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This article is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.

Mysticism in a Foreign Language
: Bruno Tolentino's Le Vrai Le Vain
Chris Miller
for B.T, d. 27.6.07


Bruno Tolentino’s Le Vrai Le Vain/ Um Lume de Exílio was published in 1971 by Actuels in the collection La Part du Feu. It is a parallel-text with the Portuguese on the left-hand page, where one might expect to find the original language. Moreover, the cover of the volume, which Tolentino must have seen, asserts that ‘Bruno Tolentino is responsible for the French version of his poems, which ensures their authenticity to the same level as the originals.’ Conclusive as this may seem, it is, I believe, misleading. According to Tolentino, the poems were awarded a French translation prize, which he rejected because the translation had been into Portuguese. I have no external evidence to corroborate either part of this assertion, which must be considered in the light of Tolentino’s gleefully inventive mendacity, but all the internal evidence points to the French poems being the original. These are heuristic poems, clearly formed by the struggle with language, and sometimes bearing the mark of the non-native speaker. The Portuguese text shows no signs of having been arrived at in this fashion: syntactically and semantically clearer than the French, from which it at times departs quite radically, it seems a commentary on and clarification of the denser French text. It is difficult to believe that this relationship could have been arrived at had the Portuguese come first. The great poems here seem to me the French ones, despite their occasionally oblique relation to the ...

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