Weyerhaeuser Chapel at Macalester College – Saint Paul, Minnesota
October 26, 2005 -- 7:00pm
Alice Kaplan Lecture and Reading from THE INTERPRETER
Introduction by Professor Nick Dobelbower
evening. I am Professor Nick Dobelbower from the Department of French
and Francophone Studies. On behalf of the students and faculty of
Macalester College, I would like to welcome everyone present and thank
you for joining us this evening. I would also like to thank Tom
Bielenberg of Micawber’s Books in Saint Paul for arranging this event at
Macalester College. It is now my pleasure and honor to introduce our
distinguished guest, Professor Alice Kaplan.
I have known Professor Kaplan for many years. She was, in fact, my
professor and one of my mentors. She impressed upon me personally, as
her student and as a reader of her successive books, the importance of
archival research as a means to give life to untold stories and to bring
to light past injustices that can only be remedied if they are
confronted and studied. Despite the gravity of the problems she
addresses, Professor Kaplan refrains from pronouncing judgment, as she
does from excusing unethical behavior, maintaining instead a respect for
the historical record and a probing curiosity that leads us to a new
appreciation of the complexity of the problem at hand.
Professor Kaplan has had a distinguished career. She holds joint
appointments as a Professor of Romance Studies, Literature, and History
at Duke University, where she also founded the Center for French and
Francophone Studies. Her appointment in three departments speaks to the
rich interdisciplinary character of her work, which is readily apparent
in her new book, The Interpreter.
Professor Kaplan’s work is representative of the best work being done in
the field of French and Francophone Studies. Her unique ability to
approach crucial intellectual and social questions in a
multi-dimensional way also illustrates one of the primary aims of the
liberal arts education that we value here at Macalester.
From the publication of her first book, The Reproduction of Banality,
Fascism, Literature, and French Intellectual Life (1986), Professor
Kaplan has been part of a group of dedicated researchers shedding light
on a period of French history that French intellectuals were themselves
slow to confront. In a similar manner, The Interpreter exposes a tragic
dimension of US history that Americans have been reluctant discuss.
French Lessons: A Memoir is well known to students of French across the
country. It was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and
was on the list of “notable books” for the year 1993 by the New York
Times Book Review,. In French Lessons, we learn of the personal
circumstances that drew a young Alice to find refuge in the French
language. A native of Minnesota, she lost her father at a young age and
learned of his career as a prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials
only through the letters and documents that he left behind.
In the year 2000, Professor Kaplan published The Collaborator: The Trial
& Execution of Robert Brasillach. Like her previous memoir, this new
book garnered immediate critical acclaim. It won the Los Angeles Times
Book Prize in History and was a Nominee for the National Book Critics
Circle Award and a Finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
The Collaborator causes us to reflect on the circumstances that lead
France to execute one of its leading intellectuals, not for any direct
participation France’s deportation of some 75,000 Jews, but solely for
the vitriol of his fascist writings.
Finally, Professor Kaplan is also an accomplished literary translator
and theorist of translation, which leads us to the work that you have
come to hear about this evening. In 2003, she translated a novel by
Louis Guilloux entitled OK Joe. In the novel, Guilloux fictionalizes his
own experiences as a translator for the US military during the
liberation of France at the end of World War II.
It was Guilloux’s astonishment at the racial segregation of US troops in
France and his discomfort serving as an interpreter at the capital
trials of two soldiers, one white, one African-American, that directed
Professor Kaplan to examine the tragic effects of Jim Crow in the US
military. Louis Guilloux is at the nexus of the events that Professor
Kaplan relates in The Interpreter. In many ways, we find in the person
of Guilloux, a figure for Professor Kaplan herself. Where he was a
devoted lover of English, she is of French. Both have served the
Anglophone and Francophone communities as linguistic and cultural
interpreters, and both have shown their willingness to shoulder the
mantle of responsibility to address injustice where they are witness to
Return to the main book page...