Sunday, 25 August 2013

Letting Go

At the end of this one-year course, we have to write a dissertation. I have chosen to write a translation with a commentary. The subject of my dissertation was to translate 10000 words of a book entitled Petit traité de l’abandon written by Alexandre Jollien who is a disabled writer and philosopher. In this book, he shares his thoughts, and reflects on moments of his life influenced by authors he has read, encounters he has had and approaches to life, religion, relationships and love. Because of his disability, Alexandre Jollien cannot physically write anymore but talks through a recording machine, which gives a distinct oral quality to the book. The commentary is, as I have called it, “a little investigation” on ‘untranslatability’. Indeed, as a translator, I have always been attracted by what we can call the paradox of translation. The idea that some texts seem impossible to translate yet translatable, has drawn me to attempt to produce a translation of Petit traité de l’abandon. I have chosen this source text because of the unique connexion between the author’s background, the source text and its style, which in my opinion makes this text appear impossible to translate. The leading idea of this book is the paradox that Jollien explains of ‘l’abandon’. ‘L’abandon’ means ‘abandonment’ in English but also it is also used in the sense of ‘letting go’. Throughout his book, Jollien explains how paradoxically, ‘l’abandon’, which could be seen as negative, because of its first meaning of ‘giving up’, has actually become the goal of his life. In his own words, the purpose of ‘l’abandon’ is to “follow the flow of life.” (personal translation, 2012: 11)

Thanks to this source text and to the process of the translation, I realised that this concept of ‘letting go’ could be applied to translation. Indeed, as I have explained in my commentary, during the process of translation, the translator has not only to translate the words, but he or she also has to become the author of the translation. In order to do so, the translator has to read, research and even talk to the author of the source text. However all this research will never produce a target text able to recreate similar effects on its readers than the source text readers had. The translator has to combine his or her knowledge on the author, the source text and on the cultural differences with his or her creativity. Translating is ‘letting go’. There will be a moment in the translation process where the source text will not be enough anymore to create a good translation and the translator will have to ‘let go’ of the source text and all its constrains in order to allow his or her creativity to come across.

I realised during this translation that at some point in the process I was ‘letting go’ of the source text without being aware of it and that only then I was able to allow myself, the translator, to translate for the target text readers. I wanted to share this realisation in this blog-post because I am convinced that it can be helpful for young translators just like myself.

Charlotte Laruelle translates French and English, currently doing the MA in literary translation at UEA. Can be contacted at

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