Meyer on Stephens, ed. (2017)


Stephens, Sonya, editor. Translation and the Arts in Modern France. Indiana UP, 2017, pp. 272, ISBN 978-0-253-02614-9

E. Nicole Meyer, Augusta University

In this volume honoring Rosemary Lloyd’s critical legacy, former students and colleagues address theoretical approaches of interest to her. Stephens introduces the notions of intermedial art and creativity as well as the fascinating dance of translation and transposition through different lenses, contexts, and media. In effect, the volume convincingly makes the case for Paris and the nineteenth century (from the 1830s onward) as the place and time in which what Stephens labels an “interart aesthetic” or intermediality developed. The volume transposes translation studies with the intermedial in fascinating ways, revealing the roles of the “interlingual, the intercultural, the intermedial, the intertextual, and, necessarily, the interdisciplinary” (4). Divided into four parts, “Cross-Cultural Translation,” “Cross-Textual Transpositions,” “Self-Translation,” and “Translation in Process and Practice,” each essay communicates artistic production, often defined in relation to the “other” “across time, space and disciplines” (15). 

The volume’s first essay, “Transposing Genre, Translating Culture” by Marshall C. Olds, opens part one of the volume with brio. Referring to Gabrielle de Paban’s novel Eulalie (1825), published as a response to Madame de Duras’s Ourika (1823), as well as other literary and critical works, Olds establishes the transposition of the sentimental novel with that of historical (or sometimes ahistorical) genres, creating a new form. His argument is well supported with excellent examples of how sentimental conventions are used in new ways. This reinvention, which reflects current cultural concerns, proves effective in promoting racial understanding and harmony. Heather Williams questions the notion of “national language” and authenticity through an analysis of the literatures and culture of 1830s Brittany. She considers how translation goes beyond translating from one language to another, and indeed that while the languages coexist, they do so in an imbalanced manner. Charles Baudelaire, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Robert Stoepel’s intersecting approaches to Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha provide fascinating material for L. Cassandra Hamrick’s essay. Her comparative analysis of related documents and manuscripts reveals interconnections between translated language, form, and music. She focuses on Baudelaire’s innovative interpretation of the original text(s), and how it displays his own “creative genius at work” (52). Emma Wilson’s “Migration and Nostalgia: Reflections from Contemporary Cinema,” focuses on nostalgia, travel, and desire for elsewhere, and discloses how distance can reveal the self in Julie Bertuccelli’s 2003 film Depuis qu’Otar est parti

In part two, “Cross-Textual Transpositions,” each essay explores the exchanges among writers and artists, and new expressions that result from these transpositions. Michael Tilby takes us on an enjoyable romp through Balzac’s mid-1830s Paris in his “Parisian Decors: Balzac, the City, and the Armchair Traveler.” Tilby argues that for Balzac the city becomes an imaginary “textual entity” at the same time that the author inscribes the reader of that fiction into his text. Moreover, Balzac’s reading of the city reveals the complexities of the act of reading and the inadequacies of any interpretative undertaking. In this section, each essay develops ways in which the interart aesthetic dominates nineteenth-century Paris. Barbara Wright’s “The Landscapes of Eugène Fromentin and Gustave Moreau” considers the artists’ shared friendship and aesthetics, and the ways in which they powerfully combine image with word. Wendelin Guentner explores Marie-Émilie Chartroule “Marc” de Montifaud’s contextualization and transposition of art criticism and art. Robert Lethbridge’s essay is a tour de force. After a brief but encompassing review of recent contemporary critics such as David Scott, Alexandra Wettlaufer, Peter Brooks, and Michael Fried, in relation to the transpositional interactions between nineteenth-century artists and writers, Lethbridge deftly argues that “Zola’s writing might be a ‘narrative response’ to Manet’s preoccupations” (such as mirrors and mirroring, and narrative within the paintings). The translation from painting to narrative (or the reverse) also bespeaks of the discursive capacities of both painting and Zola’s own writing. In addition, Lethbridge’s response to the oft questioned “chicken or the egg” dynamic between Manet’s Nana and that of Zola, the role of the latter’s critical writings as well as other nineteenth-century reworkings involving various media brings his essay to a compelling conclusion. In short, Zola’s transpositions “testify” to a “critical, imaginative, and creative reworking in which the original citation is merely a starting point” (144), which allows the viewer/reader “to see the original differently” (144). The following essay by Sonya Stephens queries interart, especially the role of sculpture, photography, illustrations, and poetry in Auguste Rodin’s “transpositional strategy” or “visual poetics” (156). 

“Translation of Self” summarizes the subject of the essays in the third section. First, Juliana Starr compares the behaviors of three provocative, sexualized women in staged adaptations of Théophile Gautier’s writing. Gautier’s empowering of these creative, daring women (including Colette) challenges contemporary conventions and posits revolutionary notions of gender identity. Second, Janet Beizer discusses the continuous interplay between fiction and auto/biography, between art and life in Colette’s La Naissance du jour. Interestingly, she begins with an anecdote indirectly related by Colette’s daughter who is absent from the text. In many ways, this essay is really about the art of reading of and by Colette as well as an eternal return to the tension between being a mother and giving birth to a text. 

The final section of the volume addresses the process and practice of translation. Mary Ann Caws relates the challenges of translating René Char’s poetry while being in contact with the author, the transpositions of voice, auto/biography and fidelity. Clive Scott also questions the process of translation, proposing it as a tabular process, and as “an ongoing meditation about writing the activity of another text” (229). Finally, Catherine Bernard analyzes modern re-appropriations of past works including still life, confirming the importance of renewed contemplation of the transposed aesthetic experience. Each of the volume’s essays reveal the complexities of translation and transposition across the arts, especially the rich interconnections in relation to creativity, interpretation across time and various media, and in so doing produce a worthy volume to add to any library.