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The Journal of Black Canadian Studies

Dig Her Text Deep to Draw My Text Out! Translating-Exploring

Dionne Brands Land.
Sara Fruner

What floats in the air on a subway train like this is chance. People
stand or sit with the thin magnetic film of their life wrapped around
them. They think theyre safe, but they know theyre not. Any minute
you can crash into someone elses life, and if youre lucky, its good,
its like walking on light1.

I feel privileged to explain that in my life Ive benefited from what floats in the air on a subway
train in the morning. Chance made me crash into Dionne Brands work and, as anyone acquainted
with her work may guess, I was luckyit was like walking on light. And as Brands translator, I do
consider myself a sort of walker. A walker and a digger.
Digging summons the core of this essay that, though revolving around my experience as
Brands translator, carries within itself the ways I conceive translation in wider, in more theoretical
terms. This is the reason why my chronicle on Brands novels in translation will be interjected with
brief moments of speculative thinking, small fissures opened here and there in order to reveal how I
understand translation, in order to broaden the range of discussion and, last but not least, in order to
support practice. Speaking about this latter purpose, I surmise that the swinging from theory to
practice, from practice to theory, proves the ideal route for translators to follow, if they strive, as
they should, to grow fully conscious of their own work, of all the traps they can get caught into, and
of all the means they can resort to avoid such traps. This pendulum motion I imagine for
translatorsan incessant oscillation from text to theory and back, from inward to outward and
backensues from a simple cause-and-effect-like cyclical axiom: methodological awareness
ignites field farsightedness, field farsightedness longs for methodological awareness. The more
conscious of what lies behind and beyond the text a translator is, the more accurate with what lies
within the text he/she will be.
Behind, beyond, within. This triad of place prepositions ideally brings me back to digging,
the metaphoric image I chose to portray in visual terms, what translating Dionne Brands writing
has meant to me. I had a host of iconographic parallels on the list, but I finally went for land since it
grants precious figurative breadth both as soil and as spacetwo terms of comparison whose
efficacy in translation will become clear below. For my part, I hoped to clear land associations of
their colonial residues. My textual geo-imagery infers crossings, discoveries, interactions,
exchanges, where investigating has nothing to do with invading, nor disinterring with dispossessing.
I do not see a text in translation as a space to conquer and transfer imperialistic-like into another

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language. I see it rather as a terrain on which glean findings through tireless, respectful delving. A
locus of disclosures and negotiations, habitat for cultural accretion. Contact zones and third spaces
come to mind here, of course2. Though my terrain is not a conceptual location, it is physical. I have
a text in my hands and under my feetnot to mention two languages to cope with3.
Land qua soil epitomises a text in translation. Translators sink their hands in it, inspect its
texture, question it, and re-produce it into another culture. Yet this act of reproduction transcends
mere repetition. It is more of an invention, a reinvention. Umberto Eco may well blink at my title
when he claims that: To translate means to understand the inner system of a language and the
structure of a given text in that language, and to build a double of the textual system that may create
similar effects on the target-reader4, and I nod back at him in sympathy as for the quest to equal the
experience the native reader has, but I must confess, with due respect to our semiologist, that I fear
the implications of a double-building programme. If I retain his notion of translation as shift
negotiation, a term I like and also employ myselfa shift not just between languages but between
cultures, I also believe it goes further beyond that agenda. I consider translation a creative act, an
active conversation, rather than a dubbing of an original. In this, I align myself with theorists Susan
Bassnett and Barbara Godard, who highlight the poetic rather than mimetic role of translation,
postulating a generative notion of it5.
Land qua space pictures Dionne Brands literature in translation. I state that every word in
her writing is a world. Every word holds conformations of meanings, geographies of hints to
browse, configuring small tight cosmos per se. Octavio Paz similarly equates poetic language with
landscape, sighting mountains in sentences, and speaks of verbal topography6. The point is, Brand
does not take off the poets shoes when she turns to fiction. Her language keeps thriving with
connotations and devoting itself to expressive economy. This poetic modus operandi evocationthrough-concision infuses her narrative with lyricism and poly-interpretability; it concurrently leads
her translator to a vital premise/mantra: no word is neutral, nor discardable, nor easily practicable.
So, in my exploration of word-worlds, being ever-vigilant and well-equipped have been my
compass needles not to get lostand, of greater import, not to lose anything.
As one can see, land figuratively conflates the simultaneous process of working on/walking
on the text my translation experience has triggered. The more I translated, the deeper I ventured, the
more I found out. This depends as well on the mise-en-abyme framing of Brands narrative, where
issues, styles and languages nest one within the other to form a complex literal-linguistic-cultural
site. Because of, and thanks to such saturation, the uncovering/unravelling has been an inevitable
procedure, and an opportunity for acquiring further cognitive, from-the-inside-out perspectives on
her work. For me, it has been a matter of travelling her text, discovering strata and quarrying them
out. My practice is a combination of micro-inspection on the material, and of macro-advancement
in the critical comprehension of the work as an immense composite plot.
My plan here is to show the upshots of my unearthing. How single words, with their
constant turning and (re)turning, conceal and reveal a map of semic signs in which one may read the
epic design of a whole novel. I am referring specifically to Kamena and to the questions of
intertextuality and intratextuality in At the Full and Change of the Moon. Whereas for What We All
Long For, I aim to tell about how the linguistic substratum I have worked on proves so multilayered
in registers and styles. The attention paid by Brand to the vocal contribution of each character is so
unflagging, that the novel displays a polyphony in which linguistically tout se tient, a pluriexpressive palimpsest-shaped architecture of language, in which different languages meet, overlap
and coexist.

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Now I come to Kamena, the maroon at pains to reach the fugitive camp of Terre Bouillante.
Every keen reader approaching At the Full and Change of the Moon soon notices his traits as
archetypal figure. Kamena is the lost wanderer in perpetual search for the home he will never be
able to find, a sort of forerunner-forefather of the generations to follow. Samuel, Adrian, Priest,
Maya, Eula, on their lives and bodies does Kamenas shadow hoverhis rootlessness, his
hopelessness too.
In the collage A Map to the Door of No Return, Brand gives valuable details about facts,
whys and wherefores, inspiration sources, which helped sketch her characters. Towards the texts
end, we are told that she was visiting a museum in the Caribbean and was stunned by some
commentaries King George IIIs geographer, Thomas Jefferys, wrote on an 18th century map7. At
some point the author confesses: I wrench his language from his pen, tear it from the wall of this
museum, I cut into piecesone piece for the title of this novel, At the Full and Change of the
Moon, and the rest I give to my Kamena8.
What interested me as a translator, was how Kamenas process of appropriating and
abrogating of Jefferys directions affects his own language. Not only does Kamena alter Jefferys
geographic coordinates, misunderstanding and virtually foiling his directionsif the two passages
at issue are compared, one instantly recognises the given discrepancies9but he also distorts his
high-sounding recommendations, by introducing distinctive syntactic marks of his ownmarks
typical of orality, such as the singular subject followed by the plural verb or vice versa, the nonconjugated or the mis-conjugated verbs one detects in his psalm-tale to Bola at the end of the
novel10. Consider them here, stressed in bold:
A good day was at the end of the moons rounds when the evening come
dark Full-moon nights, your mother slip away to find the medicine. That
last night when you was already put to sleep the singer sing a last song and
the people of the convoi make many speeches they bless the poison your
mother had gather to send them all home The whole thing end up in
punishment The chopped heads of the copper keeper and the plantine
grove keeper, as them was the leaders, King and Dauphin, was raised on
sticks You was still in you mothers belly but you was there as we was all
called And the heads was made to wither on sticks When your mother
done served her time And she know the ants Your mother did seen the
insect which come in the wind She did seen the swarms She discover
medicines And your mother and me and the remaining of us last out and
wait Until the day I leave to find my maroonage and which I did find when
I roll under the sky. Until Marie Ursule send for me

Yet the question of Kamenas textual-topographical misinterpretation goes even further, and
beyond its own intertextuality. In A Map to the Door of No Return, Brand states: My characters
can only tear into pieces, both history and Jefferys observations, they can only deliberately
misplace directions and misread observations11. Thus we could argue that Kamena enacts a double
revision of Jefferys instructions. One affects the signifier, that is the superficial, referential level of
languagesee the grammatical mistakes he drops. The other works on the signified, that is, the
deep meaning embedded in languagesee the disruption of history and the misconstruction of
geographic directions he acts out. I felt it my duty as a translator to allow this historical
derangement and semantic-topographical distortion to seep through the Italian translation. So I
planned a strategy to keep Kamenas lexical imperfections, and I went for past-century-flavoured,
dust-veiled expressions and terms.
I hold this example both as paradigmatic of Brands textual pregnancy, and as
methodological of translation practice itself, which, I think, must shake off the worn-out self5

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repressing shrouds of monolithic fidelity and hyper fluency it has been chocking under for long, and
look for a new critically-aware functional accuracy, a reliability resting on a steadfast, yet flexible,
exegesis. Umberto Eco is pressing here to claim that: An interpretation always precedes a
translation, that, before setting to their work, translators spend a great deal of time reading their
texts through and through, and consulting all the apparatuses enabling them to properly comprehend
obscure passages, ambiguous terms, erudite references12. He quotes Gadamer as well, for whom,
translation always assumes an hermeneutic dialogue13. And yet other thinkers, from Bassnett to
Spivak, would be equally impatient to stress how fine the line may become between interpretation
and manipulation in a postcolonial context; how treacherous the aftermath, when a text in
translation undergoes an Eurocentric interpretation14.
The second translator-related point I would like to draw attention to is the question of
repetition in the circling nature of the novel. At the Full and Change of the Moon conceals the
foundations of a saga. It is structured on a tenuous genealogy whose frail branches are dotted with
characters for whom, as the narrator herself says, memory loops and repeats15. The remarkable
essay Unforgetting Trauma: Dionne Brands Haunted Histories written on this topic by Erica L.
Johnson, confirms my speculations on how crucial an aspect the dynamics of haunting in Brands
novel proves to be; how, starting from the assumption that trauma can be transmitted
intergenerationally and hence embodied/disembodied in a phantom presence the characters are
burdened with and mutually bequeath, traumatic knowledge circulates in Brands representation16.
While reading the novel with a translators eye and ear, I noticed how the text was
interspersed with a number of repetitions which, in the light of the transgenerationality it entails, I
could not undervalue or worse, dismiss, as merely fortuitous. Characters double, or split, in the
novelPriests and Adrians case is the most striking. They struggle with the weight of history
loaded on their backs, modern Sisyphus who carry the boulder their slave ancestors have passed
onto them. In a way, it is as if the present never rids itself from the past. The eras and situations they
happen to live are completely differentthe novel actually spans in times and spacesyet, they
prove epistemologically akin. This handing down, this hauntingto put it with Johnsonthis
transmissibility of destinies and identities, this diasporic legacy of incurable sufferings and loss,
stemming from the ancestral foreparents Marie Ursule and Kamena, passing through Bola and the
multitude of fathers, spreads rhizome-like into their progeny, leaving an hereditary taint on them. A
ghost of pain, like the leaden impression around a rebel slaves ankle. Unfading.
Eulas exilic condition, Mayas drifting existence, Samuels inconclusiveness, Adrians
disorientation, young Bolas alienation. The fil rouge joining their shaky hands together flashes
through, blindingly. Therefore, I have defined my priority to detect and trace out these linguistic
repetitions and recurrences, for they end up outlining a real chart of semic markings which links the
language back to its profoundly diasporic, r-evolving anima. In this network of inner echos made of
verbs, nouns, adjectives I gathered throughout my workdiligent and faithful, scientific, passionate
as a collector would be, a fervent loverthere is more than a remarkable, patent intratextuality.
Within it, the repetition compulsion of characters returning into characters, dovetails with a
repetition compulsion of language returning into language. They might look like a taxonomy of
wordswords such as hover, drift, sense, senseless, weightless/ness, lust, and others. Yet, to me,
as a translator who aims to get rid of stifling old shrouds and be as text-aware critical-accurate as
possible, their presence scattered here and there articulates a dispersion-centred discourse
symptomatic of the novels nomadic DNA. To me, it is not simply a trope, it is a code of scraps
where to read diaspora.
Thinking about linguistic repetition as verbal mechanism which increases textual
significance, and thence cannot be possibly ignored in translation, Barbara Godard again helps

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translators define their priorities. By listening to her arguing that repetition is a fact of language
from which meaning is produced, as in the case of the refrain and rhyme, and that the value of
repetition is a supplement of meaning17, I have deemed it my responsibility to recognize, pick up
and hand those aforementioned scraps to my Italian reader. This methodology I follow rests also on
the firm belief that the translator is a sort of literary archaeologist, whose mission is to spot and
collect every narrative fragment strewn in the source-text, so as to restore, in the target-text, the
wholeness of the original18. But we have to pay attention here. The translator digs his/her site and
fills up the museum case, but it is the reader who deciphers the find and draws his/her own
conclusions. This must be straight outa text is forever open to interpretations, its meaning forever
negotiable, fluid. Yet, if I, as a translator, had failed to recognise repetitions, and had translated
recurring to different words every time, I would have deprived not solely the text of one of its
possible accesses, but also the reader of his/her right to choose that precise way to enter it. The
doors left ajar by the narrator for her reader, I tried to leave ajar for mine too. And here we come
full circle; delving in the text, inquiring of its intentions deeply, and surfacing with them translated
for my fellow-speaking reader. Intentions, I think, is the keyword here.
Passing to What We All Long For now. I started out calling What We All Long For an
example of a pluri-expressive palimpsest-shaped architecture of language, where different
languages meet, overlap and coexist. What I meant with this convoluted phrase was that the
superposition of voices and registers a reader experiences in the novel is so well-balanced and
intermodulated, it turns the novel into a sheer polyphonic ensemble, performing the many lingos
multiethnic Toronto performs.
Tuyens and Jackies slang sparkling speeches; Quys disenchanted, often disinfected tone;
Fitzs sour-and-bitter rebukes; Rastas idiolect and hipsters jargon; disco leaflets oozing technofunky vibes; Kwesis jungle bluntness; Jamals juvenilish replies, angry and tender at the same
time. All this makes What We All Long For a feast of metropolitan polyglottism, a paradigm for
urban heteroglossia.
The orchestration of voices required that I be extremely careful with any single inflexion I
heard. My all-carefulness also sticks to Brands city-turned ear in her last works. I use to say that
while A Map to the Door of No Return cogitates Toronto, Thirsty chants and What We All Long For
plays Toronto. This is what I, as a reader, feel. In the two of them, i.e. the long poem and the novel,
we listen to it; especially in the novel, we sway and bop our heads to its rhythmsyell together in
soccer elation, scat on jazz interludes. So I converged my energies to re-orchestratereinventinto
my language that polychromatic murmur, those dizzying waves19 spreading from the 2002 long
poem and reverberating so massively into the 2005 novel. More. These efforts of mine to translate
into Italian the electricities running through Brands verbal Torontonian arteries and glowing them
alive, are all too reasonable if you consider that her metropolis is a place of transmigrations and
transmogrifications20; where transient selves flare in the faith of translation21; where a stream of
identities flow past the bars window22 where four young guys are looking through during a worldcup celebration. Brands Toronto is a city in everlasting translation, with selves and tongues
meeting and morphing. What We All Long For synthesizes that linguistic kinetics. I wanted Il libro
dei desideri23 to get tuned and keep the pace.
In the novel the city itselfbricks and streets, not only citizens and tonguesis in
becoming. The cityscape undergoes incessant changes, with condos popping up, shops closing
down, old cool nightclubs replaced by mass chain stores. Torontos non-stop restyling goes hand in
hand with the aforesaid dynamism characters bodies and identities display24. In his essay Me and
the City that Never Happened Before: Dionne Brand in Toronto, after stating that
transformations of identity have parallels in transformations of architectural spaces, D.M.R.

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Bentley concludes: Torontos multicultural environment is a roiling admixture of destruction and

creation that is rich in personal and poetic potential. The pairing of the self and its unprecedented
urban surroundings at the outset of the following catalogic passage is [] a statement of identity
emplaced in a city whose outwardly ugly and chaotic combination of decay and vitality holds the
promise of something wonderful in the making25. Bentley is speaking about thirsty here, but he
may just as well address What We All Long Forthat something wonderful in the making is
precisely reflected in the words that the novelist chooses so as to capture three young Torontonians
playing and musing at Cybers on Bloor Street, As disturbing as all they were living was, they felt
alive. [] They believe in it, this living. Its raw openness. They saw the street outside, its chaos, as
their only hope. They felt the citys violence and its ardour in one emotion26. If I would be asked to
quote an example which could show how language registers the r-evolutionary nature of the city, its
town-plan as changing as the skin of a chameleon, I would bring in a verb whose translation I hard
earned. Here is the passage:
How does life disappear like that? It does it all the time in a city. One
moment a corner is a certain corner, gorgeous with your desires, then it
disappears under the constant construction of this and that. A bank flounders
into a pizza shop, then into an abandoned building with boarding and
graffiti, then after weeks of you passing it by, not noticing the infinitesimal
changes, it springs to life as an exclusive condo27.

I sweat blood on flounder. The verb is challenging in translation for its manifold nuances
and its imagery evoking potential. It indicates an attempted movement. It entails exertion to move,
great effort, toil. And ungainliness too. Had I to explain the first image I get in my mind hearing the
verb, Id say the struggle a creature experiences while hatching out of the egg, the fight for life of
some organism. And yet by looking at the co-text28, and considering the frantic pace at which
Toronto pulls down and builds up not just discos and liquor stores but whole limbs of its urban
body, I can see suddenness in flounder, the swiftness with which wizards turn sticks into bunches of
flowers. The spinning energy of atoms colliding against each other and kindling other energy. Or
the spiralling force that makes a bank swirl into a pizza-shop in a city named Toronto Conveying
all thiseven just a flavour of itin one single word is gruelling, especially when your targetlanguage is Italian, with its love for wordiness, its verbal profusion, its/our obsession for
explanation29. But sometimes, when carefully-gauged strategies and brain-racking sessions do not
lead anywhere useful, and translators are stuck in the blank limbo of their dilemmas, epiphanies
flash through and rescue them. I guess it is this combination of meticulous quest for le mot juste and
these unexpected flares of light piercing the mist of doubt that makes this job so stimulating for me.
I happened into this verb, carambolare, whose English equivalent is to carom, which is slightly but
clearly different from the plain rimbalzare, to bounce. The caroming object, be it a pool ball
striking another ball and billiard sides, or a car bumping against another vehicle and guardrails,
involves a multiple contact not just a single stroke, giving therefore the idea that it ricochets on and
on as if it would never come to a halt. In the light of the excerpt taken from the novel, in the light of
what we have said about Toronto never stopping, and never stopping (re)generating, this verb
becomes a rich semantic repository that cannot be wiped away with some plain translation.
Carambolare lends itself well to conjure up motion, bustling, turmoil, and to hold the metaphoric
layer added to the sentence, where a bank does not dully turns into a pizza shop. Between a longwinded periphrasis and a lightning one-word solution, which after all can be seen as Torontos
deconstructive-reconstructive praxis writ small, I went for the latter.
To go back to the question of making the characters voices sound distinct, I could say that
this view of mine is also ideologically motivated. The struggle to render idioms, to keep verbalcultural items pertaining to a specific culture and which do not have exact matches in another

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languagethe so-called realia30and interweave them in the text, all this counterattacks a
difference-flattening, domesticating politics of translation, tending to swallow up and homogenise
cultural specificities. Such a stance bears the imprint of Lawrence Venutis idea of translation as
locus of difference31. It obeys his call for action to translators to fight what he calls the
ethnocentric violence of translation32, an attitude which aims to standardize and neutralise cultural
otherness with the purpose of sidestepping translating hurdles, and feeding ones own reader with
spoonfuls of all-flowing translations. I support a translation of resistance against oversimplifying
manipulations of the source-text for the benefit of the holy target-text. Significantly enough, I
want to quote Jacques Derrida, who named translators, rebels against patriotism33.
Consistent with the swinging from theory to practice I outlined at the beginning, I will move
right to the text. The old Rasta Oku meets at Kensington Market is definitely a fitting example here,
since his language challenges the translator any time he opens his mouth to speak, no matter how
fleeting his appearance in the novel, his single lines brief. His faithful Bible quotations combined
with his pidginised English, his Rastafarian expressions like the I-and-I or seen, all these
elements put the Italian translator in a thorny position. The Italian language does not count on a
plethora of slangs as English language does. There are dialects, of course, but they prove too
regionally connoted. We have to do our best with the so-called neo-standard Italian, a colloquial,
informal, spoken idiom, northern and southern Italians can both understand. And this is not for the
sake of readers, to facilitate easier comprehensibility; nor is it a question of a more homogeneous
distribution of literature on national ground, though theoretically sensible. The choice of a specific
Italian dialect to mark a character, a voice, an idioma choice which substantiates the heterophonic
nature of the literary modern text as suggested by Bakhtin34would betray what I consider the first
principle an open-minded reader should follow while reading a book in translation: to read a book
in translation as a book in translation35. As tautological as this assumption may sound, it proves
pivotal. It prepares the reader to accept foreign elements or unknown realities as an integral part of
the new cultural dimension he/she decides to enter the moment he/she opens the text on his/her lap.
It says: you are on new ground, do not expect your fragmentary experience to know anything you
are going to meet, be ready to frown, and be willing to do so. Thus if I am aware the book is set in a
context different from the one I live in or I am accustomed to, if I am ready to come across
otherness in terms of contexts and co-texts, peculiar references, realia, etc.I would be
understandably much disoriented to find a Rastafarian speaking Neapolitan or Venetian or any
Italian local dialect in the urban heart of a Canadian narrative metropolis36. It would undermine the
substance of a text37; it would break both the fictional pact the reader seals when he/she accepts the
world of the text as a true one, and our first principle for the open-minded readerafter all if I am
reading a book set in North America, if I anticipate I will be uprooted from my Italo-framed here
and taken to an Anglo-framed there which I am positive will differ from what I left, how come there
is a Rasta guy talking Neapolitan or Venetian in Kensington Market?
Speaking of the Rasta guy and the Italian he should have uttered. Before translating him, I
did some research and I found out that the jargon the Italian Rastafarian community are used to
employing, relies on loans from the English. Dialect options off my table, character calling for a
voice of his own, I decided to follow the Italian Rastafarians. I let Brands Rastas speech soak in
the typical way of expressing the Italian Rasta brothers have developed by listening to their English
fellows overseas. To keep his specificity as much as possible, I hung on to his stock-phrases
dread and rasta, and dropped them in my text, even if I am conscious they sound rather unusual
to an Italian reader in that semantic position38. The foreignizing effect this produced, though, was
exactly my choice. Imagine if I had had him speak like Tuyen or Fitz; I would have silenced the
chorus, at best; led it off-key, at worst.

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To come to my conclusion, I will draw on a definition of reading that I spotted and noted
down from A Map to the Door of No Return: To read is to traverse the liminal space between
laughter and spelling, between syntax and dancing39. I saw and see something there syntax and
dancing. If you take the book and go on reading, you will be told that when the author was a child,
her uncle used to teach her the waltz having her step on his feet, and to surprise her, asked her to
decline difficult Spanish verbs out of the blue. She tells: Even if Stardust is playing, or Via Con
Dios, My Darling, one must be alert to questions of meaning that may be lying in ambush, or
bearing down on you, or lurking in the soft recess of the living-room like your beautiful
schoolteacher uncle40. In this beautiful oxymoric snapshot of gliding legs and wide-open eyes that
captures the spirit of reading, I felt she captured the spirit of translation and of my experience of her
work too much better, I am afraid, than my on-the-verge-of-falling about-to-be-entrapped
translators position I drafted in the opening section of this paper. Her poetic acrobatics, the beauty I
could catch in her writing, suddenly, rounding a flickering comma, unexpected, lingering in a
languorous silence, made me literally float on air; yet the thickness of her meanings to explore, her
linguistic tangles to go through, her briefness to grapple with, rooted my feet back on earth. So,
going back to Brands quotation, as her translator, I feel I do traverse that space light-footed, allalert. As her translator, I feel I am a walker and a digger who tiptoes her way through her words and
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Paz, Octavio. Traduzione: Letteratura e Letteralit, 1970. Nergaard, Siri. Teorie
contemporanee della traduzione. Milano: Bompiani, 1985
Pratt, Marie Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London and
New York: Routledge, 1992
Severgnini, Beppe. La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind. New York:
Broadway Books, 2006, translated by Giles Watson
Temple, Bogusia. Representation across languages: biographical sociology meets
translation and interpretation studies, Qualitative Sociology Review, Vol. II,
Issue 1, April 2006.
Todorov, Tzvetan. Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1984
Venuti, Lawrence. Linvisibilit del traduttore. Roma: Armando Editore, 1999
How to Read a Translation, 2005
Yule, George. Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996

Dionne Brand, What We All Long For. Toronto: A. Knopf, 2005, 4.

To know more about the notion of contact zone applied to the post-colonial discourse, see Marie Louise Pratt,
Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. London and New York: Routledge, 1992, 6. See also the beautiful


New Dawn Vol. 2 No. 1 (2007): 3-14

essay by John Hutnyk, Contact Zones. Hybridity and Diaspora,

If interested in the momentous concept of the third space of enunciation, check Homi Bhabha The Location of
Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.
Translators grapple with both the languages they translate from and to. Interestingly enough though, in her Di seconda
mano: n un saggio n un racconto sul tradurre letteratura (Milano: Rizzoli, 2004), Laura Bocci shifts the focus on the
target-language, asserting it is precisely there, and not so much in the source-language, that translators find themselves
struggling most furiously.
Umberto Eco, Dire quasi la stessa cosa. Esperienze di traduzione. Milano: Bompiani, 2003, 16. My translation here,
but English version available, Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003. My
responsibility for any discrepancy between the two translations.
Barbara Godard has written widely and keenly on this topic. In her memorable essay Theorizing Feminist
Discourse/Translation, edited in Susan Bassnetts and Andr Lefeveres Translation, History and Culture (London:
Pinter Publishers, 1990, 81-96), after analysing Nicole Brossards transformancethe writing/rewriting after the
reading/re-reading of the self by a woman writer, or the work of translation, the focus on the process of constructing
meaning in the activity of transformation (90)Godard voices out: Translation, in this theory of feminist discourse,
is production, not reproduction (90). And in her essay Millennial Musings on Translation, talking in broader terms
about the interdependence of writing and translating, after hinting at the creative labour of the translator, she argues
that: Translation is understood not as mimesis or imitating but as poeisis or making with the force of an original and
creative act (La traduzione, ed. by Susan Petrilli. Roma: Meltemi Editore, 2000, 50). Susan Bassnett deals with the
other side of the coin, namely the risks translation as shaping force entail in a post-colonial context. In the preface to
the volume previously mentioned, she writes: Translation is, of course, a rewriting of an original. All rewritings,
whatever their intention, reflect a certain ideology. [] Rewritings can introduce new concepts, new genres, new
devices, and the history of translation is the history also of literary innovation. [] But rewriting can also repress
innovation, distort and contain (IX). More on this in note 14.
Octavio Paz, Traduzione: Letteratura e Letteralit, in Siri Nergaard, Teorie contemporanee della traduzione.
Milano: Bompiani, 1985, 283-297. (The essay was first published as Traduccin: literatura y literalidad. Barcellona:
Tusquets, 1970).
This novel begins in a museum. A small white museum which housed eighteenth-century British colonial military.
[] You arrive at the small white museum by climbing or driving up the steepest hill in the town. Up the hill was once
a fort. Fort King George. [] On the first floor are bones, shells, stones, small carvings, arrowheads, broken amulets of
the first peoples who inhabited this island. [] Edouard Glissant, the Martiniquan critic, says: History is destined to be
pleasure and distress is capable of quarrying deep within us, as a consciousness or the emergence of a consciousness,
as a neurosis and a contraction of the self. This novel begins as I move to the staircase to the second floor. [] Moving
up the staircase to the next room of the museum where this novel begins, I am distressed, in Glissants sense, and also
curious, which is pleasure. The rooms above contains maps, the works of eighteenth century cartographers [] they
were artists and poets. They were dreamers and imaginers as surely as I. [] Thomas Jefferys, geographer to the king,
George III, writes, in a strangely elegant prose, his observations of this island with the small museum and the cabinet of
bones. After reporting his observationssee note 9Brand states: This novel begins most assuredly in this sublime
narrative. I am stunned as I read it with its lispings, I am fascinated by its unintended irony, I am in love with its
cadence. A Map to the Door of No Return. Notes to Belonging. Toronto: Random House, 196-201.
Ibid., 202.
The lines in italics are Jefferys comments as written down on the map and reported word for word by Brand in her
non-fiction volume. The second passage is Kamenas hallucinated directions he gives Bola in the novel:
The currents near Tobago are very strong and uncertain efspecially between this island and Trinidad. At the full and
change of the moon the sea will rise four feet perpendicular. The North east trades blow all year round. The numerical
figures denote e/y depth of water in fathoms where e/y anchors are expresed it is good anchorage Man-o-War Bay,
Courland, Sandy Point and Kings Bay are for vessels of the largest size. Tyrrels Bay, Bloody Bay, Parlatuviers Bay at
Englishmans Bay, Castara Bay and La Guiras Bay have safe anchorage for vesels of 150 tuns or under. Halifax Bay
is very safe and snug fir ships under 250 Tuns but there is a shoal in e/y middle of e/y entrance that makes a Pilot
necessary. [] Vesels sailing from e/y eastward for e/y south side of e/y south side of e/y island, must keep well to e/y
southward, otherwise the current round Little Tobago which run always to e/y North west will sweep them away to e/y
northwest. To the South west there is nothing to fear, till you come to Courland Bay but what shows itself, except
Chesterfield rocks (A Map, 200-1).
The currents near this island is very strong and uncertain especially between this island and the Main. At the full and
change of the moon the sun will rise four feet perpendicular. [] There is good anchorage at Englishmans Bay,
Manzanillo, Petit Trou and Leychelles. There is shoals at St. Germain which makes a pilot needed. If you make this
island toward evening and is afraid of running in with it, you must not by any means lay to but stand to the southward
under any easy sail []. In going in to any of the bays to the leeward of the island you may go as near as St. Helens
Rocks as you choose and if going into Englishmans Bay, may go as near to the north point of that bay as you please.


New Dawn Vol. 2 No. 1 (2007): 3-14

Vessels sailing from the eastward for the south side of the island must keep well to the southward, otherwise the current
round Petit Planche which run always to the northwest will sweep them away to the northwest. To the southwest there is
nothing to fear, till you come to Leychelles, except Culebra rocks (Dionne Brand, At the Full and Change of the Moon.
New York: Grove Press, 1999, 53-4).
At the Full, 296-7.
A Map, 203.
Dire quasi la stessa, 247.
Ibid., 249.
To see how interpretation is crucial in translation, but how just as easily it may twist into manipulation when a
postcolonial scenario is summoned, I would recommend Bogusia Temples panoptic survey Representation across
languages: biographical sociology meets translation and interpretation studies (Qualitative Sociology Review, Vol. II,
Issue 1, April 2006., where the
scholar offers an original fresh sociological cut on the topic, along with a pithy selections of cues and bibliographical
references. And of course, the eminent text edited by Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi, Post-colonial Translation.
Theory and Practice. London: Routledge, 1999. On the other hand, to see how gender is imbricated with questions
concerning interpretation and translation in postcolonial (con)texts, Michle Barrett & Anne Phillips, Destabilizing
Theory. Contemporary Feminist Debates. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992, especially Gayatri Spivaks essay, The
Politics of Translation, 177-200. Here Spivak insists on calling translation the most intimate act of reading (178,
181), and underlines the need for the woman translator to respond to the special call of the text (181), to surrender
herself to the linguistic rhetoricity of the original text, [] [and] to make herself, in the case of Third World women
writing, almost better equipped than the translator who is dealing with the western European languages, because of the
fact that there is so much of the old colonial attitude, slightly displaced, at work in the translation racket (187).
At the Full, 9.
Anthurium. A Caribbean Studies Journal. Volume 2, Issue 1, Spring 2004. Available online, Though highly skilled and
well planned as a whole, the essay excels in the section called Heirs and Exiles, with its in-depth analysis of the
novel, and a variety of intriguing observations.
Theorizing Feminist Discourse/Translation, 92-3. See also Deleuze and Translation. Parallax, no. 1 (2000), 5681.
Translation, like writing, is research, Barbara Godard appropriately suggests in The Moving Intimacy of
Language, an introduction to her translation of Nicole Brossards Intimate Journal or Heres a Manuscript. (Toronto:
The Mercury Press, 2004, 18).
Dionne Brand, thirsty, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2002, 8.
A Map, 62.
thirsty, 40.
What We All, 212-3.
Il libro dei desideri (Firenze: Giunti Editore, 2005), is the title of my translation.
Characters seem restless in the novel, and not only from an identitarian point of view. Boats, cars, trains, subways,
highways, bicycles, feet, modes of transit of any sort are central in their lives as well as in the plot. For an extensive
investigation on mobility in Brands work, see D.M.R. Bentleys essay I am about to quote in the text. I suggest also to
think about this fluxibility with an eye to the notion of liquidity sociologist Zygmut Bauman theorises so masterfully in
his studies. Baumans thesis that the old solid bonds structuring society, family and community in the past are being
replaced by concepts of identity which are flexible, ongoing, in our modernity, may well bring to mind What We All
Long For and Brands statement: When I walk around Toronto, the city I live in primarily, and I see people from all
over the world make a living out of it, I think thats fantastic. Fabulous possibilities exist, things havent been worked
out, and we see the becoming of it. Were in the middle of becoming, we have these yet-to-become people, and thats
interesting, definitely (Interview with Paulo Da Costa, October 2001, To
develop the point further, I recommend Liquid Modernity and Identity a short precious book based on an interview
Bauman had via email with Italian journalist Benedetto Vecchi.
D.M.R. Bentley, Me and the City Thats Never Happened Before: Dionne Brand in Toronto. Canadian
Architexts: Essays on Literature and Architecture in Canada, 1759-2005, available online,, chapter 14.
What We All, 212.
Ibid., 183.
According to Yule: The co-text is just a linguistic part of the environment in which a referring expression is used,
where for physical environment he intends the context. George Yule, Pragmatics. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1996, 21.
I believe the promptness Italian people show in problematizing and dramatizing the world has a strong influence on
our own language and the lavish use we make of it. In Beppe Severgninis hilariousand sharp!La Testa degli
Italiani (Milano: Rizzoli, 2005, translated in English by Giles Watson, La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian


New Dawn Vol. 2 No. 1 (2007): 3-14

Mind. New York: Broadway Books, 2006) he tries to find out where the Italian compulsion to philosophize about/pore
(pour?) over everything stems from. In the section The highway, or the psychopathology of the stoplight, he funnily
and rightly probes how, for an Italian, a red traffic light is not a simple warning signal meaning stop; it is an actual
start for a philosophical investigation. Do you see that red light? It looks the same as any other red light in the world,
but its an Italian invention. Its not an order, as you might naively think. Nor is it a warning, as a superficial glance
might suggest. Its actually an opportunity to reflect, and that reflection is hardly ever silly. Pointless, perhaps, but not
silly. [] When many Italians see a stoplights, [] they see a stimulus. Ok, then. What kind of red is it? A pedestrian
red? But its seven in the morning. There are no pedestrians about this early. That means its a negotiable red; its a
not-quite-red. So we can go. Or is it a red at an intersection? [].
Bruno Osimo. Il manuale del traduttore. Milano: Hoepli, 2002, 132.
Lawrence Venuti, Linvisibilit del traduttore. Roma: Armando Editore, 1999, translated by Marina Guglielmi, 72.
The Translators Invisibility: A History of Translation. London: Routledge, 1995.
Ibid., 390. Call for action is actually the volumes last chapter.
Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, or, the Prosthesis of Origin. Stanford: Stanford University Press,
1996, 57.
To be correct, Bakhtin does not use the term heterophony himself. It is Tzvetan Todorov who explains Bakhtins
positions and defines his terminology by distinguishing between raznojazycie, heteroglossia, or diversity of
languages, and raznogolosie, heterophony, or diversity of (individual) voices. Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical
Principle. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984, 56 (trans. of Mikhail Bakhtine: le principe dialogique
suivi de crits du Cercle de Bakhtine. Paris: Seuil, 1981).
In an article called How to Read a Translation, published on Words Without Borders, The Online Magazine for
International Literature, Lawrence Venuti writes: A translation ought to be read differently from an original
composition precisely because it is not an original, because not only a foreign work, but a foreign culture is involved., 2005.
It is important to stress narrative here. Tuyen may certainly overhear a Neapolitan and a Venetian passers-by
instead of two Spanish or Portugueseor African? Brazilian?guys, chatting on a sidewalk. Nothing to be surprised
about. As Brand teaches us, Toronto is a polyglot, speaking all the tongues its inhabitants from all over the world speak.
Yet, their speech would be quoted verbatim in the original, as the writer herself did with the couple on the street, and I
with her. (A janela j foi consertada, ele s queria dinheiro. Eu no vou []. What We All, 148, Il libro dei
desideri, 148). One thing is to drop a foreign language in a text, one thing is to replace a tongue with another tongue.
Substance or deep meaning, in Umberto Ecos sense. In Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation he discerns
different levels of fabula inside a literary text, and focuses on to which extent a translation can push and pull at the
superficial fabula in order to reword it into another language without altering its substance, its profound significance.
See Mouse or Rat?, chapter 6, From rewording to translating substance, 123-45.
Here is a taste of his testing speech. Hey college bwoy, dread, beg you a money. The street them hard, you know
dread. The air is abstraction me tell you. Give a likkle something for the I and I How the I and I today, Rasta? His
anger endureth only a minute, for his favour is life, dread. Anything today, Rasta? Seen! So me ah struggle. Is
what you ah read, read so, Rasta? Is only the one book, dread, only one book Him a mad, you see! Is talent what
have him so. Talent and Babylon take him. Not like the I and I. Babylon dont down cry me yet You nuh see my
trial! Cha, man. Anyway, ah nah nutten. Make him live. Jah will take care of the I and I. Seen. What We All, 169-7073-74.
A Map, 124.
Ibid., 125-6.