Utopian identities

I would like to end this reflection by recalling Henri Meschonnic’s claim that “an ethics of translating presupposes an ethics of language” (7). In fact, the constant reflexive interplay established in the “Leituras” section of Menina e Moga between the truth of the writer, the truth of the writing, the truth of the translation and the truth of the modern girl (opposed to futility and fantasy) points towards a utopian construction of identities “in this troubled 20th century” [“[...] em face da literatura de hoje, for^oso e confessar que se dela nao fugiu o talento, pelo menos deixou-se abafar no materialismo deste perturbado seculo XX”] (Menina e Moga, no. 173, July/August 1962).

The control of subjectivity within the Movement is thus another form of diffuse censorship, generated at the intersection of the literary and the mystic, as

Berthe Bernage (and the translator Maria de Meneses) show in the portrayal of their characters. The projection of human ideals into fiction (which, with its criteria of truth, may become real for modern French and Portuguese girls) is a clever strategy that subliminally serves the ideology of the Estado Novo. It also enables the “domestication” (Venuti, The Scandals) of forms of writing, rewriting and behaviour in an elitist world that is closed in itself. The profiles of Brigitte and Olivier, constructed within an optical illusion between narrator and character, are models of spiritual beauty, far removed from futility, models that all girls should seek out in the post-war world or closed world of the dictatorship:

[Olivier seen by Brigitte] Olivier Hauteville, Chantal’s brother, the Christian artist expelled all the horrible ghosts that wanted to flirt with me or drag me off to frivolities.

[Olivier Hauteville, le frere de Chantal, l’artiste chretien, qui fit disparaitre tous les vilains fantomes qui pretendaient m’entrainer vers le flirt et la frivolite.] (Bernage 1947: 138)

[Olivier Hauteville, o irmao de Chantal, o artista cristao que fez desaparecer todos os detestaveis fantasmas que me queriam arrastar para o flirt e para a frivolidade.] (Bernage 2009: 107).

[Brigitte seen by Olivier]... before each created marvel, St Francis intoned the Canticle of the Sun. He praised God. Help me, Brigitte - you that are so vibrant - to sing the Canticle of the Sun. You can see, my dear, how it was you that I needed!

[devant toute beaute creee, saint Francois chantait le Cantique au Soleil. Il benissait Dieu. Vous m’aiderez, vous si vibrante, a chanter le Cantique au soleil. Vous le voyez bien, ma cherie, cetait vous, la femme qu’il me fallait.] (Bernage 1947: 185)

[em frente de cada maravilha criada, Sao Francisco entoava o Cantico ao Sol. Bendizia Deus. Ha-de ajudar-me, Brigitte, voce tao vibrante, a cantar o Cantico ao Sol. Bem ve, minha querida, que era de si que eu precisava!] (Bernage 2009: 140-141).

Brigitte’s piety (“pieuse” Bernage 1947: 77 / “devota” (Bernage 2009: 59) corresponds, in fact, to the identity that was desired for Portuguese girls, moulded in the image of the Virgin Mary.

[Ici [aux Buissonnets] tout est sain, vrai, joyeux. (...) J’ai commence par rendre mon ame bien nette. (...) M. le Cure d’ici comprend si bien les petites consciences modernes, qu’il m’a remise tout a fait d’aplomb. A present je retrouve mon vrai moi, celui qui te plait, Chantal. (...) Et voila quetendue dans le jardin a l’heure de la sieste, jenviais cette tranquil- lite joyeuse. Jamais je n’ai reflechi qu’aux Buissonnets. Il me semble que mon ame grandit, s’elargit: oui, c’est une vraie crise de croissance.] (Bernage 1947: 90-93)

[Aqui tudo e sao, verdadeiro, alegre (...) Ja comecei pela limpeza da minha alma (...). O Sr. Cura de ca compreende tao bem as consequencias modernas, que me tornou apta a sentir-me reconciliada comigo propria, a ser como tu gostas que eu seja, Chantal. (...) E assim e que, estendida no jardim a hora da sesta, eu invejava aquela tranquilidade alegre. Nunca meditei tanto como nos ‘Buissonnets’. Parece-me que a minha alma cresce e se alarga; e isso, uma verdadeira crise de crescimento!] (Bernage 2009: 70-72)

Brigitte in the countryside, seeking to “cleanse her soul”, finds an echo in the members of the Mocidade Portuguesa Feminina who take part in endless holiday colonies, described in the magazines as a form of retreat. Brigitte contemplating sacred art in the Saint-Jacques Hospital in Bruges with her “spiritualised soul” [“ame spiritualisee” (Bernage 1947: 108) / “alma espiritualizada” (Bernage 2009: 84)] merges with the girl reader of the Boletim and Menina e Moga to whom the main religious monuments are explained.

In the act of translating Berthe Bernage’s text, there is clearly an intention to show, by means of a literal rewriting, the viability of worlds that are simultaneously idealized and real, integrated into a policy of civic education, and manifested, once more, through metalepsis. In other words, it is assumed that the fictional idealized world should be transposed into the real world of the girl that is preparing to become a mother and raise future generations, to the extent that writing (and rewriting) is perceived as educational and useful, and is thus constantly overseen.

For this reason, the Boletim and Menina e Moga devote various articles to Berthe Bernage and her inner world, as has already been said, so that the rewriting draws closer to the soul and fiction becomes reality: “Brigitte nexiste pas, mais represente, sans doute, ce que j’aurais aime etre” [“Brigitte does not exist, but she undoubtedly represents what I would have liked to be”], says Berthe Bernage, a claim that is not translated into Portuguese so that her readers (the members of the Movement) can hear her “voice”. Likewise, various sections of the magazine allude to other books of hers that have been translated into Portuguese - in particular, an etiquette guide entitled Arte das Boas Maneiras. Moderno manual de boa educagao e civilidade [The art of good manners: a modern handbook of good breeding and civility] which complements her translated novels and the utopian worlds described in them.

Within the constant interactions of identities that have been described here, there is a final one that serves as an unconditional support for the others. The ideal/real profile of Brigitte, as a girl from fiction who is simultaneously a model of the true modern girl, is constructed through a spare refined writing style and an ethically conditioned translation, a “utopian” translation,[1] subordinated to the “intellectual amenity” that was an attribute of the propaganda.

For this reason, in March 1961, Menina e Moga included a section called “Berthe Bernage has something to say to you. Why do you read that book, Helena?” [“Berthe Bernage tem alguma coisa para vos dizer. Por que les esse livro, Helena?]. Always within the context of a simulated and imposed intimacy (the author is addressing Portuguese girls directly), Berthe Bernage tells how Helena’s husband advises her not to read a book because of its “immoral atmosphere” and how Helena obeys him, saying: “You’re right. I won’t let myself be poisoned any more. Our love is too beautiful, my dear” [“Tens razao. Nao me deixarei envenenar mais. O nosso amor e demasiado belo, meu querido.”] (Menina e Moga, no. 158, March 1961). Seven years later, in the June 1968 edition of the magazine, Maria Mercier is responsible for a section entitled “Livros bons, leituras mas” [“Good books, bad readings”], which establishes within the scope of a restrictive hermeneutic, an expressive critique of translation that extends Berthe Bernage’s advice on reading :

But if the books are good, how can the reading of them be bad? It is that bad reading does not necessarily mean reading an immoral or dangerous book. Bad reading also involves things that you cannot benefit from, that harm you or which are not suitable for you. Bad reading is what you do when you read a good foreign work in a bad translation, in deformed Portuguese (or, as she puts it, cross-eyed, squinting or hunchbacked Portuguese)

[...] Bad reading is when you read books that you have not yet the culture to understand and whose doctrines might put you at risk, falsifying your reasoning and harming you seriously, if not irremediably, for life.

[Mas entao, como e que, se os livros sao bons, as leituras podem ser mas? E que a leitura ma nao e for^osamente a do livro imoral ou prejudicial. A leitura ma e tambem a que nao te aproveita, a que prejudica ou a que nao presta para ti. Leitura ma e a que fazes lendo uma pessima tradu^ao em portugues zanaga, zarolha e corcunda duma boa obra estrangeira (que muitas vezes ate tinhas obriga^ao de ler na lingua original). [...] Leitura ma e a de livros que ainda nao tens cultura para entender e cujas doutrinas te arriscas a perceber, falseando-te o raciocinio e prejudicando-te seriamente, senao irremediavelmente, pela vida fora.] (Menina e Moga, no. 237, June 1968)

Establishing by antiphrasis the paradigm of “utopian” or “good translation”, associated to the choice of “good reading” (the reading of the Brigitte series, for example, or of Louisa May Alcott, who is also listed in the “Biblioteca das Raparigas” and is often cited as a parallel model from a different culture), the two authors demonstrate that the ethics and morality are ultimately political: “translating is ethical and political” [“traduire est indispensable pour penser le langage, l’ethique et le politique”], claims Meschonnic (9). The survival of Brigitte’s idealised world in the elitist world of the Mocidade Portuguesa Feminina is consequently assured by the constant ethical intersection of identities, real and fictional, and by the moral appropriation of values of the other (the foreign author, the foreign text, the foreign world) by a universe immersed in clearly defined nationalist values. Translation forms part of the “inner world” of Portuguese literature selected in the magazines of the Movement, and therefore constitutes a pretext for ideological and political control in the 1940s of the Estado Novo. Brigitte, the “girl from the novel”, steps outside the fiction, to become a “modern” 20th-century girl.

  • [1] See Venuti on the “utopian dimension in translation” (Venuti, Translation changes everything 28-31).
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