What we do Portfolio Who we are Get in touch
en fr it
Antoine Compagnon, ‘Writing Mourning’
Published in Deliberations: The Journals of Roland Barthes (special issue of Textual Practice), ed. by Neil Badmington, trans. by Sam Ferguson, 30/2 (2016), 209–19. Republished by Routledge, 2017. Originally published in French on fabula.org.

Compagnon was close to Barthes in the years before the latter’s death in 1980. In this article, he reflects on Barthes’s posthumously published Mourning Diary. Translating it involved reproducing a subtle argument, and making a wide range of cultural references accessible to English-language readers. For this particular text, which combines the scholarly and the personal, it was especially important to preserve the writing’s distinctive tone and emotional content.

“The publication in 2009 of Roland Barthes’s Mourning Diary stirred up a brief controversy: was it justifiable to publish this bundle of slips of paper, deeply private notes, written for himself after the death of his mother in October 1977 and not intended for others, traces of suffering, snippets of emotion leading gradually towards Camera Lucida, the monument raised in memory of his mother? I do not know, but I read these pages with considerable discomfort.”

Pierre de Marivaux, excerpt from Le Spectateur français
Published in Tolerance: The Beacon of the Enlightenment, ed. and trans. by Caroline Warman et al. (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2016), p. 82. Originally published in French as Tolérance: le combat des Lumières.
Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks of January 2015, French academics assembled a best-selling anthology of texts by Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Marivaux, in defence of free speech and religious tolerance. To mark the anniversary of the attacks, an English version of the anthology was published, with Sam Ferguson contributing a number of translations. The task required exceptional sensitivity to the political context of the 2015 anthology, and the implications of transposing it from France to an international Anglophone readership.
“There is little doubt that the particular mores and customs of men are flawed; what else can we expect, when these mores are the pure invention of men, when these customs are as varied and numerous as there are nations in the world? But the law that commands us to be just and virtuous is everywhere the same: men did not invent it, they merely agreed that they must follow it as it was revealed to them by reason or by God himself, as it is revealed everywhere with perfect uniformity.”

Véronique Montémont, ‘Autobiography’
Translated by Sam Ferguson from Dictionnaire de l’autobiographie: Écritures de soi de langue française (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2017), for ‘Projet ÉcriSoi’, directed by Françoise Simonet-Tenant and Jean-Louis Jeannelle.
‘Projet Écrisoi’ is an ambitious study of the differences between forms of life writing across cultures and languages. Bringing together different attempts to define such forms requires a complex, multilateral translation process. Unlike in much translation, the aim is not to smooth out differences, but to highlight them.
“The word ‘autobiography’, composed from the Greek words αυτός (oneself), βίος (life), and γράφειν (to write), came into being in Germany at the end of the eighteenth century (‘Selbst-biographie’) before being attested for the first time in 1797 in England in the form ‘self-biography’, which, having failed to catch on, would evolve into ‘auto-biography’. The first French lexicographic definition of this scholarly word was provided by the 1842 edition of the Dictionnaire de l’Académie française, where the term is described as a neologism: ‘The life of an individual written by himself.’”
©Rue Serpente, 2020