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T.S. Eliot in Translations: Exploring T.S. Eliot’s Afterlives

International Conference, Université Paris Cité, October 13 and 14, 2022
Lise Chenal

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1The international conference “T.S. Eliot in Translations: Exploring T.S. Eliot’s Afterlives” occurred in Paris on the 13th and 14th of October 2022, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the first publication of The Waste Land. Antoine Cazé (Université Paris Cité) initiated the event and Pascale-Marie Deschamps (Université Paris Cité) organised it with the support of their research unit, the LARCA (UMR 8225), as well as LCE (Université Lyon 2), ACE (Université Rennes 2), the T.S. Eliot Foundation, Société d’études modernistes, and Association des traducteurs littéraires de France. The conference was held at the Bibliothèque universitaire des langues et civilisations (BULAC) and at Université Paris Cité. Participants to the conference were invited to (re)examine the reception of Eliot’s oeuvre as it unfolded in Europe and across the Atlantic, and to situate him and his influence in the wider development of Modernism in various linguistic and cultural areas. The conference intended to make translation and remediation key topics in assaying Eliot’s reception and canonisation.

2Antoine Cazé opened the conference by highlighting the originality of its crossroads between literature and translation studies. He thought Eliot perfectly suitable for the enterprise given the international ambitions he nurtured for his works. Having thanked the scientific committee and Marie-Lise Tsagouria, director of the BULAC, Cazé gave the floor to Cécile Roudeau, head of the LARCA. Acknowledging the daunting task of organising a conference on T.S. Eliot a century after 1922, “annus mirabilis of Modernist writing,” Roudeau laid emphasis on the readers’ and translators’ present experience with Eliot’s poetry, especially in our current context of intense ecological distress. Then Benoît Tadié (freshly arrived from Université Rennes 2 to Université Paris Nanterre) introduced the keynote speaker, Jayme Stayer (Loyola University Chicago).

Keynote

3In his keynote address entitled, “Translating Théophile Gautier and Tristan Corbière into Eliot: The Bridge Between ‘Prufrock’ and the Quatrain Poems” Jayme Stayer quoted from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915) and the epigraph to “Burbank with a Baedeker” (1919) to highlight how T.S. Eliot’s use of allusions changed dramatically over a short four-year period. Contextualising this evolution within Eliot’s development as a poet, Stayer explored the reasons behind Eliot’s shift from clear allusions aiming at identifying a precise referent to “deliberately obscure” ones. Having ruled out the influence of Gautier and Corbière on that matter, he turned to Eliot’s alluding practices in the broader economy of Modernist innovations. Stayer suggested that the spirited obscurity of these allusions “signalled an attitude” to be adopted by his readers. According to him, such allusions are invitations to playfulness, not to be read as aiming contempt at the readers but at literary conventions. Drawing a parallel between reading obscure allusions and reading in a foreign language, Stayer insisted that these allusions provide opportunities to free up the reader’s imagination, just as writing in French enabled Eliot to free himself from his frustration with the English language. As they lay stress on tone rather than immediately graspable meaning—thus leaving out “the well-educated, well-read Victorians who follow the chain of arguments”—these allusions feed into Eliot’s Modernist rhetoric.

Panel 1. “What the Translator Said”

4In “Paratextual Deviations and Feeble Translations in The Waste LandRuth Alison Clemens (Utrecht University) tapped into Kathryn Batchelor’s thoughts in Translation and Paratexts (2018) and explored the poetics of Eliot’s translational paratext in The Waste Land. By unveiling the network of (extra-)textual references, the paratext makes the text present insofar as it presents it and makes its sources present to contemporary readers. However, Eliot’s paratext is akin to his poetry in that it intends to throw the readers off their rhythm. Rather than being “explanatory,” Eliot’s translational paratext discloses multiple layers of translation. For instance, Eliot’s 401 note for “Datta, dayadhvam, damyata” refers his reader to a German translation of the Sanskrit text. The paratext of The Waste Land proliferates with meanings rather than pointing at fixed empirical meanings for the words and phrases it engages with.

5In her talk entitled “The Voice and the Image in “East Coker”: Semantic Relevance in Pierre Leyris’ Translation,” Maria Lucie Lopez (Université Aix-Marseille) delved into Pierre Leyris’s semantic choices in his 1976 French translation of “East Coker” to assess how the translator oriented and intensified the original poem’s concern with time in his translation. Lopez notably demonstrated how Leyris’s decision to render “keeping time” by “battre la mesure” (“beating out the time”) not only heightened the sonorous and thematic musicality of the poem, but also laid emphasis on humans’ vain attempts at controlling time. She showed how Leyris’s extensive use of lengthy present participles effectively stretched out the time of the poem. Beating out a slower measure than the English original, the French translation therefore allows the poet to live in the present.

Panel 2. “Transmedialities: T.S. Eliot Shot and Cartooned”

6In “Revisiting T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land: A Translation into Film in a South-East Asian Context,” Steve Dixon (LASALLE College University of the Arts) discussed a film interpretation of Eliot’s Waste Land which he completed with his science of the arts students. Dixon examined the “dizzying array” of potentialities that came with translating the poem into a cinematographic medium. Despite Eliot’s urging against the remediation of his work, Dixon supported transmediality to touch a new, wider, and younger audience, especially since the poem has taken on a “new resonance” in light of pandemic- and climate crisis-related anxieties. Using snippets from the film, Dixon detailed how award-winning composer Joyce Beetuan Koh’s combination of musique concrète and synthesised sounds enabled an amplification of narrative, psychological, and theatrical aspects of the poem. This fed into Dixon’s broader desire to enlarge the meanings of the poem thanks to the superposition of sounds and visuals, an effect also reflected in the London- and Southeast-Asia-based shooting locations alternatively featured in the film.

7Combining philosophy and graphic novel studies in a paper entitled “Exploring Eliot’s Lyric Personae, their Traumatic Encounters and Transmedial Afterlives,” Mohit Abrol (Indian Institute of Technology) sought to show how two comics, Martin Rowson’s Wasteland (1990) and Julian Peters’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (2018), revisit the emotional articulateness and inarticulateness present in Eliot’s poetry. Having probed the discrepancy between the traumatic experiences which flow into his poems and their communication to the reader, which often results in unsettling repetitions, Abrol focused on how Rowson’s and Peters’s comics foster an active sensory connection between the reader and the book considered as a material object rich with visual, tactile, audible, and even olfactive and gustative stimulations.

8Norbert Gacek’s (Jagiellonian University) paper “Until Human Hands Draw Us. T.S. Eliot and How He Illustrated the Modern City” focused on Neil Gaiman’s references to The Waste Land in his series of graphic novels titled The Sandman (1989-1996). Gacek began with an historical overview of the way in which graphic novelists used Modernist writers as part of their ennobling and legitimising strategies during the 1980s comics renewal which followed decades of superhero stories fuelled by the tensions between the two blocks of the Cold War. The connection between 1980s graphic novels and High Modernism thus translated to advertising strategies and narrative techniques. Gacek showed how Gaiman not only adapted some elements from Eliot’s poem but commented on and interacted with them. Though both The Sandman and the poem intertwine their characters’ mental state with their surroundings via an aesthetic of urban devastation, Gaiman chose to act upon “the hope Eliot could only yearn for,” effectively turning the poet’s “handful of dust” into a regenerative, promise-bearing handful of grain.

9The first day of the conference ended with a screening of the film Revisiting T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land discussed by its director Steve Dixon.

Panel 3. Translating Poetics and Politics

10Magdalena Heydel (Jagiellonian University) in “Eliot’s Reception in Poland: From Poetics to Politics” reviewed the Polish history of T.S. Eliot’s reception and how it intersected with the national politics of the country. Begun in the early 1930s with Wacław Borowy initiating a conservative strain of criticism, it picked up pace during the Second World War during which Czesaw Miłosz translated The Waste Land. While Miłosz found in Eliot’s poetry a “demotic element” that fed into his own poetry, post-war social realism depicted Eliot as a bourgeois which resulted in the erasure of Miłosz’s translation and works. The post-war revival of Eliot’s poetry in Poland furthered the conservative critical strain of the 1930s as evidenced by the critical apparatus of Andrzej Piotrowski’s 1960 translation. Heydel showed how some later translations, embracing the “latecomers’ privilege” of relying on thorough scholarship and biographical knowledge, moved away from answering Poland’s “immediate political reality” to tackle more purely aesthetic debates. Adam Pomorski’s 2007 translation thus challenged the symbolist interpretative lens Eliot has been approached with in the past, and spoke of later currents (including futurism and cubism) as more relevant critical tools to read his poetry.

11In a talk entitled “Translating and Retranslating The Waste Land into Spanish,” Teresa Gilbert (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia) tackled the complex reception of Eliot’s The Waste Land in the Spanish-speaking world by discussing simultaneous translations which appeared on both sides of the Atlantic, thus competing for legitimacy, as well as Eliot’s relationship with the translators and their productions. She examined how anthologies consecrated Ángel Flores’ translation and contributed to the propagation of the title under which the text came to be known in the Spanish-speaking world: La Tierra baldía. Citing the Latin American practice of voseo, she proceeded to explain how Spanish speakers from various cultural contexts will read the same translation differently, which can entail erroneous readings. Ultimately disputing a cumulative view of translations and the unattainable goal of an optimal (Spanish) translation, Gilbert wondered if it was perhaps necessary for each translator to break away from their predecessors to successfully perform translation as an act of reinterpretation and recreation.

12In former Yugoslavia, Eliot’s reception began in the 1950s thanks to Ivan Slamnig and Antun Šoljan, two budding poets who became central 20th-century Croatian authors. In “The Waste Land in Croatia,” Dean Slavić (University of Zagreb) gave a diachronic overview of the improvements (both semantic and poetic) that the poets strove to achieve in their two joint translations and in Šoljan’s final 1991 translation. He highlighted their difficulties with the most obscure passages of the poem (such as “the Shakespeherian Rag” line) as well as their success in producing a Croatian translation sonorous with rhythms and rhymes. Slavić also gave an account of the sometimes dismissive academic responses triggered by their translations, from the 1970s onwards, and pointed out the limited space Eliot’s poetry can occupy in a formerly communist country. He finally described how Eliot’s use of dialect and everyday phrasing influenced 20th-century Croatian poets like Dubravko Hovatić or Christian poet Nikola Šop.

Panel 4. Geographies and Genres

13With her presentation “Hypocrite Traducteurs”: On Some Aspects of Italian Translations of The Waste Land,Stefano Maria Casella (Università IULM) provided an overview of the specific issues Italian translators have had to navigate since the Italian reception of Eliot first began in the 1930s. He first probed the distinctive implications of each rendering suggested by translators for the adjective “waste” in the poem’s title (desolata, deserta, guasta, devastada). Casella then showed how Italian, as a polysyllabic language, deeply affects the translating process. Translators also have to decide whether to translate Eliot’s quotations from Dante anew or go back to the original. Eventually comparing the process of translation to that of interpreting a musical score, resulting in the interpreter-translator stressing some aspects while blurring others, Casella concluded with a musing on the criticism made possible by translations.

14César E. Jumpa Sánchez (Université Paris Nanterre) followed with a paper entitled “The Waste Land Re-translated: A Hispano-American Way of Assimilation” and focused on the Latin American reception of The Waste Land. He addressed the possibility and desirability of a universal translation in light of what Eliot called “the mind of Europe” in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919). He examined how Latin American translators intended to re-establish the “brokenness” of Eliot’s poetry, which takes on a wider resonance considering the uniting and fragmenting dynamics that pervade the Latin American continent. He showed how, in Trilce (1922), Peruvian poet César Vallejo displayed similar concerns to Eliot’s in “A Game of Chess,” though the poets did not read each other’s works. This fed into Jumpa Sánchez’s argument that Modernist authors generated “tremors” in Europe which reached across the Atlantic and sent shivers through Latin America.

15Itemising the sources of playfulness in Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939), Ester Díaz Morillo’s (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia) paper “Ad-Dressing the Playful Translation of Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” shed light on the collection’s ties with nursery rhymes, Victorian pantomime, and nonsense poetry and reviewed Eliot’s characterising strategies which tap into such elements as humorous portmanteau words, British cultural references, and tailormade meters for each cat featured in the poems. She outlined the daunting scope of translating and adapting choices that the collection opens for translators, a point she illustrated with Jacques Charpentreau’s decision to fully transplant Eliot’s collection into France and French culture in his 1982 translation. Concluding with the serious matter of feline onomastics, she showed how Spanish-speaking translators tap into Hispanic pop culture (such as José Escobar’s comics, Zipi y Zape) to achieve their cultural (re)creations of Eliot’s cat characters.

Panel 5. Detective Stories

16Having given an overview of the extent to which Eliot’s meandering and frustrated love life shaped The Waste Land, Jennifer Kilgore-Caradec (Université de Caen-Normandie), in “Hidden Translation and Intersectionality: Monique Lojkine-Morelec’s Translation of the The Waste Land explored the upcoming translation that a French scholar, Monique Lojkine-Morelec, worked on for a decade. Touching on the historical monopoly of the French publishing house Le Seuil over French translating rights for Eliot’s poetry, she threw into perspective the genesis of Lojkine-Morelec’s translation. Kilgore-Caradec sought to approach Lojkine-Morelec’s translation through a comparative and intersectional lens. She attuned her reading of “The Fire Sermon” to the translator’s own sensitivity to the plight of the women featured in The Waste Land, a poem rife with rape and forced-pregnancy references. Ending on the translator’s rendering of the original poem’s sexual innuendoes, Kilgore-Caradec recalled that Lojkine-Morelec was among the first scholars to hypothesize that Eliot may have had an inclination for his male friend Jean-Jules Verdenal (which was cut short by the latter’s death in the Great War) though he dedicated an original edition of the poem to his second wife Valerie Eliot.

17In “A Wilderness of Mirrors: Eliot, Max Frisch and the CIA,” the starting point of Chloé Thomas (Université d’Angers) was the title of the 1965 English translation of Max Frisch’s 1964 novel Mein Name sei Gantenbein which borrowed a line from Eliot’s poem “Gerontion”: “a wilderness of mirrors.” Having first considered that this title may have been chosen as a topos reflecting the looking glass leitmotiv of the novel, her investigation led her to CIA chief of counterintelligence James Angleton’s own use of the phrase to refer to the angst of double agents during the Cold War. Angleton’s paranoid understanding of the phrase ties in with the troubled identity of the character featured in Frisch’s novel. Thomas then wondered why the French translation of the novel took its title from a literal translation of the English instead of using Pierre Leyris’s French translation for that same line, which led her to consider the evolving associations readers from different cultural and linguistic spheres may attach to the words “wilderness” and “desert.”

18Dídac Llorens Cubedo (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia) presented a paper entitled “Few and Far etween: Translations of T.S. Eliot’s Drama in Spanish” written with Natalia Carbajosa Palmero (Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena) which stemmed from a project aiming at publishing a new critical edition of the translated plays. The paper detailed how the censors of Franco’s regime approached Eliot’s plays. It then tackled the enigmatic existence of two copies of the same translation of The Family Reunion, published in Argentina (1953) and Spain (1956) by different translators, and assayed this mystery in terms of possible authorial strategies designed to dodge the regime’s censorship. The paper eventually provided insights into the research group’s conclusions regarding the choice of the most adequate Spanish syllabic pattern to render the poetic cadence devised by Eliot for his plays from The Cocktail Party onwards. Ending his presentation with an excerpt taken from the recording of two actors commissioned to read the draft translations, Llorens Cubedo explained how hearing the spoken lines sometimes led the group to reconsider their translations.

Panel 6. Translators’ Round Table

19The conference ended with a round table chaired by Pascale-Marie Deschamps and dedicated to “Translating The Waste Land,” with four translators: Carmen Gallo (Italy), Norbert Hummelt (Germany), Benoît Tadié (France), and Andreu Jaume (Spain). Having explained why they felt the necessity to retranslate Eliot’s masterpiece, they each gave a masterclass on the main difficulties they encountered. The round-table ended with their reading the translation of an excerpt of the poem. They were joined on stage by Dean Slavić and César E. Jumpa Sánchez, who read from their own translations into Croatian and Spanish. Magdalena Heydel and Ruth Alison Clemens joined them and respectively read from Czesaw Miłosz’s into Polish and from a Dutch translation.

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Lise Chenal, « T.S. Eliot in Translations: Exploring T.S. Eliot’s Afterlives »Transatlantica [En ligne], 2 | 2022, mis en ligne le 05 décembre 2022, consulté le 02 février 2023. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/19808 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/transatlantica.19808

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Lise Chenal

Université Paris Cité, LARCA

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