115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Seeing a Foreign World: Translation and Notions of the “foreign” in and through Fouad Laraoui’s “Dislocation”

Anandi Rao, University of California, Irvine

“What would it be like, he asked himself, a world where everything was foreign?” This  is the first line of Emma Ramadan’s translation of Fouad Laroui’s short story “Dislocation”. Taken on its own, outside the context of the story, this question seems to have only one answer. Such a world is impossible, because “everything” cannot be “foreign”. “Foreign” needs its other, be it “domestic” in geopolitical terms or “native” when we think about tongues or languages. This binary lies at the heart of translation, and is one that I will unsettle in this essay.

Proposal: 

The question, which is the first line of Emma Ramadan’s translation of Fouad Laroui’s short story “Dislocation”, connects something called “a world” with what is “foreign”. Taken on its own, outside the context of the story, this question seems to have only one answer. The world that the narrator is dreaming up is impossible, because “everything” cannot be “foreign”. “Foreign” needs its other, be it “domestic” in geopolitical terms or “native” when we think about tongues or languages. This binary lies at the heart of any discussion on translation, and is therefore one that I will unsettle through this essay.

Laroui begins his short story “Dislocation” with this question, and in the next several pages this question is repeated with more and more details from the narrator’s stream of consciousness between the first two clauses (“What would it be like, he asked himself”) and the last one (“a world where everything was foreign”).  One of the details that the narrator’s wife Anna (a Dutch woman) teases him about all his “French references” by saying “You aren’t even French you’re Moroccan” (Laroui 19).  Laroui shows us, the readers, the thoughts that this tease triggers in the narrator, incrementally.  

Via these thoughts Laroui seems to be troubling the correlation between language, body, mind and nation/country to help us imagine a world where seeing everything as foreign wouldn’t be impossible. In this paper, I will look at this French story and its English translation to suggest ways in which this type of seeing can help us theorize translation in a manner that doesn’t rely on the foreign/domestic dichotomy. This dichotomy is one that lies beneath the rhetoric of “transparency” and “fidelity”, especially in Lawrence Venuti’s work.

Works Cited

Laroui, Fouad. The Curious Case of Dassoukine's Trousers. Trans. Emma Ramadan. Dallas: Deep Vellum, 2016.