Walter Franceschi interviews Marc Chénetier
Interview with Marc Chénetier

by Walter Franceschi?

What problems did you encounter translating Brautigan's novels for French-speaking readers?

I translated Dreaming of Babylon, So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away and did a re-translation of Trout Fishing, In Watermelon Sugar and A Confederate General, later on, in one volume that was supposed to be the first of an entire re-translation of his works, being much dissatisfied with the existing translations. I also retranslated The Tokyo-Montana Express, but that never came out. My translation of An Unfortunate Woman into French came out before the original version was published in the United States. Roughly at the same time, I wrote my little Methuen book on Brautigan. This was translated into French, with an additional chapter on Brautigan and Vian (after an article? I had published in the Stanford French Review), but both are out of print. Translating Richard presented difficulties commensurate with the particular economy of his writing. The temptation to overdo it had been succumbed to before. Being made out of very tiny things, his work does not bear overtranslation because it easily collapses if one is missing a mere match-stick in the construction of each sentence. The acceptable "loss" one has to face and accept when translating more syntactically and lexically complex prose is one that would destroy his sentences. So, keeping every tiny element and making sure nothing is overblown make for a narrow path to follow. A very delicate balance must be respected if the whole effect is not to be jeopardized.

Do you have a favorite Brautigan book?

I still like Trout Fishing in America the best, even though The Tokyo-Montana Express and An Unfortunate Woman come close. These books is where, to my mind, his literary talents show best. The rest is also dear to me, however, for different reasons.

Why did you choose to write about Brautigan?

It was the imagery in Brautigan's work that struck me as poetically interesting, that and the way in which it encapsulated and generated the metafictional reflex in the books. His closeness to Boris Vian also interested me. I was tired of the fan-club reactions to the "hippie" image and chummy critical send-ups and wanted to place him as an important writer for literary reasons, doing away with the sentimental, period reactions. Brautigan was much read in France, shortly after he rose to fame in the United States, but for obviously dissimilar reasons.

You were friends with Brautigan in his last years. His books were not selling. He had trouble finding a publisher. How was he as a friend?

Difficult. His drinking problem was massive and brought out his violent sides. He would call me in the middle of the night and talk for hours — literally.

The Greek Anthologies and Euripides were in your conversations with Brautigan. Was his knowledge of these works apparent? And, did you ever talk about more daily-life topics?

Richard was much better read than has been surmised. But most of our conversations had to do with other things, daily things, the contents of garbage cans in the Jardins du Luxembourg for example. Movies also, and childhood memories.

Have you a memorable story regarding Brautigan?

I organized, at his request, a dinner with French movie-maker Jean-Jacques Beneix (author of Diva, which Richard greatly admired), who was kind enough to share dinner at my home with Richard and a few other friends. The evening turned out to be catastrophic, even though most interesting, as Richard, having, as usual, drunk too much, became abusive to everyone. He had to be literally carried back to his hotel by my hosts. Many other such memories are in my introduction to the three-novel volume in French I mentioned earlier.

How do you view Brautigan, as an American author, all these years after his death?

I think he is not a mere "period piece," but a writer whose work had a profound impact on American literary creation in the 1960s and 1970s. He has also influenced writers elsewhere (Philippe Djian in France, in particular). I still teach his work and re-read everything with great enthusiasm.

Change 2 (Autumn 2006)
online source: http://www.brautigan.net/change2.pdf(external link)