Editing Modernism in Canada


February 5, 2012

The English French-Canadian Modernist Canon: The Case of Anne Hébert

I suppose I should start by introducing myself; my name is Dr. Lee Skallerup Bessette and I am the newest member of the EMiC family. I am very new to digital humanities, but not so new to the Modernist period in Canada. One of my areas of interests is comparative Canadian literature, and I specifically looked at how the poetry of Anne Hébert was translated into and published in English for my dissertation.

I became fascinated by her poetry and their translation when I took a course on Québécois poetry at the Université de Sherbrooke with Richard Giguère as an undergraduate. He had us read the Dialogue sur la traduction, the correspondence that took place between Frank Scott and Anne Hébert about the translation of her poem “Le Tombeau des rois.” Researching for my final paper, I discovered multiple other translations of the poem and was immediately hooked on learning as much as I could about the process of translating Hébert’s dense and hauntingly beautiful poetry.

In 2007, I defended my dissertation. I had consulted 15 different archives in both Canada and the United States. I had found 27 collections and anthologies that had included her poetry in translation and for each one I tried to find out as much as possible about the process of putting the collection together as well as how Hébert’s poetry appeared and, whenever possible, was received. I collected four full file boxes of notes, photocopied letters, manuscripts, reviews, and other materials. Somehow I wrestled it down to 235 pages of dissertation. It won honorable mention for the 2009 Prix Anne-Hébert.

In 2011, I traveled to Toronto for the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory Conference. I had already begun to explore digital humanities, but I hadn’t tied it to my own research. A light went off while I was at the conference: why am I sitting on these boxes and boxes of research? Why is the only way I could imagine sharing my research the dissertation/scholarly monograph? The theme of the conference was Space/Place/Play, and I began to think of ways I could “play” with my research, making it more engaging and accessible.

A few short months later, and here I am, a part of EMiC. I am really excited to be a part of this research group, a community of scholars who are interested in digital humanities as well as the Modernist period in Canada. Right now, I am a complete novice (or n00b in proper geek-speak) at things like encoding, programing, and visualization. I will be attending this summer’s DEMiC session in Victoria and I look forward to meeting everyone as well as finally figuring out how to do what I want to do with my materials.

And what is it that I want to do? I envision something along the lines of the Digital Thoreau project, enabling readers to trace the evolution of Anne Hébert’s poetry in English, compare the different translations, as well as peek behind the curtain to read the relevant letters and manuscripts behind the translations, which include the input of the author herself. I want to make the interface dynamic but also a little unstable, visually representing the instability of language and the slippery nature of translation. Frank Scott, in Dialogue (adapting Paul Valery), wrote that a translation is never finished, only abandoned. How can that sort of indeterminacy be represented in a digital way?

Could it also be possible to let readers create their own mashups of the translations, incorporating their own interpretations? There is precedence for such a project; the 20th anniversary issue of the translation journal Ellipse asked 20 poet-translators to translate the same Anne Hébert poem and provide a brief explanation. These sorts of exercises could reach a larger audience, be used as a teaching tool, as well as open up the aspect of “play” when it comes to poetry and translation.

These are just some of the ideas I have. As I learn the tools as well as how to encode and manipulate the texts (and collaborate with my peers at EMiC!), I’m sure there will be other, better ideas. I’m just excited to be able to do something with all of my research, as well as build something potentially more meaningful and lasting than a monograph.


3 Responses to “The English French-Canadian Modernist Canon: The Case of Anne Hébert”

  1. Dean Irvine says:

    Loving the cross-over with Lee’s blog at Inside Higher Ed and Melissa’s contribution in the comments section, where she uses a Lego analogy for Islandora’s Drupal modules: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/what-have-you-built

  2. […] I dream of the possibilities and I learn how to build using my dissertation research. Laferrière has said that he will stop rewriting his work when he dies, so there’s time. […]

  3. […] Skallerup Bessette explains her digital humanities project at the Editing Modernism in Canada site and also gets back […]

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