" And words are the skin of dreams":
Translating Leslie Kaplan's Le Psychanalyste

Catherine A.F. MacGillivray

" Words are what we inhabit the most, because they inhabit us first . . . Humans are literally made, manufactured, by words, and words are the skin of dreams." So says Simon Scop, the psychoanalyst of Leslie Kaplan's 1999 novel Le Psychanalyste (The Psychoanalyst). The book opens abruptly, theatrically, in the middle of a conference on Kafka where Simon is presenting a paper; we the readers are placed immediately in the position of listener, of audience, listening to Simon--the professional listener--who speaks more in this scene than in any subsequent scene.

It is here at the Kafka conference that we are also introduced to two women who will have very different reactions to Simon: the narrator, the " I' of the story--a documentary filmmaker--who falls in love with him at first sight, and Eva, a young woman from the working-class suburbs of Paris (the banlieue), who stands and interrupts him, sputtering with rage, then leaves, figuratively slamming the door behind her. Eva, we learn, is a Kafka fanatic; we might also call her the antagonist to Simon's protagonist, if we were speaking of the character types in a traditional novel, which we are not. Le Psychanalyste is an experimental work; it is long (like a psychoanalysis): nearly 500 pages divided into four parts, each part divided into 5-9 sections, each section featuring 3-11 scenes. These short scenes, many of which take place in Simon's office, all open with a banner headline reminiscent of the subtitles in silent movies, meant to orient the viewer (or in this case reader) from scene to scene- " Simon Goes On" " Louise Leaves the Garden" " Somewhere in the Banlieue"; according to Kaplan, silent movies were indeed what she hoped to invoke with their use. The scenes are short, half-a-page to four pages at the most, and they rotate amongst the various characters: sometimes we hear about Simon, or from the narrator; sometimes we hear about Eva, or her girlfriend Josie; other times we hear from one of Simon's analysands--Louise, or Jeremy, or Marie, or Edward. Additional themes include the cinema--especially the French nouvelle vague (New Wave Cinema) and the silent films of Charlie Chaplin. Another major theme, in keeping with Kaplan's well-known commitment to exploring social issues in her work, is the poverty of the Paris suburbs, the banlieue, a word I have chosen to maintain in French in my translation. " Suburb" in English implies white flight and the privileges of being sub-urban, whereas banlieue, by its very etymology, implies banishment based on lack of power and agency. In contemporary Paris, although the banlieues of the West and South include some wealthy enclaves (which then one would refer to by proper name, so as to distinguish them from the connotations of the word banlieue and its residents, les banlieusards), la banlieue has come to stand for, literally and figuratively, the places where undesirables--the poor and immigrants--have been abjected (in the Kristevean sense) or banished. The distinction between being a resident of Paris proper and being a product of the banlieue has become so pronounced that last summer when I was in Paris I saw a T-shirt proclaiming, " I'm from the banlieue and I'm proud of it" (Je suis banlieusard et j'en suis fier). Descriptions and comments on this geographical ejection of France's urban abject are made by Kaplan via the characters of Eva and Josie; the scenes that Louise recounts to Simon regarding her work in a junior high school in the banlieue; and via the scenes wherein the narrator scouts locations for her documentary, which is about the banlieue.

Returning to the opening scene, where Simon and Eva both speak of Kafka, it is worth noting that when Simon references Kafka's use of language, he could just as well be talking about " the talking cure," the treatment proposed by perhaps the most famous of Freud and Breuer's hysterics, Anna O. Psychoanalytic practice, which arguably receives its best fictional treatment ever in this book, includes, among other techniques, a close analysis of the analysand's dreams and childhood memories, as well as a commitment to associative thinking, and all these expressed and relived through language. As Kaplan said in a letter to me when I agreed to commence the translation, " I am very pleased you are beginning to work on my book, Le Psychanalyste. I know it is not easy, because it is a book on psychoanalysis of course, and literature, and many other things, but also on language, on the wonderful and frightening powers of language."

The book also speaks of the role of the psychoanalyst, his role as silent and invisible screen upon which the analysand may project her words and affect, like the screen in a darkened cinema, and the analyst's commitment to listening, to making his whole body into ear, thus encouraging the analysand to really hear herself, sometimes as though for the very first time--what psychiatrist Bernard Levinson calls listening with three ears: " The only listening that has meaning is three-ear listening. In this listening we are totally in our patient's words. We are not thinking of a clever interpretation, we are not aware of time, temperature or place. We are in the moment, in the words. This is the listening we have lost. When we listen in this way, our patients say more than they plan to say. More than they have ever said before." Indeed, in her review of the book Secrets of the Soul: A Social and Cultural History of Psychoanalysis, New York Times Book Review contributor and author Daphne Merkin points out that the basic tenet behind psychoanalysis is the art of listening—a skill regrettably in the process of being lost in a culture that favors drug prescriptions and behavior-modification techniques. Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, rather than muting symptoms and their acuteness, initially renders the analysand more self/conscious--not the self-consciousness we associate with debilitating bashfulness, but literally consciousness of self--something that by our culture's very relegation of the word " self-conscious" to the trash heap of perceived attacks on the currently all-important, proverbial " self-esteem," we mark as taboo, or at the very least, trouble.

Instead, the moments in this book when the analysand consciously hears herself, discovers something about herself thanks to Simon's gentle prompting to listen carefully to her own words, his repeated " yes?" " yes?", are exquisitely poignant, and move me very much. Reading this book, doing the close reading of this text that is translation, I almost have the feeling that the text is psychoanalyzing me, as though reading Le Psychanalyste affords us a vicarious journey into the psychoanalytic space of listening and words, where we too may be born to greater consciousness of self through " the wonderful and frightening powers" of Kaplan's language.

And so the novel calls upon us to think about psychoanalysis, about its place in our culture. I have chosen to translate and introduce a fragment of the larger work because I am concerned with the status of psychoanalysis in the U.S., where talk therapy in general, and psychoanalysis in particular, is a practice fast falling into desuetude, perceived by many American HMO's--as well as some university psychology programs-- no longer to be " cost-effective," and thus better replaced with drug and short-term cognitive therapies. Even so, psychoanalysis continues to be discussed for its intellectual and cultural significance. I hope this publication will impact those current and ongoing debates.

Although Kaplan's fictional work includes numerous other novels, this publication marks only the second time that one of them has found its way, however partially, into English; her novel The Brooklyn Bridge (Station Hill Press, 1993), is the only work translated in its entirety. Along with Le Psychanalyste, Kaplan's previous works have received much acclaim in France. Her 2003 novel, Les Amants de Marie (Marie's Lovers), for example, won the noteworthy French Literary Prize Claude Le Heurteur for fiction. Leslie Kaplan is also known in France as having been a protegee in the 1980's of French fiction writer and filmmaker Marguerite Duras, known for her radical and beautiful texts and films, such as Hiroshima Mon Amour and Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein. Duras lauded Kaplan's work early in Kaplan's career, saying of her debut publication in 1982, L'Excès-Usine--which set as its goal to " write the factory"-- " I didn't know that it was possible for this eminently pure, rigorous and superb work to relate a subject so concrete, worn and commonplace."

Lastly, I would like to speak about my work as a literary translator. Literary translation is a serious art form that often receives little understanding or appreciation, and frequently goes uncredited. To translate a literary work, and in particular one as experimental as a Kaplan text, requires more than just a near-native knowledge of both source and target languages, in this case French and English; it requires an acute awareness of the possibilities for nuance and play in both languages, and of the web of linguistic motifs woven by the original that must be rendered consistently to achieve their full impact, to echo as the repetitions and interconnections they are meant to be. For example, one motif that I hope will be apparent from this series of selections from Part I is the metaphor of emptiness, of the void; I have used both these words in English to translate the French le vide. Although I had to have recourse to two words in English, I hope the void into which Kafka's Georg flings himself resonates and recalls, among other moments, the emptiness of the town square and the silence of the cafe encountered by the narrator when visiting Eva's banlieue, and Louise's rancorous spring.

In addition, translators must also be fully cognizant of cultural influences, differences, and history, as well as being consummate and critical readers of their chosen author's entire oeuvre. Translation, then, is not simply a word-for-word substitution. What is at stake in the act of translation is not to be defined by the extent to which the translator successfully serves as a walking human dictionary; that is what dictionaries are for, and we don't need to duplicate their terrain of usefulness. What makes a good translator is the writerly sensibility one brings to the table in one's own idiom, and the extent to which the sensibilities of the two writers, author and translator, manage to harmoniously mesh. Translation, for me, is a collaboration; it is the attempt to give rise to a double art, and an act imbued with all the pleasures of language and thought. As Simon's analysand Louise discovers about analysis, it's about " [t]he pleasures of thought, of thinking. Not that the content of thoughts is always pleasant, Louise said to herself, kicking an empty can, no, not at all, but the act of thinking--it put you in a good mood." Or, as Kaplan proclaims in her title to one of her poems, published in this very review: " Translating Is Sexy."

I would like to thank Anne Boyman, Randy Polumbo, and Irina Poroshina for their inestimable help in the preparation of this essay and the translation that follows, as well as Lou Rowan and of course Leslie Kaplan herself, editeur and auteur extraordinaires, respectively.

1 He is speaking, precisely, of Kafka's short story " The Judgment," which Kafka wrote in 1912 when he was 29 years old. " The Judgment" was Kafka's first literary work (prior to this he had published a few newspaper articles but nothing worthy of the appellation " Kafkaesque"), and when Simon says " he writes this story too as if it were a dream," he may be making reference to the fact that Kafka reported in his diary that he had written the story " in one sitting . . . from ten o'clock at night to six o'clock in the morning." Throughout his life Kafka remained fond of " The Judgment," and it headed the list of works he drew up before his death as having been those that " counted."

2 For the sake of unity in this piece that consists of a series of selections, I have restricted references to only one of Simon's analysands, the actress Louise; it is important to note however that the full-length novel follows a number of Simon's cases.

3 Even though the recent, much-reported riots in the Paris banlieue have perhaps now made the words " Paris suburbs" evocative of poverty and discontent for an American reader.

4 The novel borrows from two Kafka texts: the short story " The Judgment" and the novel The Trial. Kaplan's text is of course influenced by the French translations of Kafka. Similarly, I have let my own translation be freely influenced by the Malcolm Pasley translation of " The Judgment" and the 1998 Breon Mitchell translation of The Trial into English.

5 It was pointed out to me in a recent conversation with artist Randy Polumbo (October 14, 2005) that the talking cure, which we in the industrialized West associate with psychoanalysis, is not dissimilar to certain shamanistic practices familiar to those in the East and in Native American cultures.

6 May 2005, Vol. 95, No. 5 SAMJ

7 Eli Zaretsky (Knopf, 2004)

8 For example, when I recently fired my psychiatrist because I found her to be such a poor and unempathetic listener, I shared with her my reasons for deciding to dispense with her services. In turn, she told me she was " not in the business of listening," but rather in the business of " symptom and medication management."--! !

9 Summer/Fall 2005