Self-translation was the topic of one talk given at the conference "Corresponding with Beckett. The Epistolary in Literary Research" which took place in London, 1-2 June 2018.
Ioanna Kostopoulou (Humboldt University of Berlin)
“Translation, Self-Translation and Emerging Poetics: Samuel Beckett’s Correspondence
in French (1941-56)”
Abstract: In the immediate post-war years, Beckett’s writing is shaped by his use of French. What is
known as the chosen language for his literary work is also unsurprisingly the language of the
majority of his correspondence in the period 1941-56.
This particular proficiency in French can be seen as a result of increasing confidence and
everyday contact with “standard” French; it relies also on a deeper connection with other
(French-speaking) writers and thinkers, made possible by epistolary-based friendship and trust.
On the other hand, moments of “invented” French and the development of different epistolary
styles hint at a process of translation, self-translation and the emerging of poetics in the letters
and literary works—such as the “Trilogy”—alike.
Bearing Beckett’s words to Simone de Beauvoir in mind—“You are giving me the
chance to speak only to retract it before the words have had time to mean anything” (25
September 1946; LSB 2, 42)—the letters seem to reveal poetological decisions on when to start
or end a text as well as conditions for speech and its (im)possibilities of meaning production.
The correspondence with art critic Georges Duthuit reveals Beckett’s thoughts on
translation and documents the struggle with the “burden”, but also the necessity of selftranslation
into English. At the same time, Beckett’s encounter with Henri Michaux’s prose poetry raises the question of translation as influence, corresponding in a metaphorical sense and
Übertragung crucial for Beckett’s (literary) writing in the years after Transition, Forty-Eight, No. 4.
This paper aims to locate, in the exchange of concepts, (un)words and views on art, a
possible correspondence with Beckett’s translation practice of around 1948 and the conditions
under which notions of speech, language and silence flow into novels such as L’Innommable, or in
Textes pour rien.