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Traduire la littérature des caraïbes

Translating Caribbean Landscape

Elizabeth A. Wilson
p. 15-29


Cet article s'appuie sur des extraits d'œuvres antillaises et leurs traductions: The Star-Apple Kingdom de Derek Walcott, La Traversée de la mangrove et La Vie scélérate de Maryse Condé, et La Lézarde d'Edouard Glissant.
Ces textes tirent leur "caribéanité" du paysage physique, en premier lieu. En effet, celui-ci concrétise, représente, reflète, révèle des paysages psychologiques et émotionnels. Il arrive parfois que le milieu naturel extérieur corresponde objectivement à ces paysages subjectifs. Par ailleurs, vu la complexité des situations linguistiques dans la région des Caraïbes, où tant la langue de départ, "le français", que la langue d'arrivée, "l'anglais", englobent un riche continuum linguistique, le créole, cet article étudie comment les divers traducteurs (européens, américains et antillais) de ces ouvrages ont rendu pour leurs lecteurs les paysages originaux et les divers modes par lesquels ils sollicitent l'imagination.

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Landscape and Language (Text n° 1)

1In After Babel, George Steiner discussing his own situation as a person who had three “first languages” (German, French and English) speaks of the fact that it was quite natural for him to start a sentence in one language and to finish it in another, unaware that he had changed languages. The situation of the educated Caribbean speaker is similar. Normally possessing and manipulating at least two “first” languages, he/she passes from Creole to English/French and back again effortlessly and often unconsciously. Derek Walcott’s narrator/protagonist, Shabine, in The Star-Apple Kingdom is a product of Caribbean creolisation, of métissage. In his language this manifests itself in frequent instances of “code-sliding”, in this way:

  • 1 See D. Walcott, pp. 30-32.

All you see me talking to the wind, so you think I mad [...] All you fate in my hand, ministers, businessmen, Shabine have you friend, I shall scatter your lives like a handful of sand I who have no weapon but poetry and the lances of palms and the sea’s shining shield1.

  • 2 See for example the work of Puerto Rican writer Ana Lydia Vega.

2This code-switching, code-sliding, mixing of registers, which makes for the music of the text and its specificity, which immediately marks the speaker as being from a particular island place, in this case clearly St. Lucia and not Barbados or Jamaica, is a formidable obstacle for translators. Here Walcott’s translator, Claire Malroux, has not attempted to render the creole/standard contrasts in French except by the suggestion contained in the elisions, typical of colloquial speech (“mais vous [ne] connaissez pas ma force”) and not peculiar to a creole voice. This interweaving of disparate narrative voices, often militant, contesting or subversive, is a feature of the works of many contemporary Caribbean writers, both Anglophone and Hispanophone,2 and of the Francophone writers discussed in this paper: Maryse Condé, and Edouard Glissant.

  • 3 R. Allsopp, 1996, p. xli
  • 4 See E. O’Callaghan, 1993 and P. Mordecai, 1990, “Foreword”, Out of the Kumbla, p.viii.

3As Allsopp points out, “Caribbean English is a collection of sub-varieties of English.”3 Vocabulary and usage vary from place to place; therefore one of the challenges facing the translator is “which English?” Another important feature to be noted in the case of Shabine and of Caribbean “versions” of “prismatic” texts, is that there is often no hierarchical relationship, the “standard” is not privileged, nor is the “creole”4.

The Importance of Landscape: Edouard Glissant

  • 5 M. Dash, 1995, p. 166.

4In discussing the central place accorded to landscape in Caribbean literature I will begin with the example of Glissant, citing Michael Dash, translator of Le Discours antillais and La Lézarde and author of a collection of essays, Edouard Glissant: “In landscape the patriarchal subject yields to a signifying chain of relationships. The landscape reveals a poetics of the decentred subject.”5 Beverley Ormerod in “The Freeing of the Waters: Edouard Glissant’s The Ripening” writes that for Glissant landscape is the key to a past “which has been deformed or obliterated” and says that through landscape,

  • 6 B. Ormerod, 1985, p.36.

He sets out to stimulate Caribbean memory and to force the reader to re-examine the past [...] in an attempt to acquire a sense of the continuous flow of time which lies dormant in Caribbean landscape: the sea with its middle passage, the canefields bearing perpetual witness to the experience of exploiter and exploited, and the mountain forests filled with the presence of the maroons, the runaway slaves6...

5Here we see landscape as poetics, landscape as history, landscape as ideology, and landscape as “a signifying chain of relationships”. Discussing “New World” poetics, Dash refers to Glissant’s essay “Le roman des Amériques” and says that for Glissant and for the many writers Glissant cites in this essay (Roumain, Carpentier, Marquez among others) landscape constitutes an essential element:

  • 7 M. Dash, 1995, p. 151.

His [Glissant’s] hypothesis is that landscape in a New World poetics is not a form of décor constant (sentimentalised background), but is inscribed in the text as in painting or music. More powerful than the characters in a novel, landscape becomes an externalization of the profusion and chaos of an American aesthetic7.

  • 8 M. Dash, 1995, p. 150.

6Dash points out that as far back as Le Soleil de la conscience, 1956, Glissant articulates “the need to liberate the Caribbean as a docile referent, to give full expression to the ‘primordial chaos’ of Caribbean landscape”, ideas extended and developed in Le Discours antillais8. Contrasting the pastoral tradition of Europe with his own Caribbean landscape, Glissant highlights the fact that for the Caribbean person/writer the landscape and our histories are correlated. The chaotic, turbulent, profusion of forest, the desert, waters, rivers, sea, are external signifiers of diverse histories that shape the Caribbean. Dash quotes from Glissant’s essay: “Mon paysage est emportement, la symétrie du planté me gêne. Mon temps n’est pas une succession d’espérances saisonnières, il est encore de jaillissements et de trouées d’arbres.”

  • 9 M. Dash, 1995, p. 12.

7It is interesting to note that the translator renders the same passage in two slightly different versions, first as: “My landscape is passion, the symmetry of cultivation makes me uneasy. Time for me is not a sequence of seasonal expectations, it is still explosive and torn by surging trees.”9 And then where the passage is quoted in the context of Glissant’s poetics:

  • 10 M. Dash, 1995, p. 31.

J’aime ces champs, leur ordre, leur patience, cependant je n’en participe pas. N’ayant jamais disposé de ma terre, je n’ai point cet atavisme d’épargne du sol, d’organisation. Mon paysage est encore emportement; la symétrie... (I love these fields, their order, their patience; however they are not part of me. Never having had control over my land, I do not experience this reflex of managing the land, of organization. My landscape is still convulsive, the symmetry of planted fields makes me uncomfortable. My time is not a succession of seasonal hopes, but it is still explosive and torn by surging trees10.)

8The two versions within one text, point to the hesitations, the subtleties, the variety of nuanced choices, which even with the best translator will necessarily result in losses in the target language.

  • 11 D. Walcott, 1992, p. 48.

9Where Glissant follows the river and maps and charts the land with all its folds and fissures, Derek Walcott privileges the sea. For him “The sea is History.”11 Similarly, in the imaginative universe of Simone Schwarz-Bart’s Lougandors, the plantation, the plain are synonymous with hell-fire and destruction while the world of the “morne”, hills and forest, the privileged space of the nègre-marron, is a place of résistance and freedom. The landscape of Condé’s Traversée de la mangrove is that of the rural community of Rivière au sel, the space that of the wake, the “veillée’, “set-up” or “nine-night”, a privileged Caribbean space. Between “Dusk” and “First Light”, we hear multiple voices, multiple storytellers; the intrusive landscape, the “mangrove” swamp, is a prevailing presence.

Translation/The Translator as reader: Reading(s) of the text

  • 12 See B. Ormerod, 1985, p. 108 ff.

10The translator is first and foremost a reader, the first reader, who mediates between the audience and the text. Following what Mordecai calls “the imaginative logic of the text”, understanding the structure of the work as a whole and how the parts relate to that whole in a novel as much as in a poem is important — especially since many novels are non-linear in structure as Susan Bassnett-McGuire points out. In Schwarz-Bart’s Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle (The Bridge of Beyond), for example, the structure is cyclical, the unifying thread is memory, and the complex patterning of the images, many of them nature images drawn from the physical landscape, is an integral part of the meaning of the work12. It is essential to follow the careful plotting of those delicately interwoven threads, to be sensitive to the creole landscape, to orality, to translate the voices, the music, to pass on Telumée’s worldview. In this regard Newmark makes an interesting point about literary translation that certainly applies to Caribbean novels:

  • 13 P. Newmark, 1988, p. 172.

The signal importance of the translation of some novels is the introduction of a new vision injecting a new literary style into another language culture, and when one looks at Weltliteratur translations in this sense — I think of Proust, Camus, Kafka, Mann, Pavese — it is clear that the translators have often not been bold, which means not literal enough: thèse are the million cases where a literal translation is aesthetically not inferior to a free translation, fashionably justified as “sub-text”, formerly the “spirit” or the “genius” of the language or the author13.

11Translations interpret one culture to another. Most often the source culture is not the translator’s own. Translators always have to make choices that are sensitive to the cultural context. In the case of Caribbean texts, the task can be daunting, for Caribbean culture, in the words of Cuban writer Antonio Benitez-Rojo, is a “supersyncretic culture”, a complex of syncretisms. Every image, idea, cultural artefact, is overlaid with layers of accretions and resonances. Understanding these resonances often involves embarking on “a voyage of significations” (Benitez-Rojo’s term), which may take us to divergent destinations. In addition, we are dealing with texts where, as I have said above, the language “moves seamlessly” between Creole and French or English and the translator needs to render the voices, what Richard Philcox calls the “sound and conviction”, the “musicality” of the writers, as faithfully as possible. What choices have the translators made and what are the consequences: literary, aesthetic, ideological and cultural? This is a central concern. Perhaps the choices made do not greatly affect the denotative value of the text, phrase or word but what may suffer is the connotation, the multi-layered associations that are the substance of literary text. The cultural, psychological, emotional impact may sometimes be attenuated or lost altogether.

From La Rue Cases Nègres to Black Shack Alley/Sugar Cane Alley -A Translator’s Choices

  • 14 S. Bassnett-McGuire, 1988, p. 78.

12A translator’s choices may be influenced by a variety of factors, among them the translator’s access to “creole” and creole usage (in the case of a Caribbean text) and the translator’s sensibility, respect for, and attitude to the literary text. The translator is the mediator between the reader and the original text, culture or narrative. As such, this last factor — the translator’s attitude to his/her text and the responsibility he/she feels in terms of remaining faithful to the original narrative — is key. The literary imagination (the writer’s, the translator’s, the reader’s) is a powerful shaper of “reality”. Whether the text is a novel or a poem, translators should not focus “on content at the expense of the formal structuring of the text.”14

  • 15 Allsopp, 1996, p. 82.

13In a conversation with Keith Warner, Trinidadian scholar, translator of Joseph Zobel’s La Rue Cases Nègres, I asked why he had entitled the English translation Black Shack Alley. He replied that he had chosen the title for reasons of rhythm and euphony, even though he was aware that it did not parallel in the mind of an Anglophone reader the reality of the plantation conjured up by the French title, La Rue Cases Nègres. While there seems to be a one-to-one correspondence between the words, (“cases”: “houses”, though not necessarily “shacks”, and “nègres”: “Blacks”), in an English-speaking Caribbean territory “les cases nègres” would be “barracks” or “estate labourers’ quarters”, a particular space, clearly located on a plantation. Allsopp defines “barrack” as “a long low building raised on short, wooden pillars and consisting of several adjacent rooms under one roof, in each of which is lodged a labourer and his family on a sugar or cocoa plantation15” [...]

14Moreover “rue” does not correspond to “alley”, which, while negative in connotation, usually evokes an urban milieu. The film title, Sugarcane Alley, while suggestive of the “plantation” or “estate”, loses something of the emotional impact established by the rhyming associative link between (exploited) “Black” and the emotive “Shack”. Although neither title is entirely satisfactory in its power to evoke a place or a set of circumstances with an associated emotional reaction as the French does (think for example of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, or Tortilla Flat), Warner’s phrase resonates with the harshness of exploitation, the sound of oppression. Moreover, because of the success of the book (it is widely read and studied in the Caribbean for example) the phrase/title has taken on a life of its own, thereby perhaps validating Warner’s choices. The translator’s title has created a new image, a new designation in a cultural artefact (i.e. the narrative, the film), fashioned an evocative phrase that did not originally signify/represent an existing reality. Historically the Caribbean experience has been dominated by slavery, by the slave trade, by a history of exploitation, oppression and violence. In the literary tradition there has been a concomitant recourse to the consolations, strategies and explanations offered by the oral tradition — folk tales, proverbs, songs and by the written word, the Holy Books of various religions, in the case of Christianity: the Bible. These scriptures have frequently become part of orality because they are committed to memory and often repeated. References to archetypal symbols such as the tree, water, the journey abound. Landscape is key. Translators need to take both oral and scribal traditions into account.

Walcott’s Star-Apple kingdom and its translation: Le Royaume du fruit-étoile (Text n° 2)

  • 16 D. Walcott/C. Malroux, 1992 p. 87

15In her choice of “fruit-étoile” for “star-apple” Claire Malroux makes a choice similar to that of Warner above. We need to ask several questions: is it deliberate? Is it for similar reasons? Is it effective? To deal with the last consideration first, on first sight, the metaphor contained in the original English title would seem to be lost in French as there is no mention of the “star-apple” fruit or tree (“caïmite/kaïmite: caïmitier/kaïmitier in Caribbean French). Yet the image, it could be argued, is maintained in a new way, as in the case of “Black Shack Alley”, because although the “fruit-étoile” does not exist, the equivalent term being “caïmite” or kaïmite”, the concept of a fruit which is at once a star could be said to embody in the title one quality of a star-apple tree, important in Caribbean culture, which is that its leaves are “double” green on top and copper-brown on the undersides, thus indicative of duplicity/deception, of someone or something not be trusted. However, the reality of a star-apple kingdom” paralleled in childhood experiences of the “caimitier”, and the evocation of a similar world is lost in the French. In addition, to address the first two questions, we note that while the choice of “fruit-étoile” in the title and elsewhere, could be justified, the use of “sapotier” (“sapodilla” or “naseberry”, quite a different fruit tree) for “star-apple-tree” elsewhere16, raises the question of whether “caïmitier/kaïmitier” had simply not been encountered. It is more difficult to justify ignoring “Great House”, (p. 104) in translating:

What was the Caribbean? A green pond mantling behind the Great House columns of Whitehall (emphasis added) behind the Greek facades of Washington,


Qu’était la Caraïbe? Une mare verte moussue derrière les colonnes palatiales de Whitehall, (emphasis added) derrière les façades grecques de Washington,

16The omission of “Great House” (La Grande Case), which in addition deliberately calls attention to itself by Walcott’s insertion of capitals, is an oversight. A colonial, patriarchal structure par excellence, the edifice of Slavery dominates the psychological and historical landscape of the Caribbean the way the Great House dominates the plantation from its hilltop. The fact that Walcott capitalizes the words also conjures up and creates an association with the “White House”, picked up in “White(hall)”, reinforced in the next line where the White House with its columns is described and explicitly evoked in “the Greek façades of Washington”. Whitehall and the White House become twentieth-century equivalents of the Great House, reducing the Caribbean to a green pond and perpetuating plantation relationships. The landscape clearly reflects an ideology, a socio-cultural, historical phenomenon. Therefore in the translator’s choice of “palatiales” for “Great House”, the losses are multiple. In the same poem, discussing the names for trees, Walcott speaks of knowing “the pain of history words contain” (p. 24).

17Caribbean landscape translates “the pain of history” and we need to be careful to convey these connotations. Malroux’s “free” interpretation of “Great House” can be contrasted with her close “literal” translation of another line where keeping the original “habitation” adds resonances in the translated version:

he saw,
up in a thick mea dow, a sand-coloured mule, untethered, with no harness, and no signs of habitation round the ruined factory wheel locked hard in rust....

translated as:

il vit,
en haut d’une grasse prairie, une mule couleur sable en liberté. Et aucun signe d’habitation autour de la roue de l’atelier en ruines bloquée par la rouille...

  • 17 See for example D. Walcott/C. Malroux, 1992: pp. 32-33, 34-35.

18Here “habitation” is able to evoke and signify at different levels of meaning: dwelling, plantation, the house of the owners, the Great House, (now in ruins and absent from the landscape.) Elsewhere in the text another serious inaccuracy occurs in “The Schooner Flight/Le Schooner Flight.” Here the title of Section 5: “Shabine encounters the Middle Passage” is rendered as “Chabin affronte le Passage du Milieu.” “Middle Passage” (La Traversée Atlantique) is a term that in the collective memory of Anglophone Caribbean people is charged with emotional associations: oppression, horror, extreme cruelty, degradation. “Middle Passage” is not used in any context except that of the Slave Trade. The historical context is obvious in the lines that follow in the poem. “Passage du Milieu” fails to evoke the connotations of Middle Passage (the title for example of one of Naipaul’s works). One final observation: many allusions to the Bible, as previously noted, a text which looms large on the spiritual and emotional Caribbean landscape, have also been missed or passed over in this translation17.

Translating Maryse Condé’s Traversée de la mangrove/Crossing the Mangrove (Text n°3)

  • 18 R. Philcox, 1995, p. ix.

... I decided to concentrate on the tone and register of these voices spealding from this wake ceremony and talking to us, even chatting to us, as we turn the pages. [...] I found that tone and register of voice, those trifling details with universal significance, the way the colors of Nature interweave in personal lives and the way the reader is made to look at the horizon and then back again to him or herself I found all this in Virginia Woolf18.

19Richard Philcox, privileged translator and husband of Maryse Condé, says he found that voice in Virginia Woolf s novel, To the Lighthouse. Defending his choice of a register proper to “an English middle-class family” as appropriate to translate what he calls “this most Guadeloupean of Maryse Condé’s novels”, Richard Philcox says that his decision was not so unlikely as Condé’s language already represents a translation into a European language (French) of Caribbean reality:

  • 19 R. Philcox, 1996, pp. 229-230.

Il ne faut pas oublier que Traversée de la mangrove est déjà la traduction en français, une langue européenne, d’une culture non européenne. Le livre en anglais est donc la traduction d’une traduction: c’est par le biais de la langue française qu’on arrive à la communauté de Rivière au sel et en conséquence à la société guadeloupéenne19.

20One could dispute the fact that the French of Condé’s narrative voices are indeed a “European language”, especially given the “supersyncretism” of Caribbean cultures. As Chamoiseau points out, it is more likely to be Guadeloupean/French, taking into account the linguistic competences of the writer. Philcox also is at odds with the position of other writers/translators on the question of the importance and role of the natural environment (“le décor tropical”) in the text. He sees this as “exotisme” and as less important thanla musicalité” of the text:

  • 20 R. Philcox, 1996, p. 226.

21La caribéanité de Traversée de la mangrove est évidente à travers son lexique de faune et de flore, surtout de flore où le seul nom des arbres et des plantes place le lecteur dans un contexte bien défini. Un des personnages, Xantippe, s’exclame... “J’ai nommé tous les arbres de ce pays...”20

22Philcox continues:

  • 21 R. Philcox, 1996, p.226.

Trouver la traduction de tous ces noms de plantes et d’arbres aux Antilles, de toute cette nature luxuriante, constitue le fonds caribéen du texte, mais ce n’est pas le plus important. J’en arrive à la question: Quel est l’élément le plus important à transmettre dans une culture? Est-ce le décor tropical et donc l’exotisme? Ou est-ce le ton et le registre du roman? La vitalité d’un texte ne passe pas uniquement par le langage — elle passe par le rapport de l’individu à son environnement, à sa culture et à lui-même. La recherche lexicale n’est pas la plus importante, le plus important, c’est la musique21.

  • 22 F. Massardier-Kenney, 1996, p. 252.

23From the vantage point of a European translator (emotionally an outsider’s perspective, even given his familiarity with Guadeloupe, and his relationship to the writer) the landscape becomes “un décor tropical” and therefore necessarily exotic, even where it is seen as constituting the essential “Caribbeanness” of the text. (In this regard the cover of the English translation of Crossing the Mangrove, is significant. In contrast to the French original it is a representation in colour, not of a mangrove but of vivid, tropical “exotic” plants and flowers, aloes and cactus, such as might be found in a temperate greenhouse. The illustrator’s as well as the reader’s ideologies transform the perception/reception of the text.) Nevertheless, despite his viewpoint, Philcox is meticulous in his research, as evidenced by his translation of each individual lexical item. This is, as he suggests, no easy task, complicated by Condé’s irreverence and strong ironic sense that sometimes lead her to invent names. Philcox knows the landscape and accords importance to interpreting it faithfully, despite the fact that for him the words are less important than the “music”. Moreover, because he chooses to remain close to Condé’s original word order and to the rhythm of her phrasing, Philcox’s translation is very successful in rendering the cadences of the text: “Richard Philcox a tendance à rester proche de l’ordre des mots et suit l’agencement des phrases pour pouvoir garder en anglais le cheminement de la narration22.

24We need to note too, that Condé’s positioning of herself vis-à-vis the “creole” world of the island is in a sense that of an outsider. She distances herself and stands apart from her milieu. At the same time she has a remarkable talent for absorbing “local colour” and “atmosphere” and for establishing a scene, a geographical and cultural context, with rapidly drawn and precise details belonging to that time and place. In addition, because of her strong iconoclastic sense, her distrust for sentimentality and for all that is “politically correct”, landscape for Condé is as much a vehicle for intertextuality and for ironic clins d’œil, as it is a means of locating her characters in a specific and differentiated Caribbean space. It must also be noted that, in her earlier novels, landscape did not occupy the place that it does in the later, more “Caribbean” works, starting with Moi, Tituba, sorcière... Noire de Salem and including La Vie scélérate.

  • 23 F. Massardier-Kenney, 1996, p. 255.

25The translation of La Vie scélérate raised several issues. In contrast to Philcox’s careful adherence to tone and register, and to the syntax and word order of Condé’s original text, Virginia Reiter, translator of La Vie scélérate, as pointed out by Françoise Massardier-Kenney, does not hesitate to transform registers, change syntax, omit entire phrases or sentences. Massardier-Kenney sees this in the context of the translator’s conscious ideology. She points out that in Reiter’s translation the voice of the narrator becomes uniform, devoid of all creole and familiar expressions, while “la langue des personnages de couleur est systématiquement abaissée alors que dans la version française ces personnages s’expriment dans une langue riche, variée, tantôt soignée ou parsemée d’expressions familières ou antillaises.” This is attributed to the fact that among other factors “la traduction est axée sur les normes de la culture d’arrivée”23. This is also reflected the Reiter’s treatment of the physical landscape and of the so-called “réalisme merveilleux” elements in the text, part of the psychological landscape of the Caribbean. The result is an alteration in the music, tone and impact of the text.

Translating Glissant’s “opacité”: La Lézarde (Text n° 4)

  • 24 Ormerod, 1985, p. 39.

26“The Ripening [La Lézarde] is the story of an initiation into the meaning of a landscape.”24

  • 25 M. Dash, 1985, p. 15
  • 26 B. Ormerod, 1985, p. 40.
  • 27 B. Ormerod, 1985, p. 39.

27As a Caribbean literary critic who also had the advantage of the author’s collaboration and clarifications during the translation process, Glissant’s translator, Michael Dash, is in a privileged position vis-à-vis the text La Lézarde and automatically avoids some of the pitfalls and limitations discussed with reference to other translators. The original translation of La Lézarde by Frances Fresnaye, which was published much earlier (1959), did not enjoy Glissant’s approval and as a consequence, has not been re-issued. As a scholar and interpreter of Glissant’s works, both fiction and theory, Dash is sensitive to the nuances of the text and has a firm fix on Glissant’s relationship to landscape. He is thus in a position to take liberties with the text and this he does when the occasion is thought to warrant it. Glissant is a “difficult” writer, dense, intellectual, “opaque”. Dash adds details, precisions or glosses that seem intended to make the text more accessible to the reader or to bring out its significance more fully. For example, in the text taken from the beginning of the novel, Chapter 1, La Flamme/The Flame, the opening line: “Thaël quitta sa maison..” is rendered as: “Thaël left his house in the mountains” (as it was in the 1959 translation as well). The opposition between the mountain and the plain is important in the text, and the added phrase serves to underline and set up explicitly this opposition in the mind of the reader. This is again the case in the rendering of: “Or tout se défait en Thaël, à mesure qu’il descend”, translated as: “Now as Thaël descends to the plain, everything gradually comes apart.” We note in passing, however, that “en Thaël” is omitted. Similarly the choice of “flame tree” for “flamboyant” (“the red form of a flame tree”) which could equally be rendered in English as “flamboyant” (as in 1959 version) or “poinciana”, highlights “flame” and explicitly evokes the colour red, both of which will signify in the text, creating a vivid picture in the mind of a reader who might not be familiar with the flamboyant. As Dash points out in his introduction to The Ripening: “Natural objects appear as a material representation of an underlying system of meanings, a means of wresting meaning from the flawed world25.” The flame tree is one such significant object, (references to the flamboyant recur in the text, and notably at the end of the narrative) as is the “prunier mombin”, colours, (here yellow, and red, which dominates the whole section) and of course the Lézarde river itself. Other changes to the text in translation become significant where they alter the images and resonances of the original and engender further alterations later on. For example, does “Premier jour” signify equally as “first dawn” and “first day”? The choice of “dawn” rather than “day” requires other alternatives. “Le soleil baignait déjà” is rendered as “a sprinkle of sunlight”, that is, very little sunlight, consistent with “dawn” (for “premier jour”), when the original (“baignait”) might suggest the opposite: “The dew-covered rust-spots were already bathed (“steeped”) in sunlight.” Thaël in this version is setting off not at dawn, or first light, but, later, when the sun was already up (consistent with “chaleur”). Rendering “Première chaleur du premier jour” as “Primeval warmth of man’s first dawn” (a classical, poetic, historical/scientific, rather than religious, register) also weakens the Biblical resonances contained in “premier jour” as in “Or il y eut un soir et il y eut un matin: premier jour.”, (Genesis 1.5), usually rendered in English “There was evening and there was mo rning; the first day.” Biblical associations (Genesis 2,3) are further suggested in this passage: for example in the choice of “Devant l’homme...” (although “Thaël” has already been named), by the imagery: the tree (of life, of Knowledge), the flame, light, sun and water images; Thaël defiantly eating the “forbidden fruit” of the hog-plum tree (of the Knowledge of good and evil), etc. Thaël leaves the garden of the mountain and as he goes down to the plain he begins to distinguish, to become aware: “Or tout se défait en Thaël, à mesure qu’il descend. Il accède à la conscience qui sépare et dénombre...” Thaël, follows (“accompagna le soleil”) the sun and outdistances it, so later on as he gets nearer to the town the narrator explains “Le soleil venait d’apparaître (Thaël l’avait devancé.)” However in the context of “dawn” the explanation now appears odd: “The sun had just appeared (Thaël had outdistanced it.)” Hence, although the nature imagery is highlighted and given substantial weight, the impact of Thaël’s impending “fall”, loss of innocence, of his future encounter with evil and death, underlined by the Biblical language, is not fully realized in translation. The “freer” translation, in departing from the original version, does not bring out in the choice of words/associations in English, the Creation/Fall implications of the text, to the same extent as it does the coming to political awareness. In the text there is a close association between Thaël and Adam, the first man. Rendering “première chaleur du premier jour” as “Primeval warmth of man’s first dawn” and not as “of the first day” brings with it a number of losses in terms of diminished tensions — light/dark, warmth/cold, purity/stain, innocence/knowledge — associations which enrich the morne/plaine dichotomy implicit and explicit in Glissant’s text. Ormerod quotes the phrase “première chaleur du premier jour” as “primeval heat of earth’s first day”, using Fresnaye’s translation, and points out the “paradisaical motifs” including “genesis, change and exploration” in the opening pages of the novel26. The changes and additions in the 1985 translation do, however, enhance the aspects of the text, which signify at the level of what Ormerod describes as “a political allegory.”27 A question of gains and losses balancing each other?


  • 28 B. Ashcroft et al., 1989, p. 38.
  • 29 P. Chamoiseau, Antilla 36.4, Janvier 1990, p. 38.
  • 30 F. Massardier-Kenney, 1996, p. 257.

28Glissant’s text opens with an epigraph taken from an African poem, his first chapter resonates with Judeo-Christian imagery, creole legends and slavery’s silk-cotton tree. Thaël from birth has been “nourri de contes et de mystères.” In describing post-colonial writing situations, Ashcroft and others spoke of “appropriation”, defined as “the process by which language is taken and made to ‘bear the burden’ of one’s own cultural experiences.”28 And Patrick Chamoiseau commenting on the way Condé transforms the French language in Traversée de la mangrove says: “Cette langue-là est la nôtre comme l’est la langue créole. Il est bon qu’elle transporte aussi notre littérature.”29 Walcott’s poetry, Schwarz- Bart’s narratives, Glissant’s text, like Thaël, are “nourri(s) de contes et de mystères” from diverse “supersyncretic” sources: embracing multiple meanings which can only be rendered by choices which at times inevitably sacrifice other significances. Massardier-Kenney points out: “L’identité culturelle, politique, sociale et sexuelle du traducteur ou de la traductrice a une importance cruciale sur la traduction obtenue [...]. Toute traduction reflète l’idéologie du traducteur aussi bien que celle de l’auteur.”30 Perhaps a translation can only aim to suggest with some authenticity and fidelity the author’s Imaginative universe. One hopes that translators will see Caribbean landscape not in terms of exotic elements to be exaggerated or appropriated to the target culture, but as reflecting relationships to be uncovered, explored and represented in all their complexity.

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ALLSOPP, Richard. Dictionary of Caribbean English Usage. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996.

ASHCROFT, Bill, GRIFFITHS, Gareth, and TIFFIN, Helen (eds). The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literature. London: Routledge, 1989.

BASSNETT-McGUIRE, Susan. Translation Studies. London: New York: Routledge, 1988.

BENITEZ-ROJO, Antonio. The Repeating Island. The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective. Durham: Duke UP, 1992.

CONDE, Maryse. Traversée de la mangrove. Paris: Mercure de France, 1989. Crossing the Mangrove. New York: Anchor Doubleday, 1995.

DASH, Michael. Edouard Glissant. Cambridge Studies in African and Caribbean Literature. Cambridge UP: 1995.

DASH, Michael. Introduction to The Ripening. London: Heinemann, 1985.

GLISSANT, Edouard. La Lézarde. Paris: Seuil, 1958. The Ripening. (Translated by Michael Dash). Caribbean Writers Series. London: Heinemann, 1985. (Translated by Frances Fresnaye). New York: George Braziller, 1959.

KADISH, Doris. “Tituba et sa traduction”. L’Œuvre de Maryse Condé, Questions et réponses à propos d’une écrivaine politiquement incorrecte. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1996.

MASSARDIER-KENNEY, Françoise. “La question de la traduction plurielle ou les traducteurs de Maryse Condé. L’Œuvre de Maryse Condé. Questions et réponses à propos d’une écrivaine politiquement incorrecte. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1996.

MORDECAI, Pam. Forward to Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literature. Carole Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory Fido (eds). Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 1990.

NEWMARK, Peter. A Textbook of Translation. New York: Prentice Hall, 1988.

ORMEROD, Beverley. An Introduction to the French Caribbean Novel. London: Heinemann, 1985.

O’CALLAGHAN, Evelyn. Woman Version. London: MacMillan, 1993.

PHILCOX, Richard, “Traduire Traversée de la mangrove” L’Œuvre de Maryse Condé, Questions et réponses à propos d’une écrivaine politiquement incorrecte. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1996. Translator’s Preface, Crossing the Mangrove. New York: Anchor Doubleday, 1995.

STEINER, George. After Babel, Aspects of Langage and Translation. London: Oxford UP, 1975.

WALCOTT, Derek. The Star-Apple Kingdom. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979. Le Royaume du fruit-étoile. (Translated by Claire Malroux). Saulxures: Circé, 1992.

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Document annexe

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1 See D. Walcott, pp. 30-32.

2 See for example the work of Puerto Rican writer Ana Lydia Vega.

3 R. Allsopp, 1996, p. xli

4 See E. O’Callaghan, 1993 and P. Mordecai, 1990, “Foreword”, Out of the Kumbla, p.viii.

5 M. Dash, 1995, p. 166.

6 B. Ormerod, 1985, p.36.

7 M. Dash, 1995, p. 151.

8 M. Dash, 1995, p. 150.

9 M. Dash, 1995, p. 12.

10 M. Dash, 1995, p. 31.

11 D. Walcott, 1992, p. 48.

12 See B. Ormerod, 1985, p. 108 ff.

13 P. Newmark, 1988, p. 172.

14 S. Bassnett-McGuire, 1988, p. 78.

15 Allsopp, 1996, p. 82.

16 D. Walcott/C. Malroux, 1992 p. 87

17 See for example D. Walcott/C. Malroux, 1992: pp. 32-33, 34-35.

18 R. Philcox, 1995, p. ix.

19 R. Philcox, 1996, pp. 229-230.

20 R. Philcox, 1996, p. 226.

21 R. Philcox, 1996, p.226.

22 F. Massardier-Kenney, 1996, p. 252.

23 F. Massardier-Kenney, 1996, p. 255.

24 Ormerod, 1985, p. 39.

25 M. Dash, 1985, p. 15

26 B. Ormerod, 1985, p. 40.

27 B. Ormerod, 1985, p. 39.

28 B. Ashcroft et al., 1989, p. 38.

29 P. Chamoiseau, Antilla 36.4, Janvier 1990, p. 38.

30 F. Massardier-Kenney, 1996, p. 257.

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Elizabeth A. Wilson, « Translating Caribbean Landscape », Palimpsestes, 12 | 2000, 15-29.

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Elizabeth A. Wilson, « Translating Caribbean Landscape », Palimpsestes [En ligne], 12 | 2000, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2000, consulté le 19 février 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/palimpsestes.1630

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Elizabeth A. Wilson

Elizabeth A. WILSON est professeur à l'Université des Antilles, à Kingston (Jamaïque) où elle enseigne la langue et la littérature françaises, dans le Département des langues modernes qu'elle a dirigé en 1989-1991 et en 1994-1996. Ses principaux domaines de recherche sont les femmes-auteurs et la littérature des Caraïbes. Elle a publié, en collaboration, la première anthologie d'œuvres en prose écrites par des femmes des Caraïbes, sous le titre Her True-True Name (Londres, Heinemann, 1987), et elle a traduit en anglais des textes de prose et de poésie, notamment le roman Juletane (Londres, Heinemann, 1987) de la Guadeloupéenne Myriam Warner-Vieyra, et des poèmes d'Edouard Maunick. En 1996, elle a été nommée Chevalier de l'ordre des Palmes Académiques. Elle travaille actuellement sur u n glossaire de la flore des Caraïbes en anglais, français, créole et espagnol.

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