Sitting in a café not 2 blocks away from where the book was — at least partially, at least if we believe the auhtor — written, I read (reread, rereread – ri,ri,ri, laughing it spreads like something on my breakfast bread) Nabile Farès’ Le Champ des Oliviers (The Olive Grove), book 1 of his La Découverte Du Nouveau Monde, The Discovery of the New World — which, do I have to add, is NOT about America, but about Algeria, the whole Maghreb in fact, its re-discovery, its unearthing, or maybe even more accrately its invention, or re-invention.

When I read I translate (we all do that, though mainly into “sense,” our sense, taking it away from language) but I am afflicted: I (also) translate as I read into other languages, into English in this case as the original text is in French (well, at least on the surface: it is traversed by kabyle Berber and Arabic, or those are it’s basement vaults, its subterranean bloodsystems, waterways, canalizations, rhizomatic networks — like the ancient irrigation systems spreading the water welling up from a deep source in the desert into a network that becomes oasis lushness, which is how I see Maghrebian literature as the lushness of writing in the contemporary desert of French literature).

And this French text is exhilarating again this morning, translating immediately (well, no, I stop & search for the English words, but I not “really” translating yet, I am not writing it down, it is only a part of my “reading” of Farès’ text) thus immediately haltingly or haltingly immediately into some sort of English that I may or may not ever write down as a translation. I order an other coffee (“an elongated coffee,” un café allongé, i.e. the waiter will bring the little espresso / harsh, overroasted, certainly not the “pure Arabica” it would claim to be if I had the folly of asking after its origins / in a larger cup accompanied by a little silver pitcher of hot water with which I’ll “elongate” the beverage) — an excuse, somewhere, somehow, subconsciously, to be able to lay the book down a minute, take off my glasses, eyes smart, rub them, look across the street, at the sky, still blue, but not a Mediterranean blue here in the pays d’oiel, relax the sight, but the translation machine keeps churning, I am thinking of the paragraph just read, it has to the word bikini in it twice, & it should be easy to translate though I’m not sure if it is, there must be more going on here for Farès to insist on the word, putting it into caps the second time around. The coffee comes, I irrigate the stingy espresso with a flow of hot water, now no more need to add sugar, sip some, return to the book. Here are the sentences I’ve been thinking about:

Siamois II remet ses frusques. Un bikini grandeur majuscules: BIKINI. Un tricot de peau assorti aux sourcils: brousailleux.

Which, fairly straightforwardly translates as:

Siamese II puts his gear back on. A bikini of capital size: BIKINI. An undershirt matching the eyebrows: bushy, tousled.

But why, why would this weird & hilarious character (who of course has a double in the book, called Siamese I) wear a bikini. I cannot figure it out either in French or in English. What can he mean? Anything to do with the Bikini Islands? Nope. Just a sort of fun play on making the smallest piece of vestment women wear large, larger. A capital tiny bikini? There is nothing so far in the text that would make the Siamese II a woman anyway. A transvestite? A cultural travesty of some order? All I can hear is the “bik” which could possibly go to ballpoint, in French “un bic,” the writer’s instrument.

Can’t find it. Finish coffee, go home. Locate texts on Farès — my luck, the first one I come to cites an interview with Farès speaking about exactly these lines, this word. Farès explains to a bemused interviewer (who had also thought of the ballpoint pen!):

Take for example what I write there in caps I AM A BIKINI There it is, written in large letters. Why do you laugh? It is one of the most important things in the book, this word BIKINI that makes you laugh!
… Go further: the French call us “bicots,” “bics” [~ “dirty Arabs”, contemp. US “towelheads”, maybe closer to the n-word] I am “un bic qui nie…” / a “bic” who says no. I refuse to be a “bic”! I refuse to be subjected to the racism of the language of the French…

Untranslatable. Of course. But also, I submit, untranslatable for the French reader. Who will, I am sure, not be able to read the pun in this word any better than an English speaker. So it will be translated as bikini. A funny, startling but incomprehensible island in the language sea of Farès’ narrative. The atoll I run aground on this morning. But strange wlso to note how the wuthor misremembers / misquotes his own text in the interiew where he says “I am a Bikini” — which he does not say in the book, see above, where the bikini is only a piece of gear the character puts on. I am a bikini or I wear a bikini. Fascinating aporia suddenly opens up. I am what I wear, or I am myself, my face, my Arab face by which the police identify me & arrest me, no matter what I may be wearing, a bikini, a business-man suit. The clothes make the man / l’habit fait le moine, as the French say? The text says BIKINI, the author says I AM A BIKINI. Does that mean that the man, the author is the text? The pun on clothes hides the meaning of the text, but clothes cannot hide the maghrebian meaning of the man? A (reversed?) Fort/Da it would be interesting to ask the author, who is also a psychoanalyst, about. Maybe. But he is not here now. Only his book is.

Now I can go back to my café (or maybe search out the one on rue Casimir-Delavigne that features in the chapter just before the bikini) & keep on reading. Keep on this reading that is always a translation-in-the-making, this reading-as-translation of a text that is always (okay, I’ll say it: “always already”) a translation.

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