‘A woman named Maude Laures is translating a novel set in the Arizona desert. She becomes obsessed with the characters and the author, Laura Angstelle, who remains an enigmatic unknown. The arrangement of the book is of a postmodern/metafictional nature, with the following order: a section of the initial text; the translator’s notes on the book’s characters and themes (and her reflections on the author); biographical text about the translator (some or all of which she also wrote herself); and finally her translation of the part of the text included at the beginning. The English translation (from French) includes both the initial text and the “translated” text in English, though they are slightly different from each other to represent the effect of translation on a text. Presumably both texts are in French in the original version, or else it would have been mentioned with the other brief notes from Brossard and the translator. As for the content itself, it varies in ease of comprehension. The “book” text was easy enough to follow, but some of the translator’s notes read like dense prose poetry and/or philosophical fiction, such as that of Clarice Lispector or Maurice Blanchot. These latter sections require close reading to tease out their meaning.’ — S. D. Stewart
‘Split into three parts, Nicole Brossard’s Mauve Desert takes storytelling and translation apart from the inside. The first section follows 15-year-old Mélanie as she speeds across the Arizona desert in her mother’s car, ‘moving forward in life, wild-eyed with arrogance’, while also fleeing the insecurity, awkwardness and tenderness of life at her lesbian mother’s motel. Next, the middle part catalogues the experience of Maudes Laures, who finds Mélanie’s story in a second-hand bookshop and spends two years obsessing over its meaning and the actions of its characters and author, Laure Angstelle. The final section is Maudes Laures’s translation of Mauve Desert, which is at once similar to and very different from the original text.
‘Rich, ambiguous and fluid, Brossard/Angstelle’s writing sweeps the reader into the heart of teenage longing, using fine details to evoke intense experience. Long, sultry afternoons around the pool consist in the glint of wet tiles and the snaking of a hose pipe, while the rush of speeding through the desert shimmers on the horizon and in the dizziness of dehydration. Deliberately ambiguous, ‘both in focus and out of the frame’ as Mélanie describes her driving experiences, the narrative opens up a vast landscape of multivalency so that we can often never be sure exactly what is taking place. ‘Reality had a meaning, but which one?’ reflects Mélanie at one point.
‘As Maude Laures discovers, this confusion is precisely the point. While she strives to get to the heart of the text that has obsessed her, picking apart places, characters and events, and even at one stage imagining an encounter with Laure Angstelle herself in which she berates and interrogates the author over her treatment of one character, she finds herself dazzled by ‘the inexorable light that transforms lives of flesh into the bare bones of narrative’. As she records and analyses conflicting assertions that she finds in the text and her discourse with it, some sort of truth emerges like a line drawn through a cluster of points on a graph, tying trends and outliers together into a kind of coherent whole.
‘This exploration of the mysterious alchemy of translation and the anxieties around the authenticity of such renderings – as Laure Angstelle puts it in her imaginary dialogue with Maude Laures: ‘How am I to believe for a single moment that the landscapes in you won’t erase those in me?’ – is utterly engrossing. It is without question one of the most innovative things I’ve ever read.’ — A Year of Reading the World
Nicole Brossard @ electronic poetry center
Nicole Brossard: Interview with the Lesbian-Feminist French Canadian Poet
NOTEBOOK OF ROSES AND CIVILIZATION
Susan Rudy on Nicole Brossard
Response to Nicole Brossard
Nicole Brossard @ goodreads
Revisiting Nicole Brossard: An Introduction
Nicole Brossard: Negotiating the flash, the burn
Nicole Brossard @ PennSound
Trahi par l’empreinte de sa chaussure
Buy ‘Mauve Desert’
Nicole Brossard by Charles Bernstein
Nicole Brossard, 2010
Nicole Brossard reads in English
Nicole Brossard Reads from Fences in Breathing
Mauve Desert: A CD-ROM Translation by Adriene Jenik
‘Based upon the novel Le Desert Mauve by Quebeçoise author Nicole Brossard, Mauve Desert, a CD-ROM road movie, was five years in the making. Shot on film and video, framed by original graphics and creative programming structures, and performed in three languages, Mauve Desert finds its voice in the driver’s seat (of a computer). Mélanie is a fifteen year-old girl who steals her mother’s Meteor every chance she gets and drives away from her mother’s lover Lorna and toward the dawn. Maude Laures is the middle-aged academic who stumbles upon Mélanie’s life in a second-hand bookshop and translates her into another tongue.’ –– Video Data Base
by Jonathan Ball
What about writing changed for you when you began to be translated?
Well, firstly — with English especially — if we think of feminism, I think translation brought me material, through reading and meeting women writers in Canada or the United States. I think that has always been very important. Also, it’s also important if once in a while I am away long enough that I speak a lot in English, and there might be a contamination of my language in a positive way.
For example, I am exposed more to narrative in English poems and things like that. So that interests me very much and I learn from that. Even when I was at Sage Hill recently as an instructor, it was very exciting to see a range of different writers and to see writers who are close to the tradition and those who are renewing and scattering that tradition. It’s always interesting to see that range of approach in another language.
Last year  I was writer-in-residence at the University of Montréal, and the writer-in-residence has to organize a one-day conference on a subject. The subject that I picked was the long poem, because I had noticed that in English there’s a lot of long poems, the long poem is major material, and in French since Mallarmé we write short poems most of the time — very abstract and existential and very few of them are narrative. So we had a lecture on that, and I would like to turn it into a book, because I noticed with the long poem that writers writing in English have gotten rid of the “I” of subjectivity but in French it’s the contrary, it is with the long poem that we bring back this subjectivity.
Is it an interesting thing for you to talk to Robert Kroetsch? [The event surrounding this interview involved a panel with Brossard and Kroetsch.] Because he’s of course the one in English Canada, at least on the prairies, who is most responsible for jettisoning that “I” in the long poem and really being an influence here.
Yes. I want to talk about prose and poetry because both of us write prose and poetry, but certainly this is a topic that we could discuss.
Now, when you say you think you’d work on a book concerning the long poem, do you mean writing long poems yourself, or a critical work?
No, we’ll put together some of the, not the lecture, but the papers, the proceedings. Because I think it’s interesting, because even the professors in French think that idea of the long poem is not with them. If you plug in that idea then suddenly you read Québec literature in a very different way. So I look forward to it and I might have a text also from someone writing in English, a critic.
In the English edition of Mauve Desert, Maude Laures translates the word “inventing” from the first text as “storytelling” and then “lying” in the latter text. Of course this is the English edition, and not necessarily the words you’ve chosen, but in what way is a translation an invention, or perhaps something that can also be considered a story, or species of lie?
It’s interesting, but in Mauve Desert or in general?
In general, or in the book if you prefer.
It’s a different posture, though of course because of the freedom I had, as the one writing the third part — I had to really push myself because it was laborious, it was a labour. It wasn’t the same thing as in the first part, when I was totally free to go wherever I wanted, because in the third part I was labouring with the material I had to translate.
An invention, story? I think the idea might be more relevant to that specific relation in Mauve Desert. I guess the translation can be an invention or a reinvention, but a lie? I don’t think it can be a lie unless it is transformance. But if it is a translation I don’t think it can be a lie, because definitely you have to recognize a universe, the universe of the writer.
You have to recognize something, and unless you are a very bad translator it does not become a lie. So maybe it that those two dimensions of storytelling and lying are more connected in this specific book, Mauve Desert, than in a general sense of translation. Certainly, if you want to go into it one way, if you want to absolutely prove that a translation is a lie — well go ahead, that might still be possible.
In what ways maybe a story? I think especially Mauve Desert tends to posit translation as the story of its own coming into being. And that is always the case in a certain sense, that a translation, in addition to being what it is, is in some respect also the story of coming into this other language. Is there a sense in which this book is also pointing to the story of its initial creation, reception, and re-creation?
It could, absolutely, it’s a matter of how the reader can locate those passages, those traces — but when we talk about Mauve Desert, it is the story of translation but it is also the story of reading, because the translator will reshape the language but nevertheless her first task is to read. And as a reader she will make mistakes. She will over-invest certain passages, she will go too fast on other passages, and so on.
So in that sense, it is the story of loving — falling in love with a book and then reinventing the book, in the sense that getting stimulated by the material she finds in the book, and getting stimulated enough that she would like that book to belong to her as a translator. I would say it is a love story with a book, and it is a love story about reading and what reading does to us, which is allows us to fly somehow in the language — in the imaginary, but as well in the language.
When I was reading the English edition of Installations there’s a line that reads “the text is an invitation” and certainly the text is an invitation to read, but is the text an invitation to translate? Is every reading a sort of translation?
Well, it would be an appropriation of the text. With the word appropriation then, we certainly have the word meaning. The appropriation of the universe, appropriation of the meaning that can be swallowed by our own individual singular imagination. In that sense, and this is what we keep doing all the time — that’s why also I was interested in translation, because we keep translating what people are telling us even in the same language, in our own mother tongue.
So we are always interpreting what is being told to us or spoken to us all the time. Of course, sometimes we follow the easy path, but most of the time our mind has to process what’s being told to us and translation is that process, which is redefining meaning, and of course rhythm if you talk about poetry. But in the case of my novel, I would also talk about rhythm. Especially in Mauve Desert, even if you read just the first page you see how important the sound is.
Is translation a radical act? Or can it be?
Oh, it certainly can be a radical act, absolutely. Of destroying, or of love. Of a kind of embracing absolutely.
And, well, it can be a neutral act as well. For most of the people working for big publishing houses, they are being given a novel and told, “You translate that in the next three months and you give me some results.” That’s one thing, but I have been lucky enough to have had translators who I believe liked my text and liked my obsession and my approach. Therefore, they have a very special relation to the text that they will be translating.
At this point in your career you’ve amassed a substantial body of work, which is known for being diverse and for having experimental qualities. To what extent do you see yourself engaged in developing a body of work like that, or when you begin a new project are you just thinking about that project and not so much how it will add to or complement your previous work?
Usually I am interested in the new project, but I can see now with time the coherence. I can see the recurring obsessions, the recurring questions, and I can see also the curves that I’ve taken. For example, if the text goes too slowly for me, if the sentence is too slow and hasn’t enough tension in it, then I will soon try to put a new tension in the sentence. Because I get bored and I don’t like the text to be too slow. Sometimes your whole line needs that slowness though, sometimes you want to oppose speed.
I wrote a long time ago that I write to understand, by which I mean I write to understand process. I’m a poet, but I have a fascination for science, for exactitude, or at least for understanding process. At the same time, I make space for the singular. For the I. And I make space for whatever at that moment in my life seems to be important. If it is not, then it will fade out by itself. If it is not pertinent it will fade out, but nevertheless I will have given it a try.
Why is that kind of that experiment, that constant experimentation, important to you?
I don’t think you can rely only on yourself, on your experience or your own personal vocabulary. I think that if you go digging in the language it will bring you material. Not only to express, but material to think, to feel, to renew you.
Yesterday, I read three short poems in French [at the reading the previous day]. I gave myself the constraint to write a poem where all the words in that poem would start with the same letter, A or B or C [etc.]. Sometimes I cheat a little bit, but mot of the time I respect the constraint. That was a very interesting experience because I could see how much we deprive ourselves if we don’t go and dig into that huge immensity of language.
Nicole Brossard Mauve Desert
Coach House Books
‘This 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.
‘Nicole Brossard’s writing is agile and inventive; from moment to moment gripping, exhilarating and erotic. Her language drifts and swells like sand dunes in a desert, cresting and accumulating into a landscape that shifts like wind and words; she translates the practice of translation, the pulse of desire.’ — CHB
‘With the appearance of Mauve Desert … Nicole Brossard reinforces her claim to be ranked among the few truly radical text-makers in North America.’ — The Toronto Star
‘In Mauve Desert, Nicole Brossard writes from the point of impact; from the collision between languages, between forms and ideas, between cultures and genders. Her effects too are the effects of collisions: brilliant sparks and white hot fragments, alarm and the possibility of danger, and a momentary light in which we glimpse the bizarrely distorted faces of strangers, which turn out after all to have been our own.’ — Margaret Atwood
The desert is indescribable. Reality rushes into it, rapid light. The gaze melts.Yet this morning. Very young, I was already crying over humanity. With every new year I could see it dissolving in hope and in violence. Very young, I would take my mother’s Meteor and drive into the desert. There I spent entire days, nights, dawns. Driving fast and then slowly, spinning out the light in its mauve and small lines which like veins mapped a great tree of life in my eyes.
I was wide awake in the questioning but inside me was a desire which free of obstacles frightened me like a certitude. Then would come the pink, the rust and the grey among the stones, the mauve and the light of dawn. In the distance, the flashing wings of a tourist helicopter.
Very young I had no future like the shack on the corner which one day was set on fire by some guys who ‘came from far away,’ said my mother who had served them drinks. Only one of them was armed, she had sworn to me. Only one among them. All the others were blond. My mother always talked about men as if they had seen the day in a book. She would say no more and go back to her television set. I could see her profile and the reflection of the little silver comb she always wore in her hair and to which I attributed magical powers. Her apron was yellow with little flowers. I never saw her wearing a dress.
I was moving forward in life, wild-eyed with arrogance. I was fifteen. This was a delight like the power of dying or of driving into the night with circles under my eyes, absolutely delirious spaces edging the gaze.
I was well-acquainted with the desert and the roads running through it. Lorna, this friend of my mother’s, had introduced me to erosion, to all the ghosts living in the stone and the dust. She had described landscapes, some familiar, some absolutely incompatible with the vegetation and barren soil of my childhood. Lorna was inventing. I knew she was because even I knew how to distinguish between a Western diamondback and a rattlesnake, between a troglo- dyte and a mourning turtledove. Lorna was inventing. Sometimes she seemed to be barking, so rough and unthinkable were her words. Lorna had not known childhood, only young girls after school whom she would ostentatiously arrange to meet at noon. The girls loved kiss- ing her on the mouth. She loved girls who let themselves be kissed on the mouth.
The first time I saw Lorna I found her beautiful and said the word ‘bitch’. I was five years old. At supper my mother was smiling at her. They would look at each other and when they spoke their voices were full of intonations. I obstinately observed their mouths. Whenever they pronounced words starting with m, their lips would disappear for a moment then, swollen, reanimate with incredible speed. Lorna said she liked moly and salmon mousse. I spilled my glass of milk and the tablecloth changed into America with Florida seeping under the salt- shaker. My mother mopped up America. My mother always pretended not to notice when things were dirtied.
I often took to the road. Long before I got my driver’s license. At high noon, at dusk, even at night, I would leave with my mother yelling sharp words at me which would get lost in the parking lot dust. I always headed for the desert because very young I wanted to know why in books they forget to mention the desert. I knew my mother would be alone like a woman can be but I was fleeing the magical reflection of the comb in her hair, seeking the burning reflections of the blinding sun, seeking the night in the dazzled eyes of hares, a ray of life. ‘Let me confront aridity’, and I would floor the accelerator, wild with the damned energy of my fifteen years. Some day I would reach the right age and time as necessary as a birth date to get life over with. Some day I would be fast so fast, sharp so sharp, some day, faced with the necessity of dawn, I would have forgotten the civilization of men who came to the desert to watch their equations explode like a humanity. I was driving fast, alone like a character cut out of history. Saying ‘so many times I have sunk into the future.’
At night there was the desert, the shining eyes of antelope jack rabbits, senita flowers that bloom only in the night. Lying under the Meteor’s headlights was the body of a humanity that did not know Arizona. Humanity was fragile because it did not suspect Arizona’s existence. So fragile. I was fifteen and hungered for everything to be as in my body’s fragility, that impatient tolerance making the body nec- essary. I was an expert driver, wild-eyed in midnight, capable of going forward in the dark. I knew all that like a despair capable of setting me free of everything. Eternity was a shadow cast in music, a fever of the brain making it topple over into the tracings of highways. Humanity was fragile, a gigantic hope suspended over cities. Everything was frag- ile, I knew it, I had always known it. At fifteen I pretended I had forgotten mediocrity. Like my mother, I pretended that nothing was dirtied.
Shadows on the road devour hope. There are no shadows at night, at noon, there is only certitude traversing reality. But reality is a little trap, little shadow grave welcoming desire. Reality is a little passion fire that pretexts. I was fifteen and with every ounce of my strength I was leaning into my thoughts to make them slant reality toward the light.
And now to park the car in front of the Red Arrow Motel. Heat, the Bar. The bar’s entire surface resembles a television image: elbows everywhere leaning like shadows and humanity’s trash repeating themselves. I have a beer and nobody notices I exist.
Longman puts his briefcase on the bed. He has been hot, he loosens his tie. He heads for the bathroom. He thinks about the explosion, he thinks about it and it s not enough. Something. He knows some lovely little footpaths, delicately shaded areas. He hesitates in front of the mirror. He washes his hands. He thinks about the explosion, he thinks about it and nothing happens in his head. He removes his jacket, throws it on the bed. A ballpoint pen falls to the floor. He does not bend down. He lights a cigarette. He fingers the brim of his felt hat which he almost never takes off. He thinks about the explosion. For the pleasure of sounds he recites a few sentences in Sanskrit, the same ones which earlier delighted his colleagues. He paces the floor. His cigarette smoke follows him about like a spectral presence. Longman knows the magic value of formulas. He thinks about the explosion. The slightest error could have disastrous consequences. Longman stretches out with white visions then orange ones then the ground beneath his feet turns to jade – 1 / am / become / Death – now we are all sons of bitches. Longman rests his head on the equation.
p.s. Hey. So, tomorrow the multi-talented fella and d.l. Jamie will be visiting Paris, and he, some pals of his, Zac and I will be spending the day at Parc Asterix, heading out there early-ish in the morning. Thus, I will not be able to do the p.s. tomorrow. Please, though, do carry on here as always because I will get to all the accumulated comments on Thursday. Thanks! ** Armando, Hey. Oh, no, don’t be. I thoroughly enjoyed your ‘noise’, man. I’ve listened to it twice so far in fact. Thank you, kudos, and I was happy to have it be a kind of secret bonus track to the gig. I don’t think I’ve seen ‘Another Woman’. Huh, strange. I will get it under my belt. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Oh, Yury’s doing very well. His clothes project is a distant memory now, but he’s doing interesting other things. Thank you for asking! ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I’ve heard the entire Dream Syndicate album. I don’t think it’s consistently really good, but there are three or so very good tracks. Definitely their best since ‘Wine and Roses’, I think. The space managers seem a little unreasonably skittish? Well, I hope the PA guy is a dedicated sweetie. I haven’t heard the Lil B yet, but people are seeming to think it’s his best in quite a while? Very glad to hear you found so much of interest in the gig. Cool, that’s great. ** Sypha, Hi, James. Oh, gosh, intellectuals are often capable of liking ‘junk’. And even of writing giant brainy books about it. The only track of hers I like is ‘Die Young’, which I think she has disowned now or something, but at least there’s that. I did see that Philip Best has started an imprint, and, yeah, that’s very cool and intriguing. I’m gonna order some things for sure. ** Jamie, Hey hey, soon to be real one! Oh, wow, you know the Total Leatherette guys? That’s a very cool record. I … don’t remember how I found them but chances are it was via The Wire? Got your number, sent you mine. So we’ll nail the coordinates down today. Oh, thank you, if you see this in time and if a scone is nothing but easy to score. Plain. My favorite is plain. But any would be awesome. My Tuesday was good apart from excessive heat, which very generously died today. Saw pal and d.l. and author Thomas ‘Moronic’ Moore. Spent the entire rest of the day and evening planting English subtitles into our film. It was good. So, I’ll confer with you today and see you very bright and early tomorrow! May the Eurostar or plane have a holographic gentleness that makes your day feel as light as a feather. Ha ha. Muse are also banned from this venue love, Dennis. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi, Dóra! Yes, we finished the roughing in of the subtitles yesterday. Friday we go into the studio and nail down the proper spots for them and lengths of screen time they need, or we’ll get started on that Friday at least if it’s a laborious job. Super glad your meeting worked out, and, of course that you have SCAB all designed. Choosing the order of the work is an art in itself. I’m guessing you enjoy that. I do. I mean, I make those kinds of decisions about order all the time right here on this blog. I hope your brother got off to Amsterdam safely. Are you still planning to visit him there? Yes, we finished the rough subtitling last night, and we’ll do the jiggling and polishing on Friday, or starting then. Then we’ll have to quickly (but carefully) do the titles and end credits because on Tuesday we start working on the sound, and that will be very consuming. Have a perfect day! ** Bill, Hi. The Dream Syndicate just came back. Sparks never stopped. New David Grubbs! Excellent. Gisele was going to collaborate with him on one of our pieces at some point, but it didn’t work out, I don’t remember why. ** Shane Jesse Christmass, Hey there, SJC! Excellent to see you! Yes! And yes again! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hey, Benster. Yeah, it’s a good album in general. They’re new to me too. ** Misanthrope, George, hello. I don’t think something like that could happen in France. They have laws up the wazoo here. For example, yesterday our producer sent us the end credits information for us to put on the film, and we noticed that two of the main actors in the film aren’t listed as being in the cast. They’re just thanked in the ‘Thanks’ section. We thought it was some stupid mistake, but it turns out there’s some law in France that actors in a film can’t be credited as being actors in the film unless they were hired via some particular kind of contract, and those two people had a different kind of contract. It’s insane, especially in one case because she is one of the most important characters/ performers in the film! I’m going to stamp my feet and make a huge scene that the producer find a loophole because that’s completely insane and unacceptable, and terrible for the actors in question who worked very hard and gave amazing performances. So, yeah, it’s weird here. ** Okay. Jeff Jackson brought up Nicole Brossard’s fantastic novel here the other day, and I realized I hadn’t spotlit it, so I did. I hope it and the post intrigue you. As stated up above, the blog will see you with shining colors tomorrow, and I will return on Friday to blab with you like nearly always.