photo: Andrzej Rożek

Bedside table #80. Jacek Giszczak: Proust's French is no different from the contemporary

Jacek Giszczak, translator of French-language literature, composer, songwriter, and prose writer, talks about the status of French literature yesterday and today, the prose of Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, African feminism, the presence of black literature in Poland, his work on a translation of Marcel Proust's The Guermantes Way, and... dictating translations.

Let me start with a confession.

I am listening.

When I was looking through your bibliography, I realised that I don't know most of the authors you have translated. Does that say something about me or rather about us, Polish readers?

It may be that it is you. Among other things, I have translated an unknown and miraculously rediscovered novel by Alexandre Dumas, I have translated Cendrars, Perec, and most recently Proust. But in all seriousness - we are less likely to turn to French literature as eagerly as we used to, in the second half of the 20th century. Although an exception is perhaps francophone literature.

I'm asking about this decline in popularity because I thought of Boy's time and the interest in the French at the time.

Yes, of course, it was much greater then. I had the great fortune to translate one of the giants of 20th century French literature, Jean Genet - his last novel Prisoner of Love, published posthumously in 1986 - and to this day, I do not understand why this book passed unnoticed in Poland. And it is a brilliant thing. It tells the story of the violent fights of Palestinian militants. Do you know that Genet went to the Middle East and lived among the Al-Fatah guerrillas, just as he had previously illegally entered the United States, where he supported the Black Panthers?

I had no idea.

This may sound strange, but Genet follows in the footsteps of Proust in this novel and - in my opinion - comes close to his genius. However, Genet's name still rings a bell and that, in a sense, is the answer to your question. Only that his time of literary activity and greatest glory was in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The era of Albert Camus, André Malraux, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Not forgetting Marguerite Yourcenar or Marguerite Duras. It was not long before this river of talent seemed to have dried up. Admittedly, a new novel appeared in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but few people read (and do read) it. They were, after all, literary experiments.

Such as Alain Robbe-Grillet's famous Jealousy.

Exactly. Interesting, good, but for a specialised reader, versed in the literary schools, currents, and trends of the time. An analogous phenomenon emerged in painting, where figurative and non-figurative abstraction, in particular, became fashionable, which put all art in question for a while.

But the French are famous for their experimental literature.

This is true. It was at this time, that is, in the early 1960s, that the experimental group OuLiPo was founded in France. Raymond Queneau and mathematician François Le Lionnais, its founders, proposed what could be called a total literary game or play. One of the most famous representatives of this Workshop of Potential Literature was Georges Perec, author of the novel La Disparition (“A Void”), in which he never once used the vowel 'e', the most common vowel in French. It's a really special way to express a sense of an absence after the Holocaust. In fact, let us remember that the Peretz family left Lublin for France in 1920.

OuLiPo, is this your thing?

I once translated an unusual 'collective novel' written by a dozen OuLiPo authors. It was based on a short story by Perec. I'm talking about Voyage d'Hiver (“The Winter Journey”), a short novella from 1979. Its protagonist, who is holidaying in Normandy at the house of his friend's parents, finds a volume by an unknown 19th-century poet in their bookcase. In those poems, he sees clear influences from the works of Lautréamont, Baudelaire, and other great French poets, but when he glances at the publication date of the book, he is surprised to discover that the poems of the aforementioned authors were written much later. Perec calls this 'plagiarism by anticipation'. The protagonist tries to find out something about the mysterious poet, but war breaks out, the book is lost under the rubble of a bombed house, and a literary investigation begins, although the book is never found. Other OuLiPo authors have composed their own works around this prose. These stories testify to their unfettered imagination and sense of humour. Following the lead of Perec, they all keep the letters 'V' and 'H' in the titles of their novellas, such as Voyage d'Hiver and Hugo Vernier, the mystery poet. Hence, we have Voyage d'Hitler, and also Voyage du ver (“The Worm’s Journey”), a story of a woodworm that is born in the ceiling beam of the Gothic church of Notre Dame and, as a result of a fire, ends up in a library and eats its way through books. This hilarious novella by François Caradec shows what real fun in literature can look like.

But why am I talking about all this? I recently translated the novel La plus secrète mémoire des hommes (“The Most Distant Memory of Men”). This is the fourth book by the young Senegalese writer Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, who won the Goncourt Prize in 2021 for this book. An astonishing book. Sarr differs strongly from African or Francophone writers in general. It is a largely ‘autothematic’ novel, a novel about literature that consciously refers to The Winter Journey and therefore to OuLiPo. Its plot axis is also the search for a missing author. And this is a complete novelty in francophone literature.

Why so?

Sarr plays with literature, with words, with syntax, with the way dialogue is written... just like Proust. The structure of his novel resembles that of a story within a story. In addition, he has mastered to perfection a procedure that the French - in a way that appeals to the imagination - call mise en abîme. Literally, this could be translated as “placed into abyss'. In Poland, this is referred to as 'autothematism', or writing about the act of writing itself. In painting, this would be the reproduction of an image in a mirror, such as in Velásquez, or simply infinite reflections of a mirror in a mirror.

Is this what one gets the Goncourt for?

Among other things, but this requires a broader explanation. In the 1960s, a certain stranger from African Mali published a novel in Paris, Le devoir de violence (“Bound to Violence”), which caught French intellectuals off guard. His name was Yambo Ouologuem. A young writer who looked like a typical French existentialist: jacket, tie, an inseparable cigarette. Except that he was black. In 1968, he was awarded the prestigious Renaudot Prize. He was, incidentally, the first African writer to receive it. His book tells the story of a fictional African dynasty that supports colonisation and is also involved in the sale of slaves to Arab and European merchants. Ouloguem therefore opposes to the famous Négritude movement, started even before the war by Léopold Sédar Senghor, poet and later Senegal's first president. Négritude is an anti-colonial movement, glorifying the cultures and traditions of black Africa. You can understand then that Bound to Violence must have caused controversy. At the time, African countries were gaining independence and the demythologisation of Africa - to put it mildly - did not please everyone.

Clearly. But I'm guessing that's not the end of the story.

Suddenly, it was apparent that Ouologuem drew greatly on the work of other writers, especially Graham Greene, which was welcomed with relief by those who thought he wrote too well for an African. Accused of plagiarism, Ouologuem disappeared; he returned to Africa and vanished into thin air. He wrote his last texts in the early 1970s, after which he abandoned literature. He died in 2017, in total oblivion. And so here Sarr dedicates his novel precisely to Ouologuem, whose life and work - and especially his absence - become the canvass of his The Most Distant Memory of Men. The motto of Sarr's novel, on the other hand, is an excerpt taken from Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives, in which the titular phrase appears. In the Polish translation from Spanish by Nina Pluta, it reads exactly 'the innermost memory of people', but I myself chose a shorter title (for the Polish translation of Sarr’s book – translator’s note), because it better reflects what the book is about. Anyway, Bolaño's presence in Sarr's novel goes beyond the title and is truly intriguing.

Do you mean literary patronage?

Indeed, at times, when reading Sarr, we get the impression that this is Bolaño's prose. One French critic - in an article published after Sarr had already been awarded the Goncourt Prize - reproaches him for this connection and all his borrowings. Which immediately brings to mind the story of Ouologuem.

That got knotty.

Sarr makes no secret of these references. And he mentions the authors who inspire him in the novel itself: Borges, Cortázar, Gombrowicz... The Most Distant Memory of Men is a mise en abîme all the way, given that Sarr, following in Ouologuem's footsteps as it were, was awarded the prestigious Goncourt Prize for his book. He is also a writer of his time, in which the notion of originality has become an anachronism. In the era of social networking and rap (forty years have passed and this genre is still going strong), the principle of replication and stylistic imitation prevails. Fortunately, Sarr is an excellent writer and a master of the French word.

Although such a compliment would stick in some French people’s throats.

No one in France would use the term 'francophone literature' for the works of Beckett, Cioran, or Ionesco - foreigners writing in French, after all. It's a rather risky term. But it is true that these writers are like a breath of fresh air. Tahar Ben Jelloun from Morocco writes in fine French. Young Sarr is astonishing in his linguistic inventiveness. Besides, they enter French literature from outside and do not carry so many historical and cultural burdens.

They also carry a different baggage of experience.

And I think that's what captivated French readers. After all, they are writing about something unknown: sometimes exotic and magical, while sometimes difficult and painful, but invariably cognitively interesting. They simply offer something completely different. In Paris, right next to the Sorbonne, there is a publishing house and bookshop called Présence Africaine, dedicated to African literature, which may be an indication of how present it is in French culture.

Do these authors reach Poland?

Not everyone, of course, just the biggest names. My adventure in translating this literature began with Haitian writer Dany Laferrière, who has lived in Canada since 1976. It was there that his debut novel, a scandalous booklet entitled How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, was written. Laferrière attempts to defuse even the difficult issue of racism, the history of slavery and colonialism with humour. When words such as 'negro' and 'black' are indexed around the world, Laferrière - who recently became a member of the French Academy - writes in the daily Le Monde that he is not bothered by these words. Shortly after, there was Ken Bugul from Senegal. It's a literary pseudonym meaning 'One who is unwanted’. Only two of her novels have been published in Poland so far. The first was published as Widziane z drugiej strony (“As Seen From the Other Side”), although the French title reads De l'autre côté du regard, meaning “On the other side of the gaze”. This metaphor has disappeared. In any case, there was a lot of noise around Ken Bugul; the ‘Wysokie Obcasy’ magazine dedicated a cover to her, promoting her as an African feminist. This was in 2005. Feminism was not yet particularly entrenched in Poland - nor was Francophone literature.

Not entrenched- what does it mean?

Some books were published in the 1980s, but not many. I believe that in Poland, the vogue for black literature is just beginning and that it will explode just as the fad for Latin American literature once did. But let's get back to Ken Bugul. When she came to Poland for a literary tour, I translated her novel Rue Félix-Faure, i.e. Ulica Félix-Faure (“Félix-Faure Street”) in Polish. I did not ruin this title... It was winter, the fields were covered in white snow, and we travelled by train: from Warsaw to Gdansk, from Gdansk to Szczecin, from Szczecin to Poznan, then Silesia and Krakow. The schedule was so tight that we only had time to talk in the train carriage, but the journey took much longer than today. And smoking was allowed (although I don't smoke anymore). So, we stood in the aisle between the carriages and smoked while Ken Bugul talked about her beloved Africa. About the Sahel, stretching from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, which is traversed by the nomadic Fula people; about the Congo, five times the size of France; about the sacred city of snakes in Benin, the homeland of voodoo; about the coupeurs des routes, villagers who dig up the roads in the bush and, for a small fee, 'help' move a car to the other side if one passes that way; about the ocean goddess called Mami Wata, about the Door of No Return....

What were the reactions of Polish readers to these stories?

They were female readers, mostly students of Romance Studies. Well, I guess they weren't ready for her African feminism yet.

How so?

Ken Bugul - the twenty-eighth wife of an African marabout, but it's a long story..., told them about the women called 'Mama Benz'. ‘Mama’, because in Africa, groups of children call all women that, asking for some kind of handout. And ‘Benz’ from Mercedes. Because women called Mama-Benz in Benin do business, and, in fact, it is them that the country's economic development depends on. They are the ones flooding the market with products, usually from China or Thailand. They are rich and drive Mercedes Benz.

A matriarchy, then?

As Ken Bugul says, "There are no fathers in Africa. There are women, there are children, but there are no fathers. It is the women who take care of the children and look after the household. In Senegal, but also in Benin, polygamy exists. The Mama-Benz therefore do not have a permanent husband. The husband visits his family, with whom he stays - say - for a week, and it is a great celebration. After which he leaves, or goes back, to his second, sometimes third, wife, and the first wife then has some peace and quiet. This was Ken Bugul's feminist African message to young Polish women, “Don't keep those men of yours constantly by the hand, let them go where they want, take care of yourselves.” After these words, there was a sense of perplexity in the university auditorium...

Were Bugul's books also so shocking?

Félix-Faure Street is a novel about female revenge, set in contemporary Dakar. There is a reference not only to abused trust, but also to sexual abuse by the muezzin (who calls out for prayers from the minaret), who eventually falls victim to four veiled women. And in the process, we wander through the mysterious and very exotic streets and neighbourhoods of Dakar. When one of the characters tosses a coin to a leprous beggar sitting on the street, the beggar says, "I know you from somewhere". "'Where from? "From television." This very TV presenter meets a man at an international congress. The man, wanting to check whether their zodiac signs match, takes out his mobile phone and says, “I’ll call and ask my shaman about it". This is one of the charms of African literature. I talk so much about Ken Bugul because, strangely enough, she happens to be the prototype for the main character of The Most Distant Memory of Men.  She appears there as Siga D., a Senegalese literary legend with unrivalled breasts. As you can see, the mise en abîme technique goes even beyond literature in this case.

But I suppose this kind of exoticism appears not only in Ken Bugul’s works?

It is inevitably present in all francophone authors. Take, for example, Alain Mabanckou, a Congolese writer, a worthy representative of the Society of Ambiance and People of Elegance - SAPE for short, which means 'clothes' in French. This recognisable milieu of so-called sapeurs in Paris, who gather especially around the Château Rouge metro station, is described by Mabanckou in his novel Black Bazaar. But the setting of his books is most often his native Congo. Verre cassé (“Broken Glass”) is the nickname of a tireless regular at a bar called ‘Credit Gone West’. He is accompanied by his friend Robinette, and a bar owner called Stubborn Snail, in short, a whole menagerie of original characters who introduce us to the extraordinary world of Brazzaville. The novel was written as if in one breath: there is not one single full stop. And the Homeric duel between Robinette and the Polish sailor Casimir, who finds himself in this bar by chance, is one of the most comical scenes I've had the chance to read (and translate). The winner is the one who takes longer to pee, which is, of course, Robinette, as evidenced by her eloquent nickname (robinette – lit. ‘faucet’ – translator’s note). 

Does this passage capture the mood of the whole novel?

There is indeed a dominant farcical tone in Broken Glass. When the Znak publishing house asked me for a sample translation of this work, I chose this particular passage. In the end, they didn't choose to publish the book, but Małgosia Szczurek did - and this was the first publication by Karakter Publishing. Karakter has published a total of six novels by Alain Mabanckou, but also many other works of Francophone literature, including books by Haitian writers Dany Laferrière, Lyonel Trouillot, Yanick Lahens. This is excellent literature that has a circle of loyal readers, although still quite narrow.

Yet everyone has read David Diop.

Yes, perhaps it's a sign of the times? Surely Sarr has the potential to change our attitude to black literature, not least because the climate of social change favours it. What happened in America after the death of George Floyd, what is happening in France today - those first sincere mea culpa for the time of colonisation, for the traite négrière, or slave trade, and the Code Noir of the time of Louis XIV, which gave black slaves the status of "movable property"... I think Sarr instils optimism about the future of literature. It is as if, in writing The Most Distant Memory of Men, he wanted to resurrect a time when it was something much more important than it is today, when it had a magical dimension, like Ibero-American literature a few decades ago, which the lucky ones in Poland used to buy ‘under the counter’.

So, you find it easier to translate Francophone literature?

It is true that an encounter with a book by an African writer or a writer from the Antilles is always more exciting. Firstly, they tell us about unusual things, but also their language choices and the way they write are always remarkable.  A clear example of this is a book by the young Malagasy writer Raharimanana entitled Za. It is an oneiric-poetic tale of a homeless pauper who wanders aimlessly through the streets of Antananarivo. He is the narrator of this book, toothless, speaking with a lisp, butchering the French language in every possible way. In the Polish translation, I have tried to imitate this, but in such cases, the translation is sometimes a slightly different, parallel text. It was therefore exciting, but also darn difficult. I think I can say that black writers translate well into Polish.

Why so?

It has long been my firm belief that we have a great deal in common with Africans: inherent nostalgia for their country and the experience of captivity. And something else: we are closer to nature and closer to the sources of human civilisation.

In what sense?

In France, since the time of Descartes, flowerbeds and trees in parks have had geometric shapes; since the time of the Sun King, vegetation cannot just simply grow lushly - it has to be measured out with a ruler. We are free of this convention, and by force our contact with nature is closer to that of Africa, and the African magic appeals to us more strongly. Take the book published last year by another Senegalese writer, David Diop, entitled At Night All Blood Is Black, which was awarded the prestigious International Booker Prize in 2021, the book which has also been successful in Poland. It is the story of the Senegalese soldiers, tens of thousands of whom fought alongside the French army during the First World War. But the second part of this intriguing novel is set in Africa and touches on the beliefs, myths, and magic of the peoples of West Africa. The author of The Most Distant Memory of Men also writes about African magic. This is quite surprising, especially when we juxtapose the books of the young Senegalese with, for example, Alain Mabanckou's novel Memoirs of a Porcupine, where the title character, therefore a porcupine, mocks white civilisation, but does not spare the gullible and superstitious inhabitants of the Congo either. Going back to your question, translating this literature is not a hardship but a pleasure.

And was Proust's France closer to these... sources?

Proust writes about the world of the aristocracy, which is something else.

Highbrow language resists translation?

You know, the astonishing thing about Proust is that he composes compound-complex, multi-layered sentences whose meaning escapes us halfway through the sentence and we have a dilemma: continue reading or start reading all over again. And yet working on his prose is never boring. This Proustian puzzle is very demanding, the work on the text is virtually never-ending. But in filling over seven hundred typed pages, I didn't really feel weary. Usually, a writer who accompanies the translator for several months - and actually inhabits the translator's mind - begins to irritate the translator slightly towards the end. And the translator would finally like to get rid of them, to take up something else. It was different with Proust.

You had a rather complicated task of going straight into the third volume of the work. So, there was Boy's old translation on one side, and new translations by two other translators on the other.

I had Boy's translation in front of my eyes the whole time. But it didn't immediately occur to me that Boy translated in an archaic language, while Proust wrote in a contemporary one. I mean, I didn't immediately make the decision to consciously avoid archaising the language in the new translation of The Guermantes Way and to try to retain Proust's punctuation throughout. Because the issue is not just that Boy 'adds colour’, and in the very first sentence of the third volume he writes, "The morning chirping of the birds made Françoise impatient", when in Proust's original, the chirping of the birds semblait insipide, that is, "seemed insipid to Françoise". Nor is it that Boy swapped finches for starlings. The thing is that the Polish of the interwar period used by Boy sounds really archaic today, and in almost every sentence of the translation we find words no longer used today, other declension patterns, a different syntax. I had a similar feeling when I read Blaise Cendrars' novels translated by Julian Rogoziński. To me, Cendrars has always been a futurist poet, an avant-garde writer, and in Rogoziński's otherwise excellent translations, he is somewhat old-fashioned. In the case of Proust translated by Boy, this is striking. Because we realise that Proust's French is no different from the contemporary. Proust writes in an exquisite style, using highbrow language that nevertheless does not deviate from today's rules. It is even difficult to find any archaisms there. Proust is interested in modernity: an automobile, an aeroplane, a lift, a telephone.

So, the French language is not evolving?

It may sound funny, but the last reform of French orthography was done in France in the mid-19th century. Whenever the French tried to simplify their lives, or at least their complicated orthography, the French Academy was against it. And this is still the case today. I am more puzzled by how it has come to be that we speak and write today in a language so different from Boy's.

The new Proust translation, to be published by Łódź-based publishing house, has a different translator working on each volume...

Each volume will be slightly different, and so it will be Proust explored in different ways. Some time ago, the English also published In Search of Lost Time translated by several translators.

What problems must be faced in this regard?

Proust very often returns to the themes he has started, refers to the scenes described earlier, and presents them slightly differently each time. In this sense, minor discrepancies between successive volumes are almost inevitable.

For instance?

For various reasons, I was keen to bring back the original titles of the main characters of the The Guermantes Way, that is, the Duke and Duchesse de Guermantes, who were given the titles of Prince by Boy, and by the translators of the new translation. He explains this in a footnote. A long footnote is also provided for the scene in which the Marquis de Saint Loup and the narrator, who are friends with each other, start addressing each other by first names on the hundredth page, although in Boy's translation they use first-name terms from the beginning, according to Polish custom, as the translator points out.

Are there more changes like this?

Boy tries to Polonise the text of the original. For example, he changes all French diners - dinners - into déjeuners - lunches. It took me a long time to figure out why - I consulted 19th-century and pre-war savoir-vivre manuals, which indicated that in aristocratic and bourgeois circles, it was appropriate to eat lunch closer to eight p.m. (probably following the French model). Boy only used the word 'dinner' once, when it was clear from the context that it was about late evening. But this had its consequences. For the infrequent lunches (déjeuners) in the novel have been transformed into 'breakfasts' (petits déjeuners) in Boy's translation. This leads to absurd situations like the one when the narrator goes out for a walk before breakfast and encounters two diplomats in the street having a discussion, who also haven't had breakfast yet.

But I will give you an example of a difference of a another kind. In volume three, Madame de Guermantes states that Frans Hals' paintings are so brilliant that even if we had to look at them hanging from trees, and from the upper deck of a moving tram, it would be worth it. Boy replaced 'tram' with 'omnibus' in this passage. Electric trams, including double-decker ones, were already running in Paris at the end of the 19th century, and they certainly appeared in Warsaw and Łódź in the early 20th century. I don't know why Boy had a problem with this, especially since twenty pages later - when the narrator recalls this statement by Madame de Guermantes - it is the word 'tram' that appears in Boy's work. And let me tell you in confidence that I would not be at all surprised if it turned out that this further part of the text was translated by, say, Irena Krzywicka, a friend of Boy-Żeleński's and an admirer of Proust's prose, who was one of the first people in Poland to read Proust in French and wrote about the novel Á la recherche du temps perdu in the 1920s in the Polish press.

A bold claim.

I have also come up with another risky thesis in connection with Proust's translation: that, contrary to what translation scholars, i.e. specialists in literary translation, claim, there are not many possible faithful translations of a literary work. In fact, there is one. It may not be there yet, but Proust's stylistic algebra suggests that there are certainly not many of them. When translating The Guermantes Way, I also tried to preserve his punctuation, that is, never to shorten sentences, never to divide them into two or three separate clauses. Boy happened to break a Proustian sentence and put the final part of it in the next paragraph! I have also tried to give an idea of the experimental way in which Proust writes dialogue.


Yes, he is a very modern writer. Proust's dialogues, by the way, are excellent, vivid: someone says something to someone, but you can't hear them because it's loud, because someone has leaned over the table and blocked the speaker; an utterance reaches the narrator only in fragments at Mme de Villeparisis' party. This dialogue-driven salon scene takes up nearly two hundred pages in the novel.

How long did you work on Proust?

As it happened, I had plenty of time for Proust. I had this time extended due to some formal issues, handled by the publishing house. Which is, of course, rare. Usually, the translator works 'with a gun held to their head' - it's all about unfortunate and pressing deadlines... In the past, when I was short of time because I was translating two books in parallel or something of that nature, I used to use the help of people to whom I dictated the text, which made the work a little quicker and less tedious, for the sake of company. I now use the dictation function sometimes. I have one in the new version of Word. The thing is that sometimes this function jams, refuses to insert full stops, begins sentences with a lowercase letter. And when it really annoys me, I start swearing like a sailor at this dictation function, and then it revives, and it notes everything down meticulously....  There is another really vital issue associated with the time it takes to translate a book - and nothing consumes time like translation itself. For books as voluminous as the third volume of In Search of Lost Time, publishing contracts should resemble those signed in France. The advance payment made to the translator after signing the contract is half of the total amount due to the translator in France (in Poland it is usually around ten per cent)...

Is it possible to make a living from translation?

I am still alive... I had the opportunity to look at these differences in French and Polish work contracts in Arles, where the Translators' Factory operates. I ran a literary translation workshop there some time ago for young translators from Poland and France. Invited representatives of the French society of translators talked about contracts, rates, and whether it was possible to make a living from translation in France. There, the translator is paid not by the 'author’s sheet’ but by the page, an average of around twenty euros. Except that in France, a page has 1500 characters with spaces, while in Poland it has 1800. All the translators in the world were stood up by machines in the 1990s. In the days before computers, no one counted characters meticulously and a page of dialogue was still a page. Also, as of recently, there are no clauses regarding circulation in Polish contracts (it used to be the case that copyrights were sold up to five thousand copies), and there is no clause on copyright transfer for a period of five years. All in all, it looks as if the translator, in their contract with the publisher, renounces all rights to print, audiobooks, reproduction, exhibition, radio broadcast - everything...

Has any book given you a bit of a breather?

Good question. It is only fair to mention Virginie Despentes and her Vernon Subutex trilogy. It's a book with exceptionally direct language and a great introduction to contemporary France, especially 21st century Paris. It's one of those immodest novels, the authors of which use jargon and ooze with sex, evoking ambivalent feelings in Poland. I am referring to the aforementioned book How to Make Love to a Negro Without Getting Tired, where I decided to replace the verb baiser (vulgarised "to copulate"), which is repeated a dozen or so times on just two pages, with a different Polish verb each time. And it turned out to be possible! Such is also the case with Jonathan Littel's novel, bordering on pornography, Une Vieille Histoire. Nouvelle Version (“An Old Story. New Version”), which, in 2018, was awarded the Prix Sade in France - the prize named after the Marquis de Sade. It was all the more interesting with Virginie when the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Krakow ran a stage adaptation of Vernon Subutex. And the question of copyright then arose. Some of these rights, due to the signed translation contract, belong to the publisher, but as it turned out, not all. Ultimately, such issues must be decided by The Society of Authors ZAiKS. And most importantly the Krakow audience, who could not stand for too long the really juicy strings of curses by Virginie "From the Slopes" in my translation.

Interviewer: rozmawiał Maciej Libich

Translated by Justyna Lowe