Olivier Le Lay has taken the opposite party

January 7, 2012 12:00 AM
Olivier Le Lay has taken the opposite party

On the jacket, the editor simply stated, in small letters, "new translation". He could have added to at the outset the name of the author of this new translation of the "Berlin Alexanderplatz", Olivier Le Lay, both it reveals - in the etymological sense of the term - the masterpiece of Alfred Döblin (1878-1957).

The novel became a classic of German literature was a great success upon its release in 1929. It tells the story of a former mover, Franz Biberkopf, who has served four years in prison after the murder of his wife and trying to resume an honest life. It has the odd frequent pubs, binds with prostitutes. And eventually plunge back, despite him, after his meeting with Reinhold, a brutal mackerel which left him in a burglary. Biberkopf loses an arm and sees re-emerge his inner demons. It is all crushed by the city. His redemption attempt turns into a cross which Doeblin announces the stages, at each head of chapter: "By Franz Biberkopf, honest, human goodwill, receives the first shot." Is wrong, the shot is. Biberkopf swore that he would be honest, and you have seen as for years remained it, but this was a period of grace in truth. Life in the long run is it too lenient, and made him a croc-en-jambe slyly.


Berlin Alexanderplatz is an epic, like the "Ulysses" by Joyce. But a story which advance of "limps step", as explains Olivier Le Lay in his foreword. Döblin inserts in the narration of the quotations from Goethe, Kleist, the songs from cabaret and the passages of the Bible, extracts of newspapers and advertising slogans. It is a "novel megaphone", as well summarized in the critic Walter Benjamin. Döblin, who liked to settle with his manuscript to the tables in the cafés, is enchevêtre of onomatopoeia, Berlin dialects, fragments of yiddish slang of the thugs. Dialogues stick closer to the spoken language, the words are often skinned, blend the speech. Refers to the ringing of the city, the tires of the tram that humming, the pigs to the slaughterhouse. These are the depths of the Berlin of the 1920s racing before our eyes. Reading is not easy. It becomes almost a physical test. It is the book a little lost and exasperated, but it always returned.

Translation original, yet signed shortly after the release of the novel, poorly made this impression. It exceeded "the pre-flood maximum age of seventy years", referred to by Joyce, which established a close correspondence between the literature and human existence. Write in a language clean and classic, as was the use at the time, the first translator of "Berlin alexanderplatz" had smoothed some passages, and misunderstands many of them. Olivier Le Lay has taken the opposite party. It is attached to the musicality of the text, to respect the pace and punctuation, to transcribe the sounds that emerged from the German phrasing. "He had to translate everything for the sake of fidelity to the original text, make justice the power and the complexity of the novel, preserve the strangeness of the original language." "Döblin, not time to reassemble, the impression is delivered such as view, heard recorded, writing walking to the beat of the street, divisive and struck," he says.

Translator of Elfriede Jelinek and Peter Handke, musician in her hours, Olivier Le Lay has chosen to interpret "Berlin alexanderplatz" closer to the original partition. Left to do violence to the French. It is fed to this contemporary authors of Döblin, Céline (often thought to "Trip") and Cendrars in particular, or modern authors working on the language as Pierre Guyotat and Jean-Jacques Schuhl. Some consider his artificial translation, or with a forced modernism. But his work, two years, is thorough and rigorous. It does justice to Döblin novel and polyphony which emerges. As Markowicz with Dostoyevsky, the Lay gives a new youth Doeblin.

As in this piece of bravery where the hero runs through the city slaughter: "On the other side, the rails of the railway belt stretch on 15 kilometres." Livestock arrived from the provinces, specimens of any species, sheep, pigs, oxen, East Prussia, Pomerania, Brandenburg, Prussia-West. On the ramps to livestock they bêlent, meuglent. The pigs snorting and sniffing the ground, they do not see where this may lead, the herdsmen with their sticks run behind ... On led them for so long, and then tossed around in cars, now nothing vibrates under them, only the tiles are cold, they wake up, to urge each other. "Three pages such as these, during which, despite the anachronism, cannot help but think about the death camps. As if the author announced the horror. Exiled in France in 1933 and then to the United States in 1940, where it will convert to Catholicism, Alfred Döblin returned to Berlin in 1947. But it will wait months before returning on the Alexanderplatz, become unrecognizable in his eyes.