Abridged translation of a report on a two-day symposium on Lovecraft, held in January 2018 at Jean Monnet University, Saint-Etienne, France.
Students, researchers, translators, publishers or writers of H.P. Lovecraft gathered at Jean Monnet University on the 29th and 30th of January 2018. The event was organised by Anne Bechard Leaute (Lecturer in English and Anglo-Saxon Language and Literature) and Arnaud Moussart (Associate Professor), as well as by the CIEREC laboratory (Interdisciplinary Center for Studies and Research on Expression Contemporaine).
The first day took the form of a writing workshop led by the writer Francois Bon, translator of Lovecraft. Bon chose to build on Lovecraft’s “Commonplace Book”, aiming to have attendees begin thinking about the importance of ‘the fragment’, and Lovecraft’s ability to reduce stories to their simplest plot-germ while also retaining suggestiveness. Participants then adopted a Lovecraftian technique to attempt to produce their own fantastic stories [implied: from ideas in the “Commonplace Book”].
The second day began with the reading of different texts composed by the participants of the writing workshop. Then the presentation of papers opened, with a lecture by François Bon on the matter of translation. The archaism of certain syntactical structures, or the omnipresence of the semicolon, are all elements which must be the object of the greatest respect on the part of the translator of Lovecraft, and the translator must not attempt to ‘correlate the contents’. Because each sentence has its own unique function in the text, and thus it is useless to anticipate its role in the total construction of the new work.
Francois Bon explained that he considers the sum of Lovecraft’s writings as a vast ecosystem made up of correspondences, postcards, diaries, manuscripts, notes, drafts, many preserved in handwritten notebooks and letters written with the greatest care. He also sketched the portrait of Lovecraft as a man constantly on the move in summer, a man who happily recounts his diurnal excursions and travels to places from Narragansett to Mobile, from New York to Florida, all the while witnessing a modernizing America.
Olivier Glain, Lecturer in English Linguistics and Semiotics of the Arts at Jean Monnet University, presented a paper entitled “New England Dialect Events in Lovecraft”. Relying mainly on the new “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” [translation?] and more specifically on the dialect speech of Zadok, Olivier noted some variations not present in the actual local speech. This raises the possibility that Lovecraft was mixing several several dialects together for Zadok’s dialogue. Glain also suggested, among other things, that the character of Zadok Allen is not raucous in speech, which is surprising since it is one of the main features of New England. [“raucous” may be a mis-translation of a technical term used among dialect specialists? It might refer to the rolling of r’s rather than raucous shouting.]
Sophie Chapuis, lecturer in American literature at Jean Monnet University, spoke on the difficulties posed by the translation of the new “The Color Out of Space”. The task of the translator is complicated, due to the need to try to put into words what Lovecraft fails to say. Lovecraft uses what Gilles Menegaldo has called an “under-language” of syntactic breaks and interstices into which the monstrous eventually erupts.
Masters degree Communication student Robin Gire spoke on the sublime in Lovecraft, specifically in relation to adjectives such as “strange”, “ancient”, “hideous”.
Christophe Thill gave a 30 minute talk on “Coordinating a large-scale translation of a work on Lovecraft: the example of translating I Am Providence by S.T. Joshi”. Five pages of standards were devised, to enforce consistency across the translation of the thirty chapters, by multiple translators.
Jerome Dutel, lecturer in comparative literature at Jean Monnet University, presented a paper on Lovecraftian imagery today, mainly in pop culture. Entitled “My son! What did they do to you? The denaturing of Cthulhu” he looked at four parody caricatures of Cthulhu. Cthulhu has become a universally recognised character, and yet even in parody each use expands his power of popular suggestion and future incarnation.
The second day ended with the opening of the gallery exhibition “Objets-Pieges”, showing the completed artworks made by students on a Masters degree course. Their “Art Edition, Book of Artists” drew on Lovecraft’s “Commonplace Book”. The resulting works are protean and have various inspirations. A few even draw on the very concept of the “Commonplace Book”, rather than the book’s individual plot-germs, or draw on Lovecraft’s literary obsession with forbidden books, notebooks and fragmentary notes.