Josée Kamoun or the art of translation – L’Express

Josee Kamoun or the art of translation – LExpress

“When I feel my strength diminishing, I will undertake the translation of Moby-Dick, the one that I always wanted to do, 700 pages of a difficulty equal to the beast […] In this way […]I am sure of dying at work, and this idea delights me.” We are not there yet, Josée Kamoun is alive and well, who offers us an exciting Dictionary lovers of translation (Plon).

Great translator, equal to a Brice Matthieussent, an Olivier Mannoni or even a Annie Morvan, to name but a few, Josée Kamoun, 74 years old, associate professor of English and doctor of letters, has become the transmitter of around fifty works including those of John Irving, Richard Ford, Jonathan Coe, Aldous Huxley, Orwell, Kerouac or even Philip Roth – to whom she devotes here juicy pages, recounting their first meeting, in New York, around the translation of American pastoral, and their numerous collaborations up to the suspicions of “infidelity” (fueled by the author’s entourage), which pushed her to throw in the towel. Philip Roth, who did not speak a word of French, notably questioned his translation of “Everybody knows” with “It is common knowledge”.

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Full of anecdotes but also more scholarly remarks, its voluminous Dictionary deals with all the pitfalls and various difficulties encountered throughout the life of a language archaeologist. How to translate popular speech or patois, such as that of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by DH Lawrence or by While I’m dying, by William Faulkner? Swear words (we learn on this occasion that French offers the most extensive slang in the world)? Onomatopoeia, which is not universal? And the titles? THE you English ? Proper nouns, as curious as it seems (the question arose in particular for the understanding of a play on words about the waitress Shirley Knott (surely not) in L’Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe)? Poetry ? Sacred texts? And how to retranslate (The best of worlds Or 1984) ?

“The Author’s Shadow”

The entries follow one another, the issues unfold, with many examples (and past controversies) to support. We will also note the entry devoted to the difficulty of translating The Stranger by Camus (one of the most translated works in the world) to achieve the analysis of the original, as well as the four successive Anglo-Saxon versions.

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Josée Kamoun avoids nothing, neither appropriation trials nor the use of artificial intelligence, the more than doubtful time saving, according to her. “Translating is putting two languages, two ‘environments’, two cultures into tension,” notes the translator, who defines herself as “an author without being an author, a shadow of the author, a guide dog of the reader.” Visually impaired or not, we thank all guide dogs.