Blog Post #17

SLS-France Fall 2023 Student Blog + Week 12

November 12, 2023

Keenan Matelski

Translation, History, and Design

This week, Maboula Soumahoro visited us to talk about her works: Le Triangle et L’Hexagone, réflexions sur une identité noire, translated into English by Kaiama L. Glover as Black is the Journey, Africana the Name and À perte de mère – Sur les routes atlantiques de l’esclavage, Dr. Soumahoro's translation into French of Saidiya Hartman's Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. Something that I immediately noticed upon reading the two translations is the difference in word choice amongst the two. After the discussion with Maboula, I found out that she had chosen the English title for her own book, Le Triangle et L’Hexagone. The two versions are made for different readers; the French-speaking audience has a completely different understanding of the word "hexagon" that is impossible to simply translate in one word. This is a very important element when translating; it is vital to recognize the audience and to adapt the language to cater to the specific knowledge of the reader. Even now, as I am writing these words, I am thinking about translation. I am thinking about how I will later translate these words into French – about which words I will need to change in order to adhere to the French language’s own flow and the respective knowledge that the French-speaking reader will have. However, as we touched on during our discussion, translation is truly an art form. If two people who have similar levels in the languages that they are translating to and from attempt to translate the same work, the final product will always be different. When translating, something will always be lost. It is up to the translator to minimize the losses and to choose which elements to sacrifice.

Maboula Soumahoro and Brigitte Stepanov discussing belonging and translating experience on a planetary scale

(Thanks to an online viewer for sharing this photo!)

Part of the SLS cohort with Maboula Soumahoro and Brigitte Stepanov

(Photo credit: Sophie Lair)

This weekend, our SLS group also traveled to Strasbourg. This trip turned out to be an unforgettable experience, filled with a wide range of diverse activities that allowed us to discover the city’s rich cultural and architectural heritage. We started our visit at the Seismology Museum, where we delved into the fascinating world of seismic activity. Our guide, Dr. Valérie Ansel, as well as her excellent explanations of the Museum’s exhibitions, gave us a captivating insight into the dynamic forces of the Earth, leaving me with a newfound appreciation for the complexity of our planet and the intricate instruments required to understand it.  One of the most interesting parts of the museum was seeing the evolution of seismology: from the first seismometer, which used a mirror to reflect light onto photosensitive paper, all the way to the movement of magnets which induct an electric current, which eventually led to the modern era of seismology – an all-in-one device containing all the features to measure all three directions required to record the seismic waves in one little gadget.

Next, we visited the Ecoquartier Danube, which is an eco-friendly district in the city of Strasbourg. This neighborhood presented us with a striking contrast to the museum. I was astonished by the innovative and sustainable architecture in the district, specifically the “Black Swan” buildings. The Black Swans are modern marvels in the middle of an urban landscape. They stand out against the skyline and draw attention with their sleek black exteriors and their distinct shapes. Their design has made them a center point in the Ecoquartier Danube, showing a commitment to a modern aesthetic and innovation in urban planning. The Elithis Tower can be found just down the road from the Black Swans, and it is another one of the city’s marvels. This building is a mix of residential and office spaces is the first energy positive tower of its kind in France, meaning that it produces more energy than needed to supply the energy needs of its inhabitants. The energy used is produced in a green and sustainable fashion. Solar panels have been incorporated into its design, which offer both sustainable functionality and a polished appearance. These two establishments stand out the most from their surroundings thanks to their modern architecture and sleek style, but that is not to take the attention away from all of the other projects and work that is done in the district. The Ecoquartier Danube is part of a bigger project called the Deux Rives project – an initiative which aims to improve quality of life and create a sustainable urban environment. The project stands out thanks to its major improvements of transportation infrastructure and recreational gathering spaces all while keeping sustainability in mind. Involving a mix of residential, commercial, and public zones, the Deux Rives project, and particularly the eco-friendly district of Danube, are both the embodiment of integrated and environmentally conscious cities.

Close-up view of the Elithis Tower. Solar panels on the right-facing façade. 

Far view of the Black Swan buildings and the Elithis Tower standing out against the surrounding brick architecture. 

Close up of two of the Black Swans, one blue, the other red.

The last stop along our trip to Strasbourg was the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art – the final layer to our Strasbourg experience. There, we examined a diverse collection of art: 19th-century canvas paintings such as Le Christ quittant le prétoire (Christ leaving the praetorian) by Gustave Doré, three-dimensional works, like Didier Marcel's sculpture Torso, or the mechanical spider created by Alain Séchas, as well as the smaller, more intricate works, such as Désiré Christian's vases. All these elements showcased the dynamic cultural scene in Strasbourg, with pieces ranging in both form and content. 

All throughout the journey, I could not help but be struck by the harmonious coexistence of historical charm and modern innovation in Strasbourg. The city’s ability to preserve its cultural heritage all while undertaking progressive initiatives like the Deux Rives project and the Ecoquartier Danube is truly commendable. Each attraction that I visited revealed a different facet of Strasbourg’s personality, culminating in a complete and enriching travel experience.