Peter Feldstein, 2014 Canada Council laureate – Governor General’s Literary Awards

Well, this was a
very big project. It took about two years to
do, and it required a lot of, essentially, bringing
the book up-to-date. It had been written
more than 30 years ago. It had been conceived
almost 40 years ago, by the author
François Marc Gagnon. We had a big job to do of
essentially bringing the book up-to-date and re-working
many aspects of it. It’s a fairly
straightforward process how the books come to me. I work with my
publisher – which is McGill Queen’s University
Press, in this case – and they will offer me various
books, things that they are very excited about doing,
to see what my reaction is. Usually, I will say,
“Yes, that sounds great.” In this case, I did not
hesitate for a second to take the book because it
promised me an adventurous trip into a past that was more or
less completely unknown to me, as well as into the works
of art which are just so exciting to be able
to spend time with. Doing the book
required me, actually, to spend a lot of time studying
the art – which to me, was one of the most
special things about it. So, as to the question of how
one goes about appropriating, or interacting,
with the voice of the author, this is something that… It’s
not something that generally I find is all that difficult. It’s not something I
generally problematize. I just find myself diving in
and becoming, I don’t know, almost friends with the person
whose voice is on the page, is represented on the page, and enjoying almost
working with them. Now, of course that
person is still around and we worked together
on this book directly, so that’s another
aspect of the process. The artist whose
biography I’ve translated, Paul Emile Borduas,
was a great painter and a great cultural
figure in Quebec. He was somebody who, from
a background in the church essentially – he was raised
to be a church decorator – went on to become one
of the quintessential radical modernists in
painting, in Quebec painting, but also essentially
in Canadian painting. More than that,
he was a person who, because of his uncompromising
nature, he found it difficult to get with,
to conform to the… Especially certain
religious constraints in the society of his time. This caused him to rebel,
to rebel in the form of a manifesto called
the Refus global, which led him to essentially
lose everything. He lost everything and
wound up being more or less a broken man, by the end
of it, because he was fired from his job and that meant
that he would probably have to live by
selling his paintings, which was a difficult
proposition, or go into poverty. Instead,
he chose to exile himself and it really
ruined his health as well. He paid the ultimate price
for this act of rebellion, and yet it was a very
principled thing that he did. Something which one could
say – I don’t want to be too categorical about this
either, yet it’s pretty clear that this was one of
the signature events ushering in the
modern era in Quebec. What I love about every
translation project – what really gets me going,
what gets me excited about any translation project
– is just this feeling that it’s going to
be an adventure. I’m diving into something
that’s completely new. It’s been great!
I’ve been taken to the Arctic, on one occasion,
and spent a lot of time learning about the Inuit. In another instance,
I was learning about the history of
African-American sociology. Here, I get to learn about
this fabulous group of artists called the ‘Automatistes,’
and the work that they did, not only to transform,
to revolutionize Canadian art, but also to do much
to move Quebec society ahead along more modern lines. It’s always just a very
exciting experience for me to go along on that adventure, the adventure that the
author takes me on.

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