Beck Fellow travels to France, Quebec to research translation

Beck Fellow Dillon Nicholson reads Alain Badiou’s essay on Marxism which he is translating into English. UP photo by Hannah LeTulle

Beck Fellow Dillon Nicholson reads Alain Badiou’s essay on Marxism which he is translating into English. UP photo by Hannah LeTulle

Dillon Nicholson enjoys the language of love. Not that love is his goal. The 2017 Beck Fellow is using his love of the French language to translate a text into English for the first time.

A modern language and social theory major, Nicholson used the fellowship, as well as a secondary scholarship, to visit France and Canada for research.

“I studied French in Paris,” he said. “I got to actually study at language schools in France. I met with a philosopher, Dr. Giovanni Tusa, and other professors who helped me with translations.”

Following his experiences in Paris, Nicholson spent five weeks at the University of Quebec.

“Everyone there speaks French and not English,” he said. “I lived with a family there, so it was very intense and interesting, because no one there spoke English. They would only talk to you in French, so you had to know what they were saying, because they wouldn’t switch over to comfort you.”

As a result of his travels, Nicholson has embarked on a translation of “Qu’est-ce que j’entends par Marxisme?”, or “What Do I Mean by Marxism?” by the philosopher Alain Badiou.

“It is basically opening up the theory that is Marxism, not from a political standpoint, but just strictly as a social theory, what does it mean to be an –ism,” he said. “Badiou touches on things that go beyond just the subject itself. He’s making points about the nature of a theory, the nature of this totality, of this -ism. This thing that multiple people can claim as part of their identity, that they believe in Marxism or that they are a Marxist. At the same time, that is filtered by our experiences.”

Badiou’s essay also touches on language, Nicholson said.

Nicholson3“Language is a secondary source of meaning,” he said. “Instead of it being this all-permanent source of meaning, it’s just a reflection of what is already there. He’s going, ‘Well, language is this tool we are using to communicate ideas, but we’ll never be able to fully convey exactly what we are thinking to someone else without inherent loss.’ It’s just that conversation, that is a very good one to be had for Marxism.”

The essay is 70 pages and is mostly a learning experience, Nicholson said.

“I didn’t intend on getting it published,” he said. “I just wanted to work with professionals who are already able to do what I wanted to do, and also make Lamar look good — represent study abroad.”

When he applied for the Beck Fellowship, Nicholson said he didn’t specify a particular piece for translation.

“I just wanted to translate something that had never been in English, that was exciting to me,” he said. “There are plenty of translations and plenty of translators, way better than me, people who are fluent in both languages. I wasn’t really looking to leave my mark in one place or another — it was just about that personal learning experience.”

Nicholson said he chose Badiou’s book as it was only published in January, and it was of a length that could be finished in time to be presented at the Beck Fellowship awards in November.

Nicholson said he took a lot away from his journey to Paris, but his favorite part of the summer session was the Canadian people.

“The French-Canadians were very friendly and inviting,” he said. “They are passionate about their language.”

Nicholson said he was inspired by the pride the Quebec people had for their French background.

“Quebec is the one French-Canadian provindence and they have a lot of famous people advocating for sovereignty, away from the Canadian government,” he said. “It’s interesting, because they have a lot of pride from before they were annexed into the British Empire. We learned about that in one of my culture classes. How they think they came from France and mere happenstance that they were brought into the British Empire. That was the opinion of a lot of people I met there.”

Nicholson said the experience played with his understanding of meaning.

“I got to read a lot, philosophers, social theorists,” he said. “Some people come back from these things and they are so gung-ho about one thing, but I find it easier to recognize the insignificance of most things, but not in a bad way. I grew up here in Southeast Texas and you just have such a closed view of the world. The things that are presented to us immediately just seem so important, very pressing, sometimes even scary — if you are going to fail a class, it’s the end of the world.

“After meeting all these people and speaking with them, it all kind of comes together, for me, to remind myself that things will be okay and that I don’t have the answers, no one does, but it will get better.

“We can learn in a variety of ways and it doesn’t make one person right or wrong. One profession, hobby or craft is not more valuable than another. It’s a full world and we barely know the surface of it.”

Nicholson will present his finished project in November. His project will include sections of his translated work, including what he learned abroad and how that affected his studies.

“I learned a lot, both in and out of the classroom,” he said. “As far as my project, it’s ongoing. It requires a lot of specific knowledge between languages.”

Amy Smith, associate professor of English and Modern Languages, is Nicholson’s project mentor and is helping with the presentation, literally and conceptually, he said.

“We’re taking my project and not just going, ‘Here is a piece of translated work,’ but rather incorporating what I learned abroad and what I’ve already learned in social theory classes,” he said. “Aside from the French piece, it’s just cool that I get to learn all this outside of the class, bring it in and complement what I am learning here.

“It was a great experience — the best educational experience I have ever had.”

Applications for Beck Fellowships will be accepted through Monday. For more information, call 880-8400.

Cassandra Jenkins, UP sports editor

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