Sep 21 2009

The Much Anticipated Cecelia Tichi Article…

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Cecelia Tichi could have stolen my orals/thesis thunder. Tichi got to Volney and Brown before I did, but have no fear, she is a great writer and thinker and this actually helps. A lot.  So, drumroll please, I give you  important snippets from Tichi’s article that will inform my orals/thesis:

Notice the  first sentence of Tichi’s article. I knew she had it from the first line. First line!

In his lifetime Charles Brockden Brown translated one work only: C.F. de Volney’s A View of the Soil and Climate of the United States. For the novelist-editor-critic and, as of 1803, political pamphleteer, the translation of Volney in 1804 seems an odd choice. Although he was America’s foremost litterateur, Brown rendered into English no romantic tale in the tradition of Chateaubriand’s Atala but “the first book to give an organized synthesis of the physiographic and geologic regions of the United States and of the climatology of the continent” (Tichi 1).

Some important things to note about the above passage:

  1. I like that Tichi calls Brown a “novelist-editor-critic.” I like the hyphenation. I wonder if “translator” or even “naturalist” would be appropriate additions?
  2.  I wasn’t able to include the footnote here, but that quotation in the last line of this paragraph is from George W. White’s “Introduction” to his 1968 facsimile of Brown’s translation. I know White’s “Introduction” well. I came across White’s facsimile long before I ever knew about Tichi’s article. I’d say it’s a good sign when you start recognizing random critics in obscure footnotes….
  3. Tichi makes an excellent point: why didn’t Brown translate into English a romantic tale or something more literary? It is kind of strange that CBB would translate this work on American geology and climatology, no?

Next passage:

The choice for translation seems doubly puzzling when we consider that a London English language edition was already available in America even as Brown labored at its American counterpart (Tichi 1).

Cecelia Tichi, I like the way you think! I’ve seen the original London English edition at the Library of Congress and remembered being puzzled myself. I was looking for the CBB translation because that’s why I was interested in the Volney addition in the first place. But the book I looked at wasn’t what I expected. I remember thinking, “Is this the CBB edition?” Nah, it just couldn’t be, because the CBB edition was clearly marked as such, with CBB as translator and annotator, and a translator’s preface, all of which were missing in the edition I looked at, which turns out to be the one Tichi is referring to. I make note of this first edition in an endnote in my writing sample. Hmmm, I should probably reference Tichi now that I’ve got more information…

And here it comes, Tichi’s argument:

But while his biographers have viewed Brown’s effort as an anomalous quasi-literary interlude between his novels and his political-historical activities, such easy dismissal of the translation may leave neglected a significant aspect of Brown’s thought. The Monthly Anthology reviewer had denounced Brown’s alterations of Volney as “wholly unpardonable,” both dishonorable and unjust. Yet a close look at the eccentricities of Brown’s translation suggests that Volney stimulated the Philadelphian both to define the American in relation to his nation and continent, and to attempt actuation of the territorial expansion which, as of his first political pamphlet, Brown evidently believed would insure national progress. Indeed, the special biases Brown reveals in his translation make it quite clear that the effort was no perfunctory exercise in a language self-taught, nor a task undertaken only at the urging of Brown’s fellows in the Friendly Club. Rather, Brown’s translation of Volney appears to be the work of a mind bent upon using the pen for specific nationalistic purposes (Tichi 2).

Tichi’s aligns Brown’s translation of Volney’s naturalistic work with Brown’s personal politics. Brown makes significant changes to Volney’s appendix; Tichi’s argument depends on these modifications. During the course of this essay, Tichi elaborates on Brown’s politics, specifically his endorsement of American expansionism (aka: the creation of an American empire). Brown’s translation, Tichi argues, is informed by such political aims.

Brown as cultural archivist; Brown’s translation as an indication of his politics:

Brown’s interest in, and encouragement of, American national self-consciousness in varied areas of life has been well documented. For example. his brief editorial tenure at the Monthly Magazine and American Review (1799-1800) had found him reviewing “more or less critically” some “one hundred and fifty American publications.” And his later journalistic ventures in editing the Literary Magazine and American Register (1803-1806) and then the American Register, or General Repository of History, Politics, and Science (1807-1809) reveal by their contents–and even by their titles–the value Brown placed upon preserving the current record of the growing nation. Moreover, as a novelist Brown had used fiction to define the American experience […] But Brown published no fiction after 1801, and Warner Berthoff finds in the “feebleness” of his last two novels an anticipation of Brown’s “abandonment of the novel as a literary instrument” […] Certainly one of Brown’s major ideas concerned American nationalism, a term whose political ramifications are perhaps best revealed in the kinds of liberties Brown took with Volney’s text in the cast his marginal notes gave that work (Tichi 2).

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