The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


I remember feeling a twang of hurt when I read a translator's declaration (from 1989) that "Mother died today" was too British an opening for Camus's The Stranger. "Aujourd'hui, maman est morte:" It's just four words, for christ's sake. How hard can it be to translate? But Mom, Mum, Mummy, Mother: they do all sound strange. I was rather saddened to see that that Matthew Ward's choice has stuck however, used in passing in a Threepenny Review essay
"The flat-line affect at the beginning of The Stranger -- 'Maman died today' -- now seems the expected response to death."
I suppose "Maman" is the most accurate representation of "Maman" there is. They're identical, in fact. But then we should just translate "est mort" as "est mort." No matter how British Stuart Gilbert's use of mother is, it still has its uses. For starters, thanks to Norman Bates's use of "mother" to refer to his mother, mother opens the book in the same deadpan psycopathic style that Meursualt's mind operates (see also what the repeated use of mother does here). Secondly, mother is less British than Mummy, less American than Mommy, less Victorian than Mama, and, most importantly of all, less French than Maman. Mother leaves the narrative in a neutral space and doesn't immediately locate its narrator, which is surely a good thing when you're reading a book whose title in French suggests both a stranger and foreigner. "Maman" tells me this guy is French, and therefore, I know little more about him than I would a total stranger.