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Acts of Translation in Charlotte Delbo's Theatrical Poetics

Conference paper
Authors Kristina Hagström-Ståhl
Published in Poetry in Expanded Translation, Bangor University, Wales
Publication year 2018
Published at Academy of Music and Drama
Language en
Subject categories Languages and Literature, Literary Composition, Performing Arts


This presentation reflects critically and creatively on the differentiated yet intertwined ”acts of translation” constitutive of, on the one hand, the process of translating the poetic testimonial writing of French poet, playwright, and essayist Charlotte Delbo, and on the other, Delbo’s writing ”itself.” Having survived Auschwitz and Ravensbrück as a political prisoner, Delbo, who worked with theatre director Louis Jouvet before the War, became a writer, she claimed, out of necessity: ”...I felt the urge to testify. The words, the gestures, the agonies of Auschwitz needed to be told.” Delbo’s experimental, poetic testimony enacts a reciprocal, or translational, movement between experience and language, between word and gesture, between poetry and theatre. Deeply influenced by her pre-War immersion in theatre, Delbo’s writing, I would argue, carries within it something of what motivates the theatrical ”line” (parole): the urge or longing for articulation through embodied, voiced language; the tentative utterance of a position awaiting sound and corporeal agency; the recognition of the reliance of sound and the spoken on the visual-gestural, if through poetic language one is, as Delbo puts it, to ”make people see.” At stake is the seemingly impossible task of ”carrying the word” (rapporter la parole) from the concentrationary universe. Exploring Delbo’s inseparably theatrical-poetic aeshetic, and searching for ways to render her testimony in my own native language, Swedish, I will reflect on the challenges – and considerable beauty – of Delbo’s oeuvre, while considering how my own theatre practice becomes an indispensable part of the translation work I do.

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