Casually on View in the Half Light
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Casually on View in the Half Light

Reflections on Nicole Brossard’s Mauve Desert

 Lisa Gordon
 Lisa Gordon
Casually on View in the Half Light
by Lisa Gordon  FollowFollow
Lisa Gordon worked for a number of years as a lyricist for a local Montreal band called Hejira before getting serious about the written more She is a poet partnered with a philosopher, a lover of walking & travelling, a reader of random books she carefully gets her hands on, a small fiction in a large landscape, a beginning always begging for a temporary ending. She lives in Montreal where she persues words & hungry wallowing 24/7...
Casually on View in the Half Light
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[Adapted by editor from Amazon’s description of the book: Nicole Brossard is a feminist French-Canadian writer of meta-fiction and her novel, Mauve Desert, is both a single novel and three separate novels in one. In the first, "Mauve Desert", fifteen-year-old Mélanie drives across the Arizona desert in a white Meteor chasing fear and desire, cutting loose from her mother and her mother's lover, Lorna, in their roadside Mauve Motel. In the second book, Maudes Laures reads "Mauve Desert", becomes obsessed with it, and embarks on an extraordinary quest for its mysterious author, characters and meaning. The third book – "Mauve, the horizon" – is Laures's eventual translation of "Mauve Desert". Like all good translations, it is both the same and revealingly different from the original .]

"When two words are identical, you must not take undue offence or think you have been wronged in terms of choice. Simplicity is a fine patience of meaning." Mauve Desert, Nicole Brossard
I suppose in printed work two words that are identical are literally so – that is, same spelling, same font, same surrounding punctuation. If not, then not identical. Obviously, as well, the words or phrases that surround a word or set of words also influence meaning, can make one interpret said words differently, depending. Then when you get to translating words from one language into another, the issue of identical dissolves near entirely, at least in an oral sense, all those etymological aspects dangling, all that flesh of my flesh whispering the puncturing secret of time flexing semantic midwifery. Oh Mauve Desert, & the enthral of going forward asking, the slick bits of the inevitable folly pacing on cue, love ricocheting – remember how ricochet, the word, is a way to get out of a situation, be it jubilant or deadly, almost or whim…
The two versions of Melanie’s story in Mauve Desert are similar, yet nevertheless different in numerous  tiny yet meaningful ways. Flipping between the first version & the so-called translation, I am struck by how subtle choices of words & of phrases are at issue, leading to different connotations. In the “original” version, to give one small example, the narrator speaks of Lorna as “inventing”; in the translation the words used are “storytelling” & “lying”. This tiny change puts a different spin on the Lorna character in the translation, the latter “lying” seeming more judgemental than “inventing”. Throughout the translation there are small changes that seem to make the text more abstract as well as more lyrical, slightly sparser than the original. It is difficult to claim the latter definitively as sometimes there are passages with more concrete imagery in the translation than in the original, though not often. Here is an example of a passage changed ever so slightly:
Original – I was always certain of everything. Of faces, of the time, of the sky, of distances, of the horizon. I was certain of everything except words. The fear of words. Slow fear. Strains to say. Strains to hear. Pain in all my veins.
Translation – I was always certain of everything. Of gestures, of the weather, of distance, of the horizon. Of everything except words. The slow fear of words. A frightful pain in all my veins.
Hard to say why, but I think were it me translating, I’d want to keep of faces, Strains to say, & Strains to hear in the translation – semantically & sound-scape-wise they seem important to me. Then again, I have not read Mauve Desert in French, do not know how the two versions differ there, this is where it gets strange, thinking on translation of a translation of a translation. The two versions of Melanie’s first person narrative also work in a way as “friend” texts, with the translation adding to the original & vice versa. I would need to read a number of times more (& it is going to be a pleasure to do so) to see if I can detect a substantial difference in the point of view between the two texts. The titles? Yes, curiously enough, Mauve Desert suits both the substance of the Melanie text & the overarching title for the entire text, even as Mauve, The Horizon in a way I can’t at the moment quite put my finger on works well as title for the so called translation…Wonderful glorious book as much about words, writing & philosophy as about characters & objects, places, relationships…  



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