Welcome to Lux Lingua's blog! Come read about my thoughts on language, writing, literature, its translation and being an ABD PhD candidate in the English department of a huge French-language university situated in Montreal, Quebec, Canada's only French province.

Conversation with Mireille: Saturday Morning Giggles Over Writing Retreats

About a thousand years ago, back in high school, I had a plethora of real live friends and acquaintances. Unfortunately, the much older and wiser person that I am now (please insert giggle here) is left with very little time to dabble in the outwardly social. From this aforementioned "plethora" I have constituted a good solid base of Facebook friends. In comparison to some folks out there, the so-called solid base is microscopic. I don't collect them for show. I just do it so that I have something to do when stuck waiting somewhere and the only entertainment at my disposal is my handy dandy "smart phone."

There is one person's certain Facebook post that I look forward to every week. It acts as a friendly reminder to read a certain column in the National Post. I could very easily just go online and find this column myself, but the extremely lazy soul that I am prefers to rely on someone else's prompt and reliable postings rather than add to my own list of never-ending things to do. These posts usually turn up as I wait for Lili's Saturday morning Mandarin classes to end. Perfect timing.

But it isn't just a question of timing. This column is good. It also makes me feel good. It is vastly entertaining to see how someone's view of their universe can so easily find echo in mine, malgré nos différences évidentes. The reading is so entertaining that I always want to answer her, like in a conversation, only on "paper" (screen?)

This week's column hit so close to home that here I am, ready to take up the (one way) conversation… 


Your infamous rate of word production. I know a thing or two about this exact issue, and yes it includes children, fathers' country homes and food too. How totally odd the way you instantly locked into familiar territory for me. 

So, no, I don't write for a newspaper, nor have I written short stories. My scribblings are on a much smaller scale. Last year, I finished my MA thesis, an almost 100-page chunk of research in the realm of literature. Funny, because the subject of my thesis also hit close to home with another one of your posts. But that's another story.

I did come to the conclusion, as you did, that the kids are not really the issue so much as us wanting them to be. I'm beginning to wonder if procrastination isn't a Freudian "mom thing." 

Retreats, I know a thing or two about those and they also include my father the writer and his country home. Although he doesn't drive me completely crazy about food, he is rather set in his ideas as to what goes into the definition of "good for you" food. Some members of the family have sharply commented on this over the years -- My husband is almost afraid to drink his coffee. No, Dad, fresh ground pepper should NOT go into the freshly ground coffee… the ensuing cup does not make for a pleasurable experience. And as my younger sister has maintained since adolescence, chicken is not best boiled with a carrot. Then there is the story of when my father mistook Mom's vichyssoise for milk and poured it over his morning cereal. This event did not bode well with my mother after he threw it all down the sink thinking the milk had gone bad.

I could go on, I have a ton of these stories. Let's just say that my father has developed an approach to cooking that has had its hits and misses. Although I do have to say that the smoked salmon cured with maple syrup is a total hit with Lili and I.

My last writing retreat at my father's country home was, well, regulated by the "healthy" meals he would prepare for both of us -- no salt anywhere and olive oil everywhere. So, to answer your question, you're right, it's not just your father. But I'm not so convinced it's just your people either. Going to the village for the papers, and in his case usually bread also, rang oddly familiar when I read you this Saturday.

As for music, no. It's a totally different story. He does sometimes get all classical on me. But usually, it's NPR à tue-tête throughout out the house. But his tolerance for people's chatter has greatly diminished over the years. It's just the volume that freaks me out. I know he's not going deaf, so why? Again, must be Freudian.

Oh, and the McGill Law Journal Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, does it look like this? Yea, I have my own copy, from my days as a legal translator. The coincidences really are weird.

À samedi prochain.




Figuring out Gail Scott('s writing)

So, as was made abundantly clear in my last post, Gail Scott's writing is not for the faint of reading…and I am not of the faint of reading. So I went hunting around to figure out what I was not getting. What "secret club" did I have to join so that I may start to grasp what was going on.

The Obituary was my first Scott book. And my reading approach was just plain lazy. I expected the story line, the narrative, to grab me by the hand and walk me through the park of her novel. Ha! Was I ever wrong. Furthermore, instead of trying to step back and take a different approach, I spent most the reading trying desperately to find this cohesive narrative. So imagine just how stupid I felt nearing three quarts of the book and still not getting what was going on… As of today, the novel is stunted by a post-it bookmark at the three quarter point, waiting for me to smarten up. Which, I think has finally happened(!)

I landed on a fantastic conference presented by Gail Scott and entitled: "Le Sujet suturé: langues d'écritures, langues cachées, langues entendues". It was part of a larger umbrella event called LES LOYAUTÉS CONFLICTUELLES DE LA LITTÉRATURE QUÉBÉCOISE organized by the département de littérature comparée from the Université de Montréal, in collaboration with the CRILCQ, the département d'études anglaises and the département des littératures de langue française both also from the Université de Montréal.

Yes, the video is long at a little over 1 hour. But it is thoroughly worth watching completely. I did and now feel much less lost and contemplating restarting The Obituary to look for tid bits I know I overlooked the first time around.


Summer Reading

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I have spent the greater part of my summer reading. A luxury I haven't had in a very long time. Now of course, by the very nature of what I do, reading is a daily task (and sometimes quite the chore...like what I'm reading now: Lawrence Grossberg's philosophical analysis of communications and cultural studies -- which I am stubbornly going to get through before the end of August... grrr). The difference is that I wanted to read these novels strictly for the pleasure, no note taking, no fancy literary analysis. Just me and the printed word, and the potential it has to tickle my fancy. Here are the titles I have read so far:

Iced Under; Nadine Doolittle

Behind the Face of Winter; H. Nigel Thomas

Out of my Skin; Tessa McWatt

The Enemy Within; Nalini Warriar

Cockroach; Rawi Hage

The Obituary; Gail Scott

If I had to group them, Hage's Cockroach would be in the same category as McWatt's Out of my Skin and Thomas' Behind the Face of Winter would more easily be associated with Warriar's The Enemy Within and Doolittle's Iced Under. Scott's The Obituary stands alone for a few reasons, but mostly because of its incredibly experimental nature which renders the exercise of my somewhat detached summer reading into a more laborious effort. But before I go any further, a bit of background.

I can't claim to be the composer of this reading list. With the exception of Doolittle's Iced Under, the list was put together by my supervisor Lianne Moyes, and will constitute, along with other titles, the core of a class she will be teaching this fall on Anglo-Québécois literature. The course will (very-short-and-curt-description-that-does-not-do-it-justice coming up here) look at how these authors express cultural mixité in their writing.

I, however, will simply comment on my impression of these novels, a lighter sort of reviewing... the kind you can read with a morning coffee in hand and not sweat over during an evening graduate-level course.

For the most part, the voices of these novels are represented by immigrants (most living in the city of Montreal).The main character in Out of my Skin, Daphne Baird/Muriel Eyre, has recently escaped Toronto, where she was raised by her adoptive family, to come to Montreal;  but her background situates her somewhere in the Caribbean, just like the character Perdro Moore in Behind the Face of Winter. Sita, the main character of The Enemy Within, arrived in Quebec City as a young bride from the city of Aluvha, in Kerala, on the south-west coast of India. The main character in Cockroach -- who considers himself a cockroach in the true sense of the term, not the figurative one -- hails from the Middle East and his name is nowhere to be found. In the case of Iced Under, the main character is from Toronto and has moved to a small Quebec border town to escape a messy divorce. In The Obituary, the main character observes many different immigrants (and non-immigrants) in the neighbourhood of Mile End, but I am unsure how to classify her. 

The vast differences of origins and identity, as well as the actual stories themselves, make this round-up of novels look like more of a big hodge pogde of (almost) "migrant literature". But strangely, the writing in all these books give off a certain cohesiveness, one to which I alluded a couple paragraphs ago with different groupings based in part on the "voice" of the novel.

Group 1. This first grouping includes the novels with a surreal, mentally unstable quality in their characters. Reality is skewed by their vision of themselves and the outside world, like a filter through which experiences, social and individual, pass in order to be understood or perhaps simply just to be stacked away for later observation.

In the case of Daphne (Out of my Skin), she seems to make a breakthrough at the end of the novel, past this fabricated inner world where she explores her family past through her mentally unstable natural grandfather's diaries. But all through the novel, she comes off more like a teenager or a young adult than a thirty-something woman.

In Cockroach, the main character has a habit of entering other people's  apartments to look at and steal objects (of no monetary value). It's the way he enters that is interesting: he turns into a cockroach and climbs into drain pipes and through cracks to enter the premises. The story ends by his disappearing down a drain, just like a cockroach… I won't say anything more here, don't want to mess with the ending. 

Throughout both novels in this group, the concept of integration into normal life is challenged regularly, in part due to this "foreign" identity. But somehow, I do not get the impression that the goal for either of the characters was ultimately integration by seeking the approval of society (at large). It's all about an inner journey. The outside world, and gaining a footing in it, is not the point, ultimately.

Group 2. The next grouping is based in part on the length of time depicted in the stories and the narration of continuous hardships in the task of breaking through and succeeding in life, i.e. integration into society, malgré the (migratory) provenance.

In Behind the Face of WInter, Pedro literally fights his way into a place of acceptance with all required compromising, but not quite the way his mother (or grandmother) had traced out for him. The nostalgic ending makes one give off a sigh and set eyes on the horizon… the kind of ending that did not, in my mind, do any justice to the preceding chapters of the book. But if I think about it, I'm not quite sure how else one could have ended the novel.

The actual title of this next book, The Enemy Within, rested ominously in the back of my mind throughout the whole reading; and its ominous premonition, lying in wait for the right moment, never seemed to materialize until… sorry, this is where I stop. Go read it to find out. The character's depiction of her life as a housewife, mother of two children studying her way into a meaningful career is set-off by the horrible marriage she maintains, sort of like way of clinging to her roots, guilt-suffering her way through life.

The novel Iced Under definitely has its place in this group, even though its "immigrant status" hails from the province next door and not the other side of the planet. Here we are confronted with a distraught Toronto divorcée who seeks refuge from a nasty divorce. Along with her two daughters, she moves to a dilapidated cabin she inherited on the shores of a lake near a small town in Quebec. There is a child disappearance, a murder, hence, the makings of a mystery novel. But the whole notion of "it's better after the struggle", or in other words, the quintessential happy ending where everyone gets along (i.e. integration), permeate the story near the end. Of course, it's all in the crime-solving.

Now, here is where I seem to need the most help -- The Obituary. This is one book that requires some hand-holding and probably belongs in a group of its own. I want very badly to "get it", but time and time again, I find that I cannot stitch the whole thing together. I get bits and pieces of it, and when I do, it's brilliant. But most of the time, I read words that I am unable to connect to the whole story line, which seems to be a stream of consciousness recording of the life of Rosine. Some events in her life are connected to other events and I cannot make out how, or why. It's like the best inside joke ever and I am totally incapable of grasping what it's about, never mind what happens to be funny about it; I kind of feel like a third-grader reading Joyce's Ulysses; I know it's amazing, but I just can't figure out how. Help.

But this is not all I have been reading this summer. Although I forgot it in Montreal, Peter Dubé's The City Gates is so a propos with all the student strikes that I absolutely have to finish it illico presto when I get back. Anne Chudobiak even mentioned it in the Gazette this summer: Peter Dubé's protest fiction is well timed

And also, Mordecai Richler. I love Mordecai Richler. I read Barney's Version as well as Foran's MordecaiThe Life and Times back to back. And it turned out to be a neat little experiment in distinguishing between fiction and non-fiction.

Here, finally...


My M.A. is finally finished! Took two years, as planned. Now it's off to a PhD. If someone had told me five years ago, as I was starting that infamous summer ESL teaching diploma, that I would be undertaking a PhD in the near future, I most likely would not have believed them. The sheer amount of work I will have to accomplish represents my own personal Everst. Looking very forward to it. And needless to say, I am also on the lookout for good Sherpas...

The plan is as follows: first, define the outlines and confines of Anglo-Québécois literature; which in itself is a great research project, frought with political ambiguity so dear to my neck of the woods. I am aware of this and looking forward to seeing who says what about whom. No silly, not in a nosy neighbour kind of way, that is of no use to me and completely irrelevant to my research. What I need to understand is the overall dynamics of this new categorizing scheme in the literary landscape of Quebec, Canada and even on a world wide scale. To do this, I need to envisage several things. One not so small feat, albeit a very cool one, is reading novels like a mad woman, novels written in English by Quebeckers (Ah, the ever so delicate "naming" of Anglophones that reside in la Belle province. I find the cognomen "Quebecker" works well for me. À voir, avec le temps, si cela tient la route).

The aspect I find most interesting in novels in general is the concept of hybridity. How's that for my 50-cent trendy word-of-the-day! All kidding aside, this one is another humdinger to be defined in my research. What's marvelous about this one though is that I can tailor it to my needs; that's how "flou" the notion is at the moment. Ok, perhaps that's taking it a bit far, but the research in this domain is wide and varied, from Bakhtine to ... Hmm. I won't get into it here, otherwise the entire post will be monopolized. Needless to say, a ginormous amount of reading will have to be done here also.

And then there's the cherry on top of my sundae: I want to find the quintessential Anglo-Québécois hybrid novel.

So yea, I have my next 5 years cut out for me, and the best part is I get to do it while playing around in my own literary backyard.

Summer translating is the best

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So, I've been sitting on my balcony translating away some Klein for the past few weeks and I have been loving it. There is no small feat of strategizing involved as the kids, the impending end of school, work and a plethora of details (like laundry, for example) keep coming up. I do my best to promptly attend to them (cough, cough) and then book myself whole days of balcony translating.

I have found a "stream-of-translating" kind of approach to translating these poems works rather well. I always have a photocopy of the original poem so that I can whip it around the work surface (way easier than the 1000-page compilation whence it comes!). Then the ever-present pen and paper for any sort of note-taking to compensate for my faltering memory. Of course, the word processor open and ready to take in the translation and the Web browser opened to a selection of dictionaries that I find helpful for this work in particular.

I am translating A.M. Klein into French... think Shakespeare, anglo-norman roots and the whole shebang. For this, I love, absolutely LOVE, the OED. The etymology of words is the best and often I can pick up a French version of the word directly form there. When all else fails, I jot back and forth from the OED to the Petit Robert. I want to have access to the Grand Robert... working on that presently. Then I also have a rhyming dictionary handy - I like the BaRBeRy because you can manipulate it to obtain the type of rhyme needed. And of course, I could not do without the CRISCO! This one is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

So, all the chosen poems have been translated. I'm in the tweaking phase right now. But I have one major problem on my hands... they do not fit the blabla édulcoré I spewed out about them earlier this spring. Argh.

They were supposed to fit in as the "forgotten" poems of the Rocking Chair collection. A couple of them do, but that's the issue, just a couple of them. So I have to figure out how to deal with this. I love translating Klein's poetry and I would not see it d'un mauvais oeil if I had to translate some more of it. Especially the poems about himself and his natures mortes. 

I'm going to have to think about this some more... à suivre.

Off to Antwerp I go!

I found some fantastic news in my inbox bright and early last Monday morning. My submission to the Translation and National Images conference in Antwerp and Amsterdam has been accepted! The topics fit perfectly within my research so I said "What the heck, looks good to me!" and it seems that the conference's scientific committee said the same thing.

Here's the link to the conference itself hosted by Lessius University College and the University of Amsterdam, with the support of CETRA, University of Leuven: http://www.lessius.eu/transimage/

The title of my presentation is A Case of Transposing National Identity in Literary Translation: Translating Montreal Anglophone Jewish Poet A.M. Klein into French, in Quebec.

The gist of it is my desire to implant a couple things. First, the whole field of Anglo-Québécois literature needs to be put out in the forefront and what better way to do this than to translate this literature into French for the French Québécois population. If they don't know this kind of literature exists, how can it get its stripes? And one of the ways they will be able to read it is through translation. I am going to stop here, otherwise I will get carried away.

Secondly, I think (believe...whatever, it's a question of opinion here) that A.M. Klein started looking cross-culturally at a time when it just wasn't done. His "voice", as a result, wasn't really heard on the other side all that well. I think it's time more Francophones find out who he was and what he said about them (way back in the 1940s). Some may be surprised to find out that he actually felt a certain kinship with them... him, the Jewish Anglophone poet... who would have thought.

So, in a nutshell, that's my project for this conference and it will specifically revolve around the poem Parade of St. Jean Baptiste and my translation of it.

I'll post the abstract as soon as it's all in order.



A.M. Klein is a well-known Canadian modernist poet from Montreal whose writing had to wait over 40 years to be read in French translation. As wide as this gap in time may be, it is not a surprising one. However, what does prompt further investigation is the timing in the appearance of these translations.

Klein’s poetry transforms him into a well-positioned and talented observer of his era. But upon closer inspection, his writing also takes on an unexpected relevance in Montreal’s 21st century.

Applying the translation studies concepts of “translatability” and “furthering”, as defined by Sherry Simon, I will explore his short poem “O God ! O Montreal !”. I will illustrate the relevancy of Klein’s opinion within his own period but also how this view was, at the time, condemned to stay within a static cultural environment. Over two decades have passed since and Montreal’s cultural environment is quite different from the one in which Klein wrote. But nevertheless, today’s pluricultural Montreal is fraught by an echo from Klein’s writing.

In this particular poem, Klein makes Montreal’s historical and cultural realities cross paths over a period of two centuries. Like an elegant time capsule, the poem is a criticism of Montreal’s suspicious perception of all that is “culture” and traces a part of our history all the while helping us answer the question: How did we get this way?

All this brings us to the importance of translating more of Klein’s poetry as a way of reconstituting and enriching a part of Montreal’s cultural history from the very valid and seldom considered vantage point, the Anglophone poet.

It's off to a start!


It's the beginning. Here marks the beginning of my next 12 months...


La langue peut être abordée sous deux grands éclairages – soit, on peut la considérer de l’extérieur comme l’analyste qui veut découvrir le secret de son maniement et de sa « physiologie »; soit, on l’aborde de l’intérieur comme le fait l’écrivain, et de manière plus concise, le poète. Il s’agit de deux mondes à part, qui ne se touchent que très rarement. 

Une discipline qui a pour but de faire interagir la langue sous ces deux perspectives simultanément est la traduction littéraire. Le linguiste et l’écrivain se rencontrent en une personne. L’équilibre entre les deux est particulier – une démarche un peu trop « linguiste » dans la traduction fait perdre la créativité et souvent le lecteur, mais un peu trop de créativité dans l’approche fait basculer le tout en une adaptation et fait perdre la trace de l’auteur(e) original(e). En somme, il faut faire des choix lucides à chaque mot, à chaque phrase, pour chaque voix du début jusqu’à la fin du texte, voir même après.

Pour moi, tout a commencé avec la langue et une curiosité sans bornes pour son fonctionnement tant dans notre cerveau que dans notre manière de la concevoir en temps qu’être humain. Mais cette quête de la linguistique prendra fin. Elle se verra entraver par la réalité du quotidien qui viendra rapidement faire comprendre que l’université appartient à un autre monde.

Dix ans plus tard, c’est par la poésie que la langue me rappelle à elle. Je n’ai plus la « petite gêne » de ma jeunesse qui me nargue de choisir un métier, j’ai la maturité de mes convictions qui me dirigent vers ce qui, je soupçonne, a toujours été sous-jacent dans mes choix.

Durant les séminaires de ma scolarité de maîtrise en traductologie, j’ai exploré plusieurs avenues de recherche. C’est lors de l’exploration d’une de ces avenues que j’ai fait la connaissance des écrits du poète montréalais Abraham Moses Klein. Cette rencontre s’est produite par l’entremise des poèmes de sa collection The Rocking Chair and Other Poems. J’en suis restée étonnée par leur franchise et leur évidente intention de communiquer avec ce que nous, en traductologie, aimons désigner comme l’Autre. Cet Autre n’est que celui qui n’est pas Nous.

À partir de ce point de vue s’amorce toute la notion d’identité propre par rapport à l’entourage, la culture, la langue, le peuple, la nation (pour n’en nommer que cinq). Cette identité se définit au regard de l’Autre. Personne ne vie en vase clos, sinon il n’y aurait aucune raison de définir son identité.

Dans le cas de Klein et de ses écrits, cette analyse identitaire a été très bien faite d’un point de vue intellectuel et académique. Plusieurs recherches (voir même la majorité) ont explicité son identité de poète/écrivain/journaliste juif, anglophone, moderniste et montréalais à l’intérieur du contexte de son époque, de sa culture et des cultures avoisinantes.

Ce qui est plus rare est de saisir cette identité, clairement illustrée non seulement dans ses poèmes, mais également dans sa prose et ses autres écrits, et de la faire passer par la traduction vers le français du Québec, dans la langue de l’Autre. Cela a été entrepris par trois personnes et ne touche que très peu de ses écrits. Il a écrit tant de poèmes – sa collection complète compte plus de mille pages.

Et c’est ici que je rentre en jeu. Le mémoire que je veux remettre à la fin de ma maîtrise est la traduction d’une sélection de poèmes de Klein, accompagnée d’un appareil critique.  

Cet appareil critique approfondira le regard sur la communication avec le Québécois (l’Autre) que Klein a toujours cherché à établir durant une grande partie de sa vie dans ses écrits.

La traduction elle-même sera la mise à l’épreuve de la capacité d’emmener l’identité de Klein vers la langue de l’Autre. Je ne traduirais pas pour rendre la poésie de Klein en un objet anthropologique et informatif aux yeux d’une société savante, mais pour emporter Klein lui-même vers la langue de l’Autre, un changement de perspective en quelque sorte qui incorpore mutuellement les trois cultures qui l’entourent : la culture québécoise, la culture anglo-québécoise et la culture juive.

Meandering down my path...


I did not particularly enjoy restraining my analysis to Meschonnic. Not that I do not like him, on the contrary, what a hoot! He writes wonderfully and his cynicism is downright hysterical sometimes. Had me gafawing out lout on more than one occasion. He expresses his opinion in a rather "in your face" kind of way. Some may not be comfortable with this method, but it works for me. Cela a le mérite d'être clair!

Henri's angle on Poetry Translation

Poétique du traduire

Être responsable de la critique d’une traduction de poésie est une tâche plutôt ingrate. En général, elle consiste à défaire quelque chose qui ne devrait jamais être déconstruit de façon linguistique. Et pourtant, nous insistons régulièrement en procédant ainsi.

La poésie doit être la forme d’écriture qui illustre le mieux le principe de l’holisme : le poème en entier est plus que la somme des mots utilisés pour le composer. Et comme Meschonnic l’a dit, traduire un poème est à quelque part en écrire un. Le poème est la plus pure représentation ou concentration de la voix de l’auteur. Il ne suffira jamais de comprendre simplement les mots pour en faire leur transposition. Le sens des mots forme un tout, s’entremêlant de la voix propre de l’auteur. Le sens des mots? Le sens se retrouve niché dans une multiplicité d’endroits qui débordent grandement des frontières lexicales.

And into English we go this time around...

Criticizing the translation of a poem is a thankless task. Generally, it consists in taking apart something that should never be deconstructed linguistically. Nevertheless, this is the path we always seem to go down.

Poetry has to be the kind of writing that illustrates best the principle of holism: the poem in its entirety is equal to more that the sum of the words used in its composition. Just like Meschonnic wrote, translating a poem is actually writing one. The poem is the purest representation or concentration of the author's voice. It will never be sufficient to simply understand the words in order to transpose them into another language. The meaning of the words make up a whole unit, entertwined with the author's singular voice. The meaning of the words? Meaning is nested in a multiplicity of places that transcend lexical limits.