Photo of Professor Michelle Bolduc

Professor Michelle Bolduc

Research interests

Rooted in the medieval notion of translatio and the applied activity of translation, Michelle’s current research lies at the intersection of translation and rhetoric, straddling the boundaries of translation studies, the translatio(n) of modern rhetoric and philosophy, and medieval literature. She is simultaneously completing two book-length projects.

The first, entitled “Translation and the Re(dis)covery of Rhetoric,” presents a diachronic case study of how translation is the means by which rhetoric, as the art of reasoning, becomes a part of a lineage of—and a resource for—an ethics of civic discourse. Moving from Classical Latin and medieval Romance languages (Old French and medieval Italian) to modern French, this work is transcultural and multilingual. It posits a diachronic dialogue, showing how translation—as practice and as theory, via the medieval topos of translatio [the transfer of knowledge]—serves as the vehicle for the transfer of rhetoric as an art of argumentation and persuasion from Classical Greece and Rome to modern Paris and Brussels by way of medieval France/Italy. At the heart of this book lies Brunetto Latini, who in the 1260s not only translated Cicero’s De inventione twice, into French (Trésor) and Italian (Rettorica), but also effected a translatio of it: Cicero’s rhetoric, which since Late Antiquity had become synonymous with stylistic exercises in Latin eloquence, becomes in Latini’s hands once again useful for political and civic matters in the vernacular. Latini’s translation of] De inventione will resonate in the twentieth century, radically changing the fate of rhetoric, considered by many at the time to be a musty, meaningless art devoted to figures of style. Jean Paulhan, the long-time editor of the Nouvelle Revue Française, will translate and publish portions of Latini’s rhetoric (from the Trésor) twice: first as an article in the January 1937 issue of Mesures, and again as the culminating appendix to his landmark 1941 Fleurs de Tarbes, ou La Terreur dans les lettres. Paulhan, who seeks to re-establish rhetoric as a field of use to literature and literary criticism, is equally anxious about the state of Europe, which was founded, he writes, upon Ciceronian rhetoric. The effect of Paulhan’s translation of Latini will be even more profound on the field of philosophy and rhetoric. In their search for a way to reason about value judgments in the wake of the Second World War, Belgian philosophers Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca will come upon Paulhan’s translation of Latini’s translation in the 1941 Fleurs. This is for them a startling revelation: their reading of Paulhan’s translation of Latini’s translation of Cicero reintroduces them to the ancient notion of rhetoric as an art of argumentation. As a result, they create the New Rhetoric Project, in which they assert that rhetoric, rather than the logical positivism of contemporary science and philosophy, might offer a humane response to the postwar crisis of reason.

The second work-in-progress extends into the practice of translation, with two volumes dedicated to the translation of and commentary on the work of Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca’s New Rhetoric Project. With co-director David Frank (University of Oregon, US) on the, she was awarded a National Endowment of the Humanities Scholarly Editions and Translations Award ($116,000; 2014-2016) to publish “Rendez-vous with Rhetoric: New Translations and Commentary on the Writings of Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca” (University of Notre Dame Press). Although Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s magnum opus, Traité de l’argumentation: La nouvelle rhétorique (1958) was translated into English in 1969, hundreds of articles which explain key ideas of the Traité remain only in French. Our work will provide English-speaking scholars with access to these important philosophical texts; it examines in detail their “rhetorical turn”, and the important philosophical influences on, and significance of, their New Rhetoric Project, based on these translations and on significant archival work done at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. This work has created a partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Oregon, Université Libre de Bruxelles and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Washington D.C.