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The Center for Writers & Translators

CWT launches Cahier #37 with Anna-Louise Milne and Andy Robert

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On February 10, 2022, the Center for Writers & Translators (CWT), a research center at The American University of Paris that promotes literary activity, launched the latest issue in its ongoing Cahier Series, a series of short books that make available new explorations in writing, translating and the areas linking these two activities. This 37th entry in the Cahier Series is titled A General Practice and is written by Anna-Louise Milne, with artwork by the Brooklyn-based artist of Haitian descent Andy Robert.

Anna-Louise Milne is a Professor of Comparative Literature and Urban History and Culture at the University of London Institute in Paris who taught in AUP’s former MA in Cultural Translation. “The community of writers and translators at AUP is an amazingly rich and fascinating one,” says Milne, who is Scottish but has lived in Paris for over 20 years. Much of her academic work engages with the concept of cultural translation, exploring ways in which languages are conditioned by individuals’ experiences and relationships to their environment, particularly in global cities, which she describes as “incredible contact zones.” She says her experience of teaching at AUP contributed to a shift in her work towards more experimental forms of production, including ethnographic and fictionalized writing, much of which she initially wrote in French. “The craft of writing was helping me understand what I was living,” she explains. “The Cahier was a great opportunity to explore some of these processes in English.”

A General Practice looks at the subtle behavioral and cultural cues experienced by people in the waiting room of a small doctor’s surgery in Paris. Milne explores how unspoken communication and perceived societal norms impact both doctor and patient in an intimate yet clinical environment. Following the Cahier’s release, she was struck by how non-French readers were surprised to discover how much unspoken assumptions surrounding healthcare differed in France. “The ways in which we interface with healthcare is very much determined by the national experience,” she explains, something she believes is also evident in the ways people speak about and react to the Covid-19 pandemic in different countries. “I was very interested therefore in what can happen in this space of directness that is a doctor in front of a patient in a room behind a closed door.”

The Cahier Series encourages writers to work in tandem with artists to explore themes across media. “I’m immensely grateful to Dan Gunn, who introduced Andy Robert into this process,” says Milne. The three of them worked together to select artwork from Robert’s portfolio that mirrored Milne’s interest in the way subjects interact and engage with the cities around them. For Milne, even the art selection process itself mirrored certain themes of her work, primarily the idea of giving something of the self over to another and receiving it back in a different form. “It’s been a great boost of energy,” she says. “I think we’ve produced a truly dialogic piece.”

Andy Robert himself views the Cahier as combining disciplines and translation, pairing text and image in such a way that they compliment and build on each other. He likens the collaboration to how lyrics and melody combine within a song. “It’s a thought-provoking acrobatic entanglement,” he explains. “A breakdance – as capoeira is akin to movement and martial arts.” He describes the paintings as punctuating Milne’s text, offering a respite for readers as they turn the page and experience new images and colors. The works engage with themes of difference and class, and evoke concepts of memory and place, exploring what it means to be together and be apart. “A General Practice oscillates,” he says. “Secrets are kept and are unveiled. Worlds expand and contract in a breath.”

The Cahier Series is produced by the CWT in association with Sylph Editions and can be purchased online via Sylph’s website. Professor Dan Gunn, CWT Director, is series editor, while Professor Daniel Medin of the Department of Comparative Literature and English is associate series editor and handles publicity.