autobiographie des objets | try it in english ?

six chapitres de mon "Autobiographie des objets" traduits par des étudiants de la New York University, beau cadeau...

Au département de français de la New York University, les étudiants en master de traduction travaillent avec Emmanuelle Ertel sur des textes d’auteurs contemporains.

Brigitte Giraud, Eric Chevillard, Pierre Autin-Grenier, Cyrille Martinez... Le paradoxe est que ce travail nous reste invisible, alors qu’il y aurait tant à imaginer pour un dialogue tout souple via le web, directement auteur à traducteur, quand c’est le moment, et aussi parce que pour nous, qui bénéficions rarement d’un tel cadeau, c’est magnifique de pouvoir faire circuler des fragments de notre travail ainsi transposé dans l’autre langue. Et qu’importe s’il s’agit de work in progress, d’étudiants qui fourbissent leurs armes.

Suis sûr aussi qu’on pourrait imaginer beaucoup de choses nouvelles en partant directement de textes publiés sur le web.

Tout cela, j’en ai eu un bref aperçu en décembre 2009, la première fois qu’Emmanuelle Ertel m’a accueilli. Puis là, en novembre 2012, pour une séance de travail en commun. Je reverrai les étudiants en mai dernier, en lecture publique de leurs travaux, lors de notre mini stage avec les enseignants.

Invité à nouveau aux US (Baltimore, San Francisco/Berkeley, Chicago, Madison...) fin octobre, avec l’autorisation d’Emmanuelle et des 5 traductrices, je mets en ligne ce travail, tel qu’il s’est fait, pendant quelques semaines, sur mon Autobiographie des objets juste parue.

Coupure de génération, coupure de civilisation... La tâche pour elles a dû être rude, je les en remercie donc à proportion.

Et bienvenue aux amis US qui souhaiteront ainsi prendre connaissance d’un aspect de mon travail.


Sommaire :
 Zineb | Question (an introduction) _ (original : book only)
 Serene | Nylon _ texte français initial
 Christiana | Mirrortexte français initial
 Margaret | The bucket of mussels _ texte français initial
 Hannah | Telefunken _ texte français initial


Zineb | Question (an introduction)

It’s a dance : we get lost in it. Every two years you need to get rid of the old and replace it with that which is so much better – anyway, the thing breaks down by itself and it can’t be fixed. It’s also a celebration : questioning the world, through speed, planes, newly discovered cities, and what we learn by nibbling on the telephone’s plastic or tactile slab with our fingers brings us unheard music, rare books, roads’ or trains’ exact status. We’re standing on the edge of an abyss : the ransacked planet, political issues and conflicts, each one capable of making everything collapse quicker than any conflict of the old days, the cold cynicism of money blowing stronger than high altitude winds. And those objects with their programmed obsolescence that replaced the old permanence, we cannot bear thinking about who, how, and where they’ve been made, nor what we’ll do afterwards with the rare metals and poisons in their semi-conductors. The old moves us : not necessarily because we held it in our hands during childhood – a rusting tractor in a field, a car hanging in equilibrium on a junk yard pile in the outskirts of town, glimpsed from the train, and it’s time in its entirety that suddenly hits you, and what we missed out on. And yet. Never have we more precisely known the immensity that surrounds our own mystery : exo-planets and remnant radiant heat, nascent galaxies, and the same thing for the atom or the cell, theories that give up on unifying to better understand the immensely small or the immensely far strand by strand. In old books, we look for our own adventure. We read in the old adventure the distress of having missed our own. The dead are near by : hands and voices. We enter houses, we see them at the very back. Their own objects, the inventions they lived through and the life changing effects that followed. Are we thus so old ourselves in turn, for the appearance of the washing machine, the TV set, or electric guitars to be an event, even though the symbolic value of all this, in turn, has vanished ? We are not nostalgic – the idea of melancholy is richer, more subversive even, as far as both the present and the past are concerned. In the constant renewal of cities, we unlearned how to accumulate and keep (even though). What’s left is the present, and its abyss : for lack of understanding it, and in the major chaotic amplification it represents, to go back and read the successive transitions. There are your hands, and there are the cold faces of the dead, those who were yours. At the end, at the very end, we know it : only books. Because would that too be in danger, that from which we learned so much ? So to read them too in that upheaval of things. How can we believe that we, ourselves, are products of such a world ? Fifty years, nothing.



Serene | Nylon

While wondering about the very first object that I could consider a personal possession, I come across this word nylon. There weren’t many stores, on the town’s only street that contained them all. The hardware store, the pharmacy, one fabric shop, and this general store – the one where we would get our things, which we called le Syndicat, didn’t have a store window. The other businesses – the two bakeries, the notary public, my grandparents’ garage – these weren’t technically store windows.

This other store, whose interior I remember only very vaguely, dark, square, cluttered – but how could I not confuse it with thirty similar stores I’ve visited since then – we named it after its owner, and I wouldn’t be able to recall that either. In the store window, there was a yellowing carton, with pocketknives of increasing sizes, I can’t picture the other objects, only this blue nylon cord rolled up in a compact coil, with an opaqueness, a brilliance.

I have no idea today what kind of use I had foreseen for it. Maybe, precisely, no other use than this supple and brilliant consistency of the nylon itself, a new material. I had one coin, it was a gift ; that had to have been the first time I had my own money – I imagine it was a five franc coin (but we were still using the old francs, so it was a five hundred coin, something smaller than a 1000-franc bill) – the cord cost two francs, I went in, I bought it. In a town where everyone inevitably knows who you are and who your parents are, I must have adopted a stubborn silence and not responded to any questions that according to rural courtesy must always be indirect.

My mother noticed the presence of the nylon cord just two days later. Where I had gotten it, and for what purpose – I had to answer. I confessed to exchanging the five-franc coin : I learned that day that I hadn’t been given such money for its exchange value, but for compulsory capitalization. I had wasted. The possession that I had gained from my transaction didn’t compensate for abandoning the coin, in its trade potential.

I had to hand over the cord to my mother, I had no say in the matter. In the garden, between some cement posts, we had three wire laundry cords, and space for one more – the nylon cord ended up there. It didn’t interest me anymore, unraveled, useful, without any opaqueness or brilliance.

I only held onto that impression it gave, from the other side of the store window, and the fact that I had dared to go in to buy it.



Christiana | Mirror

I don’t think I have a particular fascination with my own image. On the contrary, the most difficult part is probably accepting it. What’s strange, with all of these devices that allow us to stockpile self-portraits so easily, is the curiosity we develop for them, but I erase them just as quickly : you see the signs of aging more than anything else.

We lived far from any city. Luçon had practical value, but there was also the Messe bookstore, where we would go to get textbooks for school, where I acquired the taste for books, and dreamt in front of a globe – which ended up being given to me. La Rochelle was bigger, more complex, more magical. The city has deteriorated, seized by this vague abandonment characteristic of the provinces whose centers have been sucked up, as if through a straw, into the repetitive shopping districts of the surrounding suburbs, but there was still Prisunic – the now-defunct budget department store – with a second story. In the village, multi-story buildings were unheard of : land of winds. But there, the building was in the style of the big Parisian department stores, with multiple floors inside. The village and Luçon sufficed for the necessities ; coming to La Rochelle once a year was a waiting game and a reward. We would go inside Prisunic ; my mother had things to do there. My father, in the meantime, went to Fumoleau’s place, in the La-Ville-en-Bois neighborhood – he was the workman who repaired boat hoists and motors for clients in the mussel industry of L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer.

My brother and I were allowed one request, provided that it was financially feasible. Within the allotted budget was a little rectangular mirror surrounded by a round plastic frame, with cardboard backing. In the car, it was out of the question to claim the purchases, mine as well my brother’s, each in a personal, separate paper bag – no idea if this is also a memory for him.

In the house where we used to live, that we rented in Saint-Michel-en-l’Herm, there was a mirror in the bathroom, by necessity, therefore only for the daily rituals pertaining to it. There were also rear-view mirrors in the cars – I don’t have memories of any other mirror or looking glass.

I have a clear memory of my rather heavy usage, during those early times, of the mirror with the cardboard backing and round plastic border, brought back from La Rochelle. I should say that, for me, the memory of the two cities that surrounded us symmetrically – Les Sables-d’Olonne to the north, La Rochelle to the south – is connected with the optical clarity of the glasses that I had just been endowed with – in the village near-sightedness wasn’t something worth correcting.

I used the mirror around the house, following my path on the ceiling. It was fantastic and marvelous. Going from one room to another, meant jumping over an abyss. I only remember this mirror from holding it to look at the ceiling while walking around. Outside, it was even more unsettling – it was the sky that loomed under you.

In the clarity of this recollection, there is for me one certainty : the optical connection with the world – conjuring up in this world, by turning it upside down, via a frame, an unfinished dimension has remained a set life principle.

I can vaguely picture, in later periods, the mirror with its plastic frame in a wooden crate in the laundry room where my brother and I would store our old treasures (there too I can picture a plastic sword, also dreamt of, also abandoned).

His name really was Tancred Pepin, but his first name struck me less than his last, because of Pepin the Short. He was the quiet type, rather stocky like the people of this region, even a little cubic, and moved around on an often-overloaded moped, since he came into town for his gardening duties.

At the far end of the garden that surrounded our house, my parents had had some gravel deposited (a truck had poured it in a heap, the image still lingers) and we’d undertaken the task of lining two slender paths with upright concrete slabs in the form of triangles. My parents didn’t garden, but Tancred came each week for the patches of potatoes, leeks and other useful things, tufts of sorrel, which played an obligatory role in this economy of isolation.

It’s not possible for me to better define this device, not very complicated,which he used to align, install and set those triangular cement tiles. It was made up of two stainless steel rods, a green plastic frame, a handle. What’s strange is that I have no recollection of Tancred Pepin’s face, but I very precisely remember his moped and this device.

Somehow, I found it amazing : I’ve never liked grass, earth, vegetation. With this device they were gone for good. The countryside was transformed into the city. The whole world could be covered with geometrics of pure and clean cement.

Tancred Pepin lived ten miles from town, a place officially named Bout du monde, or the edge of the earth. I’ve always associated this expression with his name : the earth had an edge, and Tancred Pepin was the name of its inhabitants. He lived alone in one of those minuscule lockkeeper’s houses granted by the Union. In return for free housing, he had to open the lock to the rising tide, close it to the ebbing tide, meaning four turns of the crank handle, three-hundred sixty five days a year. This occupation also seemed somewhat wonderful to me, in any case much more so than the different jobs proposed by the town or what I perceived of them firsthand – heavy burdens on teachers, with the annual visit from inspector Touroude (I wouldn’t have remembered the name, it appeared suddenly on its own in the sentence), or symmetrically, pumping gas and repairing cars. Later I myself would have a lock at the edge of the earth, I would regularly open the gates in the shimmering mystery of the rising tide – that we all knew (and that I still know) just by a certain quality of the wind and earthly energy. The world that we lived in breathed through the sea, and the absurdity of this cheap urbanism cleaned away a year ago by the Windstorm Xynthia was exactly the opposite lesson of what we were taught by Tancred Pepin’s moped, which appeared in town at various times, depending on what the turning of the crank demanded of him.

Did I even hear him speak once ? But there was this device, which proved that cities make themselves.



Margaret | The bucket of mussels

No need for an object to be ours to determine its autobiographical place. Between the town’s main road and the street known as Rue Basse, a sidestreet. At the end of it, Jézéquel’s shed. Almost empty, a bit dark, the feeling of humidity linked perhaps to its fish traps and fish bins, which he piles into his van in the mornings. As for her, she goes all over town with her bike and trailer. In front of the handlebars is her Roman scale. You buy what she offers, depending on the catch. It can be cuttlefish or conger eels, gray shrimp still trembling and transparent, a very black, heavy plaice or sole. There’s never a lot – the piles at the supermarket frighten me, compared to this trailer that would go along the street, and she who would send out her call to the housewives, I have fresh sole, I have mussels or something of the sort, I only remember the slightly high pitched voice of her call, and that is was enough to know it was time for her to pass through. I also remember the newspaper : the hake rolled directly in the printed word, the local news reported by Ouest-France or the obituary column. What is certain, for me, is the disappearance of their figures, his, hers, from my memory, while the interior of the nearly-empty shed, its darkened light, remains just as precise as the bike and its trailer. The curved, wrought-iron handle under the seat that the trailer hooked onto. The copper weights placed on the tin tray of the Roman scale. And the bucket of mussels. A mussel farming region, it’s one of the essential elements on the list of permanent resources, along with snails, dandelion salad, and frogs’ legs – mussels are eaten at least once a week. Like everyone in my family, I have the reflex to arrange the empty shells by stacking them. They are accompanied with bread and butter, which works out well, the area of our village operates on catches from the sea, redistributed in part to the community. Those that don’t have agricultural activity receive vouchers for bread in compensation, or bons de pain, a portion of flour entered annually in your account at the baker’s (how many times will this be my nickname in class, then for my brother in his), and the farmers that pasture the land allotted to their families repay in butter – how far away this world is. There is no reason why I should remember this bucket of mussels, a wooden cylindrical container, reinforced with zinc. If not for its associated noises - the mussels poured from the container into the Ouest-France (or the Ouest-Éclair) folded into a cone - that remind me of both the shed and the call, and the fish scantily placed at the bottom of the trailer, and all this economy of necessity, of the relative place of each person in the community. One day she’ll have to stop using this liter that we all know, the mussels have to be sold in kilos. Because it touches upon an everyday life I knew for so long, it leaves me with a feeling of surprise to this day. Perhaps that’s also why I see Madame Jézéquel’s bucket of mussels so precisely.



Hannah | Telefunken

It never lost its position of authority. It was until 1962 : in the small, somber dining room, which was only used for occasions (otherwise, it was the kitchen), on a narrow table reserved for him, the large Telefunken brand radio. Associated memories : the lacquer and the somber reflections of smooth wood panels, the heaviness of the folding top to the record player piece above, the very identifiable odor of the yellow varnished toile in front of the oval speaker, and that big green moving eye that indicated the quality of reception of big and small radio waves. During its splendid period, associated with De Gaulle’s voice, and we had to listen with parents to the beginning that sounded like credits, Ladies and gentlemen of France…Politicians today would no longer use that tone of natural authority. Then came the television set – I didn’t see it myself, but I have a precise afterglow of news with those voices and those black and white unmoving photographs that evoked the ending war in Algeria. It was that day that the teacher – Boisseau or Galipeau ? – had taken the class in rows of two for the arrival of the first television set in a house downtown, the tax inspector’s place. Only, during the day, there was nothing but the test pattern and the inside of the tax inspector’s house – mysterious job of this man who was authorized to take others’ pennies, what did he do with them—, clearly more interesting, was the lasting image left with me.

Once the television is in the house, so the year being 1962, the radio set is in the hallway, but it’s not even hooked up anymore. It’s used for setting down objects. When we move in 1964, begins truly the era of the television, no longer for ritualized listening, but a daily presence, it’s the age of Bewitched, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Jeopardy, but I am eleven years old it’s already too late for that to become important, I’m much better off with Poe and Verlaine.

The Telefunken is now in the kids’ room, the three beds in the same room, with an unused chimney at the back, which we lean the radio against. The radio leaves me indifferent : it recovered its importance with the transistor, it’s my father’s, barely larger than a pack of cigarettes, but the chance to listen secretly at night and it’s at that very moment, oh the live concerts on Pop Club, that we would finally discover how vast the world is, and that with these songs it can be ours.

So there is a thin period, from the end of seventh grade in 1965 when I receive my first record, the Equals’ Baby Come Back, until July of 1967 when I have my license and finally my record player plays the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s, where at the top of the Telefunken, the folding lid held open by a little copper arm, we rule over the plastic, faux-ivory needle on the 33, 45, or 78 (it requires a little plastic washer to center the 45s, they’re the first Rolling Stones records), and in the end I don’t know if I even need the music – the black turning movement of the spiral microgroove is enchantment enough.

Then, this must line up with the spring of 1968, I have this guitar and a microphone head encased in stainless steel, two stripped filaments : I unscrewed the bottom of the Telefunken, disconnecting the contact from the record player’s DI box (not very difficult, but still a frightening memory to have taken the 220 volts several times, the red-hot transformer, and this very particular smell of burnt dust in these hot parts), to replace it with the guitar wires.

No, it wasn’t enough to make an electric guitar. But it could give the illusion, as long as you listened quite close to the speaker, certainly. No idea of what happened to the Telefunken next, and to its big green eye for the big and small radio waves.


responsable publication François Bon © Tiers Livre Éditeur, cf mentions légales
diffusion sous licence Creative Commons CC-BY-SA
1ère mise en ligne 17 septembre 2013 et dernière modification le 14 août 2016
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