The topic of the essay under consideration is the evolution of “The Partisan,” long a standard in Leonard Cohen’s oeuvre, from its origin as “La Complainte Du Partisan,” an inspirational song by Anna Marly invoking the spirit of the French Resistance, through its adaptations by Cohen, including the change in the translated lyrics from “German soldiers” to “enemy” and the bilingual aspect of his performances of the song. Also noted is the especially warm reception Cohen’s renditions of “The Partisan” receive in France.
The quality of the article is such that even internet-powered translations cannot camouflage its merits. That is a necessary but not sufficient reason for posting about it.
It’s the context of the article itself intertwined with its content that makes it unique. The Partisan: Ca khúc song ngữ Anh-Pháp bất hủ của Leonard Cohen by Trọng Nghĩa is a Vietnamese language offering by RFI, “a public service radio station for people around the world. It provides French and foreign-language broadcasts through its offices in Paris and abroad.”
So, this is an essay about a song originally written to venerate the spirit of the stalwart French Resistance fighting against foreign oppressors that has been published on the Vietnamese satellite of a French-based radio network. In the 1950s, of course, the Vietnamese mounted their own heroic resistance against foreign oppressors – oppressors who happened to have been French.
Finally, reading this from my own perspective as an American, who was a medical school deferment away from being part of another foreign army fighting for power in Vietnam, without the language skills necessary to discern if the author of the original essay tacitly or overtly acknowledges the historical implications or if, indeed, those complex connections are the central point of the piece, further intensifies the postmodern sense of being thrust within wheels within wheels.
A thoughtful reading of this essay – even in a suboptimal translation – offers intellectual insight and, more significantly, a fascinating experience of being immersed in multiple reflections and refractions of self-referential significance reminiscent of a Italo Calvino novel.
At the link, one finds the audio broadcast of the essay in Vietnamese, the transcript (also in Vietnamese), and MP3s (available for download) of Ana Marly’s 1963 rendition of La Complainte du partisan and Leonard Cohen’s 1969 and 2008 versions of “The Partisan”