What is it about?

Both the field of translation studies and the practice of literary translation are primarily concerned with cultural and linguistic particulars and quite rightly tend to view universals with suspicion, as the noxious tools of essentialism or colonialism. In its resolute eschewal of the particular, its search for subjects and sensations that could be fundamental to all human experiences, not only across cultures but across time, the poetry of Eugene Guillevic, seen here in relation to its various and varied translations and translators into English, offers an approach to a universalism that seems increasingly relevant in times of global climate change and pandemic.

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Why is it important?

Translation is a political act, and has typically -- for the past half century or so -- been analyzed within the context of conflicting cultural and linguistic tendencies, identity politics, rival nationalisms, and post-colonialism. At the same time, the current planetary situation also seems to require the kind of elemental vision that Guillevic's poetry, in its quest for the deep structures of humanity itself, proposes. And far from propounding some apolitical utopia, this poetry -- as Guillevic's own lifetime of commitment to the French resistance and other causes attests -- is deeply political.


Inspired by Monique Chefdor's study of the Guillevic through the lens of physics, this essay explores my relationship to three mentors, all translators -- Chefdor herself, Richard Sieburth, and Brian Nelson-- as a way of framing the quantum connections across space and time that Guillevic's work proposes, and that translation can enact.

Esther Allen
City University of New York System

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Crossbars of the Universe: Guillevic and the Physics of Translation, Australian Journal of French Studies, April 2020, Liverpool University Press,
DOI: 10.3828/ajfs.2020.06.
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