Friday, November 28, 2008

Roma - Part II

Campidoglio (Capitole)

Porta Majore


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pixel, Spook and Minimum - continued

Remember the one-day-old kittens I found in a bag of water and bottle-fed?
Seven months old now ;-)




Friday, November 21, 2008

Taming Translation: reflexions on the taming and the translating process based on Bevie J. Gravlin's translated Chakka. Part I


The literary context

Before one is able to tame an animal, one has to learn to know it: to be aware of its body language, of the meaning of its different postures, of the place it holds in nature – whether the animal is a prey or a predator plays an important role in the way it will react or behave.
The same goes for a book. Before taming a work into translation, the translator has to learn about the book’s environment: the period or literary current during which it was written, the kind of public it was destined to, the country and culture in which it was originally published, the success it encountered, etc. This knowledge is necessary for the translator to be able to fully understand the text, and thus, render the best possible equivalent into the target culture, so as to provide the reader with all the information necessary to make the book as receivable as possible. It was thus important to first concentrate my attention on the literary and cultural background of the book I decided to work on.
In which type of literature can this book be included? Bevie J. Gravlin’s book Chakka was published in 1993. Approximately one and a half year later a Dutch and a German translation were on the market, but fifteen years later there is still no French one. The story is said to be a true one – and I will consider it as such during my work – about a middle-aged American woman, who dearly loves animals, adopting a wolf, named Chakka, and raising it amidst her family. The style used by Bevie J. Gravlin is airy, funny and full of detailed descriptions. The style of the book is a giant wink to feminist literature. The first thing that awakens this idea is the introductory description on the cover of the book:

“Woman loves animals. Woman takes in orphaned foxes, injured raccoons, half-dead birds, stray dogs, abandoned cats, foster children. What woman really wants is a wolf. Woman acquires wolf pup. Wolf does not eat the foxes, raccoons, birds, dogs, cats, kids, or woman. Wolf does turn woman’s world upside down. Woman learns to howl.”

The construction of those sentences has often been used in women’s literature with that particular use of the word “woman” without a determiner, as opposed to the use of “man” meaning human in general. Still, Gravlin’s book is not a feminist one, it was thus not possible to use that adjective to talk about it since “feminist” means in favor of feminism. I qualified the book as “feministic” because her style and subject can be seen as implicitly having certain characteristics of feminist writing. She draws a parallel with women’s literature by winking at certain facets of that literary style and although the subject of her book can be analyzed as feministic, she never deals with any feminist issue whatsoever in her writing. The book is not at all about feminism, it is about animal protection, the author’s love for animals and her history with one animal in particular: the wolf she adopts. Nevertheless, the subject of a woman raising a wolf is highly feministic because of the opposition between the wild animal “par excellence”, the wolf, and the tenderness with which this woman talks about it.
Ecology and feminism grew closer and closer together over the years and some American feminists compare the condition of women to the condition of endangered animal species in their struggle to have their ‘condition’ acknowledged and respected by “man” – used here both to express humanity as a whole and gender. In Women Who Run With the Wolves, the author and psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes explains her Wild Woman archetype which can be seen as a kind of feminist response to the Myth of the Bon Sauvage. According to Estes, wolves and women share a psychic bond in their fierceness, grace and loyalty to their mate and their social group.

This comparison defines the archetype of the Wild Woman, a female in touch with her primitive side and able to rely on her instinct to make choices. This archetype encountered a vast success among feminists and whole societies of “Dangerous Wild Women” were created on the internet in order “to discuss the book, and after discussing the book, live the ideas as we embraced the inner Wild Woman” . To these women, wolves became popular again and although Gravlin doesn’t, at any moment in Chakka, state similar ideas, we can’t help but acknowledge the parallel between the Wild Woman archetype developed by Estes, according to which women have to listen to their savage inner self to free themselves from man’s dominion, by listening to the wolf howling inside of them, and Gravlin’s story, in which she raises a wolf pup, learns to howl with it and creates a bond so strong that, at the end of the book, she explains that she now lives alone with all her animals – and Chakka, the wolf – and feels extraordinarily content and peaceful with this. It is as though the wolf had given her a peace she didn’t have before – maybe that same peace that Estes urges women to find by somehow listening to or taming their inner she-wolf. It is easy to see the parallel between one book telling women how to “free themselves” and the book I translated and studied in which a woman tells how she, literally, went beyond the preconceived ideas about wolves, although the book never refers to feminism.

Moreover, Chakka can be seen as valuable from an ecological point of view in today’s society, with people turning more and more to nature and becoming more concerned with ecological issues. Gravlin clearly states, at the end of her book, that she hopes the book will help protect the rest of Chakka’s species; it is a testimony of the wolf’s basic good nature – her wolf’s basic good nature which she extends to the whole lupine species. Even more so, it is a plea for the rehabilitation of wolves and the necessity for humans to learn to share territories, again, with this predator. Hélène Grimaud’s Variations Sauvages holds that same idea of rehabilitation and of how important it is for man to see and accept that nature, and especially wolves, has a lot to teach us about our respect for nature and the planet. Although neither Gravlin nor Grimaud have described their respective books as such, they could be easily seen as belonging to the literary landscape of eco-feminism which is a social and political movement attempting to unite environmentalism and feminism.

According to this movement, there exists a relationship between “the oppression of feminism and the domination of nature” . In light of all these elements, we can clearly place Chakka in the horizon of environmental and feminist writings. This being a distinct feature of the book in its original version, it seems essential that this characteristic should be retrieved in the French version as well.

Anthrozoologic writings in Anglo-Saxon and French-speaking cultures

Two other very important branches of literature to which Chakka belongs are literary non-fiction and animal literature.
Literary non-fiction has many names among which “creative non-fiction” and “documentary narrative” which I think apply best to the book. Of course, Chakka is not a documentary book but it gives an insight into the relationship a human and a wolf can build which is highly interesting.
Literary non-fiction is, mingled with the lingering American Dream, intrinsic in American culture, based “on the democratic notion that real stories about real people are worth telling” . Literary non-fiction works are a form of storytelling as old as the telling of stories and are about real people, real places and more importantly real emotions. This characteristic gives a magical and tantalizing side to non-fiction books because they combine the forcefulness of the real with literary creation.
In Gravlin’s book, the author recalls a somewhat romanticized version of her experience with an “indoor” wolf and it is that combination of literature and facts mixed with the – it has to be said – anthropomorphic descriptions of Chakka’s behavior which make this book a perfect example of Animal Novels for Adults (ANA) .
Animal literature is not only children’s literature. From Le Roman de Renart written during the 6th or 7th century, to the 1668 Fables of Jean de la Fontaine and Orwell’s 1945 Animal Farm, animals have always held a high rank in literature. The animal protagonists in writings are more often than not portrayed as humanized characters, mirrors for human behaviors that the authors wants to emphasize. This is exactly the role they play in the works cited above: they are mirrors of man and rarely represent themselves. Animals were firstly used in literary practice for humans to understand or criticize other humans. Individualized animals as protagonists are rarer and, more importantly, less popular, it seems. But with the awakening of people to animal protection and environmental issues, animals become actors in literature: characters designed by authors who want to understand them better and analyze man’s relationship to them.
English-speaking countries have always had a more pronounced fancy for Animal Novels for Adults than Latin-speaking countries. The amounts of books published with animal characters as humanized individual or leading protagonists is more important in Anglo-Saxon countries than in ours: the 20th and 21st century have witnessed the publishing of numerous empathic books with animals as head characters.

Virginia Woolf wrote Flush, the first feminine animal novel, Rudyard Kipling tells the story of the first talking dog in Thy Servant – A Dog, Dickens wrote abundantly about animals , Thomas Hardy told about animal suffering as if he felt it himself but it was the French novelist Vernon Lee –Violet Paget’s penname – who first applied the term “empathy”, which is essential to a good animal novel, to literature. Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty: Autobiography of a horse, Translated from the original Equine is one of the highpoints of this empathy. When an animal protagonist is not an allegory of human behavior, animal novels often aim at describing the animal’s condition in an anthropomorphic, albeit realistic, manner. Jack London’s Call of the Wild is a perfect – and successful – example of this. In White Fang by the same author, although the wolf of the same name shares his role as a protagonist with a human called Scott, it is again this empathic yet realistic account of the wolf’s emotional reactions which makes the novel so poignant. More recently, the British veterinary and writer James Herriot (Alfred Wright) wrote a series of semi-autobiographical novels about his work in Northern Yorkshire, Britain. His books were met with great success and two films as well as a BBC television series were adapted from them. When he died in 1995, he was one of Britain’s and America’s best-selling writers. Writers who give animals an important role in their books are too numerous to be all named but I insist on mentioning Nicolas Evans, who uses a particular animal’s condition or a natural phenomenon as backdrop for his human characters: in The Loop, it is the very controversial rehabilitation of wolves, in The Horse Whisperer, it is a traumatized horse that creates the link and in The Smoke Jumper, it is forest fires – not an animal but an element – that set the backdrop of the novel. Less known but just as interesting are Watership Down by a British author Richard Adams, which is a heroic fantasy about a small group of rabbits, the Italian Kuki Gallman’s I Dreamed Of Africa, an autobiography in which the author recounts her moving to Kenya and her fight there for nature’s protection despite the terrible losses inflicted to her by fate, and Solo’s Journey by the American Joy Smith Aiken in which a young feral cat becomes the guide and leader of his Quorum (group) to lead them out of the bondage in which the Owners (humans) are holding them.

The book Chakka distinctly follows in the footsteps of these books. The true story of a woman raising a wolf, the deep interaction between them both and the anthropomorphic insight with which it is written make it one of the numerous non-fictional animal novels for adults which are worth reading.
Still, Chakka remains closed for the many French readers who read only their mother tongue. France’s literary landscape offers fewer Animals Novels for Adults. Cats have been celebrated by Baudelaire in his poetry and many other books venerate the mystic semi-wildness of cats from Robert de Laroche’s Plus Chat que Moi to Colette’s La Chatte. Other animals are the protagonists of classic children stories – such as the Mémoires d’un Ane by the Countess of Ségur –, or of narratives that have passed unnoticed among the incredible and still increasing number of publications each year – Nicolas Vanier’s Le Chant du Grand Nord series or his Otchum, chef de meute which is one of the few French books of this type to have been translated into English under the name Otchum, A Companion in a World of Ice. This fact is representative of a notable turning in literature over the last years.
Countries such as the United States, Norway, Sweden, Great Britain, Germany and the Netherlands seem to have a more developed sensitivity towards empathic animal novels. Apart from classics like Jack London’s, for example, really famous books about anthropomorphic animals are rare. Only a slight percentage of these writings used to be translated and even fewer were originally written in French.
Of course, the amount of English works translated into French is far greater than the two percent of translations entering the Anglo-Saxon market each year, irrespective of the source language. Still, this doesn’t entirely explain why Chakka never hit the French bookshelves, neither does it account for the timid presence of the book in English, German and Dutch literary landscapes. Although animals have been present in literature for centuries, novels for adults with loved or loving animal protagonists – as opposed to mirror images of man’s behavior – have experienced a modest renewal only as late as the 1980s.
The numerous actions taken at that period to help protect endangered species, like the Environmental Protection Act of 1986 for example, awoke a collective consciousness about the protection of the planet. Books about people who spend their entire life protecting nature landed alongside biographies of famous hunters in bookshops. Yet, almost thirty years later, animal novels are still a sort of lesser known side of literature. Rarely studied in the branch of literary studies, they are left aside as recreational reading more often than not. Is the way our respective cultures perceive animals then so downgraded in public opinion? Yes, from a certain point of view it is.

At the annual Frankfurt Book Fair of 2007, Hephzibah Anderson7 was surprised to see the number of “books about beasts” presented to the public. At the beginning of her online article “Elephants, Apes Upstage Doris Lessing at Frankfurt Book Fair” , the first reaction she expressed is probably the same as that of many other people who have failed to notice the upcoming of animals as protagonists in literature:

Oct. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The fairgrounds are teeming with apes, elephants and wolves.
There are hedgehogs from China, bonobos from the Congo, and even a psychic tabby from Rhode Island. This isn't what I expected to find at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
You'd think that the estimated 286,600 bibliophiles drawn to this orgy of some 391,600 books spread across several floors in six halls would be preoccupied with high literary discourse. Doris Lessing, after all, just won the Nobel Prize in Literature; the Man Booker Prize for Fiction will be awarded next week. Yet here under the shadow of the MesseTurm, a 1990s skyscraper with an Art Deco air, the buzz has been mostly about books featuring beasts.

The academic world has recently turned its studies with increasing interest to the human-animal relationship. The scientific study of this subject is called “anthrozoology” and brings together scholars from all possible backgrounds: from psychologists and historians to veterinarians. As time passes, man grows more and more concerned that one’s way of treating animals in fact reflects the way one treats a fellow human. Elizabeth de Fontenay’s latest book, Sans Offenser le genre humain, as well as her former writings, analyzes the human-animal relationship from a philosophical point of view. In her 1998 Le Silence des Bêtes, she explains how Christianity increased man’s perception of animals as inferior and soulless and how the growing idea of human superiority created an unconscious way of seeing animals as “The Others” .
Until Antiquity, man admired other living creatures and turned them into legendary characters of myths, teachers, and messengers from nature or even personified gods. This way of perceiving animals started to evolve, shortly before the advent of the Christian Church, from curiosity into a feeling of great superiority. The human perception of animals changed drastically. Formerly venerated predators became game for intensive hunting and the old myths telling of mighty animals became bedtime stories to scare children into obedience.
Where philosophers of the Antiquity used to concentrate on trying to understand if animals had or not the same sensitivity or reasoning capacity as humans – Plutarch pretended that animals were rational beings and could thus not be eaten by wise men –, European Christian and post-Christian philosophy became keen on determining what separated man from beasts and what made him God’s elect.

The Enlightenment only reaffirmed man’s almighty position at the top of what we now call the food chain. Industrial revolutions and urbanization even further alienated Man from nature and wildlife. Colonialism offered immense new hunting grounds. Animals were imprisoned in zoos for purposes of scientific study as well as for the amusement of the public, but not yet for breeding programs of endangered species. Safaris were organized in colonized countries, not because those hunts were needed to survive, but to let out the conquerors’ thirst for might and adrenaline. The Bible had created the idea that humans “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” and human beings had, indeed, lived up to this idea so much so that a vast majority of them considered animals as existing only for man’s use.

In her previously mentioned article, Anderson quotes Isobel Dixon, a literary agent of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, who gives what is probably the most logical explanation for this renewed literary interest in beasts. Dixon states that viewing ourselves through the eyes of other living creatures or through our relationship to them gives us a new perspective on the world and on our lives. In our technological 21st century, indeed, we have explored views on human society through extraterrestrial intelligences, through oppressed people’s eyes, through allegories, through religious questioning or through the eyes of drug addicts and murderers but never as much before have we expressed the need to seek the approval of our fellow living creatures.

In a time when scientific alarmists roam about the planet to fill our ears and eyes with global warming, sustainable living, renewable energies and species on the verge of extinction, numerous writers use their imaginative skills to explore the animal mind. After having regarded them as inferior or indebted to our superior human condition for centuries, today’s literature, so representative of our societies, now shows one of man’s deepest concerns: the welfare of the earth. For the past thirty years, those anthrozoologic books have showed that what many humans now want is to explore the animal psychology and, perhaps, find in animals an answer to the ever increasing fears about ecology of today’s society. Unconsciously, in a time when gas and fuel become more and more expensive and our worries about our future grow, we turn once more to the animals which filled our ancient myths and legends but, this time, not in order to link them to gods or the elements; instead, we link them to our survival and turn to them for answers and examples about how humans can learn to live in renewed harmony with the world that surrounds them. Animals have thus regained a new status in literature; they have become a lens through which a glimpse of our society can be captured.
However, Gravlin’s book is not just about animals, it is about a wolf and as she states it: wolves are “in a class by themselves” . They are apart in nature as well as in the human mind and society, and all cultures do not react in the same way to canis lupus.

copyrighted material. Lauwers. Essay Master I 2008.

Friday, November 14, 2008

And we're back!!


Hi and hello.

For the long silence, my apologies.
I finished writing my Essay for my first Master's year and I passed the exam with 15 out of 20!
I have an awful lot of things to write about but it's late and I'm getting up early tomorrow.

To reward you for your patience, here are three pictures of Rome, taken two weeks ago.
The whole account and more pictures soon.

Piazza di Spagna

Fontana di Trevi (by night)