Teresa Villa-Ignacio is a literary translator and translation studies scholar. She has co-edited and contributed translations to Souffles-Anfas: A Critical Anthology from the Moroccan Journal of Culture and Politics (Stanford University Press, 2016), co-translated the Algerian writer Hocine Tandjaoui’s autobiographical prose poem Clamor/Clameur (Litmus Press, 2021), and contributed translations to For an Ineffable Metrics of the Desert, the selected poems of the Moroccan poet Mostafa Nissabouri (Otis Books/Seismicity Editions, 2018). Her translations of essays and interviews by Tahar Ben Jelloun, André Elbaz, Abdelkébir Khatibi, M'hamed Issiakhem, and Etel Adnan appeared in Arab Art in the Twentieth Century: Primary Documents (MOMA, 2018). A Fulbright Scholar and recipient of an Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, she is associate professor of French and translation at Kent State University.
To support the translation from the French of the autobiographical novel The Mezzanine: The Last Account of Catarina Quia by Anne-Marie Albiach. The author of a dozen works of poetry, Albiach (1937-2012) was one of the most influential French poets of the second half of the 20th century. The Mezzanine was published posthumously in France in 2019 and recounts the rhythm of daily life in a psychiatric hospital and the train of thought of a person fighting off mental illness. Derived mostly from handwritten notebooks, the text slips between reality and delusion, adding fictional characters to what appears to be journal passages and historical persons—poets, artists, and Albiach’s family members—to what appears to be fictional passages.
I am profoundly grateful to the National Endowment of the Arts for recognizing the value of Anne-Marie Albaich’s posthumous novel and for affirming the value of literary translation. The Mezzanine speaks to our most urgent questions about women’s identity, feminism, love, mental illness, disability, and the interplay between life and writing. As the narrator recounts a stay in a psychiatric hospital, she so often slips between first and third person that it becomes impossible for readers to distinguish between reality and fiction. This experience uncannily comes to resemble the main characters’ struggle to distinguish between reality and delusion and thus powerfully evokes readerly empathy. I hope the intersection of The Mezzanine’s formal innovations and political activism, conducted through Albiach’s audacious vulnerability, will especially appeal to the newest generation of readers and writers, who are reinvigorating the maxim that the personal is political. It is also my hope that the novel’s translation will spark renewed interest in Albiach’s poetic work. While she’s had a small but dedicated following in the U.S. since the 1970s, her brazen experimentality and the challenges she poses to our understanding of poetry deserve much more attention. The Mezzanine constitutes both an extension of and a new interpretive framework for her lifelong investigation of language as our most important and most complicated mode of communicating reality.
The human experience is vast and literature written in English represents only a tiny fraction of it. At this moment in which we must work together to heal the planetary ecosystem and increased divisiveness at every level of community, translation allows us to expand the horizons of what it means to be human and to make that broader vision available to future generations.
About Anne-Marie Albiach
Anne-Marie Albiach (1937-2012) was one of the most influential French poets of the second half of the 20th century. In her major works, État (1971), Mezza Voce (1984), and Figurations de l’image (2004), she explores the paradox that the language we use to conceive of reality ultimately obfuscates our perception of it, even as she seeks to help us escape this double bind. She was an important interlocutor for many American poets, including Rosmarie Waldrop, Susan Howe, and Charles Bernstein. Albiach’s 600-page collected poems, Cinq le Cœur, appeared in 2014. She has been translated into at least 17 languages.