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Elena Basile
University of Toronto
Vol. 3 (2013), Articles
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As a feminist bilingual journal dedicated to experimental writing, Tessera’s fostering of a concerted dialogue between Francophone and Anglophone women writers played a pioneer role between the 1980s and 1990s in inscribing the question of translation at the heart of feminist discourse. Critical attention has been steadily directed at the work of the journal’s mostly Anglophone first collective (1984-1993), which promoted a hopeful erotics of translation, driven by ‘sextual’ pleasure in the polysemic variances of languages and a deep seated trust in translation’s capacity to modify different languages’ topographies of sexual difference in profound ways. Tessera, however, published regularly for over twenty years and had three different collectives working at its helm. This paper seeks to address the critical imbalance by focusing on the poetics of translation promoted in the last years of Tessera’s life (2002-2005), when operations shifted from Toronto to Montreal and a mostly Francophone Editorial and Advisory Board took over. Indeed, against the optimism of the early bilingual experiments that emphasized common cross-cultural understandings of writing in the feminine, the texts published in the early 2000s consistently draw attention to the constitutively exilic relation to linguistic diversity held by diasporic queer bodies that live in the interstices of overlapping cross-cultural norms. Nathalie Stephens (now Nathanaël), a poet featured prominently in Tessera’s last volumes, is possibly the most significant writer to perform the un-decidable dimensions of such interstitial dwelling.  In particular, I analyze a multilingual text by Stephens published in Tessera in 2002, whose overt intertextual allusions to Nicole Brossard and Suzanne de Lotbinière-Harwood’s bilingual text Sous la langue/Under Tongue provide an interesting terrain of comparison with previous translation poetics. Contrary to the utopic ‘dream of a common language’ of Sous la langue/Under Tongue bilingual cross-contaminations, Stephens’ jagged multilingualism weaves lesbian desire with questions of bodily and cultural/linguistic exile, which provoke a radical queering (and querying) of such dream. At the crossroads of erotic and genealogic affinities Stephens gestures towards a space of collapsed translation, where the ideal “fusion” of tongues evoked by Brossard and de Lotbinière morphs into a painful and yet necessary con-fusion of languages marked by transversal alliances that anchor the text’s ‘je’ to the provisional rootedness of a diasporic memory. Despite the marked shift in tone, at the end of the essay I argue that both Stephens and her predecessors participate in Tessera’s consistent commitment to inscribing translation as a creative practice of heterotopic displacement and semiotic proliferation. A commitment, I would argue, which remains to date singularly feminist and singularly productive.

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