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Mirror, Fragment, Repetition: Using Metaphor to Read Twentieth-Century French Poetry in English Translation



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Harris, Jennifer Frances 


Reading translation theory, we note that it is nearly impossible to say anything about translation without comparing it to something else. Too rarely, however, is metaphor itself the focus of the theory. As French poetry takes more experimental forms in the twentieth century, emphasising the materiality of language, the difficulty of describing its translation becomes greater and the recourse to metaphor more urgent.

Matthew Reynolds’ book on metaphor and poetry translation has a wide temporal and geographical range, drawing its metaphors from the texts themselves and the writings of translators. Clive Scott focuses on avant-garde French poetry from a translator’s perspective, aiming to collapse the distinction between translators and readers. Their emphasis is on the practice of translation; mine is on the relationship between original and translation.

My project explores three metaphors which centre the ways this textual relationship is triangulated by a reader, pairing them with three American translations of twentieth-century French poetry. First I read Anne Hyde Greet’s translation of Guillaume Apollinaire’s Calligrammes through the metaphor of a mirror image, with a focus on its parallel text presentation. The second metaphor is fragmentation, for which I explore Walter Benjamin’s image of a broken vessel and its critically-neglected Kabbalistic source to write about Edmond Jabès’ Book of Resemblances, and its English translation by Rosmarie Waldrop. Finally, I rely on Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition and Clive Scott’s response in Translating Apollinaire to understand translation as a form of repetition. Through this lens I read The Translation Begins by Jacqueline Risset, translated by Jennifer Moxley.

It becomes clear that temporality is at stake in the relationships between text, translation and reader. By focusing on these metaphors, we perceive not only how translation comes ‘after’, but how it participates in simultaneity via parallel text, in a teleological Messianic time, and in the challenge to linearity posed by Deleuzian repetition.





Bowman, Deborah


Translation, Poetry, Walter Benjamin, Translation Studies, Modernism, Apollinaire, Jabes, Risset


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge