Paris-Athènes – V. Alexakis

Alexakis V. (1989), Paris-Athènes, Paris: Le Seuil

Vassilis Alexakis was born in Athens in 1943 and, at the age of seventeen, went to Lille (France) to study journalism. Since then, he has divided his life into two capital cities, Athens and Paris (to which he moved in 1968, because of the Greek military junta) or, more accurately, into two different cultures. He’s possibly the most famous Greek author whose works are written and published primarily in a “foreign” language, French, and then self-translated into his “mother” tongue, Greek.

Selftranslation is the translation of a text into a target language by the writer of the source text. Two of the most famous and widely studied cases of selftranslators are those of Samuel Beckett (with English and French as his language combination) and Vladimir Nabokov (between Russian and English). Selftranslation is an extremely interesting field for both a researcher in Theory of Translation and a reader, who knows both languages. Selftranslation might be the ideal type of translation: who can better transfer the ideas and the words of a book, than its own writer?

Paris-Athènes is an autobiographical novel in which Alexakis, by narrating some segments of his life, takes the occasion to try and answer the following question: “Who am I?”. I put “foreign” and “mother” into brackets before, because these terms are hard to define. How can a language be considered foreign when someone tried to learn it as well as they can, in order to return to their motherland, but ended up thinking exclusively in it? How can a language be considered foreign, when it’s their children’s mother tongue?

Having read only two of Alexakis’ books (Paris-Athènes and Foreign Words) I can tell how sensitive he is when it comes to issues concerning languages and self-concept. His works, other than highly imaginative, manage to raise questions that a reader has to resort to introspection, in order to answer.

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4 thoughts on “Paris-Athènes – V. Alexakis

  1. As a translator myself, I agree that self-translation is ideal as great part of our wrk is to interpret the writer. 🙂 Try reading “Talgo” by Alexakis when you have time, I sure enjoyed it 🙂

    1. It sure seems ideal! We would never have to worry again about either sticking too much to the original text (as in word-for-word translation) or fleeing away from its original structure (as in sense-for-sense translation).

      Thank you for your suggestion, I’ll keep it in mind! 🙂

  2. As a translator, i think that self-translation is more like re-writing your novel/poem/etc in the target language. But you have the invaluable insight into your own mind and you know exactly what you wanted to say in the first place 🙂 No need for speculation there!

    1. That is so true!
      When I studied Beckett’s “Endgame”, which was originally written and published in French as “Fin de Partie”, I was impressed. He had erased big chucks of the original play, some of which were even 3-pages-long! Obviously an assigned translator wouldn’t have made such a decision lightheartedly (although I do remember that some pages from Kazantzakis’ “Christ Re-crucified” were missing from the French translation).

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! 🙂

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