in today’s, yesterday’s and tomorrow’s globalized world.


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1 For more information on New Orleans’ reputation see Malena (2014).

2 These scholars never specify the kind of ‘translator’ they discuss; in this study, a ‘translator’ is a literary ‘agent of social change’.

3 I use the term Yankee in the northern sense to avoid using the term American, which stands to be problematized by the notion of bordering to designate the multiple cultures present in the Americas and, within the United States, a culture that should be defined by plurality and no longer homogeneity.

4 See Powell; Souther; Thomas for recent scholarship on New Orleans.

5 Only seven sates signed the Constitution in 1787 and at the time of the Louisiana Purchase the United States were composed of only seventeen states. See: http://www.

6 For more information see Tregle; Jones.

7 The term ‘heteroglossic’ is at the heart of Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism, as explained in The Dialogic Imagination (1982) and Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics (1984); I borrow it here to underline the several, usually conflicting, layers of social discourse employed by Cable in a single utterance.

8 For more information about his possible reasons to leave Germany ca. 1850 see Rowan (2002: xiii-xix). It is certain that he was part of a large scale German emigration to the United States from 1850 to 1860 (Herminghouse 1985: 313).

9 For more information on Börstein and Sue’s influence on Reizenstein see Herminghouse (1985).


University of Alberta
Is a translator and Professor of French and Translation Studies in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta (Canada). She has published two book-length translations, La maraude (The Prowler) and Degré zéro (Zero Hour), both novels by Kristjana Gunnars, as well as articles in various journals on translation studies and Caribbean Literature. Her book, The Negotiated Self: The Dynamics of Identity in Francophone Caribbean Narrative, was published in 1998 with Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. and a recent article, ‘The City That Shouldn’t Be: New Orleans’ appeared in Translation Studies 7.2 (2014). Her current research deals with the history of translation in Louisiana.

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