Mad translation in Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers and Douglas glover's Elle.
This essay discusses Leonard Cohen's Beautiful Losers and Douglas Glover's Elle, two postmodern Canadian novels whose subversions and parodies of conventional realism, still the dominant mode of historical fiction in Canada and elsewhere, are intimately connected with their exploration of the foundations and limits of modern historical consciousness. More specifically, my argument arises out of what I perceive to be some crucial similarities between the two texts. Both address the early stages of the European colonization of North America and the concomitant mutual exposure to the other of radically alien cosmologies: one oral, polytheistic, and tribal; the other literate, monotheistic, and nationalist. Both feature protagonists whose attempts to understand this otherness in its own terms--or to inhabit the reality of the other--leads to a radical destabilization of personal and cultural identity, resulting in a state akin to divine madness, an ecstatic breakthrough that is nevertheless profoundly isolating and destructive for the individual subject.
Crucially, both novels approach this paradox of breakdown and breakthrough in terms of translation, which functions as a master trope for any manner of inter-experiential relations that have a transformative effect on the subject and his or her way of being-in-the-world. Indeed, it is precisely at the point where translation in the ordinary sense, derived from the Latin "to carry across" meets translation in the more archaic and specialized usages of both "transport" (as in enraptured flight) and "metamorphosis" (as in transmogrification) that these novels situate themselves, featuring, as they do, characters who engage in acts of linguistic translation, get carried away, and undergo extreme transformations as a consequence. (1) In the pyrotechnical conclusion to Beautiful Losers, the folklorist narrator of the novel's first section and F., the signatory of the novel's epistolary second section, meld and famously turn into a movie of Ray Charles projected against the Montreal skyline. In Elle, the eponymous heroine, based on the historical personage of Marguerite de Roberval, who was abandoned on an island in the Gulf of St Lawrence by her punitive uncle, "the General," le Sieur de Roberval for acts of insubordination and sexual depravity, absorbs and is absorbed by the shamanistic rituals of her Aboriginal hosts and finds that she has turned into a bear.
My goal, first, is to try to make sense of the apparent connection between magic, madness, otherness, and translation posited by these novels. Secondly, I want to consider how translation, in turn, operates as a trope in the novels' assault on the psycho-social logic of modernity, the emergence of which they locate historically in the period of colonial contact. To this end I have been greatly assisted by the writings of R. D. Laing, whom Glover has cited as an important influence (Notes Home 165-66; Dorsel 111; "Interview" np). Laing's work on schizophrenia in the 1960s led him to explore the social and familial contexts of mental illness, resulting in the development, in works like The Self and Others (1961) and The Politics of Experience (1967), of a constructivist theory of ideology as a shared "social phantasy" Laing is perhaps best known today as an early advocate of the anti-psychiatry movement. I am well aware that Laing's radical politics and unorthodox treatments of mental illness, including the experimental use of psychotropic drugs on both patient and doctor, have earned him his current reputation as a bit of a crackpot. While this has discouraged the use of his work in more serious academic contexts, he, nevertheless, was serious and was tirelessly committed to exploring the connections between madness and society, and without question his writings helped transform the popular imagination with respect to the meaningfulness and, indeed, oppositionality, of mad speech.
Fundamentally, for Laing, there is no reality as such but only constructions of reality, wholly dependent on history, language, culture, and the relations of power. "Our perception of reality" he writes, "is the perfectly achieved accomplishment of our civilization" (The Self and Others 44). As a consequence, there is no such thing either as madness, only unlawfulness--that is to say, invalid or invalidated modes of experience or what we might call illegitimate realities. Such logic would seem to anticipate the now popular theories of Jacques Ranciere, who writes in the "The Paradoxes of Political Art" that
There is no "real world" [...] The real always is a matter of construction, a matter of "fiction"[...]. What characterizes the mainstream fiction of the police order is that it passes itself off as the real, that it feigns to draw a clear-cut line between what belongs to the self-evidence of the real and what belongs to the field of appearances, representations, opinions and utopias. Consensus means precisely that the sensory is given as univocal. (148-49)
Laing, who like Ranciere stresses the affective and sensory connotations of "common sense," similarly argues that modern Western civilization's generalized intolerance of "different fundamental structures of experience"--whether these be of the psychotic or the native (he cites Franz Fanon as authority in relation to the latter)--shows that "we seem to need to share a communal meaning to human existence, to give with others a common sense to the world, to maintain a consensus" (65).
But as Laing increasingly came to view that consensus, the "normal" quotidian world, as desperately repressed and the individual person as "torn, body, mind and spirit, by inner contradictions, pulled in different directions [...] cut off from his own mind, cut off equally from his own body--a half-crazed creature in a mad world" (The Politics of Experience 47), his radical proposal was that schizophrenia could be regarded--at least in some instances--not as a delusional, unreal state, a failure to come to grips but, rather, as "a successful attempt not to adapt to pseudo-social realities" (The Politics of Experience 57). Translated into Ranciere's terms, schizophrenia constitutes a moment of "dissensus" in the otherwise smooth functioning of the social order, the manifestation of an alternative "sensorium" disruptive of the "univocality" of the "police order" Viewed in this light, madness represents a psychological breakthrough, of sorts, and an act, however desperate, of political defiance--provided there are those willing to read it as such. Thus even in his fairly conservative first book, The Divided Self (1960), Laing could write: "the cracked mind of a schizophrenic may let in light which does not enter the intact minds of many sane people whose minds are closed" (27).
Laing begins as a psychoanalyst but ends as a philosopher of experience much indebted to existentialism, particularly Sartre. His project of integrating Freudian metapsychology with existentialism constitutes perhaps the most consistent and significant attempt to date to understand madness from the inside, to focus not on psychotic behaviour but on psychotic experience. I want to stress experience, which for Laing signifies the particular texture--simultaneously psychic and somatic and governed by a set a rules or operative assumptions about the world--of a person's very existence. (2) I do so because it seems to me that experience marks translation's ultimate horizon. Barbara Godard speaks of "the intertextual richness and everyday resonance of 'natural' languages which in their unique ways of organizing and interpreting the world transmit cultural values in excess of the rational" (95). These are the "thick" relations of culture that bespeak unique "lifeworlds" (96). Similarly, George Steiner speaks of the "incommensurability of semantic context[s]" so that translation "engage[s], at the most immediate and charged level, the philosophic enquiry into consciousness and into the meaning of meaning" (x). In Laingian terms, particular acts of translation expose the essential untranslatability of experience, especially across different cultural paradigms. In view of the ultimate limits posed by particular structures of experience, the therapist must act as a translator who employs his imagination so as "to transpose himself into another strange and alien view of the world. In this act he draws on his own psychotic possibilities" (34). Only by such a "transposition]" can he sufficiently dislocate himself so as to "arrive at an understanding of the patient's existential position" (34).
What I mean to suggest by setting Laingian psychoanalysis alongside translation theory is this: the closer translation comes to managing a "transposition" between "lifeworlds," the more it resembles the act of going mad; the more we comprehend madness as the forfeiture of one "structure of reality" and the acquisition of another in its stead, the more we must rely on an idea of translation to fully appreciate the cognitive and somatic barriers placed between the psychotic and the dominant society. But because the "essence of politics resides in the modes of dissensual subjectivation that reveal a society in its difference to itself" (Ranciere, "Ten Theses on Politics" 42), an awareness of the structural homologies between translation and madness also allows us to understand both as equally capable of producing disruptive identities that expose the invisible and unspoken logic of modern society.
Failure as translation: Beautiful Losers
Recalling his "Anthem," that terrible song with the pretty good line, "There is a crack in everything. /That's how the light gets in" (Stranger Music 373), we can, perhaps, already detect the congruence between Cohen's thought and Laing's own. I do not know if we can attribute to Laing any sort of direct influence, although he and Cohen were contemporaries and both were associated with 1960s counterculture. (3) It ought be pointed out that the 1960s were, historically speaking, fixated on psychoanalysis and other psychological theories in a way that may be hard to appreciate today, and so this sort of thing was very much in the air when Cohen wrote Beautiful Losers in 1966. More to the point, though, is the following statement by Laing: "In our 'normal' alienation from being, the person who has a perilous awareness of the non-being of what we take to be being (the pseudowants, pseudo-values, pseudo-realities of the endemic delusions of what are taken to be life and death and so on) gives us in our present epoch the acts of creation that we despise and crave" (37). This is an apt description of Cohen and his "dissensual" novel, by turns reviled and lauded and still largely misunderstood to this day.
A place to begin, then, is with F., the novel's maniacal provocateur and lover, teacher, and tormentor of the novel's unnamed central narrator, (4) and his proclamation: "To discover the truth in anything that is alien [...] first dispense with the indispensible in your vision" (88). This statement is axiomatic for both Cohen and Glover's novels, which trace their characters' abandonment of one "fundamental structure of experience" for another and find themselves on the other side, through the looking glass, as it were. F. is an extremely limited character in many ways, arguably an evil character, but he has achieved what Laing calls that "perilous awareness of the non-being of what we take to be being":
I seemed to wake up in the middle of a car accident, limbs strewn everywhere, detached voices screaming for comfort, severed fingers pointing homeward, all the debris withering like sliced cheese out of Cellophane--all I had in the wrecked world was a needle and thread, so I got down on my knees, I pulled pieces out of the mess and I started to stitch them together.[...] All I heard was pain, all I saw was mutilation. My needle going madly, sometimes I found I'd run the thread right through my own flesh and I was joined to one of my grotesque creations--I'd rip us apart--and then I heard my own voice howling with the others, and I knew that I was also truly part of the disaster. (183)
I suspect that Laing would find in this passage a striking portrayal of the therapist's situation in his time. F. can quite easily be viewed as a figure of the therapist or analyst with I, the narrator, as his analysand. And like Laing himself, he finds that his highest calling may well be to assist his patient to achieve a fuller madness than his own, to break through the dominant social fantasy into other realms of experience. Hence his various encouragements, "My dear friend, go beyond my style" (158); "I wanted to be a magician.[...] [D]o not be a magician, be magic" (172); and his self-identification as Oscotarach, "the head piercer" of Mohawk lore who removes the brains of the dead before they can reach the place of the afterlife: "Ask yourself. Was I your Oscotarach? I pray that I was" (192).
F. therefore labours to drive poor I mad, through what I calls his "crazy education," goading him toward a state of transcendence or of ecstasy the possibility of which is socially repressed, unlawful, yet necessary. I himself is nothing if not a supreme figure of repression and violent introjection, symbolized by his dedication to the past and his chronic and painful constipation: "How can I begin anything new with all of yesterday in me?" (39); "I am the sealed, dead, impervious museum of my appetite" (41). His eventual incontinence, symbolic and literal, is the sign of a breakthrough concomitant with F's idea of futurity wherein "newness" and "difference" coincide: "I want two hundred million to know that everything can be different, any old different" (195). This political goal is coterminous with an aesthetic vision whereby the poet's "allegiance is to the notion that he is not bound to the world as given, that he can escape from the painful arrangement of things as they are" (57). The breakthrough, when it is achieved, is by definition beyond the limits of expression, but it is suggested via several paradoxes such as "see[ing] the acropolis like the Indians did who never even had one" (13).
Douglas Glover has written about this aspect of Beautiful Losers (and the fact that he wrote this essay while he was working on Elle is significant). For Glover, Beautiful Losers is a postmodern "anti-novel" that "dramatiz[es] the failure of the modern project, the faith or trust in progress, in the improvability of mankind by rational means" (131). Unable to express its goal in positive terms, however, it can only "attempt to demolish a structure (of meaning) from within" so as to point, by way of negation and contradiction, to that which lies outside its own systems of meaning: "the paradoxical and parodic nature of the discourse of Beautiful Losers is a result of the stress language undergoes when it tries to refer to something outside itself. It is akin to the religious paradoxes of other eras--the trinity, Jesus, a saint" (138). Compare this to Godard's claim that "[translation poetics, approaches] language(s) from the perspective of a relation with an outside, pos[ing] the question of (in)finitude of limits, those of the self, the other, the collectivity [...] of modernity even, and of knowledge" (98). It is precisely a relationship to the absolutely outside, the totally alien, with which Beautiful Losers is engaged via its interest in translation; at stake is a delineation of the constraints of modern consciousness itself. This outside is the historically remote, the culturally alien, the divine, the mad. It can only be accessed destructively, through rupture, a rip in the fabric of the social fantasy that underpins the subject's relation to both community and self. In this context, the true significance of the motif of ripping and tearing that runs through the novel begins to emerge, its most notable instance being when F., hoping to produce in the masturbating I a sublimely ero-thanatogenic climax, drives his speeding automobile into what appears to be a brick wall, but is only a scrim of painted silk: "Rrrrrriiiiippppp, went the wall" (97).
Later, on the verge of his breakdown--and his breakthrough--the narrator cries, "I want to be consumed by unreason. I want to be swept along [...]. Oh god, please terrify me" (47). There are echoes here of the Christian tradition of the via negativa, such as we see in John Donne's Holy Sonnets. (5) Indeed, prayer is everywhere in Beautiful Losers and is consistently aligned with translation. A deeply holy book, Beautiful Losers grapples with the mystical heart of religious experience, a struggle that involves an idea of translation in the dual sense of displacement and transcendence with which we began. Early in the novel, F. presses a book into the narrator's hands: "It's a prayer book. Your need is greater than mine" I retorts: "You filthy liar [...] It's an English-Greek phrase book, badly printed in Salonica," to which F. responds: "Prayer is translation. A man translates himself into a child asking for all there is in a language he has barely mastered. Study the book" (58). At the end of Book 1, having endured torments and humiliations too numerous to name here, the narrator turns, finally, to the phrase book: "I did not know, in my coldest terror, I did not know how much I needed. O God, I grow silent as I hear myself begin to pray" This is followed by a facsimile of one of the pages of the phrase book subtitled "At the Drug-Shop" (149).
[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
AT THE DRUG--SHOP Please, get this mebical prescription ready for me please, call after twenty minutes. It will be ready I shall be waiting. Never mind! How must I take this medicine? In the morning, at noon and in the evening before the meal after the meal this medicine is very dear I caught cold. Give me sommething for the cold something for the headache something for the throat something for my stomach my stomach aches me I have a wound on the foot please, nurse this wound how much does all cost? ten shillings. Thanks.
How are we to understand this apparent link between prayer and translation? On the one hand, following F., we can see that in prayer one speaks a foreign language of sorts, the use of which necessarily requires or entails the transformation of the self: one is translated into a "child" who eschews any notions of mastery, of certainty, and accepts his state of lack. One cannot pray with authority. Such a view is in keeping with the notion of a "beautiful loser," synonymous with the saint, personified in Cohen's novel by the self-abusive Catherine Tekakwitha whose own prayers are translated by F. and recorded in the text alongside the "originals": "--My Jesus, I have to take chances with you. I love you but I have offended you. I am here to fulfill your law. Let me, my God, take the burden of your anger" (208). Certainly, the novel, like the Catholic Church, places great value on Tekakwitha's abasement as the necessary precondition for her eventual ascension, which is why much of the novel takes place in a basement apartment (a/basement) before moving to a tree house in the final section. "She did not know why she prayed and fasted. These mortifications she performed in a poverty of spirit" (203). To that extent, prayer is like a translation insofar as its imperfection or inadequacy or "poverty" is apiece with a surrender to a higher power. Furthermore, given the novel's thorough-going interest in the promise of failure and weakness, we might also wish to stress the common association between translation and error. The phrase book is badly printed in Salonica and contains a number of mistakes, including the transposition of b and v so that in another section of the phrase book, "tobacconists" is spelled tavacconists" (145). This is no innocent error, it turns out. Not only does it slyly bring Hebrew (6) into play alongside Greek, ancient Greek, English, French, Latin, and several First Nations' languages--further underscoring Cohen's continuing interest in "comparing mythologies" (7)--it also sets up the most significant b/v switch whereby the Ray Charles epigraph "somebody said lift that bale" (np) is later re-echoed as "lift that veil" that I specifies as the root meaning of "apocalypse" (105). Thus do typos--mistakes, failures, inadequacies--open up a path to apocalyptic revelation.
But as the narrator suggests by enacting a series of English-Greek translations in lieu of a more traditional kind of prayer, the act of prayer is not simply a recognition or expression of a state of error or weakness but a sincere attempt to translate oneself, to connect with an outside we might as well call, as he does, God. To this end, translation can be understood as involving a kind of sacrifice. To return to Steiner, and to Godard's sense of "lifeworlds," which, indeed, has a certain Laingian resonance, we are encouraged to see in the act of translation a radically destabilizing heterotopic movement, the abandonment or sacrifice of one "head space" for another, the abandonment of one language understood as a mental and social security system for another: a "dispensing of the indispensible" in the name of the other. If translation is to be understood, as Cohen seems to intend, as a holy act, we are compelled to see in it the action of an abandonment, a letting go. Such is Tekakwitha's abandonment of her native belief for that of the colonizer, not because Christianity is superior or better but because it is alien (her hyperbolic inhabitation of its assumptions renders it mysterious, other, even to her Jesuit confessors). Similarly, her relinquishing of her mortal, physical being can be understood as a sacrifice enabling her transition to a more purely spiritual existence in the afterlife--a process that, in theological studies, is notably called "a translation"
Our constipated narrator, too, must learn to let go, to jettison his baggage and launch himself toward an uncertain future. As the text makes clear, this baggage is not only personal and psychological but cultural and historical. I must "forget" history, which F. likens to a drug or "sleepy tune" by whose pleasures we are enslaved:
The tune was called History and we loved it, Nazis, Jews, everybody.)...] History made us feel good so we played it over and over, deep into the night.).] History was our song, History chose to make us History. We gave ourselves to it, caressed by events. (170)
While F. will ultimately "let History back because) he] was lonely (171), I hurls it out of himself and he out of it, seeking, instead, "possibility" (226). Poised between the moment of his total disintegration and the beginning of his translation into a movie of Ray Charles, the "old man" of the final section "allowed the spectators a vision of All Chances at Once" (253): "At that point where he was most absent, that's when the gasps started, because the future streams through that point, going both ways" (253). Because the future--simultaneously apocalyptic and redemptive of the failures of the past (8) (hence it is going "both ways")--manifests itself precisely at the point where the ego, the individuality, the person is most diminished, Cohen reveals history and personhood to be mutually dependent systems geared toward the repression of possibility.
Laing is not unhelpful in this context. He writes: "The ego is an instrument for living in this world. If the 'ego' is broken up, or destroyed [...] then the person may be exposed to other worlds, 'real' in different ways from the more familiar territory of dreams, imagination, perception or phantasy" (115). "True sanity" he continues, "entails in one way or another the dissolution of the normal ego, that false self completely adjusted to our alienated social reality" (119). Thus, the "differen[ce]" demanded by F. and achieved by I can be measured, in part at least, by the extent to which I rids himself of his ego, that "instrument" contrived for the world he comes to disavow. In the interval between the abandonment of one system and the inevitable taking up of another is a vision of pure beauty and freedom: it is in the white space between the Greek and the English in the phrase book where the novel locates its utopian desire, the space not of destination but intention, the will to "carry over" into difference as such.
And yet, the dominant view of translation stresses neither error nor difference, but identity. Coming at this question from the other direction, we acknowledge that translation is customarily understood as the practice of establishing semantic equivalences between languages. This position too affords some purchase on the slippery link between translation and prayer. Implicit in this view is the possibility that all "sublunary" languages (to cite Donne again) are essentially equivalent and might equally (to cite F. again) "serve the Tongue." This is a model of "[translation as transmission, under the sign of Jeromian accuracy [...]--the perfect transfer of a stable meaning from one language to another" (Godard 87). In this view, which stands in opposition to Steiner's belief in the incommensurability of semantic contexts, the essence of meaning remains "the same" regardless of the language in which it is couched. Here, the materiality of language plays body to language's spirit, which remains intact even when that body is broken down and reconstituted in another shape with its own physical and sonic properties. Related thinking underpins the Catholic paradox of transubstantiation and provides one context for understanding Catherine's uncle's prayer, "I change, I am the same. / I change, I am the same. / I change, I am the same" (136-37).
More generally, the formula for this theory of translation, a=b ("I love you" equals "je t'aime"), provides a logic for several magical equivalences in the novel, so that, for instance, the narrator's wife Edith "is" Catherine Tekakwitha who "is" Isis. Or how I, "is," by the end of the novel, also F. According to no less an authority than Northrop Frye, the formula for metaphor, too, is "A=B" (Anatomy 123), and represents, in its highest form (anagogy), a "statement of hypothetic identity" (366). Indeed, Goddard reminds us that in the early modern period translation was a common rhetorical term for metaphor, the Greek metaphorein, which shares a similar etymological root, "to bear" or to carry over, and can mean both the rendering of a statement in another language or the understanding of one object in terms of another. (9) Such usage further contributes to a blurring of the boundary between translation, metaphor, and metamorphosis. (Hence, we have Bottom's transformation into an ass in A Midsummer Night's Dream, followed by Quince's exclamation "thou art translated" [3.1.105].)
Of course, such metaphorical transformations complicate identity as such; "I", the individual ego, no longer obtains in such a world, and so we arrive back where we began, with the idea of ego-loss and transcendence. But from the point of view of the individual subject, such transcendence, such loss, can feel a lot like madness or death. Whatever it is that happens to the narrator, it is hardly a benign event. And like a schizophrenic reordering of experience, neither can it be rationally explained nor even communicated in ordinary language. Unlike F., who can only collect experiences and whose reality consequently remains governed by the twin logic of consumerism and sexual predation, (10) the narrator, I, actually adopts or enters into a different "structure of experience" when he fulfills F.'s ambition and becomes "magic." As an experience, becoming magic cannot be shared, its "inside" cannot be represented; we are not privy to its particular texture, but only its silhouette in the shape of outward behaviour. This helps explain the sudden shift in the novel's final section from the first to the third person that has perplexed many readers--it keeps us out--but it also helps to underscore the pacific desire of most to stay outside alternative realities, to refuse the burden and responsibility of the analyst or the translator whose foray into other "lifeworlds" obliges him to accept the merely consensual basis of this one. So it is that, confronted with the sight of a man disintegrating before their very eyes and reassembling himself into a movie of Ray Charles who "la[ys] out his piano keys across a shelf of the sky," all the assembled can say is "Just sit back and enjoy it, I guess" and "Thank god it's only a movie" (254).
Translation as failure: Elle
To turn now to Elle, arguably one of the most important historical novels published in Canada in the last decade or so, largely because it is not only incidentally concerned with history but takes historical process as its primary theme. In various discussions of his influences, Glover has explicitly mentioned Beautiful Losers alongside the work of R. D. Laing (Dorsel 121, "Interview" np) and so the preceding discussion of Beautiful Losers will have laid out many of the operating assumptions of Elle as well. Similar to Beautiful Losers, the novel describes a breakdown in the normal operating assumptions of the world of the main character, resulting in a situation where the line between reality and illusion, sanity and madness is redrawn: "This is the story of a girl who went to Canada, gave birth to a fish, turned into a bear, and fell in love with a famous author (F.) Or did she just go mad? In either case, from my point of view (the inside), they look the same" (131).
Like Beautiful Losers, the novel is very much taken up with the question of translation, which emerges as the dominant metaphor for thinking about cultural difference. Elle's preceding comment ("from my point of view [the inside]") indicates that Glover likewise approaches translation from within the context of experience. Like Laing and Cohen, he accepts that the experience of another is fundamentally inaccessible, and, in the context of historical narrative, unrecoverable. In "Before/After History and the Novel," Glover writes: "We can write things down, record ritual, folklore and epic, and read about them later, but we cannot ever recall how it felt to be a druid" (191, italics added). Given the ephemerality and cultural specificity of experience (the "how it felt" of historical existence), the consciousness of the central character was bound to be anachronistic in any case, but Glover foregrounds what Fredric Jameson calls "the essential mystery of the cultural past" (The Political Unconscious 19) by way of a wilfully and wildly contemporary central narrative consciousness, but one embedded in an otherwise credible historical context. Elle, as droll an ironist as one is likely to find in a Canadian novel, has the sensibilities and prejudices of a third-wave feminist with an intuitive understanding of poststructuralist and postcolonial theory. Recalling Georg Lukacs's fears that the historical novel would be used to work out contemporary political concerns by way of "topical" rather than "typical" events and characters (The Historical Novel 19-63), we should stress that, while Elle is certainly not typical, her story is resolutely focused on an understanding of the historical forces that shaped the modern world at a key juncture in the globalization of culture and the expansion of world capital.
As in Beautiful Losers, then, first contact and colonial settlement delimit a context in which the need for translation is foregrounded, while underscoring the almost insurmountable barriers to genuine intercultural exchange and understanding: "Founding a colony in the New World is like the act of love. You make camp in the heart of the other. Nothing is the way you expected it. You have to learn to talk another language. Translation fails" (108). The essential untranslatability of "Canada" and all it represents is a recurring theme: Elle finds herself "At the threshold of another world, where strangeness and confusion rule where all words are untranslatable" (130). But if translation fails, it has less to do with linguistic competence than with those more basic underlying structures of experience that determine and govern not only speech but consciousness itself. As Elle states, "Since coming to Canada, all my conversations have been conducted anxiously in contending grammars, each describing a different world" (152). Her insight, posed in the form of a question, recalls Laing's own view on the legitimacy and "reality" of alternative (and subaltern) structures of experience: "What if all grammars are correct?" (153). Needless to say, the colonial project with which she is reluctantly complicit is predicated on the suppression of precisely this possibility. Thus, to the newly installed intendant of New France, Roberval, intent as he is on imposing his grammar on the New World, the possible egality of competing world views is a "hair raising" notion that never occurs to him "except in nightmares" (153).
Elle, then, is the story of an encounter between fundamentally untranslatable, that is to say mutually alien, structures of experience in a situation that nevertheless demands their translation. On the one hand, this space of contradiction and uncertainty invites abuse and misdirection at the level of communication: "And I think how ripe the world of translation is for lying, betrayal, misrepresentation and fraud. It is always thus when one encounters another--child, father, friend, enemy, savage, astral being" (78). On the other hand, the failure to achieve sincere discourse at this primary level of translation makes evident the chasm between what Elle calls "worlds" and what Ranciere would call "sensoria," that is to say, experiential spaces determined by a given "distribution of the sensible" ("Ten Theses" 36). (11) To bridge this chasm, to "cross over" into that other sensorium demands therefore a translation of a different order, a movement away from and into something other: "There has been a definite drift towards insanity or mystical experience, I [am] not sure which" (85); "I seem to be drifting farther and farther from the world I used to know, farther from the recognizably human and closer to difference, divinity, and madness" (144). Thus, Elle, like the narrator of Beautiful Losers, experiences a radical form of displacement, we might even say exile, as she eventually finds herself in another realm, one for which no equivalent exists and no language but its own can represent: "Canada is beginning to look like a sign that is just a sign of itself" (134).
Elle's transposition or "drift" into this realm of "difference, divinity, and madness" both results in and demands the renunciation of her world's "grammar." Abandonment and loss are therefore central themes of the novel and preconditions, as they were in Beautiful Losers, for a radical reordering of the subject's experiential base. The most harrowing and beautiful section of the novel concerns Elle's labour. Alone in a makeshift hut, having through death or flight lost her lover Richard, her nurse Bastienne, and her Innu companion Itslk, (12) Elle gives birth, traumatically, to a child she has been carrying since her exile on the island. It is deformed, resembling a fish, and shortly thereafter expires in his mother's arms, but not before she has an opportunity to fall deeply, tenderly, in love with him.
My impulse is to drop it and scramble away, but then something warm washes through me like a tide of blood, bringing a sensation of peace. I think, I give up. Which is strange. I don't know what I am giving up. And then I think, yes, I am giving up all my vanities, all my desires, designs and hopes, along with the claims of family, race, and religion. [...] In my heart now, there is room for pity for the little fish-person, who clearly will not survive, who will shortly gasp his last upon my breast. Pity and love. (102)
Shorn of every social acquisition, Elle completes at this moment a process that had begun soon after her arrival on the island, once she found that she was "no longer beautiful, or French, or related to anyone, or learned" (45). Like I, Elle (L?) must forget (her) history in the name of the future: "What if I forget everything? Then I will be made anew" (131).
What remains when everything else is taken away or forgotten, Glover optimistically suggests, is "love," not a Platonic disposition but a sensuality closely tied to the body's corporality, to its blood, its warmth, its sheltering embrace. The embrace, like the "pity and love" it literally embodies, is resolutely social, a being-for-others predicated on a kind of laying bare of the essential self. In Cohen's lexicon, Elle is finally "naked," a concept that finds its echo in a striking passage from Laing's The Politics of Experience:
We are separated from and related to one another physically. Persons as embodied beings relate to each other through the medium of space. And we are separated and joined by our different perspectives, educations, backgrounds, organizations, group loyalties, affiliations, ideologies, socio-economic class interests, temperaments. These social "things" that unite us are by the same token so many things, so many social figments that come between us. But if we could strip away all the exigencies and contingences, and reveal to each other our naked presence? If you take away everything [...]--if we could meet, if there were such a happening, a happy coincidence of human beings, what would now separate us? (33)
Laing leaves the question for the most part unanswered, for it was for him nearly impossible to imagine such a sincere "meeting" in practical terms, although it remained the fundamental goal of his therapeutic practice and of his social criticism.
It would be a mistake, then, to see Elle's change in personal terms only, or to overlook its salvational character: "We cannot be saved, I think, unless we are willing to be changed" (55). Unlike Richard, her aristocratic lover, who clings stubbornly to the paradigms of his Old World French culture, quite literally attempting to inscribe its logic on Canada in the form of a tennis court on the island's beach (only to see it daily swept away by the tide), and like the General, who savagely imposes his French protestant norms on and through his colonial outpost in the New World and produces only "a groaning wretched copy of what he left behind" (132), Elle relinquishes these now preposterous "social figments" and achieves a measure of indigenization that ensures her survival. (13)
Indeed, it is shortly after the birth and death of the child whom she names Emmanuel (literally, "God is with us" but more broadly "saviour" by way of its association with Christ) that Elle encounters the old "bear woman," a Montagnais shaman who more fully incorporates Elle into the logic of a different cultural system whose particular "distribution of the sensible" allows for, among other things, the real transformation of people into animals. Her translation into this alternative sensorium is symbolized by her physical displacement, as she moves for the first time from her island "fiefdom" to the Canadian mainland, a transition that is literally enabled by her encounter with the shaman who plucks her from a watery hole in the ice bridge that temporarily connects the two land masses. In moving from The Island of Demons to the mainland, Elle leaves behind her the ragged remains of a literate world and moves to a predominantly oral one--a passage that is graphically anticipated by way of the recurrent eating of books, boiled and consumed on the island in lieu of more nourishing sustenance. In the bear woman's company, Elle undergoes a series of rituals: she is chanted over, various foreign objects are removed from her body, she is subjected to a sweat-lodge purification ceremony. Consequently, she enters a world of translation and metamorphosis, where reality takes on the structure of dreams and madness, states dominated by the logic of metaphorical substitution. "My dreams are incontinent," says Elle (a pregnant word if you have read Beautiful Losers), "I do not know where the dream begins or ends" (128). In her "dream" Elle "grow[s] a snout, huge curved claws and extra teats, coarse hair covers [her] body, and [she] shamble[s] alone through trackless forests, along ancient rivers, ravenous, immensely strong, dim-eyed. (It could be worse, [she] think[s]. I might have been transformed into a slug or a mosquito)" (127).
When the bear woman dies, Elle finds that she has taken her place. The native tribe that has gathered by the shore to await an expected British ship place propitiatory offerings of salmon by the entrance to her tent. She offends them by "turning into a bear before their eyes" (143), but they tell her that if she stops turning into a bear they will let her accompany them to the winter hunting grounds. Instead, however, Elle is "rescued" by the English ship and returned to the Old World, where she eventually pens the memoir we are reading. A retrospective narrative written in the first person, Elle attempts what Beautiful Losers does not by describing the transition from one world to the other from the inside, albeit an inside that has become remote and distanced through time and through the narrator's partial reabsorption into the structures of experience that govern sixteenth century cosmopolitan France: "At this juncture: I am not myself, but who am I? Even after the passage of years I cannot write about this experience with my usual acerbic wit, the rhetorical device by which I keep my distance from myself" (131). "Did I really turn into a bear, or was I but captive of a system of belief into which I had wandered all unknowing?" (147).
Elle's confused testimony points out one other important difference between the novels: clearly, for the narrator of Beautiful Losers, his translation is a unidirectional process; there is no going back, and it is inherent in the novel's logic that no denouement is imaginable for I and/or F. Elle, on the other hand, goes in and back out of her transformed state, hence the palindrome "Elle" Her struggle to explain that other "place" which is both Canada and the consciousness she had in Canada is therefore akin the anyone's struggle to explain one "modality of experience" (Laing, The Politics of Experience 31) while situated in another: the re-equilibrated psychotic describing his madness or the awake person describing a dream. Her confusion is compounded when she shortly discovers that her ability to turn into a bear has not entirely left her, even in France.
Confusion: where Cohen will emphasize the transcendent possibilities of translation understood as an abandonment of one's language and one's accustomed "relations of ruling" (Goddard 89) in the name of identification with some absolute outside (translation as anagogic metaphor), Glover will problematize such transcendence, presenting translation as inevitably ironic, paradoxical, misplaced (translation as metaphor still, but verging on catachresis, disjuncture): "I have become a metaphor or a joke," Elle opines, "a piece of language sliding from one state into another [...]. What I have become is more like a garbled translation than a self. It is an ironic position, being neither one thing nor the other" (137, 147). Caught between structures of experience (the oral and the written, the indigenous and the European), caught also between the past and the future, Elle herself may be read as an embodiment of the tensions and contradictions that will come to define a modernity that would strive to erase or suppress them and a postmodernity that can no longer afford to do so.
Elle's F. is Francois Rabelais, who becomes Elle's lover and co-conspirator upon her return to France. Not surprisingly, the novel is somewhat Rabelaisian, but it would be more accurate to describe it as Bakhtinian, Mikhail Bakhtin's Rabelais and His World and The Dialogic Imagination largely having become the lens through which Rabelais is predominantly understood today. And it is Bakhtin who writes, with respect for the need for translation wrought by modern exploration and territorial acquisition: "Two myths perish simultaneously: the myth of a language that presumes to be the only language and the myth of a language that presumes to be completely unified" (cited in Godard 91). As avatars, respectively, of the forces and events that would "dialogize" their hitherto autotelic and unitary worlds, Elle and the bear woman share a uniquely modern fate. Elle remarks:
She [the bear woman] would no longer fit into the world without an explanation, everything would have to be translated just as in my Old World the disruptions which are only beginning will end by sweeping all the ancient hierarchies, courtesies and protocols away. For it seems to me that their world is as much a disproof of ours as ours is of theirs. (142)
Insofar as it foregrounds difference, translation must always operate under the sign of doubt. Like the modern novel itself, which arises historically within the same heteroglossic world, translation is therefore inseparable from the historical transformations wrought by the printing press and colonialism and might serve as an index of that radical reordering of the distribution of the sensible that took place in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and which remains in place, for the most part, to this day.
As such, translation functions as the novel's primary vehicle for addressing the modern condition itself. "This is the point in history," writes Elle, "where we are transformed. Before we had a word and an explanation for everything; henceforth, we shall only discover the necessity of larger and larger explanations, which will always fall short. What we know will become just another anxious symbol, a code, for what we do not know" (98). In this instance, to "fall short" defines both translation and the condition of modernity, which is characterized above all by a feeling of loss and inauthenticity. Having befriended Comes Winter, an Aboriginal girl brought to France by Cartier following his second voyage (and whose disease-ravaged body self-consciously recalls Cohen's depictions of Catherine Tekakwitha), Elle claims to be as "infected by savagery" as the other is "infected by Christianity" (183). Together, they "embark upon a mysterious project, something between a game and a prayer. [...] In a corner of forest attached to M. Cartier's estate at Limoilou, the savage girl Comes Winter and I begin to build a facsimile of a Canadian encampment" (182). Their attempt to recreate an authentic home for themselves is doomed to failure, however: "Things are not right, not right, and this lonely encampment seems like a poor translation of some other more meaningful place" (190). Although Elle had experienced a more authentic--that is to say, a less willed and imitative--kind of translation via her initiation into the Aboriginal practices and beliefs of her Canadian companions, where she "was, briefly, next thing to god" (195), her prayerful attempt to recreate those conditions "falls short" insofar as it is a self-conscious and belated--and therefore inauthentic--counterfeit of that other world. The "poor translation" of the camp is therefore structurally analogous to the disjuncture or non-coincidence existing between Elle's past and her present as well as the gap between her own interpretation of her experience and that of her countrymen who perceive her to be "a liar, a madwoman, and worst of all, a bore" (195).
However, the poverty of the simulacrum is not limited to the space of Elle's Limoilou hut; it comprehends the whole of the Old World which is just beginning to realize the gap that New World encounter has opened in its being. Translation here clearly begins to take on the meaning of "reproduction" or "copy," a sense that removes it from the domain of metaphor and places it more squarely in the camp of irony and parody, a figure and a form of both doubling and distance from a prior (and prioritized) source. Hence the common terminology of both "source text" and "original" for the basis of a translation and the spectre of inauthenticity or duplicity (from the French for "being double") that very often haunts the so-called "target text." Irony likewise embodies a concept of "duplication" (212), argues Paul de Man, that "divides the flow of temporal existence into a past that is pure mystification and a future that remains harassed forever by a relapse within the inauthentic. It can know this inauthenticity, but it can never overcome it" (222). Irony, for de Man, figures a Fall, a lapse from the totality and identity of metaphor. We might propose, then, that Glover, by staging the lapse of translation-as-metaphor (that is, as identity and equivalence) into translation-as-irony (that is, doubleness and non-identity), provides a rhetoric (or grammar) for the fall into modern historical consciousness itself.
Elle therefore presides over the birth of what Friedrich Schiller calls "the sentimental" a modern consciousness defined by a melancholy awareness of one's belated, historical condition and separation from a mythical origin. Elle herself suggests as much in her analysis of "The Three Ages of Man":
In ancient times, we saw ourselves engaged in a timeless struggle--or dance--with the gods, in which men and gods met and contended, and men died heroes and women slept with immortals in the shape of farm animals. Currently at the beginning of the age of literature, we see ourselves as actors strutting upon a stage or as characters in a book. We are still heroic, which makes us wistful. The gods have retreated--I don't know where and it is no longer appropriate to have sex with animals. In the future, and this I must have dreamed, the stage will shrink to a prison, we will see ourselves as inmates separated from everyone else by bars, and heroism and love will be impossible. (55)
Elle's existential homelessness, her ironic condition, portends the historical trajectory whose end-game of alienation and paralysis in our own time is the focus of Beautiful Losers, which sought to transcend it, symbolically at least, by way of a magical translation into the future. If, as Laing states, the modern condition is predicated on an "abdication of ecstasy" (The Divided Self 12), Cohen proposes a return to ecstatic experience as a way out of the modern prison. Elle, too, experiences an ecstatic transformation (loss) of self, but it is only a temporary foray into a structure of experience that is already imperiled, the unity of which is already compromised by her very presence, and whose eventual obliteration as a viable experiential possibility is the triumph of modern history. Unlike Beautiful Losers, translation in Elle does not, finally, escape history but materializes it as force acting upon the present. Its characters do not translate themselves out of history or transform themselves into saints or myths unburdened by historical constraint. Elle bears history's mark, experientially, in the form of a split consciousness, an alienation from both self and other: "you find yourself frozen on the periphery, the place between places, in state of being neither one thing nor the other" (i67)- (14)
If Elle's history bespeaks the emergence of the "dialogic imagination," and its effect on Western consciousness, Itslk's future comprehends far more devastating change:
Though he has saved me, he cannot save himself from the swirl of words, inventions, ideas and commerce that will one day overwhelm him. At some point, he will face a choice: die in the torrent clutching his beliefs like a twig in the storm, or persist in a wan state beside the raw, surging, careless proliferation of the new. [...] There will come a time when time itself refuses to turn back, when his magical powers will be insufficient to start the universe exactly as it was. (87)
It may be true that that "we cannot be saved unless we are willing to be changed," but if we are unwilling and change comes nevertheless? However traumatic Elle's personal experience might be, from a colonial perspective the shocks of history appear unevenly distributed. In addition to the technological superiority and bureaucratic efficiency that would prove insurmountable to so many New World populations, Elle includes among the "advantages" of her European compatriots their "ability to live and fight and destroy while remaining in doubt" (142).
Elle narrates the birth of a modern consciousness produced in the encounter with difference and a consequent loss of both unity and "unitarity" (what both Ranciere and Laing call "consensus"). But the "modern project," as Glover puts it in his essay on Cohen, is nothing if not the systematic obliteration of difference and the suppression of doubt, the production of "one world." Ironically, the homogenization of culture and the negation of other possible structures of experience on a world scale--in other words, globalization under the aegis of world capital--is concomitant with the end of history. But as Elle prognosticates, "the doubt will gradually eat away at us" (142). Postmodernism, in turn, might be understood as the attempt, by artistic and other means, to revive doubt and re-animate an historical dialectic that seems have to come to a halt. It is perhaps no accident that translation has emerged in the context of postmodernism as a dominant critical trope and site for literary creation, insofar as it unavoidably puts totality and coherence in question. Whereas Beautiful Losers proposes we forget history in the name of possibility, Elle will ask us to remember doubt in the name of a possibility now seemingly lost to history; ultimately, though, an attention to translation in each novel serves the identical purpose of foregrounding the political value of "dissensual" experience and the importance of knowing "that everything can be different, any old different" (Cohen, Beautiful Losers 195).
Benjamin, Walter. "Theses on the Philosophy of History" Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken, 1962. 253-64.
Cohen, Leonard. "Anthem" Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1993. 373.
--. Beautiful Losers. 1966. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2003.
de Man, Paul. "The Rhetoric of Temporality." Blindness and Insight. 2nd ed. Minneapolis: University Minnesota Press, 1983.
Donne, John. "Holy Sonnet xiv" Holy Sonnets. Guttenberg e-book. http:// ebooks.gutenberg.us/DjVu_Collection/DjEDs/DONNE/soNNETs/Download.pdf (6.).
Dorsel, Vivian P. "A Conversation with Douglas Glover" Upstreet 8 (2012).
Frye, Northop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton: Princeton up, 1957.
Glover, Douglas. "Before/After History and the Novel" Attack of the Copula Spiders. Windsor: Biblioasis, 2012. 179-96.
--. Elle: a Novel. Fredericton: Goose Lane, 2003.
--. "Interview" Books and Writing, ABC Radio National. 24 April 2004. Program transcript. www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandwriting/douglas-glover/3630344.
--. Notes Home from a Prodigal Son. Ottawa: Oberon, 1999.
Goddard, Barbara. "Translation Poetics, From Modernity to Post-modernity." Translation Translation. Ed. Susan Petrilli. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003. 88-99.
Goldie, Terry. Fear and Temptation: The Image of the Indigene in Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand Literatures. Kingston: McGill-Queen's up, 1989.
Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1981.
Laing, R. D. The Divided Self. 1960. London: Penguin, 2010.
--. The Politics of Experience and the Bird of Paradise. London: Penguin, 1967.
--. Self and Others. 1961. London: Penguin, 1969.
Lukacs, Georg. The Historical Novel. Trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell. 1962. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983.
Ranciere, Jacques. "The Paradoxes of a Political Art." Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. Ed. and trans. Steven Corcoran. London: Continuum, 2010. 134-51.
--. "Ten Theses on Politics" Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics. Ed. and trans. Steven Corcoran. London: Continuum, 2010. 27-44.
Steiner, George. After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford up, 1998.
Stone, Bruce. "A Writer's Guide to Douglas Glover's Fiction." The Art of Desire: The Fiction of Douglas Glover. Ed. Bruce Stone. Ottawa: Oberon, 2004. 11-67.
Robert David Stacey
University of Ottawa
(1) The OED provides fourteen distinct usages of the term, most of which share the basic idea expressed in def. 11a of movement across states or transferences between persons and/or objects, that is, "removal or conveyance from one person, place, or condition to another" But we note also some significant variants, as in def. 113a which defines translation as "Transformation, alteration, change," in common use from the fourteenth century to the seventeenth, as well as the term's specialized use in Early Modern rhetoric as a term synonymous with metaphor (def. 114).
(2) Based on his The Politics of Experience, we can isolate two principles that define experience in Laing's thought. First, experience is evidential, yet only indirectly accessible to the other: "I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men" Yet, despite its "invisibility," experience is not private: "I do not experience your experience. But I experience you as experiencing. I experience myself as experienced by you. And I experience you as experiencing yourself as experienced by me. And so on" (16). Experience, therefore, should not be understood as merely subjective or as the property of an individual. Thus, Laing's second argument concerns the location or site of experience: "[E]xperience is not 'subjective' rather than 'objective,' not 'inner' rather than 'outer' not 'process' rather than 'praxis, not 'input' rather than 'output,' not 'psychic' rather than 'somatic,' not some doubtful data dredged up from introspection rather than extrospection. Least of all is experience 'intra-psychic process'" (17). The upshot of this repositioning of experience as in-the-world rather than in-your-head is a radical politicizing of experience: "My experience and my action occur in a social field of reciprocal influence and interaction" (21).
(3) This is neither here nor there, perhaps, but they also had a common friend, the novelist and poet Axel Jensen, who stole Cohen's girlfriend in Greece, causing a split with his wife Marianne, who then famously became involved with Cohen. Laing subsequently treated Jensen for a depression occasioned by, among other things, the loss of Marianne after which Jensen became a vocal proponent of Laingian philosophy and a co-collaborator on a number of creative and intellectual projects.
(4) It has become customary to refer to this character as "I," and I maintain that convention in the rest of this article.
(5) "Holy Sonnet xiv" will serve as an example:
Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee, and bend Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new [...] for I Except you enthrall mee, never shall be free, Nor ever chaste, except you ravish mee. (6)
(6) In the Hebrew alphabet, bet and vet are effectively the same letter with different pronunciations; the latter is sometimes represented with the bet's dot or dagesh absent, but in everyday written Hebrew the dagesh is not used.
(7) Cohen's first book was entitled Let Us Compare Mythologies (1954).
(8) F. writes: "for we do not wish to destroy the past and its baggy failures, we only wish the miracles to demonstrate that the past was joyously prophetic" (226). I think this is what Walter Benjamin has in mind when he writes in the second of his "Theses on the Philosophy of History" that "the past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption" (254).
(9) See also note 1.
(10) The commodification of experience is made explicit in the novel's Argentina episode, where F. and Edith have gone in the pursuit of the extremes of experience: it is here that Edith masturbates to F.'s reading of the accounts of Brebeuf and Lalement's torture at the hands of the Iroquois, where both subject themselves to the degradations of a self-directed Danish vibrator, and where, most tellingly, they purchase a bar of human soap from Hitler with whom they bathe and who later makes them "kiss the whip" (190). Thus do Edith and F. merely fetishize history and technology, unlike I who transcends both.
(11) Ranciere: "A partition of the sensible refers to the manner in which a relation between a shared common (un commun partage) and the distribution of exclusive parts is determined in sensory experience" ("Ten Theses on Politics" 36, italics added).
(12) I should point out that there is a quasi-repressed sub-narrative in play that suggests that Elle has actually eaten all these people. In his "A Writer's Guide to Douglas Glover's Fiction," Bruce Stone argues that Elle's "subjective meltdown" produces a pattern of "imagistic slippage" at the level of her narration whereby human bodies are recurrently treated as those of animals: "it becomes clear that the narrator has developed a kind of culturally loaded psychosis or epistemological blindness--her stressed apprehension substituting animal forms for human bodies--that allows her to cannibalize the corpses of her companions" (60). While the notion of "epistemological blindness" is entirely apropos of our discussion here insofar as it speaks to the radical reordering of Elle's "lifeworld" and the metaphorical substitutions and transformations impelled by such change, Stone's analysis appears to present cannibalism as the latent "truth" of the text rather than as a sub-textual option or supplement.
(13) It is difficult to speak of "indigenization" in Canadian writing without recalling Terry Goldie's seminal work on the subject. In Fear and Temptation: The Image of The Indigene in Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand Literatures, Goldie writes that the presence of Aboriginal people in settler colonies such as Canada and Australia creates anxieties for the non-Aboriginal settler insofar as Aboriginal people stand as reminders of his/her own interloper status, thereby causing the settler (and later generations) to experience a "separation of belonging" from his/her place. Goldie writes: "Canadians have, and long have had, a clear agenda to erase this separation of belonging" (12). There are only two possible responses to this situation: "The white culture can attempt to incorporate the Other [... or] the white culture may reject the indigene" (12-13). While the General certainly represents the latter option, to read Elle as representing the former seems to me uncharitable. On the whole, the novel seems rather more invested in ironizing the binaristic thinking described by Goldie.
(14) It may not be irrelevant to the foregoing discussion that de Man sees in irony the intrasubjective event of a splitting of a single consciousness into observer and observed. Irony therefore designates a self-consciousness of an extreme variety: "absolute irony is a consciousness of madness, itself the end of all consciousness; it is a consciousness of a non-consciousness, a reflection from the inside of madness itself" (216). Elle's recurrent experience of herself as simultaneously subject and object is not only the effect of being the written subject of her own written testimony but of the madness of her translation and its ironic after-effects.
Robert David Stacey is Associate Professor of Canadian Literature at the University of Ottawa. He is the editor of re: Reading The Postmodern: Canadian Literature and Criticism After Modernism (University of Ottawa Press 2010) and author of numerous essays on modern and contemporary Canadian writing. His current research project is entitled Worker's Playground: Labour and the Ludic in Twentieth-Century Canadian Poetry.
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|Author:||Stacey, Robert David|
|Publication:||English Studies in Canada|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2014|
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