sábado, março 24, 2018

Anomic Outsiders: "The Stranger" by Albert Camus

As a dilettante translator I find this book fascinating, even though I don’t read French.

Literary texts are sacred and you cannot alter them; translations on the other hand are a more or less faithful reflection of the original text, but can be altered, changed, or renewed. Did Proust write "Remembrance of Things Past" or "In Search of Time Lost" or “In Search of Lost Time"? My favourite is Gabrielle Roy's "Bonheur d'occasion" published in English as "The Tin Flute". As a general point, a translation transmigrates one text for another; often the "mistakes" don't matter (to the monoglot reader). On the other hand, the title is the only part of a work of literature known even to those who haven't read it. I note in passing that étranger “doesn’t just mean "stranger" but also "foreigner", and in the colonial context, that could have been a possibility too. It's a bit like 9 to 5 by Sheena Easton and 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton.

I am very much of the view that it is a disservice to Camus to read L'Etranger as an allegory of abstract existentialism. It is essentially a reflection on the unique colonial experience that was French Algeria, and, in that aspect, the book should be taken as underlining that that experience was tragic, as for the Pied-Noirs in general, and tragic in a personal sense for Camus himself. Camus was one of the greatest representatives of liberal universalism of the last century, and yet the liberal universalism that he expounded left him an outsider/stranger/foreigner within Algeria, once the war of independence began, and at the same time intellectually homeless in the France whose civilisation he was steeped in and to which he was culturally and politically committed. Had Camus lived to pass his 101st birthday, as with Herman Wouk, he might have felt vindicated by the collapse of Marxism-Leninism in Eastern Europe, but I am sure that he would have found the War on Terror to leave him feeling even stranger, foreign and an outsider in relation to the things that he cared about. When one surveys the horrors of the contemporary, who does not conclude that they stand as a stranger, outsider or foreigner as to what unfolds?

Meursault is a lonely, asocial, anomic outsider but (or because of it) he is also a foreigner, in that he is an European Frenchman in Algeria. Algeria is everywhere in the book and Algerians are glimpsed, as foreign characters themselves. Camus, an European Frenchman born to dirt-poor parents in Algeria, was acutely aware of that hiatus between perceived nationalities, which had yet to develop into the Algerian War. Camus saw himself primarily as a philosopher and a political writer. His novels always had to read from a political perspective - The Plague being a case in point. "The Foreigner" would be provocative, as the accepted notion then was that Algeria's inhabitants were French. But "L'Etranger" carried the same provocation, and IMHO on purpose. I would go for The Outsider as the correct translation, personally, but that's for three simple reasons:

Being also a "translator", I would by instinct (all due of course to personal experience) have opted for “Outsider” over “Stranger”...Meursault is part and not part of this world...he seems often to inhabit it in body only...his mine free, critical, questioning...he's far beyond those around him...outside of the expected norm... of course that could all be a subjective response on my part, due to the way i identify with the main character...In Spanish the translation of the book takes another direction altogether... El Extranjero... that is, the "Foreigner"... which in many respects could be both a stranger and an outsider...or perhaps even a fusion of both... A better title for the book could have been THE MISFIT, because the idea for the main character is that he doesn´t fit in the world where he lives and the morality of that society.

If Camus wrote it now, the book presumably wouldn`t be published, or at best would be torn apart by the critics. A book where the non-white, non-Christian locals barely get a look-in. How absolutely appalling.

NB: Despite being, since the 1930s, a staunch defender of indigenous Algerians against the injustices of the French colonial system, Camus was against Algerian independence, fearing that there would be no place for European Algerians in an independent Algeria ruled by the FLN, and that it would be disastrous for the Algerians too. While his hopes for a more enlightened French approach were illusory, his fears were not misplaced. The challenges of semiotics can be rather intense, especially in relation to geniuses such as Camus... It's one of my favourite novels, and my copy has always been the British translation.

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