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AText on Trial: The Translation

and Adaptation of Adel
Hakim’s Exécuteur 14

Roger Baines and Fred Dalmasso

This paper deals with the problem of translation for the stage, of transla-
tion/adaptation and its subsequent production. It evidences the complexity of
this type of practice, given the complex interplay of signs involved not only in
translating the text for the stage, but also at the level of performance. The
implications for translation theory and practice are discussed through discussion
of the translation and performance of a text that is politically engaged, Adel
Hakim’s Exécuteur 14 . This paper also problematizes the relation among
different languages within the same text, the role of foreign terms, of syntax,
and rhythm in the construction of discourse, and implications for translation. In
particular the focus is on the problem of the relation between intertextuality,
translation, performance, communication, and value systems.

Keywords Translation; theatre translation; adaptation; performance; inter-

textuality; syntax and rhythm; language and politics

In the introduction to Stages of Translation , his edited collection of essays by and

interviews with translators, writers and directors involved in translation for the
stage, David Johnston (1996a, 9) comments that:

The immediacy of reception in theatre gives translating plays virtually a

paradigmatic status within the study of translation while [. . .] a consideration
of the theoretical issues thrown up by translating for the stage gives us a series of
illuminating perspectives on the constituent elements which come together in
the making of a play in performance.

This essay discusses the case study of a translation/adaptation and its

subsequent production. It will seek to demonstrate how the complex interplay
of signs that are involved both in the process of translation for the stage and in
the making of a play in performance render theorising about translation for the
stage more challenging, but that the particular attributes of this play and of the
translators and actor involved nonetheless facilitated this undertaking. It

ISSN 1035-0330 print/1470-1219 online/07/020229-29

# 2007 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/10350330701311520

concerns an English-language translation and adaptation of Adel Hakim’s 1990

play Exécuteur 14 , which is a dying man’s account of his journey from being a
victim in an indeterminate civil war to becoming an executioner. The transla-
tion/adaptation was staged by Harum-Scarum in 2002 at the Dublin Fringe
Festival and at the UEA Drama Studio in Norwich. The relative scarcity of existing
research into translation for the stage as acted and produced will be established
and it will be argued that it is the complex intersemiotic nature of, and the
involvement of multiple collaborators in, the whole process that contribute to
this relative scarcity. The essay will demonstrate how the relative indeterminacy
of the source text, in explicit reference, contradictory inference, language mix
and awkward syntax, informed the translation and how the effect of this
relatively indeterminate text is not directly recreated but channelled in a
different way. This different channelling is, in part, a consequence of the
contemporaneous and high-profile war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic that
inspired the particular staging of an interpreted war crimes trial sequence for
the start of the play that we used. We will examine how we used the idiolect of
the protagonist to construct the appropriate character for our mise en scène , via
sophistication of speech, use of idiom, and of foreign language lexis in particular,
and how the translation rationale we chose to deal with this raised significant
challenges. The range of intertexts that both the original text and the translation
may have revealed in the light of the particular staging and character that we
created will be discussed. In addition, we will analyse how performance and
professional practice diverge in the interpreting sequence as we transgressed the
conventions of interpreting in order to highlight the artificiality of the device we
were using.
The original play was written in 1990 and performed first at the Centre
Dramatique National/Théâtre Ouvert in 1990, and then at the Théâtre Gérard
Philippe de Saint-Denis in 1991. There have been subsequent productions at
various other venues both in France and abroad, and the play was recently
revived at the Théâtre des Quartiers d’Ivry (2004). The play won the audience
award at the Saint-Herblain festival in 1991 and was broadcast on French radio
(France Culture). Adel Hakim was born in Cairo in 1953 but emigrated to Beirut
when he was 11 years old. He moved to Paris in 1972, where he has been both an
actor and a director and, since 1992, he has been director of the Théâtre des
Quartiers d’Ivry. Exécuteur 14 was his first play and has since been followed by
Corps (1995), La Toison d’or (2001), and La Terreur et la pitié (2003). The
following review for the French daily L’Humanité of a revival of the play in 1996
at the Théâtre Gérard Philippe de Saint-Denis provides a good sense of the play’s

A man, alone, the last survivor of an unnamed war, Lebanon, Yugoslavia, Algeria,
Africa?*/ a monologue. He spits out his venom at the world as he recounts
unspeakable horrors, cruelty and suffering. War, atrocities committed in his
name. In the name of what, in whose name in fact? Why does humankind descend
into this destructive logic that operates like a never-ending downward spiral

consuming the tiniest scrap of humanity? More than blindness and conditioning, it
is human cowardice, the cowardice of humankind. It starts with refusals. The
refusal to react to the warning signs of impending destruction. Road blocks are
built on the exit roads from an imaginary city. Up until then, everything was fine,
everyone got along with everyone else. Who was the first to attack? It’s
impossible to unravel the threads of history, as though history, having lost its
way, no longer means anything. You don’t react the first time, or the second
time, when bombs fall at random during the night. He ends up getting used to the
worst of it, the bombs, the screams. However, a day comes when he reacts but it
is too late to put a stop to the spiral. So, from having been a passive victim, he
becomes an executioner, just the same as those on the other side. A murderer,
like the others, and all of humanity is in the hands of murderers. Human tragedy
makes way for barbarism.1

Theory of Translation for the Stage

There are two distinct types of translation of play texts and it is important to
distinguish between literary drama translation (translations designed to be read)
and practical theatre translation for the stage (translations designed to be
performed and seen*/performance texts). As Zatlin (2005, vii) says: ‘‘If a play
translation is nothing but ink on a page, it is not theatre (performance text). If it
is published and read, it may be considered drama (literary text)’’. Although,
clearly, these distinctions can be quite blurred, in that drama translation done
for the page can and does serve as the basis for stage production, with cuts or as
an adaptation/rewriting, or even as an academic text that is used for a
production because there is no alternative. Furthermore, translations of play
texts can be used for readings rather than full performances and even exist as
text accompanying a performance in the form of surtitling or sign language.
Nonetheless, in this case, it is the process of translating a play text that is
designed to be performed and seen with which we are concerned here. Johnston
(1996a, 7) sees a similar distinction even between those who translate for the
stage when he indicates that there are, of course, no hard and fast rules in
practice. He comments that there is a literary view that is concerned with the

1. ‘‘Un homme, seul, dernier survivant d’une guerre sans nom, sans lieu*/Liban, Yougoslavie, Algérie,
Afrique?*/monologue, crache son venin à la face du monde, témoigne d’une indicible horreur, de la
cruauté, de la souffrance. La guerre, des atrocités commises en son nom. Au nom de quoi d’ailleurs,
au nom de qui? Pourquoi les hommes sombrent-ils dans la logique destructrice telle une spirale sans
fin qui bouffe la moindre parcelle d’humanité ? Avant de relever de l’aveuglement et du
conditionnement, il y va de la lâcheté de l’homme, des hommes. Cela commence par le refus.
Refus de réagir aux signes annonciateurs de la destruction. Des barrages sont dressés au sortir d’une
ville imaginaire. Jusqu’alors, tout baignait, les uns et les autres cohabitaient. Qui a déclenché le
premier les hostilités ? On ne sait plus démêler les fils de l’histoire, comme si l’histoire, déboussolée,
ne signifiait plus rien. On ne réagit pas la première fois. Ni la deuxième, quand les bombes tombent au
hasard dans la nuit. L’homme finit par s’habituer au pire, aux bombes, aux cris. Vient pourtant un jour
où l’homme réagit. Mais il est trop tard pour mettre un terme à l’engrenage. Alors de victime passive,
il devient bourreau, au même titre que celui d’en face. Assassin, comme l’autre, et l’humanité toute
entière est entre les mains d’assassins. La tragédie humaine fait place à la barbarie’’ (Lin 1996).

translation at the level of semantics and detail while there is also a theatrical
view that is concerned with the play in terms of its dramatic impact while not
abandoning a word-based analysis. Our translation tried to steer a course
between these two approaches and it is important to emphasise that it was also
very much an adaptation because the translation was refined and adjusted during
the rehearsal process as the particularities of our production developed and we
decided to apply a particular reading to the play. Translation had a leading role in
the rehearsal process but also, as we will see, during the performances. In the
United Kingdom in particular, adaptation usually involves a translator providing a
translation of a play that is then worked on by a writer-adaptor who may well not
have any access to the source language or culture (for example, see Hale and
Upton 2000, 10). Johnston (1996b, 256) notes that:

The distinction between translation and adaptation is one which is difficult to

understand fully, unless it is to refer to translation as the first stage of linguistic
and broadly literary interrogation of the source text, and adaptation as the
process of dramaturgical analysis, the preparation for re-enactment.

This describes the processes we undertook where the specific devices used in the
adaptation were suggested by an interpretation of the source text that was
carried over into the translation and the adaptation. What is significant, and
relatively unusual in our experience, is that the translation and the adaptation
were not undertaken by different people, and both translators had access to both
languages and cultures; we will return to this in more detail shortly.
There are two consistent general observations about drama translation in
existing research in the field. Firstly that, compared with the amount of research
devoted to literary translation, whether to prose or poetry, there is significantly
less research into drama translation. Zatlin (2005, vii/viii), for example,
comments on the small proportion of space given over to drama translation in
major works on literary translation and the little major work that is devoted
solely to drama translation, while Bassnett (2000, 96) comments that ‘‘although
it has flourished as an art, it remains probably the least explored field in
Translation Studies and there are very few serious examinations of the complex-
ities of transferring a play across cultures’’. The second consistent general
observation is that the majority of writing focuses on translation for the page and
not for the stage. Bassnett regularly makes this point, for example (2000, 96):

André Lefevere pointed out that there is practically no theoretical literature on

the translation of drama as acted and produced (Lefevere: 1992) and Patrice
Pavis noted that questions of translation and performance have ‘‘hardly been
taken into consideration’’ (Pavis 1992: 136).

Hale and Upton (2000, 12) suggest that this is because there is little collaboration
or even awareness of each other’s fields between translation theorists and
practising theatre translators, while Bassnett advances two explanations; firstly
that there is no clear definition of what constitutes a play text, but secondly that

the collaborative nature of the theatrical process renders theoretical analysis

much more complex. It is this second observation that is most germane to this
essay because we agree that it is the collaborative nature of theatre that renders
the systems of signs that have to be carried across cultures so much more
complex, but also because in our translation/adaptation we were able to reduce
the number of collaborators significantly and thus put ourselves in a better
position to be able to theorise about the process in a holistic way.
Translation for the stage, compared with other kinds of literary translation, is
particular because of the number of considerations it requires. Hale and Upton
(2000, 2) comment that theatre translation:

[. . .] demands a dramaturgical capacity to work in several dimensions at once,

incorporating visual, gestural, aural and linguistic signifiers into the translation.
In the complementary consideration of all these elements, the process is closely
linked to mise en scène , and any cultural relocation is thrown into sharp relief by
the conjunction of multiple semiotic codes.

However, this comment does not refer specifically to how the incorporation of
these signifiers into the translation is then built on in order to transfer the new
performance text onto the stage, and this is a crucial consideration. Bassnett
(2000, 97) reports Kowzan’s five semiotic systems that underpin all performance:
spoken text; bodily expression; the actor’s physical appearance (height,
gestures, features, etc.); the playing space; and non-spoken sound, including
music. There are then 13 distinct subsections: words; intonation; mime; gesture;
movement; make-up; hairstyle; costume; props; décor; lighting; music; and
sound effects, which he classifies as either auditive or visual signs (Kowzan
1975). Bassnett suggests that this structuralist breakdown is a useful tool for
understanding the complex interrelationship between sign systems in theatre and
that the final performance is the result of interaction between different sign
systems and different individuals. These multiple considerations mean that it is
usually the case that theatre translators are not fully equipped for the task. In
most cases, translation for the stage cannot incorporate all these signifiers
because they are worked out in rehearsal by the director and the actors who
revise the translation, and this problem is deemed insurmountable by Bassnett
(1998, 92), particularly when considering what drama semiotic theory calls the
gestic, or inner, text that is read intuitively by actors:

[. . .] if we accept the idea of a gestic text that exists within a written text and
needs excavating by actors, then we are faced with an absurd problem for
translators [. . .]. For the translator is effectively being asked to do the
impossible. If the written text is merely a blueprint, a unit in a complex of
sign systems including paralinguistic and kinesic signs, and if it contains some
secret gestic code that needs to be realised in performance, then how can the
translator be expected not only to decode those secret signs in the source
language, but also to re-encode them in the target language?

This notion of a gestic text will be returned to because it was indeed a

significant consideration for the performance of Executioner No. 14 in terms of
the decision as to who should perform the piece in relation to the vision we had for
our particular mise en scène . However, first it is worthwhile emphasising the
integral involvement of both translators in the whole process. Zatlin’s survey of
professional theatre translators in a range of countries and language combinations
provides us, among other things, with examples of theatre practitioners who
report having been involved in the translation process, either fully or partially, and
as directors or performers or both. However, few of these have written about their
experience,2 and in the field of research into the translation of texts for the stage,
as Bassnett and others point out, there is not a great deal of material by translators
who have been involved in the rehearsal process of the texts they have produced,
with the notable exceptions of the work of David Johnston, Bill Findlay and Martin
Bowman, and Klaudyna Rozhin. Johnston’s Stages of Translation gives an excellent
insight into practice in the 1990s; translators who report experiences of working
with directors and/or actors in this collection include Steve Gooch, Noel Clark,
Neil Bartlett, Declan Donnellan, Laurence Boswell, Bill Findlay and Johnston
himself. These examples challenge Bassnett’s assertion that ‘‘a translator can only
be a translator, perhaps with some awareness of the factors involved in
performance, even with a fantasy about an eventual performance, but no more
than that’’ (2000, 98). It is nonetheless reasonable to claim that such involvement
is unusual, firstly for the simple pragmatic reason that most professional
productions, in the United Kingdom at least, will have a three to four week
rehearsal period, which makes time spent revising the text during rehearsal
inefficient and undesirable*/a translator will not be a welcome presence in a
rehearsal room and this does appear to be increasingly the case; and secondly
because it is rare that a production will be sufficiently simple for it to involve very
few collaborators or that the translators who produce the performance text will
have as direct an involvement in the whole process as we did for the production of
Executioner No. 14 . Bassnett (1998, 92), following on from her comments on the
gestic text quoted above, adds that ‘‘to do such a thing a translator would not only
have to know both languages and theatrical systems intimately but would also
have to have experience of gestic readings and training as a performer or director
in those two systems’’, and it is true that this is highly unusual. The majority of the
practitioners who are included in Johnston’s Stages of Translation represent one
element in the author/translator/adaptor/writer/director/actor chain, whereas
we, the two co-translators of Hakim’s text, are a native speaker of English (Roger
Baines) and of French (Frédéric Dalmasso) who thus, between us, share access to
both languages and cultures, in the same way as the Findlay/Tremblay collabora-
tions do. Also, crucially, we are both actors and were involved, to varying degrees,
in the rehearsal, performance and production processes. Fred Dalmasso (transla-
tor, playwright, actor*/both in French and in English*/and director by profession)

2. Feliu Formosa, actor, director and translator, from German to Catalan, is one exception. See
Formosa (2002).

Figure 1 Fred Dalmasso, Executioner No. 14 , Meeting House Square, Dublin, October

co-translated, co-directed and performed the play (see Figure 1), and Roger
Baines (translator, lecturer in a modern languages department, and amateur
actor*/both in French and English) co-translated and was involved in the rehearsal
process.3 This placed us in an unusually privileged position to write about these
processes but also, because the text is a solo piece, a monologue that was staged
with a minimal set and uncomplicated lighting and music, this reduced the number
of collaborators/interpreters of the text and, as such, decreased the interference
with our text and adaptation and gave us an unusual degree of control over the
network of signs operating within the production.

From Source Text to Target Text/Target Production

No, I was not cruel when I was Non, je n’étais pas cruel quand
young. j’étais petit.
I never used to cut . . . chop frog’s legs Les grenouilles, je ne leur coupais pas
with stones, les pattes arrières avec des cailloux,
I didn’t force lit cigarettes inside the je n’enfoncais pas une cigarette
mouths of green lizards, allumée dans la gueule des lézards

3. The following were also involved with the production: Jeremiah Cullinane, co-director; Sabine
Dargent, set-designer; Conleth White, lighting designer, and Roy Carroll, sound artist. It is important
to reiterate the specificity of this production, which was to give the translation process priority over
other elements. For example, the set designer was instructed to work on the idea of a war crimes
trial, and especially the relationship between the interpreter and the defendant. This was striking for
the outdoor Dublin performances where the interpreter was placed on a tower overlooking the stage
and the auditorium at the centre of Meeting House Square in Temple Bar. The sound artist also worked
from the rhythm being produced by the text: for the Dublin performances, he played live and subtly
accompanied the actor’s voice with electronic jazz whose beat was dictated by the rhythm of the

I did not open their stomachs to look leur ventre, je ne l’ouvrais pas pour
inside, voir ce qu’il y a dedans,
and I never ripped . . . tore the wings et jamais je n’ai arraché les ailes des
off flies, though it doesn’t hurt them. mouches, même si ça ne leur fait pas
I was in fact very afraid of cats. J’avais même très peur des chats.
They are cruel, I used to think. Ils sont cruels, je pensais.
With their long whiskers, their sad Avec les longues moustaches, leur
and watchful heads, sharp eyes and tête triste et attentive, et les yeux
their terrible claws . . . awful claws. perçants, et les griffes terribles.
And how quiet they are, and Et comment ils sont tranquilles, et
suddenly they move to kill. They tout à coup ils se mettent en marche
cannot be stopped . . . there’s no pour tuer. Alors, rien ne les arrête
stopping them then. plus.
(Baines/Dalmasso, unpublished (Opening lines of Ex écuteur 14 ,
translation for Harum-Scarum’s 2002 Hakim 1996, 6)
production of Executioner No. 14 )

At the UEA Drama Studio in October 2002,4 the lights rose on a sparse set; a
man, dressed in a suit and tie, sat stage left, behind a Perspex screen,
handcuffed to a table on which a microphone was placed. First he muttered
incomprehensibly and then, as he began to speak in fluent French, the
disembodied voice of an unusually dispassionate interpreter rendered his initially
reflective but increasingly passionate speech into English. He started by
reminiscing about his childhood (see text above) and these memories quickly
carried him, via reference to the bravado of adolescents playing with guns, to the
current reality of the civil war he had been engaged in. All along, he listened
carefully and suspiciously to the interpreter’s translation and the interpreter
spoke occasionally haltingly until the protagonist referred to ‘‘l’Être Conforme’’.
The interpreter hesitated, attempted to speak once, twice, three times,
repeating the definite article until finally offering ‘‘the Conformable Being’’.
During this hesitation, the protagonist listened carefully and then, after a pause,
corrected ‘‘Conformable Being’’ to ‘‘Communal Being’’ and then continued
speaking in excellent English, of the kind that only betrays itself as being a
foreign language for the speaker through its occasional and very discreet over-
sophistication and the odd, hardly discernible, unnatural idiom. He also revealed
his cosmopolitan identity by speaking a text that was shot through with a series
of recognisable foreign language terms in a range of languages. Having slipped
out of first the handcuffs and then out of his suit and shoes to reveal non-descript
clothing and bare feet, he proceeded to tell the tale of the civil war between the
Adamites and the Zelites. Clearly dying, for the rest of the play, he spoke in
English and, as best he could, recounted his journey from being a victim of civil
war to becoming an executioner.

4. As illustrated. This was an even simpler staging than in Dublin.


Universal Text or Indeterminate Text?

We have already established that, for a translator who is producing performance

texts, the task is rendered challenging on diverse levels because of the multiple
sign systems in operation and the number of collaborators normally involved in
the whole process. However, if we approach the process from the other end,
from the point of view of the potential audience, the interpreters of a
performance text, then the range of possible meanings, the span of potential
intertextual meanings, is clearly increased by the transfer of the original text
from, for example, French to English because intertextuality is key to translation
of any kind. As Bassnett (2002, 82) explains:

Barthes sees the place of the literary work as that of making the reader not so
much the consumer of a text but also as a producer of the text, while Kristeva
sees the reader as realising the expansion of the work’s process of semiosis. The
reader, then, translates or decodes the text according to a different set of
systems and the idea of one ‘‘correct’’ reading is dissolved. At the same time,
Kristeva’s notion of intertextuality that sees all texts linked to all texts, because
no text can ever be completely free of those texts which precede and surround it,
is also profoundly significant for the student of translation. As Paz suggests all
texts are translations of translations of translations and the lines cannot be
drawn to separate Reader from Translator.

If this is true for translation in general, then it is only part of the story in
translation for the stage. In the process we are concerned with, which involves
the realisation of a performance from a translation and has a distinct adaptive
element to it, intertextuality in performance needs considering as well. Balme
(1998, 262), for example, comments that:

The semiotic complexity of a play in performance, its ‘‘polyphonic’’ character, as

Roland Barthes puts it, means that the potential for intertextual play is widened
to include any of the sign systems at work in the staged text. This includes all the
spatial and human elements of the concrete mise-en-scène . The semiotic
continuum from written to performed text is a long and complex one.

Elam (1980, 93) elaborates on intertextuality within the theatrical frame thus:

Appropriate decodification of a given text derives above all from the spectator’s
familiarity with other texts (and thus with learned textual rules). By the same
token, the genesis of the performance itself is necessarily intertextual: it cannot
but bear the traces of other performances at every level, whether that of the
written text (bearing generic, structural and linguistic relations with other plays),
the scenery (which will ‘‘quote’’ its pictorial or proxemic influences), the actor
(whose performance refers back, for the cognoscenti, to other displays),
directorial style and so on. [. . .] An ‘‘ideal’’ spectator [. . .] is one endowed with
a sufficiently detailed, and judiciously employed, textual background to enable
him to identify all relevant relocations and use them as a grid for a correspondingly
rich decodification.

So, the nature of the theatre genre opens up a space for a multiplicity of
readings/viewings because of the more complex interplay between sign systems
available for interpretation, and the translated theatre text potentially increases
the range of texts that are invited into the reading/viewing experience. Before
we move on to analysing the mechanisms of intertextuality, those of which we
were aware, operating in our translation/adaptation of Exécuteur 14 , it is worth
discussing the way in which specific and non-specific references and markers
appear to operate in Hakim’s source text.
The original text is notably lacking in explicit references, it contains no
temporal, geographical, or historical markers while its cultural location comes
simply from what is conveyed by the fact of it being written in French, although
this is not as straightforward as it might seem because there is a distinctive
language mix. The original contains a considerable number of slang terms,
‘‘sapées à la énième mode’’, ‘‘déglinguée’’, ‘‘nous reluquons’’, ‘‘la castagne’’,
‘‘putain’’, ‘‘zarbis’’, some of which are derived from foreign languages,
‘‘fiasco’’, ‘‘pésète’’. Neologisms are numerous, either to describe the long-
gone childhood world, ‘‘La Super-Cité’’, ‘‘les feuilles-diamant’’; the mysterious
female sphere, ‘‘machine à écrire démantibulaire’’, a mix of ‘‘démantibulée’’
(dismantled) and ‘‘patibulaire’’ (sinister-looking); or the new context of war,
especially the weapons, ‘‘lance-feu’’, ‘‘clachinques lourdes, grenades petites et
grandes, canons chenillés, schlagas de toutes sortes. [. . .] Des métals-vampires
affamés de chair humaine.’’ The use of slang is psychological and is used to
summon up the past or to try to cope with a tense situation, such as the
roadblock scene. Similarly, neologisms occur when the situation eludes the
character or in order to recreate a world that has disappeared. In this regard,
neither the slang nor the neologisms anchor the text temporally or geographi-
cally. Moreover, their use is rather limited in comparison with the use of foreign
language lexis, which does not seem to be linked to the emotional state of the
storyteller but to be imposed on him; in the same way that he is confined to a
restricted zone, with distance actually measured in yards. Foreign words clash
with the character’s attempt to keep a grip on his words, his world. If at the
beginning of the play, the text presents a few English words, which have been
assimilated in French, in expressions such as ‘‘Et c’était okay aussi’’ or ‘‘On allait
comme ça, cool, promenade du soir’’, gradually and increasingly English terms
are used instead of French terms like stumbling blocks: ‘‘Et puis on revenait,
back sur le trottoir’’, ‘‘Une dispute maybe?’’, ‘‘Les meubles, quoi?, renversés,
fouillés, saccagés, killed, meurtris, le ventre dehors’’, ‘‘Toutes les directions
sont perdues, lost pour toujours’’. At times, parts of sentences are completely in
English: ‘‘alors tout était okay, easy, relax’’, ‘‘Puis le danger revenait, alors vite,
nous retournions dans nos sweet homes. Sweet, sweet home, sweet, sweet
home, mild and cosey’’. In other places, English expressions encapsulate the text
and summarise the situation: ‘‘no comment’’, ‘‘no problem’’, ‘‘no help’’, ‘‘no
hope’’. English seems to have the last word, ‘‘Un jour, nous irons dans un camp,
l’ultime, the last’’, ‘‘Jusqu’à la fin, the end’’. Via a particular mix of French and
other foreign languages, with English by far, and significantly so for a French

text, the most dominant, as well as via the use of neologisms for weapons in
particular, Hakim, in a text about civil war, seems to be commenting on the
political weight of English in the context of war. We will examine how we dealt
with the effect of these anglicisms in translation later on.
On the other hand, numerous English terms are gallicised, some which are
already used in French*/‘‘zoomer’’, ‘‘shooter’’, others that are neologisms, ‘‘Par
le trou de la serrure, je lookerai; je verrai des exécutions’’, ‘‘Tu lookes, et tu
comprends rien à ce qui est arrivé’’. As a result, the syntax has a jolting quality
and conveys a sense of indeterminacy. English terms seem also to accelerate the
pace of the text. From narration, the text becomes action and recreates the war,
‘‘Eh oui, la guerre était là, steady, prête à nous avaler’’. We will see in a
subsequent section how we have attempted to translate the rhythm of the text
and to transpose in translation what is being done to the syntax in the original.
The original text’s mix of languages and use of neologisms combined with
uncomfortable syntax thus make it difficult to pin the text down to any particular
linguistic context, and this diversity is also discernible in the implicit markers in
the text. Together these two elements introduce linguistic and cultural
inferences from diverse sources and it is their very diversity that enables the
text, in terms of its potential intertexts, to go beyond what a narrower, more
culturally specific piece would evoke. Hakim’s use of a civil war context, for
example, invites reference to a wide range of specific civil wars across the globe
as can be seen from the review quoted at the beginning of this essay where
Lebanon, ex-Yugoslavia, Algeria, and Africa are suggested.
The neologisms and the use of English are both implicit rather than explicit
references but there are two references in the original text, one of which is
explicit and another range of references that are much less explicit, which, in
different ways, both serve to enhance the text’s lack of determinacy.
The first example is also a good illustration of how the collaboration between
the two translators operated because, although the reference was clear, the
complexity of the intertexts it evoked were not as available to a non-native
speaker of French as they were to a native speaker. The play’s only explicit cultural
reference occurs in the phrase ‘‘l’Ange Super Bonux [. . .] Le héros, comme sur la
pub’’ (literally ‘‘The Super Bonux Angel [. . .], the hero, like in the ads’’) when the
protagonist imagines that the Adamites’ deity will send a heroic angel to save him
during a dangerous bombing raid. For the French audience, the mention of the
advertisements for Bonux, a washing powder, is likely to conjure up an image of a
child waiting for his mother to buy a packet of washing powder, in the expectation
of getting the gift inside, ‘‘le cadeau Bonux’’. This particular advertising campaign
lasted decades and Bonux was possibly the first brand to introduce this type of
marketing strategy in France. ‘‘Le cadeau Bonux’’ became integrated into French
linguistic culture, and in particular became the basis for many cynical jokes by
stand-up comedians. Thus the intertextual reference to this advert in the middle
of a bombing scene could either be read as a cliché that denotes the insufficiency
of language itself to articulate the situation, as the character’s tendency to seek
refuge in childhood or, alternatively, as a mark of cynicism on his part. The reading

of the scene is up to the director and the translation has, in this case, followed the
original’s emphasis on a fantastical relation to a purifying god. We retained the
name Super Bonux Angel and embodied the advertisement context in the
description of this figure’s heroic qualities by using a phrase that, for the English
language audience, has strong advertisement discourse connotations: ‘‘The hero,
washing whiter’’ but that nonetheless also retains a flavour of cynicism about the
veracity of advertising in general. Retaining the Super Bonux name enabled us to
preserve the notion of a delusional world that is particular to the character while
retaining the advertising discourse preserved the degree of cliché. This reference
contributes to the original text’s indeterminacy simply because it is the only
explicit reference in the whole play and so it draws considerable attention to, and
simultaneously highlights the absence of, any other specific cultural markers.
Super Bonux is also one of very few proper names used in the play. The protagonist
is accorded no name, beyond the implied ‘‘Exécuteur 14’’ of the title, his mother is
referred to only as ‘‘Maman’’ and his girlfriend as ‘‘petite amie’’, indeterminate
names are given for places (‘‘La Cité Horizon’’, ‘‘le quartier Gimba’’) and for rulers
or deities (‘‘Le Chef Suprême’’ and ‘‘Le Grand Conciliateur’’), and his classmates
are given the unfamiliar exotic names Kline and Coma. All this adds to the piece’s
abstract atmosphere, despite the concrete violence of the civil war that is
described in the play, and the proper names have all been retained in the
The second range of references that contribute to the original’s lack of
determinacy are also proper names. The list of proper names above includes
virtually all those in the play,5 with the exception of the names of the clans, the
Adamites, the Zélites and the Yamites. These names, although they do not have
the explicitness of ‘‘Super Bonux’’, along with the ‘‘tours Asmonée’’ (literally
‘‘the Asmonean Towers’’), do not appear to have been chosen arbitrarily.
Adamite and Zélite are the names of the principal opposing factions and could
evoke religious struggles, while the ‘‘tours Asmonée’’ evoke the Asmonean
palace, Herod’s stately home.6 The plurality of possible interpretations in the
text is perhaps enshrined in this use of proper names that could evoke references
to the Bible. What could be more all-encompassing than to make virtually the
sole semi-explicit reference a reference to the Bible, the Book of Books, the
most universal text, for a western audience at least? However, while this use of
biblical names may give a sense of western universality, it may also add a layer of
intertext that refers to the Middle East and the third faction referred to in the
text are the Yamites, a name that evokes an ancient sub-Saharan African tribe,
and thus adds to what is a mythological flavour brought in by the biblical

5. There are variations on the name for the deity, for example ‘‘Le Très Haut’’, and military zones are
given proper names such as ‘‘Zone de Guerre-D’’ as are some nouns that would not normally be
expressed in this way, such as ‘‘La Cause’’, ‘‘Le Crime’’ and ‘‘La Faute’’.
6. The Adamites were a group of heretics in the second century, and the Zealots were Jewish patriots
who advocated violence against the Romans. The Asmonean tower overlooking Mount Golgotha is also
mentioned in the Bible as the symbol of the Roman occupation.

references, as well as the name of a Jewish settlement in Sinai evacuated in the

1980s or even the Yemenites.
This diversity of potential interpretations and intertexts characterises Hakim’s
text and creates an atmosphere that makes the play appear to not be rooted in a
particular culture but in the possibly universal experience of civil war based on
religious conflict and its effect on the people it consumes, in whichever culture
that may occur. The diversity of potential interpretations and intertexts posed a
considerable challenge in translation because, for a variety of reasons to do with
the expectations of the receiving culture, which include the fact that such work is
designed to be heard and not read (and re-read), the most common strategy
employed in translation for the stage is that of domestication, or naturalisation.
Rather than domesticate a text that had little or no anchorage in any specific time,
place or culture, we needed a different rationale. Although, as Aaltonen and Pavis
quite rightly point out (Aaltonen 2000, 36), textual potentiality cannot be
anticipated, we nonetheless produced and refined our translation and constructed
its adaptation in such a way as to attempt to foreground particular reference
points. Nonetheless, our rationale was to do this so that the apparent universality
of the original that is conjured up via contradictory and imprecise references that
potentially evoke a range of contexts and so, by their confusion, all contexts, is not
undone but simply channelled in a different multi-referential way and so retains a
sense of diverse applicability.
In considering further the mechanisms of intertextuality at work in our
translation and adaptation, we will concentrate on two elements in particular;
the construction of the protagonist’s character via his idiolect, and the decision
to stage the start of the play as an interpreted sequence that specifically evoked
the contemporaneous, televised, Milosevic war crimes trial.

The Idiolect of the Protagonist

The occasional use of accent was important because we wanted to create a text
for a multilingual European character whose command of English is excellent and
sophisticated but who, periodically, in accent but also in lexis, betrays the fact
that English is not his native language. We conveyed the former characteristic by
occasionally having him use slightly more sophisticated, Latinate words than a
native speaker might. For example, in translating the phrase ‘‘c’était à peine
sensible’’, we used ‘‘perceptible’’ where ‘‘there’’ (‘‘it was scarcely perceptible’’
versus ‘‘it was scarcely there’’) would have sufficed as a translation for
‘‘sensible’’ with the connotations of indefiniteness being contained sufficiently
in ‘‘à peine’’/‘‘scarcely’’; and for the word ‘‘résumé’’ in the phrase ‘‘comme un
résumé de tout ce qui précède’’ we used ‘‘encapsulating’’ rather than ‘‘summing
up’’. More complex Latinate terms served both the purpose of underlining the
character’s desire to be as accurate in his accounts as possible but also of
expressing himself with a higher degree of conceptualisation or sophistication.

The use of idioms was also significant in character construction. Idioms or

idiomatic expressions are distorted by the intermingling of French and English in
the original text; for example, the French ‘‘avoir le bénéfice du doute’’ (‘‘the
benefit of the doubt’’) becomes ‘‘no bénéfice, no doute’’, and in ‘‘shitland à la
noix’’, the English term ‘‘shitland’’ is ironically re-appropriated in French by the
use of the typical idiom ‘‘à la noix’’ (meaning crap or crummy). Also, within the
original text, idioms are slightly distorted and become rhetorical figures; for
example ‘‘la ville était en train de se casser comme une boı̂te d’allumettes’’ is
based on the idiom ‘‘se casser comme une allumette’’ (literally ‘‘to break as easily
as a matchstick’’) but almost becomes a synecdoche with the town buildings being
destroyed as if they were matchstick houses. Although the expression ‘‘une
casserole blindée’’ (literally ‘‘an armoured saucepan’’) that is used to refer to a
tank is unusual, it combines the idiom ‘‘faire un bruit de casserole’’ (‘‘make a
racket’’) and a metaphor forged on this, the term ‘‘casserole’’ being the name
given to a noisy old car. This use of unconventional idioms combined with awkward
syntax, as well as the mix of French with lexis from other languages, contributes to
the strangeness and indeterminacy of the text that we have already discussed in
relation to the references it suggests. In terms of the idioms, our strategy was to
try and provide our character with a mixture of absolute command of target
language idioms but also to retain the literally translated source language idiom
when there was no comfortable equivalent in the target language, rather than
adapting the idiom via paraphrase or compensation. We achieved the former by
translating the unconventional idiom of ‘‘se casser comme une boı̂te d’allum-
ettes’’ by the more natural target language expression of ‘‘the city was collapsing
like a house of cards’’, thus suggesting good command of idiom in the target
language; we enhanced this effect by introducing a natural target language idiom
where there was no idiom in the original by translating ‘‘tous vivaient avec tous’’ by
‘‘everyone rubbed along together’’. However, we also provided the character with
an awkward literal translation for the conventional idiomatic phrase ‘‘tu es là
comme un pot de fleur, tu n’y peux rien’’*/rather than adapt or paraphrase it we
translated this as ‘‘like a flower pot, useless’’, thus enabling a small indication of
his foreignness to seep out. In this way the strangeness of the idioms in the original
have been adjusted in translation to serve the requirements of the construction of
the character for our adaptation.
Henri Meschonnic, an advocate of foreignisation, suggests that the translator
has to work towards the original text and draw the target audience towards it, so as
not to erase either the author or the translator in the translation process,
‘‘Whatever language we are dealing with, there is only one source , this is what a
text does; there is only one target , to do in the other language what the text does’’
(1999, 23). For Meschonnic, it is not a question of making the translated text pass as
an original, but, on the contrary, of revealing the fact that it is a translated text and
exposing the tensions at work in the passage from one language to another rather
than polishing or trying to eradicate them. In the case of Exécuteur 14 , however,
the original already reads like a translation that has failed to eradicate the reader’s
awareness of the translator, and it is precisely the unusual syntax that invests the

text with drama. In this play, more than conjuring up images, to speak is to act.
The verbal physicality creates action. Thus, the singularity of the text is not the
presence of foreign words but, as we have described, what the incursion of foreign
words does to the French language, how it disturbs the syntax and creates a
particular rhythm. Hence we have tried to do the same to the syntax in English. This
is where our collaboration was the most fruitful as we could not only read the text
aloud but perform the text in both languages to practise and reproduce its rhythm.

Kalashes and hand-grenades moved Et les clachinques et les grenades

around under cloaks. circulaient sous le paletot. (Hakim
1996, 9)
But everyone rubbed along together, Mais tous vivaient avec tous dans un
laidback business. commerce cool. (1996, 9)
Super Devotchkas haute-couture Les dévotchkas super couraient les
were all over the streets, top-heavy, rues sapées à la énième mode,
especially en été. girondes, surtout l’été. (1996, 10)
Streets bustled with all races, Ça grouillait partout, de toutes les
trafficking sec all over. After races, et ça dealait sec. Après tout il
all, all those pesetas had to move around. fallait bien que la pésète circule.
(1996, 10)
So, one day like that, I was home Alors un jour comme ça, j’étais seul
alone, par hasard, and my street had chez moi, par hasard, et ma rue était
become Zone Interdite, curfew and devenue Zone Interdite, no man’s
blackout, cut-throat, tierra muerta. land, couvre-feu et black-out, coupe-
gorge. (1996, 17)
Life was like . . . fragile. It could go, La vie était comme . . . fragile. Elle
gentiment, like that, through a little pouvait s’en aller comme ça, par un
hole, silenciosa, no comment. petit trou, cool, sans rien dire, no
comment. (1996, 19)
(Baines/Dalmasso, unpublished
translation for Harum-Scarum’s 2002
production of Executioner No. 14 )

With regard to our analysis of idioms in the original and with what has already
been said about our translation strategy, the translations should be self-
explanatory; certain expressions did produce a particular way of acting; for
example, ‘‘everyone rubbed along together’’ allowed for a moment of complicity
with the audience as it enabled the character to point out that he masters the
language of his ‘‘captive captors’’. Generally, the rhythm oscillates between
‘‘narration’’ and ‘‘action’’ and the actor could use the same movement and, for
example, show both moments of interiorisation and moments of exteriorisation.
In the original French the foreign lexis of English represents what is foreign and
what is dominating him, what is exteriorised, the world of war. In the translation,
for what is a French character, the French lexis is his own world, his own story
and so what is interiorised. In the original the foreign words came from outside
while in the translation they come from inside, from the identity of the
character. The foreign lexis is there to the same degree in the translation but

in terms of the performance was used to convey the diametrically opposite side
of the character compared with the original.
We have already mentioned that domesticating this text was not an option
because of the relative indeterminacy of the original. However, there was
another reason for not domesticating the text and this was connected to the way
in which we adapted the text because the particular character we created
needed to have a diversity of European identities visible.
In theatrical terms, the considerations that informed this adaptation stemmed
from the type of character that we wanted to suggest and involved both the
choice of the performer and the particular nature of the English that he would
speak. Firstly, as far as the choice of performer was concerned, having the play
performed by an English actor would have shut off many of the potential
identities that we wanted the character to allow the audience to infer. Had this
actor also been the English-language translator of the play, this might have gone
some way to countering the argument that a particular gestic text cannot be
conveyed by a translator; however, it is debatable whether the intuitive reading
of a text that would inform this gestic text would be as available to a non-native
speaker as to a native speaker of French, however immersed in the language and
culture the former was. The choice of the French language translator/actor to
perform the piece enabled access to the original gestic text. In a domesticated
performance text this French gestic text would not be appropriate but, because
we wanted to create a non-native English identity for our protagonist, such a
choice was absolutely appropriate. In addition, this choice enabled us to
occasionally make the actor’s natural French accent audible in order to
communicate his Frenchness, or non-Englishness, and so reinforce his identity.

The Political Weight of the Foreign-language Lexis in Source and Target


A further feature of the original text that serves to blur its references, and which
played a role in the construction of the protagonist’s idiolect, is the deliberate use
of an unusually high number of non-French terms, as we have already mentioned.7
The vast majority of these are English, a language that is generally perceived as
globally dominant but that is also the language of the USA, the dominant military
force in the world and whose prominence in a French context also evokes a
particular battle with linguistic imperialism where English is a weapon.

7. The full list of non-French words and expressions in the original text is as follows, excluding
repetitions: buildings, back, okay, cool, devotchka, shoot, crash, ID, stop, steady, sweet-home, killed,
maybe, no way, home, this one, no help, no hope, no, bombing, clap, no man’s land, black-out, scoop,
all of it, phone, out, shitland, ketchup, no comment, boom, easy, relax, dead, songs, comics, yes sir,
no problem, living, basket, fixed, sweet home, mild and cosey, boots, help, nothing, zoom, bastard,
all of it, kid, et tutti quanti, cut, feeling, ultima, nada, todo, one, slow, the last, nobody, the end,
look, because, lost, making.

Rollason (2001, 21) points out in his essay entitled ‘‘The Use of Anglicisms in
Contemporary French’’ that:

The prime source of anglicisms in French*/as in all other languages*/is no longer

Britain, a country with approximately the same population and political weight as
France, but the United States, since 1989 the planet’s sole hegemonic power. The
issue of anglicisms now appears in France as an aspect of a much broader
problem, namely the identity of Europe and its defence against perceived US
domination in the economic, political and cultural fields.

For the analysis of the function of the English terms in Hakim’s text, it is worth
adding, as indeed does Rollason (2001, 31), that this dominance includes a military
dimension: ‘‘the relationship between French and US English is not an equal one: it
is predicated on the economic, military and mass-cultural power of the USA’’.8
The fact that most of the non-French terms in the original are English may be an
attempt by the author to address the influence of America on the western world.
Given the author’s background, we might have expected, for example, Middle-
Eastern languages to come into play but the inability of the character to articulate
the world, his world, in words other than those of the dominant military culture
works on two levels. Firstly, for a French audience, English-language terms in a war
context evoke fictional accounts; images of the Hollywood GI as seen on television
via any number of Stallone or Schwarzenegger films, for example. Or they evoke
images of war in news reports or media interviews with soldiers from Chechnya to
Angola; as Baudrillard commented on the first Gulf war, the West’s experience of
war is that it is created via the news. In either case, this is the most direct
experience of war the majority of the play’s audience would have. American
English warfare vocabulary has no boundaries and is often mixed in with whatever
the foreign language is to create military or pseudo-military lexis, even in places
where US military forces are not present*/at least not openly. What we have in
mind here are interviews with representatives of rebel forces in civil war contexts
across the world where, to an English speaker, what leaps out from the native
language are the English-language military terms. Simple examples from Hakim’s
text would be the words ‘‘boom’’, ‘‘crash’’, ‘‘dead’’, ‘‘No man’s land’’, ‘‘shooter’’,
‘‘killed’’ and ‘‘black-out’’.
Secondly, the use of these English military terms pinpoint what is at stake in
the play: how can an individual convey his experience of civil war unless he
moulds his story to suit his audience and resorts to collective imagery, running
the risk here of relying upon clichés to recount his intimate experience? The
inventiveness at work in Hakim’s play thus consists of neologisms that stretch
understanding to its limits. In the original, the language of war is reinvented and

8. Jean-Marc Chadelat’s (2003) article ‘‘Le vocabulaire militaire français en anglais’’, among other
things, points out that the French military vocabulary that is used in military English is either archaic
or used where no word has developed in English. This reinforces the point that English and French are
no longer languages that cross-fertilise each other, unlike English and Hindi in India are, for example
(see Rollason 2001, 33), but that they are languages whose relationship is exclusively one where
English dominates and invades French, and this is especially true in the domain of military language.

given a more universal flavour with foreign words and neologisms based on
onomatopoeia. A striking example is the word ‘‘clachinque’’, formed from the
distinctive sound of a weapon being loaded and perhaps the French slang for gun
‘‘flingue’’. When pronounced, this word sounds in French like a condensed form
of Kalashnikov. It became ‘‘kalash’’, short for Kalashnikov, in the target language
based on the same contracted sound. The author succeeds in doing this with
other names of weapons that, as with ‘‘kalash’’, combine a familiar sound with
the evocation of familiar words just sufficiently to convey the meaning or an
image/representation of the given concept; other examples are ‘‘schlaga’’,
‘‘métal-vampires’’ and ‘‘une casserole-blindée’’, as mentioned above.
Espasa (2000, 55) points out that ‘‘translation does not have to be a vehicle for
the illusion of theatre, but one more instrument, among the scenic signs, which
exposes the artificiality of theatre’’; the way in which we translated the deliberate
interplay between languages and across languages was important both in order to
retain the text’s lack of explicit connection to any particular culture and also in
order to help us construct the character for this particular production. The
transformation of the French source text into the English target text obviously sees
a form of intertextuality in operation where the English text refers to the French
text; Bassnett notes that ‘‘[t]he language in which the play text is written serves as
a sign in the network of what Kowzan calls auditive and visual signs’’ (2002, 130),
and Hakim’s decision to pepper the original French with such a high number of
English-language words potentially has a very specific two-fold effect on the
reader/audience; on the one hand, it refers to US cultural, military and linguistic
imperialism as discussed above but, because the protagonist’s idiolect is so clearly
not restricted to French, it also helps to move the original text beyond a context in
which only intertexts of civil wars in francophone societies might be evoked.
There are approximately 65 occurrences of non-French words (see note 8) in the
original text, of which 60 are English*/the remaining five are either Italian, Spanish
or Russian. The majority of these words do not occur just once, they are spread
throughout the text with increasing frequency and there are at least three and often
more on most pages of what is sparsely presented text of 32 pages. However, if one
assumes that one of the effects of the use of English in the original is to broaden the
range of the text and to increase its potential intertexts due to the status of English
as a lingua franca, a language that enables its users to cross borders and to be
understood across those borders, or to be understood by audience members who
have access to a broader range of languages then, in translation, a simple reversal
will clearly not have the same benefits. In addition, converting the effect of the
political weight of the English in the source text was a considerable challenge.
During the rehearsal process, we considered trying to reproduce the effect of
a language that has military associations making itself visible in the English of the
protagonist by using Russian words, much in the way that Burgess’ Clockwork
Orange does;9 however, the political context of the Cold War and the military

9. For example, ‘‘But that devotchka was smecking away ha ha ha now with her droogs at the bar, her
red wot working and her zoobies ashine . . .’’ (Burgess 1962, 24/5).

power of the Eastern bloc is no longer a relevant one, films and plays that have
the Cold War as their subject are no longer as common as they once were, and so
this idea was rejected, despite the appeal of the link to the Kalashnikov via
‘‘clachinque/kalash’’ and the wide influence of this Russian weapon in the world
of military/terrorist violence. An audience member did suggest that we could
have made use of Serbo-Croat, a language that achieved considerable promi-
nence via a terrible civil war. Its use for a character struggling to find his words
might have proved effective since Serbo-Croat no longer exists formally, but we
did not pursue this either as it is debatable how recognisable it would be for an
audience. In the end, we felt that we achieved a similar effect more subtly.
We decided to retain the effect of the presence of a foreign language in the
protagonist’s idiolect but to widen its scope beyond French. Although in a high
number of cases we have used a French term in place of the English one, in the
original there were also occasions where a sufficiently recognisable French term
was not available or where the rhythm of a phrase would have been
compromised, and we have tended to compensate for this by placing a French
term at a different juncture in the text or simply by reducing the number of
French terms used; there are approximately 66 French terms in the translation.10
However, in order to recreate the sense of a character via whom audience
members may recognise or infer reference to civil war in a wider range of
cultures, we have also introduced a higher incidence of terms that are neither
French nor English than there are in the original (22 as opposed to five) and that
cover a slightly wider range of European languages (German, Russian, Spanish
and Italian). This enabled us to have a protagonist who is more obviously
multilingual, a skill that does not necessarily have the same effect as the obvious
demonstration of the original character’s access to the lingua franca of English,
but that does, nonetheless, convey the character’s ability to cross linguistic
borders and thus reinforces the range of potential intertexts. It enables him to
potentially exist in a range of cultures, to not have an identity rooted in one
culture in a way that resembles his own account of the danger of losing his
identity card in a civil war context. He describes this as creating a situation in
which he would no longer be a friend of the Adamites or an enemy of the Zelites,
but a potential enemy for both sides: ‘‘Alors on devient suspect pour tous. U-ni-
ver-sel!’’11 Indeed, as noted above, the decision to use the range of languages in
this way in the target text was crucial in our development of the protagonist’s
character, a development that was dictated by the requirements of our

10. The non-English words and expressions in the translation are, without the repetitions, listed
below. The translation also includes English-language terms that may have been assimilated into
French but whose Englishness is still marked for the non-French speaker; for example, ‘‘boots’’,
‘‘cool’’, and ‘‘zoomer’’: Maman, Petite Chérie, Mon Dieu, bene, molto bene, devotchkas, bon allez,
tierra muerta, pesetas, rancoeur, niente, mia casa, un seul corps, et tutti quanti, la casa nostra, au
secours, schnell, schnell, tracé obligatoire, les chansons, adieu, voilà, oui monsieur!, nada, bon
courage, no problemo, celui-là, Zone interdite, il cielo intero, mia casa, dernière, ultima, todo, le
show était super, personne, c’est le seul kid qui reste, c’est le dernier des enfants.
11. ‘‘Then you become a suspect for everyone. A U-ni-ver-sal suspect!’’

In order to confront in particular the challenge of English as a politically

loaded language in the original in a version that is in English, we decided that
having a character who, although his use of a wide range of European languages
demonstrates his sophistication and Europeanness, is also clearly French*/in
accent but also because he begins the play by speaking French. As a result, the
very fact that because in a court situation when he rejects the interpreter he is in
fact obliged to speak English, as it is the only language that will enable him to be
understood by all, means that he is being dominated by English, so the linguistic
imperialism is thus still operating.

Intertexts of War Crimes Trials and Civil Wars

The context of civil war and its potential intertexts that the author brings to the
piece as a writer who grew up in Beirut are obvious.12 Pavis (1992) notes that no
reading, no translation can avoid interpreting a text and that the very intention
of trying to maintain the indeterminacy, the mystery of a text, implies a
positioning towards it, and will condition a specific reading, mise en scène , and
reception of the text. As we have already commented, the lack of determinacy in
Hakim’s original text created by the range of conflicting and imprecise
references, as well as by the awkward syntax and unusual idioms, does not
invite domestication as a translation strategy. We did not domesticate but nor did
we try and maintain an indeterminacy because we imposed a particular reading
and interpretation on the text in the way that we translated the first page and a
half, and in the way that we adapted the text for the stage. We will argue that
this approach enabled us to evoke a range of contexts in a different multi-
referential way and so retain a sense of diverse applicability. We have provided a
specific reading for a specific production, but it is nonetheless a specific reading
with different layers.
We have already described our production as starting with the protagonist as a
defendant at a war crimes trial with the initial sequence of the text delivered in
the original French and mediated through an interpreter. Elam (1980, 93), as
quoted above, comments that ‘‘appropriate decodification of a given text
derives above all from the spectator’s familiarity with other texts’’. If we agree
that, at the time and as we intended, the initial sequence of our production most
clearly provided the observer with the possibility of interpreting images or
accounts of Slobodan Milosevic on trial before the International Court of Justice
in The Hague charged with war crimes in former Yugoslavia as an intertext, then
this intertext could be broadened to invite in reference to all war criminals
before such a court, where perhaps the most obvious reference point is the

12. Although there are no such explicit intertexts that the translators bring to the text, it must be
remembered that, when translation is involved, the translators too need to be included in Still and
Worton’s description of intertextuality, of ‘‘texts entering via authors (who are, first, readers) and
texts entering via readers (co-producers)’’ (1990, 2).

Nuremberg war trials.13 More broadly, the use of the Milosevic intertext connects
simultaneously with civil war in former Yugoslavia but also with the play as a
whole, which itself has the potential to provide the intertext of ‘‘tracings’’ of
other accounts of civil war, whether these be written,14 or oral (e.g. television
news reports or first-hand accounts in television documentaries), real or
fictional. Once the intertexts are established, the anchoring of the production
in a western context does not preclude the evocation of images of, or accounts
of, civil war in other parts of the world, as is demonstrated by the responses of
the reviewer reproduced at the beginning of this essay. That our transla-
tion/adaptation retained the references to civil wars is confirmed by a similar
response that was provided in a review of our production in Dublin: ‘‘Images of
Srebrenica and Rwanda resonated’’ (Kilroy 2002, 14).
It is revealing to pursue this and to examine different responses generated by
our production, the different contexts, other texts and ‘‘tracings’’ brought to the
performance by particular audience members. Elam (1980, 93) notes that ‘‘An
‘ideal’ spectator [. . .] is one endowed with a sufficiently detailed, and judiciously
employed, textual background to enable him to identify all relevant relocations
and use them as a grid for a correspondingly rich decodification’’ but, however
much our translation of the text and its adaptation for a production with specific
characteristics was designed to evoke certain other texts, there is, of course, no
guarantee that these intertexts will be those which each individual member of
the audience will ‘‘read’’. As Nord (1997, 31) indicates ‘‘A text is made
meaningful by its receiver and for its receiver. Different receivers (or even the
same receivers at different times) find different meanings in the same linguistic
material offered by the text. We might even say that a ‘text’ is as many texts as
there are receivers’’. We do, unusually, have a record of the response of an
individual from what is now Bosnia-Herzegovina who came to see the play in
Norwich and e-mailed us the following day. Her passionate response, unsurpris-
ingly, reveals the deep connection she made with the experience of civil war in
her own country:

I am sure you have heard much of what I have written already, but perhaps not
everybody commenting would have had the same personal experience that I have
and where this play struck. I happen to be from former Yugoslavia*/this is what it
was while I lived there until 1988. The part I am from is now Bosnia and
Herzegovina. My family on both sides have lived in Sarajevo for many generations. I
had left the country (to study) before the war, but my whole family remained there
during the war, and in the aftermath some are dead and some live around the
world, some are still in Sarajevo. I am from a mixed Muslim-Catholic marriage. My
feelings about the war are based on a ten year long study of how not to hate and
with some assurance I can say that the war in Bosnia and in former Yugoslavia was
one between Adamites and Zelites. Any of us could have been there and unless we

13. The Perspex box we used is deliberately reminiscent of Eichmannn’s war crimes trial in Jerusalem
in 1961.
14. For example, Feargal Keane’s (1995) Season of Blood: A Rwandan Journey or Ed Vulliamy’s (1994)
Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s war.

were very careful and learned not to hate, many of us could have become
executioners. I was lucky enough not to have been there. I had many reasons to
hate but I never did, and I consider this to be my greatest personal achievement.

In the same year, a production of the play by Partisan Productions in Northern

Ireland drew on the potential references to the factional fighting between the
IRA and the UDF by translating the title as Militiaman . Our production was
initially to be staged in Collins Barracks in Dublin but the management of what
has now become a museum refused to grant us permission after reading the play.
Their reason was that they were not willing to reactivate the historical weight of
the place, which was, and remains for some, one of the symbols of English
occupation prior to 1921. This reluctance to bring the past to the fore and anchor
the play in a specific context made us, in our turn, refuse to stage it in
Kilmainham Gaol, another historically significant place in Dublin. Instead, we
opted to stage the play outside in the middle of Temple Bar, which symbolises the
Irish economic boom of the 1990s. Given the strong feelings that the potential
location of the performance provoked in Ireland, although we have no record of
such a response, it would be surprising if no audience member made a connection
with factional conflict in Ireland. Such ‘‘reader’’ responses come out of
particular experiences to which those audience members/readers had access,
experiences that will have been acquired, in part, through ‘‘tracings’’ of civil
conflict in their respective countries (witnessed events, oral accounts, letters,
television reports, etc.). This is evidence of the multidirectional interplay of
what are fairly explicit intertexts in the interpretation of the performed text.

The Upsetting of Interpreting Conventions

We have demonstrated how a variety of translation and adaptive devices were

used in order to construct the particular character that our production required,
in terms of his idiolect and in terms of establishing the situation of a defendant
being interpreted in an international war crimes trial (see Figure 2). However, we
have yet to analyse in any depth the mechanisms of the device of having the
protagonist’s speech mediated via an interpreter and how we deliberately upset
the conventions of such an exchange.
The interpreted text was rendered in such a way as to make it clear that the
interpreter is hearing the text for the first time, as would be the case in the
simultaneous interpreting that would be provided in an international trial. This
means that it is a much more literal and ‘‘faithful’’ text than a literary translation
might be, for example, as far as word order and tenses are concerned.15 Mason

15. The section that is interpreted is relatively short and contains little complex syntax where a
professional interpreter might have been obliged to simplify and to reformulate for ease of
expression. As Jones (1998, 42) notes: ‘‘a literal word-for-word translation is not only undesirable, it
is often impossible’’ whether this be for mechanical (lexis and grammar) reasons or for changes in
language culture. We particularly wanted to produce an obviously interpreted sequence, a visible/
audible sequence in order to highlight this context.

Figure 2 Fred Dalmasso, Executioner No. 14 , Meeting House Square, Dublin, October

(1999, 150) gives an example of professional advice on interpreting techniques in

the United States by reporting in his introduction to The Translator’s special
edition on dialogue interpreting that ‘‘Berk-Seligson (1988: 1990) draws attention
to the fact that training for court interpreters in the United States explicitly
enjoins them to translate closely and accurately. Standards of Professional
Conduct include statements such as ‘The interpretation should be as close to
verbatim and literal in content and meaning as possible’.’’ Ideally, according to
Jones (1998, 40) in Conference Interpreting Explained, a professional interpreter
‘‘should know exactly what they want to say in the most efficient way the moment
they open their mouth’’ and so not be pausing unnecessarily in mid-sentence, all
the more so because they are likely to be under intense time pressure to work
quickly and efficiently. Short pauses between sentences, however, are expected.
In our translation/adaptation we have deliberately introduced pauses mid-
sentence, rendered in the text by suspension points, to indicate hesitations at
points in the text where we might expect this interpreter to need time to decide
how to interpret certain words. For example, as already noted, Hakim’s
onomatopoeic neologism ‘‘clachinque’’ as a word for gun is translated as ‘‘kalash’’
elsewhere in the text but it is rendered straightforwardly as ‘‘gun’’ in the
interpreting sequence and is preceded by significant hesitation: ‘‘Shooting up in
the sky with . . ., with . . ., with weapons, er, guns.’’ This replicates the professional
advice that, if a word is unknown, the interpreter should ignore the word and inter-
pret the sense of the speaker’s sentence, but it emphasises the pauses that would
be unprofessional, unless they were those produced by the speaker. Once the
pauses are overcome, the interpreter proceeds with confidence and assurance
when the precise form of words is decided upon. The awkwardness of a slightly
stilted delivery that this creates was increased in a second way. Jones (1998, 5)

notes that professional interpreters are expected to reproduce the emotion of

the speaker in the target text; however, we decided that we would have the
interpreter’s voice unacted in order to introduce an unsettling element into the
production. For example, the passionately delivered line ‘‘C’est beau les salves;
giclées de flammes qui déchirent le ciel’’ is interpreted accurately but delivered
without passion, ‘‘Gun salutes are beautiful; bursts of fire tearing up the sky’’.16
Anyone familiar with interpreting conventions would be surprised to hear a
deadpan voice for the interpreter. The interpreting framework provides an inter-
text because it evokes other dramatic pieces that use a trial context and also
journalistic accounts of war crimes trials, but its departure from interpreting
conventions serves to further alert the informed viewer of the presence of this
The play is in many ways a play about language. The character is dying and
with him words die; he finds it extremely difficult to articulate his experience
and finally dies in the attempt. In order for the audience to share in his
experience of civil war, the storyteller subtly acknowledges that words are
merely building blocks, the evidence of a language at work. Thus, at the
beginning of the play, the stage directions in the published original indicate
that the character should make strange noises and mutter his words for a while
prior to speaking intelligibly,17 and this was designed to place the audience in a
situation where the language is staged and artificial, not earnest reportage but
theatre*/how else could an individual articulate the horror of civil war for an
hour but in a poetic way? The language is artificial but necessarily so. What
matters is not that the audience is aware of the effort to create a language
that is understandable in the given circumstances, but that they accept the
transcendence of language and imagine it to be universal, accepting their part
in the tragic illusion because hearing and understanding the horror is in a sense
recreating it and thus perpetrating it again, becoming actors, accomplices. By
using an interpreter and a set that suggests an international court of justice,
our production thus underlined the importance of language because the
translation process is staged; in a similar way as the artificiality of speaking
was designed to be ‘‘staged’’ in the stage directions in the original. In both
cases, the audience is then in a position to acknowledge the strategy and
transcend it to experience the monologue as an attempt to articulate the
unspeakable. In our production, the translation becomes part of the perfor-
mance in a way that is similar to what Skantze describes in a production of an
adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire entitled End-
station America performed in German with surtitles in English and Italian

16. A more considered translation might produce something like ‘‘I love gun salutes, flashes of fire
ripping through the sky’’, for example.
17. ‘‘Au début, il marmonne des choses incompréhensibles, pendant un long moment, il ne parlera
que pour lui-même, comme s’il était déchiré à l’intérieur. [. . .] Puis, peu à peu, de ses borborygmes,
on commence à distinguer le texte’’ (Hakim 1996, 5) [‘‘To begin with he mutters incomprehensibly, for
a long time he talks only to himself, as though torn apart inside. Then, little by little, out of his
rumblings, the text begins to emerge’’].

where, although the experience is that of reading rather than of listening,

similar prominence is given to surtitles that are providing translation but
become part of the performance. Skantze (2002, 30) writes on what this does
to the experience of reading surtitles, ‘‘to stage surtitles as part of the mise en
scène is in fact to break [. . .] (the) linguistic fourth wall, the one where we
pretend that we are not reading, the one where we fit our understanding back
into the action going on on stage’’ and the prominence of the interpreted
sequence in our production achieved a similar effect.
The beginning of the ‘‘accused’s’’ ‘‘confession’’ (reproduced earlier in this
essay) was staged using the knowledge that the audience and its representa-
tive, the interpreter, would inevitably be reading between the lines of an
account of civil war that is trying to be honest, even naı̈ve. However, this is
where the original play’s tour de force lies: to pare down language to a kind of
natural simplicity, or purity, in order to exorcise the violence and, through
confession, absolve the protagonist before his death. In the context of a war
crimes trial the expectation of a confession would be that it would consist of
accounts of crimes, of human torture; however, there is none of this. The
vocabulary used in this opening section is indeed violent but the victims are
insects and small reptiles and the guilty parties are small children, the text is
poetic rather than confessional. That the unspeakable is conveyed through
what seems like an innocent metaphor means that, in our version, the nature of
the text, which looks and sounds like a confession in a war crimes trial, is, in
fact, on the surface, not at all the kind of text one would expect, it is a poetic
text. This added yet another element to the unsettling of expectations
regarding the staging of such a sequence.
Flintoff (2004, 44), in an article on EU interpreters, reports that:

Interpreting is not mere rote-work. ‘‘When you go on mic, you have to assume as
much as possible the persona of the person speaking’’ says the English interpreter
Kenneth Cleary. ‘‘If you are translating M. Le Pen, you have to translate his
views’’*/even if you dislike them. A British interpreter was translating Silvio
Berlusconi last year when the Italian president compared a German MEP to a
concentration-camp guard. ‘‘She said she could not believe her ears, but the
adrenalin was flowing. She just had to say something. The interpreter must, in a
nanosecond, use what could be called nous: Is this man really saying this? Am I
going to ruin my career and cause a political incident?’’

This tension between the interpreter as a professional and as an individual was

exploited in our production. The key to the staging was to reveal in the
unprofessional hesitations of the interpreter both the workings of an enunciat-
ing authority that is used to translating unspeakable horror but, at the same
time, an individual whose conscience (however unprofessional this may be)
balks at betraying any complicity with the accused’s expression of irony or use
of cruel metaphor. Mason (1999, 152/3) reports Harris’ (1981) account of a case
of a court interpreter deliberately opting for the indirect, third-person style
throughout a trial with the explicit aim of creating a certain distance between

herself and what, in the context of a war crimes trial, was bound to be a
particularly stressful and sensitive set of exchanges, and we had this
uncomfortable relationship between war criminal and interpreter in mind in
the translation/adaptation of this sequence. The interpreter’s translation and
delivery were acted in such a way as to reflect a suspicious attitude to the
protagonist’s words as, little by little, she uncovered their double meaning, but
also to show the limits of interpreting practice in the sense that, as the
interpreter could not anticipate what the speaker was going to say, she had to
be careful to neither fail in her job to render the text accurately, nor to betray
her conscience. As we have already seen, the staging at this point was not
intended to be a realistic staging of an interpreting scene; on the contrary, it
was intended to push the logic of such an activity within the framework of a
trial as far as it could go in order to place the language of the play, and indeed
the process of speaking, in a delicate position: the account of a survivor that
does not use ‘‘suspension of disbelief’’ or simple theatrical conventions, an
account that would not flow easily by itself but would need to be interrogated
by the audience and constantly re-evaluated.
The interpreted text lasts one and a half pages before it is interrupted; the
much hesitated-over translation of ‘‘L’Être Conforme’’ as ‘‘The Conformable
Being’’ is seen as a distortion by the protagonist, calmly corrected and then he
subsequently dismisses the interpreter and continues in English, a language that
is clearly not his own. Bahktin’s (as Volosinov) concept of the counter word here
is useful. He writes that ‘‘[u]nderstanding is to utterance as one line of a dialogue
is to the next. Understanding strives to match the speaker’s word with a counter
word . Only in understanding a word in a foreign tongue is the attempt made to
match it with the ‘same’ word in one’s own language’’ (Volosinov 1986, 102).
Here, for the protagonist, the counter-word is not appropriately represented in
translation by the interpreter’s choice and it is this which pushes him to reject
the interpreter. Wadensjö (1998, 39/40), writing on Bahktin and dialogism in the
specific context of interpreting, comments:

When one person explicitly quotes another’s talk, this is a particularly obvious
example of how language is continuously re-used to serve partly new functions.
Consequently, if we consider that interpreting is a kind of quoting, interpreter
mediated conversations would provide excellent occasions to explore how the
dialogical opposition between the voices involved creates new meanings.

In this case, a new meaning is created by the interpreter and immediately

rejected and corrected by the protagonist. What clearer evidence could there be
of texts communicating and referring to each other in translation, affecting each
other, operating intertextually, than in the rejection of the interpreter’s target

text by the speaker of the source text at the point where the tension between
the two texts breaks and they collide?18


A review of the Dublin production lit upon ‘‘Conformable Being’’/‘‘Communal

Being’’ in particular as evidence of ‘‘translation failure’’, focusing on the
philosophical nature of this term as illustrative of a fundamental difference
between French and English writing. However, in a text that, in the original and
in the translation, makes an appeal to the universal through its confusion of
references but also through its use of awkward syntax, a particular stretching
of the boundaries of the language of war, neologisms and especially the
incursion of imperialistic English into a French text, ‘‘L’Etre Conforme’’ is
perhaps the most obvious evidence of Hakim piloting the text, of the author’s
presence; it is the kernel of the play. The apparent universality of the play is
not undone in the translation/adaptation but simply channelled in a different
multi-referential way and so retains a sense of diverse applicability. This is
achieved through the opening staging device, which leads to the creation of a
particular character who is developed as having a wide range of reference
points through his use of sophisticated language, his use of figurative language,
and through the presence of a high number of foreign-language terms from a
range of European languages. The effect of the awkward syntax of the original
is maintained and its contribution to the rhythm of the text respected while the
effect of the dominance of English is also maintained, but as a character
dominated by English because he is obliged to use the language to commu-
nicate with his accusers; the foreign-language lexis in the translation,
especially the French, in performance terms carries the opposite mood to
that carried by the English terms in the original but in a way that suits the
translated character. The decision to stage this initial section as an unconven-
tionally delivered interpreted sequence where the original text and the
translation merge until the two languages, and the two texts, collide means

18. The translation of ‘‘l’Etre Conforme’’, appropriately, did prove to be particularly problematic. It
is a term that leaps off the page in the original because of its strangeness, it is the term with the most
potential interpretations and which needs most explanation. The term has a range of meanings that
encompass a sense of belonging to a society, a society with a shared central ethos, combined with the
sense of conforming, of being appropriate for, or even authenticated. In French, spoken in
performance, the term can sound like ‘‘l’Etre Conforme’’, literally ‘‘the conformed being’’,
potentially conformed to the pure, original being of Adam before the Fall and therefore an Adamite,
or ‘‘l’être qu’on forme’’, literally ‘‘the being which we form’’, or even ‘‘lettre conforme’’, which
brings in the notion of an officially authenticated photocopy and the idea of incessant duplication of
victims and executioners. This play on words reinforces the notion of the term expressing an ideal
that is being sought, an ideal which one wants to create, or recreate. For the production, we settled
on ‘‘Conformable Being’’/’’Communal Being’’; however, after the production we finally came up with
a translation that we felt bridged better the difficulty of such a philosophical term being less
comfortable in English but one that nonetheless remained a repository for the range of meanings
outlined above, and retained the character of strangeness that the original term has: ‘‘Model Being’’.

that the intertextuality implicit in a translation is brought right to the fore

and becomes the prism through which the initial sequence of the play is

Roger Baines, University of East Anglia, UK

Frédéric Dalmasso, University of Loughborough, UK


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