Translator: Anna-Louise Milne | Author: Patrick Chamoiseau | Work: Texaco | Original Language: French | Genre: Fiction

by brouillonjournal

un là gai de combat…

un là gai de combat…

… is what happened some time back in the days before 1848 in Martinique when slave labourers would sally down to the local water pump with their pitchers and bowls. But that’s not all. Not according to Patrick Chamoiseau: la moindre fontaine publique devenait un là gai de combatde récipients nerveux, d’éclaboussures, de toilettes, de contentements canailles répercutées sans fin par des mèches négrillonnesThe licentiousness of the language is in full, disruptive display, like the bodies rubbing up against one another, elbowing one another, jostling and jesting in the muddy space around the pump. The water runs over, spills no doubt, and sometimes pitchers smash against one another; the trails of water, footsteps, the pressure of a hand, of a smile, dribble back away to the confinement of the nègreries, the slave quarters. Surely there is something of all of that in mèches négrillonnes, touch and suggestion and unruliness. But how to translate under the sign of unruliness? The slow published version, by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokurov, has some nice jittery vessels, but it loses the emphatic shifter to a circumscribed place of battle and an overly ostentatious public fountain, while the slippery mèches become black girls’ locks, all the more fashioned into form by the fact that giddy pleasures bounce off them. We decided to try again, in a seminar situation, just quickly, five minutes or so of individual thinking and then twenty minutes of discussion. Fisty fraternizing, roughhouse, scrum, rammy: our attempts veered towards lexical license. We ventured a there of gay combat, and wondered about the word gai, how it seems to make the of clause dative. So we worked away a bit at the un là, came up with a go gay set-to…, and then shoved it to one side. Team translation: un là gai de combat.

Anna-Louise Milne is Director of Graduate Studies and Research at the University of London Institute in Paris, where she is developing the Centre for Migrant Writing and Expression ( She also runs translation workshops for the Masters in Cultural Translation at the American University in Paris. Her new book entitled 75 will be out in French in the autumn.