REREADING GOGOL.

Last month I wrote about the experience of coming at Pushkin from the other side (the early 19th century); now I’m having a similar experience with Gogol. The Ukrainian background that I used to think he had introduced into Russian literature now seems utterly familiar from Narezhny and Pogorelsky, both of whom centered their stories around the same northeastern corner of Ukraine (basically, Chernigov and Poltava gubernias); actually, I suspect Ukraine was more familiar to the Russian reader of the day than anyplace in Russia proper outside the capital cities. But the language! It’s not a matter of playing games with framing and narration; everybody had been doing that ever since Sterne and the Gothics. But the voice of other narrators had been reasonable, like that of a well-educated fellow you met in the better sort of coach while traveling: “I say, old chap, let me tell you a story…” Gogol’s narrators are importunate and perhaps drunken guys in flea-bitten coats with ragged, droopy mustaches who come up to you, throw an arm around your shoulder, and start yammering at you in ways that seem repetitious and irrelevant until you find you’re hanging on every word. His first published collection, Вечера на хуторе близ Диканьки (Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka), begins like this:

“Это что за невидаль: “Вечера на хуторе близ Диканьки”? Что это за “Вечера”? И швырнул в свет какой-то пасечник! Слава богу! еще мало ободрали гусей на перья и извели тряпья на бумагу! Еще мало народу, всякого звания и сброду, вымарало пальцы в чернилах! Дернула же охота и пасичника дотащиться вслед за другими! Право, печатной бумаги развелось столько, что не придумаешь скоро, что бы такое завернуть в нее”.

I don’t even know how to go about translating that; maybe Mark Twain could have done it. But I do know how not to translate it:

“What oddity is this: Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka? What sort of Evenings have we here? And thrust into the world by a beekeeper! God protect us! As though geese enough had not been plucked for pens and rags turned into paper! As though folks enough of all classes had not covered their fingers with inkstains! The whim must take a beekeeper to follow their example! Really there is such a lot of paper nowadays that it takes time to think what to wrap in it.”

I don’t want to pick on Leonard J. Kent, the translator [actually Constance Garnett—see Update below]; he was an academic and doing the best he could. But does that sound like a human voice at all, let alone somebody you’d want to listen to all evening? “What oddity is this” forsooth! A passage like Gogol’s begs you to stop looking at the dictionary and instead spend your time creating a voice in English that might have at least something of the same effect. I don’t know: “Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka—never seen anything like it! What kind of ‘evenings’ are we talking about here? And shoved in our faces by a beekeeper, of all people?” But that doesn’t work either. I don’t know, I only know that whereas I zoomed through the other authors eager to find out what happened next, I keep going back and rereading Gogol’s sentences, reading them out loud, often laughing, always admiring. How did he do it?


I was thinking about that when I read this passage in Andrew O’Hagan’s recent NYRB piece about Jack Kerouac:

Walter Salles’s film of On the Road comes to us more than fifty years after the book’s publication. [...] The film cannot control its lust for the tang of actuality, forgetting what it takes to dream a prose narrative into being. Yes, Kerouac’s novel was very close to his life, but On the Road is really its prose. One might say the prose is the main character. How quickly it was written and under what conditions, who knows, any more than one can say what was really behind the tone of Charlie Parker when the sound came flowing out of his horn?
The film never finds a way to embody the sound. It just can’t hear it and so we watch a kind of beat soap opera[...]

A jazz musician responded to someone who asked about the title of Parker’s “Klacktoveedsedsteen” by saying “It’s a sound, man. A sound.” Nobody ever captured Bird’s sound, and nobody can capture Gogol’s, but dammit, you’ve got to at least try.
Update. The latest post at XIX век points out that the translation I quoted is not Leonard J. Kent’s but Garnett’s, revised only in punctuation; that doesn’t make it any better at rendering Gogol’s tone, but it makes it more understandable why it sounds that way, and one should give credit and blame where due.

Comments

  1. I read Guerney’s translation of Dead Souls based on Nabokov’s supremely high recommendation, which is something Nabokov gave out sparingly.
    I thought it was tremendous. Alas I have basically no Russian.
    Is it as lofty a feat of derring-do as Nabokov claimed it to be?

  2. Ah, this gives me the opportunity I wanted to present an extended quotation from Jim Quinn’s tremendous satire on prescriptivism, American Tongue and Cheek (1980), which I bought and read on Hat’s suggestion. It comes from his chapter on Wilson Follett’s Modern American Usage (1958), which was the first book of prescriptivism to seriously influence the teenage me, and for which, therefore, there is a special place in my heart, or whatever organ. In the following, I have de-italicized the blockquoted paragraphs; all ellipses are Quinn’s.
    Under the heading of verbiage, Follett says:

    Getting rid of superfluous words has an advantage commonly overlooked: the automatic suppression of weaknesses that flourish in diffuse writing but are starved out by economy….
    … Take a passage from a book about life within the Arctic Circle — … a book that has everything one could ask for except good, tight writing. Here is a representative paragraph about one of the ways of catching seals:
    Column A
    Another way of luring the seal — although not so profitable as the first — is to fool him while he is under the water. Two men walk behind each other, keeping step with one another, so that the seal down below hears them. To the seal it sounds as if only one man were walking. When they reach the blowhole, the location of which must be known first, the first man continues on, while the other takes a stand by the hole without moving at all. The seal thinks that the man has passed by without noticing the blowhole, and after a while he confidently comes to the hole, only to find out too late that he has been fooled.

    Now Follett lists the defects: two men can’t walk behind each other. It’s clumsy to use each other and one another in the same sentence. Seal occurs four times. And more: “Why write continue on, and mention luring the seal, since that is the subject of the whole chapter? Why point out that the seal is under the water? Blowhole is enough” to indicate that the seal is under water, and

    it is obvious that the two men could not approach if its location were not known. Further water … the seal listens twice to their footsteps (hears them; it sounds as if). And a good reader will not care what the author thinks a seal thinks about what the hunter thinks. The writer talks as if to feeble minds. By the right kind of effort he could have had his say in a paragraph as short as this:
    Column B
    Another, less profitable way is this: Two men approach a blowhole, keeping step, so that the seal hears them as one. The leader walks on past the blowhole; the harpooner stops by it, motionless. Soon the deluded seal confidently comes to the hole and is caught.

    It’s hard to know what to say about these two paragraphs. Follett really seems to be pleased with his improvements, and really does not seem to understand that something has been squeezed out of Column A: not verbiage, or weakness, but strength — an almost indescribable kind of strength. Reading Column A, you know that the writer was there, and you see the scene he describes. Reading Column B, you know just as certainly that you are reading a summary of someone else’s experience: less words, less language, less meaning, less realism.
    But even that doesn’t seem to begin to explain what’s wrong with Column B. It’s just … It’s just that there is such a thing as a tin ear, for language as well as for music; the writer of Column B has a tin ear, or at least had a tin ear in this one particular sentence.
    It’s hard for me to believe that any small group will ever be a threat to the English language. But it does seem that the professor of English, the teacher of writing, if he sets out to force students to turn Column A writing into Column B writing — and succeeds — is the carrier of appalling ideas about language.

  3. I can’t resist this final Quinntation, which made me think of His Hattiness and smile:

    Now it is a curiosity of pop grammarians that they are always discovering the close connection between political and linguistic corruption — but it is always after the fact. Even Edwin Newman, determined to prove that bad language makes bad thought, suddenly comes to himself with a start, and writes:
    “The argument for preciseness of language has limits, of course. I don’t know whether grammarians were less taken in by, for example, the Gulf of Tonkin affair than other groups in the population.”
    Come to think of it, as a longtime antiwar marcher, I never remember seeing a contingent calling itself Copy Editors Against Genocide, or Proofreaders Demand an End to Linguistic Evasions like Body Count and Pacification Program.

    Nor I. But if there were, I know who was marching in them, right along with the palatalization protestors.

  4. I read Dead Souls in the Magarshack translation. I remember it as entertaining, but then I had no idea of the original Russian. Does it make a huge difference in the end whether you read Magarshack or Guerney? Just curious.

  5. Sir JCass says:

    Nashe’s Lenten Stuff. And why Nashe’s Lenten Stuff? Some scabbed scald squire
    replies, ‘Because I had money lent me at Yarmouth, and I pay them again in praise of their
    town and the red herring’. And if it were so, goodman Pigwiggen, were not that honest
    dealing? Pay thou all thy debts so if thou canst for thy life. But thou art a ninnyhammer;
    that is not it. Therefore, Nickneacave, I call it Nashe’s Lenten Stuff as well for
    it was most of my study the last Lent, as that we use so to term any fish that takes salt, of
    which the red herring is one the aptest. O but, saith another John Dringle, there is a book
    of the red herring’s tail printed four terms since, that made this stale. Let it be a tail of
    haberdine if it will, I am nothing entailed thereunto; I scorn it, I scorn it that my works
    should turn tail to any man…”
    Thomas Nashe, opening of Nashe’s Lenten Stuff (1599).
    I couldn’t help being reminded of that when I read the passage from Gogol.

  6. Yes, Nashe could have done right by Gogol if only he’d lived a couple hundred more years. And Rabelais could have enfrenched him splendidly.

  7. Thanks for the quote, JC. Hat recommended Quinn’s book to me, too, and I have fond memories. That passage is one of my favorites, probably because of the ineffable awfulness of, “Soon the deluded seal confidently comes to the hole and is caught.” I hope someday to delude a confident seal.

  8. There’s kind of a split, isn’t there, between and readers writers who respect, if not revere, Kerouac and those who think he was a talentless one-trick pony who didn’t even do a very good trick (newish tone) — kind of like the split between those who do and don’t care about Pound’s nuttiness when it comes to his art? I fall into the latter, in both cases. Something happens “in the night” on every freakin’ page of On the Road.

  9. Has anyone got Christopher English’s 1994 translation of “Evenings” handy? How does that one compare? (I tried to look at its opening passage on Google Books, but not much of the text is viewable.)

  10. John Cowan’s Column B reads like directions in a field manual — where that style surely has a place. That said, Column A is sloppy. A good copyedit can improve the paragraph without destroying its soul:
    A less profitable way of luring the seal is to fool him while he’s underwater. One behind the other, two men walk in step so that the seal down below hears them. To the seal it sounds as if only one man were walking. When they reach the blowhole, sighted earlier, the first man continues walking, while the other stands motionless by the hole. The seal thinks that the man has passed by without noticing the hole, and after a while confidently comes up to breathe, only to learn too late that he’s been fooled.
    The text above contains 95 words as against 119 in the original and 46 in the field-manual approach.
    Anybody else want to have a run at this?

  11. John Cowan’s Column B reads like directions in a field manual
    Just be to clear it was Wilson Follett’s Column B, quoted by Jim Quinn.
    and after a while confidently comes up to breathe, only to learn too late that he’s been fooled.
    I like your Column B (though nobody, I’m pretty sure, thought A was impeccable), except for the quoted bit above. Rather than ascribe emotion (“confidently”) and thought (“learn . . . that he’s been fooled”), I’d describe the actions themselves, using verbs or adjectives to imply the confidence and surprise. A confident seal conjures nothing for me, and to recognize something too late seems a very human thing to do; there’s regret and irony in a moment like that — things I don’t associate with seals.

  12. That’s also my favorite passage of Quinn; my second favorite being the quotation of a really strange ESL-motivated blunder from a pontification by that maximal pontiff, John Simon.

  13. There’s also the part where he quotes Jean Stafford admitting that there’s no way to correctly describe a street with “driveways in between each house.”

  14. I haven’t read Kerouac but I strongly suspect that if I ever do I will fall into the jamessal camp (in which case I probably won’t actually finish the book).

  15. John Emerson says:

    Musorgsky put some Ukrainian dialogue into one of his operas, but when it was first performed the audience immediately burst out laughing, as if it were and Amos ‘n’ Andy joke. This was not Musorgsky’s intention and, as I remember, he rewrote the part.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    JE: This reminds me of an anecdote my father told me: when he was young he had gone to see one of the classical French plays (not a comedy), and right at the beginning the hero started speaking with a strong Southern accent, whereupon the audience burst out laughing, and the performance was a flop. (It is surprising that a Southern-sounding actor was even hired to play a classical role in a Parisian theatre, so it cannot have been a regular performance).
    In the same vein, the hero of Cyrano de Bergerac is supposed to be a Gascon, but to my knowledge he never speaks on stage with a Gascon accent (which is very similar to a Spanish one). The famous “noses” speech would sound even more flamboyant if spoken that way, but a Northern French audience would just respond with laughter at the actor. (The playwright, Edmond Rostand, was born in Marseille in a prominent local family, which for many years spent their summers in Gascon country, where the Gascon dialect was alive and well at the time, so it is likely that he spoke with a strong Southern accent himself and imagined the character of Cyrano speaking the same way, although he could not hope for his play to be accepted in Paris with a main actor speaking French like a Gascon).

  17. David Marjanović says:

    It’s hard to know what to say about these two paragraphs. Follett really seems to be pleased with his improvements, and really does not seem to understand that something has been squeezed out of Column A:

    The “although” is missing. “Although it’s less profitable than the first, it’s still profitable enough to mention” is important information.
    Also, “To the seal it sounds as if only one man were walking.” contains a very important element of surprise that is highly useful for explanation.

    When they reach the blowhole, sighted earlier,

    Maybe it’s because German can’t do this, but “sighted earlier” as an insertion into the sentence almost throws me off. Keeping it in a separate sentence keeps the abovementioned element of surprise!
    Really, the only thing that’s questionable about the original is “one another” right behind “each other”. Using “each other” both times would sound better to me, but the author was probably taught not to repeat words, and it stuck.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    Back to the original topic: is “what sort of nonsense is that” too strong? How about “come on – Evenings [...]? As if you’d never seen that before?” My Russian isn’t good enough to tell.

  19. Marie-Lucie: The oaths, though, don’t seem to be quite French, though perhaps not authentically Gascon either. From near the beginning of II.vii, after Cyrano has fought off the hundred men who attacked him:
    CARBON (remontant à la porte, et criant à la cantonade, d’une voix de tonnerre):
    Le héros refuse. Il est d’humeur bourrue!
    UNE VOIX (au dehors):
    Ah! Sandious!
    (Tumulte au dehors, bruit d’épées et de bottes qui se rapprochent.)
    CARBON (se frottant les mains):
    Les voici qui traversent la rue!
    LES CADETS (entrant dans la rôtisserie):
    Mille dious! — Capdedious! — Mordious! — Pocapdedious!
    RAGUENEAU (reculant épouvanté):
    Messieurs, vous êtes donc tous de Gascogne!
    LES CADETS:
    Tous!
    Cyrano himself uses Mordious! twice while telling the story in II.ix, once for emphasis, once to give vent to his feelings without actually attacking Christian. When he gets even more angry, however, he switches first to Ventre-Saint-Gris! and then to Tonnerre!

  20. Alexei K. says:

    “Oddity” is not so bad considering that “эка невидаль” is a little dated and would sound bookish in colloquial urban speech.
    JCass: thanks for the Nashe – it’s a wonder – but the single inverted commas are misleading: the speech within is indirect.

  21. Sir JCass says:

    the single inverted commas are misleading: the speech within is indirect.
    I copied the punctuation from J.B.Steane’s modernised Penguin edition. The speech in single inverted commas belongs to the hypothetical “scabbed scald squire” who is criticising Nashe for writing a pamphlet about red herring to pay off his debts. BTW Apologies for the bad formatting; it’s not meant to read like verse.
    Here’s the original from McKerrow’s ”Complete Works”:
    To his readers, hee cares not what they bee.
    Nashes Lenten Stuffe: and why Nashes Lenten Stuffe? some scabbed scald squire replies, because I had money lent me at Yarmouth, and I pay them againe in prayse of their towne and the redde herring: and if it were so, goodman Pig-wiggen, were not that honest dealing? pay thou al thy debtes so if thou canst for thy life: but thou art a Ninnihammer; that is not it; therefore, Nickneacave, I cal it Nashes Lenten Stuffe, as well for it was most of my study the last Lent, as that we vse so to term any fish that takes salt, of which the Red Herring is one the aptest. O, but, sayth another John Dringle, there is a booke of the Red Herrings taile printed foure Termes since, that made this stale. Let it be a taile of habberdine if it will, I am nothing entaild thereunto; I scorne it, I scorne it that my woorkes should turn taile to any man…

  22. Sir JCass says:

    Languagehat on Gogol:
    Gogol’s narrators are importunate and perhaps drunken guys in flea-bitten coats with ragged, droopy mustaches who come up to you, throw an arm around your shoulder…
    C.S. Lewis on Thomas Nashe (in his pamphlet feud with the Cambridge don Gabriel Harvey):
    a half drunk street-corner humorist

  23. Sir JCass says:

    Musorgsky put some Ukrainian dialogue into one of his operas
    Also re what Marie-Lucie writes, the French Baroque composer Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville wrote an entire opera in his native Occitan dialect, Daphnis et Alcimadure (1754). According to Wikipedia:
    “Mondonville asked two famous opera singers to perform his work: the prima donna Marie Fel from Bordeaux and the prim’uomo Pierre Jélyotte from Béarn. Both Bordeaux and Béarn are traditionally Occitan-speaking regions, though of Gascon and Béarnais dialects, whereas Mondonville wrote in languedocien dialect.”
    This piece was premiered with King Louis XV in the audience. There doesn’t seem to have been any snobbery about the use of dialect, which is not what I would have expected from 18th-century French high society, although it may have been more acceptable in a work with a pastoral setting. In fact, the philosophe Melchior Grimm even preferred the use of Occitan to French as it was closer to Italian. This was because he was part of the dispute stirred up by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (the Querelle des Bouffons) over the relative merits of French and Italian music and Grimm was firmly in the Rousseauist, Italian camp. (I’m not!).

  24. Might there still have been some lingering respect for Occitan as the preeminent poetic language of the Middle Ages? Dante put a stanza in Occitan into the Commedia as his highest tribute to the “miglior fabbro” Arnaut Daniel.

  25. “Oddity” is not so bad considering that “эка невидаль” is a little dated and would sound bookish in colloquial urban speech.
    Well, of course it’s dated, it was written almost 200 years ago! Surely books should be translated based on how they sounded and would have been read at the time, not how they sound to us now. Otherwise you’d have to translate Homer into Proto-Germanic.

  26. marie-lucie says:

    JC: indeed the swear words are Occitan! dious = “dieux” ‘gods’ (unlike French ones, the Oc swear words use the plural rather than the singular).
    Sir J Cass: Thanks, I did not know about this opera or its composer. You are right that the pastoral setting would have contributed to the acceptance of Occitan at court, especially if the composer was already well-known for operas in French or Italian, and the presence of two well-known singers who were native speakers might have inspired the composer to use the language (in addition, the court included noble people from all parts of France, and at least some of the Southerners would have known the dialect of their own region). The dialects referred to are distinct but largely mutually intelligible, so the singers would not have had too much difficulty learning and singing the words. There would have been more differences between Gascon and Provençal, at the extreme ends of the Occitan area.
    LH: The fame of medieval “Provençal” (ie Occitan) poetry was still known in the Occitan-speaking area but I don’t think that too many non-scholars in the rest of France knew about it.

  27. Trond Engen says:

    I’d love to see a translation of Homer into Proto-Germanic.

  28. Sir JCass says:

    Might there still have been some lingering respect for Occitan as the preeminent poetic language of the Middle Ages?
    Eight Centuries of Troubadours and Trouvères says that’s the case. In fact, Mondonville’s opera begins with a prologue (in standard French) “entitled Académie des Jeux Floraux, the descendant of the medieval Consistori de la Subragaya Companhia del Gay Saber.” The reviewer in the Mercure de France “claimed that this new opera ‘reminds us of the arts and letters from France’s Golden Age’, and compared Mondonville to our ‘famous troubadours’.”

  29. Sir JCass says:

    Looking slightly earlier in Eight Centuries of Troubadours and Trouvères, I found that there was a parallel version of the Querelle des Bouffons among French Enlightenment antiquarians, called the Querelle des troubadours and trouvères, which was waged between 1779 and 1781. Again, it was over the perceived challenge of Italian cultural dominance. Because Italians were interested in the Provencal troubadours as the predecessors of Dante, one group of French scholars countered by claiming Old French poetry was really superior to Old Occitan. Another approach was to claim that Old Occitan was in fact “French” and thus part of the French literary tradition.

  30. Eight Centuries of Troubadours and Trouvères says that’s the case. In fact, Mondonville’s opera begins with a prologue (in standard French) “entitled Académie des Jeux Floraux, the descendant of the medieval Consistori de la Subragaya Companhia del Gay Saber.” The reviewer in the Mercure de France “claimed that this new opera ‘reminds us of the arts and letters from France’s Golden Age’, and compared Mondonville to our ‘famous troubadours’.”
    Ha!
    *does “I’m right, right, right” dance*

  31. marie-lucie says:

    claim that Old Occitan was in fact “French” and thus part of the French literary tradition
    At a time when medieval literature was little-known, Old Occitan, having been written on French soil, could be confused with an older form of French. My (bilingual) Occitan-speaking great-aunt often talked of having read a book with claimed that le français vient du patois, et ceux qui parlent le patois sont de vrais Français (having learned French at school, she had probably been indoctrinated with the idea that real French people did not speak “patois”).

  32. Sir JCass says:

    *does “I’m right, right, right” dance*
    I’m glad I made Hat happy!
    she had probably been indoctrinated with the idea that real French people did not speak “patois”
    Funnily enough, I’ve just come across an essay in a book by Castil-Blaze about Daphnis et Alcimadure. Castil-Blaze was a famous (if not always terribly reliable) 19th-century writer on music. He was also a southerner, from Vaucluse, and he sounds very upset that Occitan did not become the official language of French. Like Grimm, he feels that Occitan is more musical and poetic. He takes great delight that a revival of Daphnis et Alcimadure in standard French was a flop. Speaking of the original version, he says that the three Gascon singers “n’eurent pas de peine à montrer l’étonnante supériorité de leur langue d’oc sur le patois parisien, qu’une circonstance désastreuse a fait adopter, en France, comme langage national”. I love that phrase, “patois parisien”! Later on he curses the “écrivains barbares du nord de la France” for rejecting the language of the troubadours during the Renaissance.

  33. m-l: What does the syllable po- of Pocapdedious! correspond to?
    Sir JCass:
    Randall Garrett’s story “A Matter of Gravity” (PDF), like his other Lord Darcy stories, is set in an alternate universe in which Richard I did not die at Chaluz but had a change of heart and kept the English throne. His descendants are now Anglo-French as well as Holy Roman Emperors to this day, and the dominant language of the Empire is Anglo-French. As such, other varieties of French are deprecated, as in this example:

    Journeyman Emile, a short, lean man with a Parisian accent, had carefully chalked a pale blue line around the area, drawing it three inches behind the bootheels of the surrounding guard. “It is that I am ready, Master,” he said in his atrocious patois.

    Evidently, Anglo-French is rather more English than French in syntax, though the proper names make it clear that it’s quite French in vocabulary.

  34. marie-lucie says:

    JC: m-l: What does the syllable po- of Pocapdedious! correspond to?
    Regrettably, I only have a limited knowledge of Occitan, and my grandparents spoke a variety of Languedocien (more or less in the middle of the Occitan-speaking area), not Gascon (in the Southwest). Po- could be a shortening of por (as in the Spanish word), but I can’t be sure.

  35. The comparison with Nashe is wonderful. The intonation of the passage also reminded me of the Parrot Sketch:
    ‘Evenings on the Farm Near Dikanka?’ What kind of talk is that?
    Strange, I’ve always taken the opening phrase “Это что за невидаль” as ironic and having the opposite meaning: The Evenings? So what? What’s the big deal about them? I think what Gogol puts in this phrase is that “Вечера на хуторе близ Диканьки” sounds so common that it’s not worth writing about.
    The word невидаль itself means an oddity, a curiousity, a strange thing, literally smth unseen before. But it’s hardly ever used as such, but mostly in phrases that have the reverse meaning – ‘as though no one seen this, knows this’.
    I am not sure if either “What oddity is this” or “never seen anything like it!” captures this?

  36. marie-lucie says:

    Sir J: thanks for the reference!
    Castil-Blaze … from Vaucluse … feels that Occitan is more musical and poetic … [than] le patois parisien
    Occitan, like the non-French Romance languages, is indeed more musical because of the alternance of stressed and unstressed syllables and the preservation of the final feminine marker as a vowel (old and official /a/, usually pronounced [o]).
    People in Southern France, most of whom are from an Occitan background even if they don’t speak the language, refer to the “Parisian” (meaning Northern) French pronunciation as parler pointu ‘to speak sharp’, probably because Northerners usually elide most of the French schwas, especially at the end of words, while Southerners pronounce all the French written ones (which historically correspond to Latin /a/ and Occitan /a ~ o/). They also dislike the French nasal vowels instead of the typical Romance [vowel + nasal] sequence still present in Occitan and Southern French. Nevertheless, as people are more and more exposed to Standard (Northern) French through TV, etc, these typical Occitan features are getting ironed out, especially in the speech of educated people.

  37. Trond Engen says:

    This XIX century idea of Occitan as more poetic is mirrored by Aasen’s contemporary Norwegian language, full of unreduced vowels and memories of ancient greatness.

  38. Elizabeth Kendall says:

    Yay Gogol! In your face!

  39. John Emerson says:

    As I remember, there’s a study somewhere of the use of regional and class dialect in “serious literature” written in the formal dialect, for example by Mark Twain, which shows that dialect writing is rarely what people would actually say but ranges from almost getting it right to just throwing in a few mannerisms here and there to mark the speech as dialect. Same for someone being folksy and down home in their own person, which will usually consist of a scattering of localisms.
    I did see a study of Celine’s use of French. He used some non-standard dialect, some words in phrases used even by most educated people orally and in informal contexts (but not in writing), and also some peculiar ways of speaking that may never have been heard in real life.

  40. John Emerson says:

    I was going to say that Urguhart’s Rabelais is not accurate and not even much like Rabelais, but the fact that it’s gloriously extravagant makes it the favorite of many, because Rabelais can’t be plain.

  41. Trond Engen says:

    Ringdrotten, Eilev Groven Myhren’s Nynorsk translation of The Lord of the Rings from 2006, makes use of different Norwegian dialects and historical norms for written Nynorsk to represent the tongues of Middle Earth. It just struck me that I want an Occitan translation along the same lines — and with Medieval Occitan for relics like old songs. And maybe bad French for the Orcs.

  42. Trond Engen says:

    I could also imagine a translation using the whole spectrum of modern Romance while still taking advantage of the prestige and phonological conservativity of Medieval Occitan. The language of the trubadours for old songs, Occitan dielects in various forms for the modern dialects of the Elves, French or maybe Portuguese for the Hobbits since they are out there on their own, Italian in Gondor is obvious, maybe Castillian in Dale, and so on.

  43. marie-lucie says:

    TE, I am sure some modern, educated Occitan speakers could translate the book, using the various dialects to represent the tongues of Middle Earth, but French speakers could not read it any more than they can read Spanish or Italian offhand, without studying those languages. But not many educated Occitan speakers speak the language natively. An Italian translation could probably do better with the various Italian dialects, but I understand that the Italian dialects tend to be quite different from each other and from the standard, hindering comprehension by those educated in the standard.
    Medieval Occitan prose (found for instance in lives of the poets) is not very difficult to understand if you know some modern Occitan dialect (my knowledge is mostly passive) or some Spanish or Catalan, but the old poetry is formally very complex, besides using archaic vocabulary, and the ancient poets deliberately used sophisticated puns and other double-entendre so that only the initiated could fully understand the poems.

  44. marie-lucie says:

    Trond, your suggestion sounds even better than mine! This translation would certainly appeal to a select group of Romance polyglots!
    In Rabelais (I think in Pantagruel) there is an episode taking place in Paris, in the Latin Quarter, where an international crowd of professors and students formerly used Latin with each other. The heroes encounter students speaking a variety of languages, of which samples are given in the text. Finally they meet an “écolier limousin” (a student from the Northwest Occitan region around Limoges) who speaks a very artificial, heavily latinized French which they find ridiculously pretentious. They start beating him and the Limousin student being hurt falls back on his native dialect, which is what they had expected to hear from him in the first place.

  45. marie-lucie says:

    JE: Céline
    I am not a great fan of Céline and have only read a little of his work, but it is true that he both shocked and inspired fellow writers to write closer to the way people actually speak, especially the uneducated. Samuel Beckett also used a very colloquial register in his French works, but, for obvious reasons, did not have the wide range of expression that Céline had.
    Incidentally, the professional last name Céline is another female first name used as a last name. That was the first name of his mother’s mother, and one of the names of his mother. It is interesting that he chose to use a female rather than a male ancestral name as his literary last name: perhaps in order to detach himself as a writer from his father’s family.
    On the other hand, the female French writer who signed with the single name Colette used her own last name, which was her father’s last name since her parents were married. It is not clear (at least to me) how the father, a military officer, acquired this last name, as it could have been from an ancestor born several generations previously, but it was very likely the name of an ancestress whose child was given her mother’s first name as a last name, in the absence of an acknowledged father.

  46. jamessal says:

    I am not a great fan of Céline and have only read a little of his work, but it is true that he both shocked and inspired fellow writers to write closer to the way people actually speak, especially the uneducated. Samuel Beckett also used a very colloquial register in his French works, but, for obvious reasons, did not have the wide range of expression that Céline had.
    True, Beckett may have used a more colloquial register in French, but just to be clear, he was also one of the most erudite, least accessible, stylistically innovative writers of the 20th century. Early in his career he defended Joyce’s obscurity and later purposefully used archaic words in his own work; from The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett: “Such words, like his characters themselves, become cultural ghosts, the language rupturing the present to disclose the space of cultural memory.” It’s been argued that he wrote his novels in French in order to sustain a narrative — and a strange narrative even those works have — without getting lost in style and allusion.

  47. The heroes encounter students speaking a variety of languages, of which samples are given in the text. Finally they meet an “écolier limousin” (a student from the Northwest Occitan region around Limoges) who speaks a very artificial, heavily latinized French which they find ridiculously pretentious.
    Discussed at LH here.

  48. Like Urquhart, Dorothy Sayers rendered (doubtless somewhat conventionalized) Limousin as Border Scots in her translation of Dante’s Purgatory, where Arnaut Daniel is represented as speaking it: “Sae weel me likes your couthie kind entreatin’” for “Tant m’abellis vostre cortes deman”. Text and translation of the passage. Sayers illustrates her control of this variety of Scots in The Five Red Herrings, which is set in Scotland, and the short story “The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach”, which is set in both Scotland and England.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    jamessal, thank you for the information on Beckett. The language of his French works gives the (mistaken) impression that he only associated with people such as the clochards in En attendant Godot.

  50. Rodger C says:

    Shouldn’t Homer actually be translated into some form of Germanic from shortly before the Grimm’s Law changes?

  51. jamessal says:

    The language of his French works gives the (mistaken) impression that he only associated with people such as the clochards in En attendant Godot.
    Well, while he did get stabbed in the chest by a Parisian pimp, his recovery — in a private hospital room — was arranged by Joyce. If you ever get the chance, read Hugh Kenner on Beckett; Kenner wrote a few books on him, and he never wasted his time on a minor talent. I’ll post a few quotes soon (have to find some books).

  52. jamessal says:

    I’m sorry, about Kenner, that should have been, “he never happily wasted his time on a minor talent”; he did have to make a living.

  53. jamessal says:

    The preface to Kenner’s Samuel Beckett, A Critical Study:

    Preface

    “But you must know something, said Mr. Hackett. One does not part with five shillings to a shadow. Nationality, family, birthplace, confession, occupation, means of existence, distinctive signs, you cannot be in ignorance of all this.”
    Utter ignorance, said Mr. Nixon.
    – Watt

    This book, meant not to explain Samuel Beckett’s work but to help the reader think about it, bears such evidence of Mr. Beckett’s courtesy that I must caution the reader against mistaking it for an authorized exposition. That sort of misunderstanding will proliferate for decades, as anyone knows who has traced the course of the Joyce legend. Let me therefore, though the book could not have been written without its subject’s assistance, put on record the exact extent of his contribution to it. He placed at my disposal three jettisoned typescripts: Mercier et Camier, Eleutheria, and “Premier Amour”; he answered such questions of fact and date as I thought it worth while to trouble him with; and during a conversation in the spring of 1958 he made various remarks which sometimes confirmed my hunches, sometimes corrected them, and sometimes suggested lines of thought on which I should not otherwise have stumbled.
    He denied, for instance, the presence in his work of some hidden plan or key like the parallels in Ulysses. Joyce, he recalled, used to claim that every syllable in the Joycean canon could be justified, but while that was one way to write it was not the only way. He then suggested that overinterpretation, which appeared to trouble him more than erroneous interpretation, arose from two main assumptions: that the writer is necessarily presenting some experience which he has had, and that he necessarily writes in order to affirm some general truth (this knocks out most of the theories about Godot). He stated that he knew very little about the race of literary beings he called “my people”; no more, in fact, than appears in the books; this led to an anecdote about an actor who in despair threw over the part of Pozzo when the author was unable to enlighten him on a dozen points concerning the character’s age, race, occupation, social status, education, philosophy of life. It was clear from the drift of his talk that if Godot, for instance, really crosses the stage under a pseudonym, or if Moran actually becomes Molloy, these events (to say the least) happen without the author’s knowledge; nor is Miss Fitt, as has been conjectured, in the author’s private mind the Dark Lady of the Sonnets.
    We are not, in short, like dogs excited by the scent of invisible meat, to snap after some item of information which the author grasps very well and is holding just behind the curtain. So to proceed is to misapprehend the quality of the Beckett universe, which is permeated by mystery and bounded by a darkness; to assail those qualities because they embarrass the critic’s professional knowingness is cheap, reductive, and perverse. Like primitive astronomers, we are free to note recurrences, cherish symmetries, and seek if we can means of placating the hidden powers: more for our comfort than for theirs.
    I hope the reader finds these revelations too elementary to require stating; but since they are endorsed by a man who has been familiar with the Beckett universe longer than the reader has, or than I have, it seems worth while to write them out.
    I ask him to believe, then, that Mr. Beckett exists, that he is capable of discussing what he has written, and that he said on a certain occasion approximately the things I have just set down, or things very like them. I also ask him to believe (for there were no human witnesses) that on leaving Mr. Beckett’s apartment I became confused in the courtyard, and applying myself to the wrong door, instead of the street I blundered into a cul-de-sac which contained two ash cans and a bicycle.

    From A Reader’s Guide to Samuel Beckett, on the prose of Molloy:

    ‘You go dumb as well and sound fades’: Vergil has no finer cadence, no juxtaposition more sensitive to rhythms and vowels. . . . ‘Cows were chewing in enormous fields, lying and standing, in the evening silence.’ How soothing are those cows, fixed in that amber cadence. How soothing, too, the elusively neutral landscape:

    From there he must have seen it all, the plain, the sea, and then these selfsame hills that some call mountains, indigo in places in the evening light, their serried ranges crowding to the skyline, cloven with hidden valleys that the eye divines from sudden shifts of colour and then from other signs for which there are no words, nor even thoughts.

    Beckett happens to be my favorite prose stylist, too. From Molloy:

    All roads were right for me, a wrong road was an event, for me. But when I was on my way to my mother only one road was right, the one that led to her, or one of those that led to her, for all did not lead to her. I did not know if I was on one of those right roads and that disturbed me, like all recall to life. Judge then of my relief when I saw, ahead of me, the familiar ramparts loom. I passed beyond them, into a district I did not know. And yet I knew the town well, for I was born there and had never succeeded in putting between it and me more than ten or fifteen miles, such was its grasp on me, I don’t know why. So that I came near to wondering if I was in the right town, where I first saw the murk of day and which still harboured my mother, somewhere or other, or if I had stumbled, as a result of a wrong turn, on a town whose very name I did not know. For my native town was the only one I knew, having never set foot in any other. But I had read with care, while I still could read, accounts of travelers more fortunate than myself, telling of other towns as beautiful as mine, and even more beautiful, though with a different beauty. And now it was a name I sought, in my memory, the name of the only town it had been given me to know, with the intention, as soon as I had found it, of stopping, and saying to a passerby, doffing my hat, I beg your pardon sir, this is X, is it not?, X being the name of my town. And this name that I sought, I felt sure that it began with a B or a P, but in spite of this clue, or perhaps because of its falsity, the other letters continued to escape me. I had been living so far from words so long, you understand, that it was enough for me to see my town, since we’re talking of my town, to be unable, you understand. It’s difficult to say, for me. And even my sense of identity was wrapped in a namelessness often hard to penetrate, as we have just seen I think. And so on for all the other things which made merry with my senses. Yes, even then, when already all was fading, waves and particles, there could be no things but nameless things, no names but thingless names. I say that now, but after all what do I know about then, now when the icy words hail down upon me, the icy meanings, and world dies too, foully named. All I know is what the words know, and the dead things, and that makes a handsome little sum, with a beginning, a middle and an end as in the well-built phrase and the long sonata of the dead. And truly it matters little what I say, this or that or any other thing. Saying is inventing. Wrong. Very rightly wrong. You think you are inventing, you think you are escaping, and all you do is stammer out your lesson, the remnants of a pensum one day got by heart and long forgotten, life without tears, as it is wept. To hell with it anyway. Where was I.

  54. Trond, Marie-Lucie: there was a recent translation of a TINTIN adventure (L’AFFAIRE TOURNESOL) into Franco-provencal, where (because the story takes place in France and Switzerland) the translator used different Franco-Provencal dialects (? and/or spelling conventions) according to place and character.
    The total number of readers who could read and fully appreciate this translation is probably comparable to the number of people who would appreciate a Romance polyglot version of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, so I suppose there is hope that such a translation could be made. But translating Tolkien’s trilogy would take more work then translating a single TINTIN story: indeed, considering the knowledge required (Anglistics, Germanic and Celtic linguistics to understand Tolkien’s prose, and Medieval and Modern Romance languages and linguistics to render it in a satisfactory fashion) I can’t imagine such a product being anything but a group effort.

  55. I suppose there is hope that such a translation could be made.
    Online, of course, it could find its own readers wherever they might lurk.

  56. Beckett’s mathematical nightmare.
    Paragraphing, John? As Tobias Wolff put it: “We know what is scared to us when we recoil from impiety.”

  57. I find huge blocks of text very difficult to read, and I suppose that others do too. But I do not understand your Wolff quotation.

  58. Oh, sacred to us. Well, I suppose textual integrity is, or at least the ability to reconstruct the text as it was, even if I modify it for readability.

  59. Alexei K. says:

    Wasn’t Provence known in early Romantic Europe as the troubadour country of old legends? Keats has “Provençal song” in one of the odes.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    Alexei: Wasn’t Provence known in early Romantic Europe as the troubadour country of old legends? Keats has “Provençal song” in one of the odes.
    The name “Provence” comes from the Latin “Provincia Romana” which was much more extensive than the later province of Provence, so the name “Provençal” for the people and the language can be misleading as it depends on the period referred to. Currently this name applies to the dialect of modern Provence (East of the Rhône, bordering the Mediterranean), although in the Middle Ages the centre of literary culture was Toulouse, farther to the West (in the province of Languedoc, named after the language). The term Occitan is now used as a cover term for the speech varieties of the whole region (unofficially once referred to as “Occitania” in the language), in order to avoid the ambiguity of “Provençal”.

  61. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Beckett’s mathematical nightmare
    It sounds like the character has some kind of pathological syndrome (Asperger’s? OC?). The author too, to dream up this sort of obsession!

  62. David Marjanović says:

    JC: indeed the swear words are Occitan! dious = “dieux” ‘gods’ (unlike French ones, the Oc swear words use the plural rather than the singular).

    Could that be reanalysis of Latin deus?

    full of unreduced vowels and memories of ancient greatness

    I love that phrase :-)

    Shouldn’t Homer actually be translated into some form of Germanic from shortly before the Grimm’s Law changes?

    Or indeed long before the Grimm’s Law changes, even before most or all of the Celtic loanwords had come in!

  63. jamessal says:

    Oh, sacred to us. Well, I suppose textual integrity is, or at least the ability to reconstruct the text as it was, even if I modify it for readability.
    What an unfortunate typo. Sorry about that. I was also being hyperbolic, of course. Paragraphing definitely helps readability, and I think you did a great job with the stones passage. Beckett’s just the only author whose prose I never think to alter in any way, like a jeweler with a stone he doesn’t have the confidence to cut.

  64. And what meter would this proto-germanic Iliad be in? Because a prose translation would introduce a whole nother unacceptable anachronism… (Does anyone even have a reasonable guess what meter was used in proto-germanic epic poetry?)

  65. jamessal says:

    It sounds like the character has some kind of pathological syndrome (Asperger’s? OC?). The author too, to dream up this sort of obsession
    He’s an acquired taste, especially the novels — something most aficionados, or at least the ones I know, are strangely loath to admit. Several times, asking a friend how I should approach Molloy, I was told, “Just read and laugh!” Well, I read — and read — and did not laugh. I must have tried reading Beckett’s novels four times before it clicked, and that only happened when I was listening to an especially good audible performance: the way Beckett said, on occasion, that the novels were intended to be experienced. It was only then that I could read the books straight (and obviously afterward came to love them more and more). It takes a little more work than cilantro or peaty scotch, but it’s even more rewarding. At least I find it so. And I love cilantro and scotch.

  66. marie-lucie says:

    jamessal, I agree that it would take a very good reading performer to bring out the qualities in Beckett’s novels. A male reader would most likely find them funnier than would a woman. I found the ones I read rather dreary and have no desire to read them again.
    There used to be a very good program on CBC radio in the 1980′s (at least that’s when I was able to listen to it). Every evening for 2 or 3 weeks someone would read from a literary work for 15 minutes. I would watch the clock and make myself a cup of tea in anticipation of listening between 10:00 and 10:15 pm. I discovered several authors that way. At one point they read Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le Noir in English, and that’s when I realized that the novel was full of irony, something I had totally missed when I read the work in secondary school. Teenagers are too immature to understand most novels written for adults.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    Does anyone even have a reasonable guess what meter was used in proto-germanic epic poetry?
    Old English poetry and the Scandinavian sagas must give credible hints.

  68. I found the ones I read rather dreary and have no desire to read them again.
    Well, I’m sorry to hear that; fandom is always better shared. But I find it astonishing you made it all the way through any of his novels without enjoying it!

  69. Teenagers are too immature to understand most novels written for adults.
    Heh. You should have seen me a decade ago in rehab, carrying around The Brothers Karamazov. Luckily my parents hadn’t sent me Lolita; I’d hate to bear the memory of reading that solemnly in public.

  70. Teenagers are too immature to understand most novels written for adults.
    So very true, and it’s especially hard on “intellectual” teenagers who place a great deal of importance on being able to read material that’s supposed to be beyond their age level. Some adult novels are accessible, of course; I read Moby Dick in high school (the whole thing, not just the selected chapters that were assigned) and loved it. But Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Joyce, fucking Thomas Hardy (whom I still haven’t given another chance)? Forget it. I plodded through as much as I could stand before giving up; at least I realized the fault was mine (still too young, dammit!) and not the author’s.

  71. jamessal says:

    I read Moby Dick in high school (the whole thing, not just the selected chapters that were assigned) and loved it.
    You loved the whale chapters? Those still read like antiquated encyclopedia entries to me. But I know you’re not the only one: my mom says she breezed through them, though couldn’t say why; and my agent — an MB *fanatic* who wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on it and, when he was an editor, bought Ahab’s Wife — told me those chapters were there for “balance,” i.e., because the rest of the prose is so rich. Don’t tell him I said so, but that never did much for me.

  72. John Emerson says:

    Beckett was a solitary and associated primarily with a gigantic professional wrestler.

  73. You loved the whale chapters?
    Sure. Full of wonderful words and exuberant rhetoric. How could I not?

  74. I think I read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as a teenager, but it made very little impression. No wonder: not only was I a young man, but the real reason I read it was because my girlfriend (now married to Ian Frazier) was a Joyce fan. My son, on the other hand, read it in school at 17 and loved at–could quote it chapter and verse by the time they were done discussing it.
    Nobody ever made me read Moby Dick. I read it voluntarily in my twenties on the theory that if it’s such a big deal I might like it. It was a little hard to set aside the big deal reputation part and just plain read it. My memory is that the whaling chapters did seem like oddly non-fictional interludes, but not necessarily in a bad way. When I think of opening it again, the parts that I’m not sure I’d have the stomach for include the potentially tedious whaling technicalities, and also the stilted conversations in South America that in my memory read like bad translations from the Spanish.
    Later in my twenties I met a young American mathematician who had been teaching himself Italian in order to read The Divine Comedy, and who found Moby Dick laughable. He obviously had had no trouble getting past the reputation. Or, why do I say that, maybe he had the opposite problem: got too caught up in fighting the reputation.
    I took a course in college called “Myths of Creation”, which went rapidly from Hesiod through Mary Shelley to postmodernism. Some part of that Beckett trilogy was on the reading list, and the book is still on my shelf. What jamessal says about the quality of the prose rings very true for me, and I think I’ll delve into it and see what happens. Gotta take it slow, though.

  75. jamessal says:

    You loved the whale chapters?
    Sure. Full of wonderful words and exuberant rhetoric. How could I not?
    It has been years. “Tedious whaling technicalities” is just how I remember those chapters, but I guess I’ll give them another shot.
    I think I’ll delve into it and see what happens.
    Oh, please let me know if you do. This guide by Kenner would be good company.

  76. Void: Wow, I thought you were telling us your girlfriend was the novelist Jacqueline Carey, who also holds the world record for raw onion-eating, and I was jumping to all sortsa conclusions, but I see she was the novelist Jacqueline Carey.

  77. So what should intelligent teen-agers read? Vonnegut? DFW? In addition to the usual Sci Fi classics, I remember reading a lot of Kafka, Buzzati, and an embarassing amount of Hesse. I doubt Hesse is very popular with the kids today though. Austen and Waugh are also good writers who are accessible to younger readers.

  78. Yeah, Vonnegut definitely, and Salinger, and I would think Waugh (though I didn’t encounter him till later).

  79. Dickens, Orwell, Wodehouse, Fitzgerald, Tobias Wolff, Michael Chabon, George Saunders, Kazuo Ishiguro, Steven Millhauser, Marquez (I could see a kid falling in love with A Hundred Years, even if I didn’t, and then returning to it), Somerset Maugham, maybe even early Henry James and Philip Roth and later Ian McEwan.

  80. marie-lucie says:

    the quality of Beckett’s prose
    I read the novels in French, you guys read them in English. Maybe that made a difference. Which ones came first?

  81. jamessal says:

    Which ones came first?
    The French, in 1951, to significant critical acclaim actually (though I can’t speak to their quality, of course, since I can’t speak French!). He’d begun writing the English translations before he even had a publisher, however.

  82. jamessal says:

    Another possible reason for the differing opinions is that the French and English versions are supposed to be somewhat different books. Beckett described the English as “a new book in a new language.” Furthermore, from Anthony Cronin’s biography, “And with the transposition of speech there would inevitably be a transposition of thought, ‘and, even, at times, of action.’” Beckett translated Molloy with another translator from the publisher, Patrick Bowles (this is once Molloy had been published in French and Beckett was being paid to translate it); but he translated the other novels in the so-called trilogy (Beckett didn’t consider the books to be such) — Malone Dies and The Unnameable — himself, and later told his publisher that (again from Cronin) “doing Malone from scratch had been child’s play compared to revising Bowles, with whom he had lost touch for long periods towards the end of their joint venture.”

  83. marie-lucie says:

    I know that I read Molloy and Malone meurt, I am not sure about the third one (it was many years ago).

  84. I didn’t mean that Molloy and Malone Dies are such different books, but rather that their translations are: “A new book in a new language” referred to the English version of Molloy.

  85. Note however that Murphy, Watt, and the abandoned but posthumously published Dream of Fair to Middling Women were written and published in English first. Beckett translated the first two into French, but no one has translated Dream as far as I know.

  86. marie-lucie says:

    [in Cyrano] the swear words are Occitan! dious = “dieux” ‘gods’ – DM: Could that be reanalysis of Latin deus?
    Like Spanish Dios, you mean. I don’t know for sure. Spanish has the plural dioses. Here milledious ’1000 gods’ is undoubtedly plural. On the other hand, capdedious which seems to mean ‘head of God, God’s head’ suggests a singular word. But that could be because the plural ending in one swearword has been generalized to the other ones, since such words are often uttered without much attention to their literal meaning.
    A French-Occitan online dictionary gives “dieu : dieu“, obviously a singular noun. The Occitan spelling is misleadingly French-looking: eu represents a front rounded vowel in French, a diphthong [ew] in Occitan. This is the (very conservative) spelling and pronunciation recommended by the Institut d’Etudes Occitanes in Montpellier, while the spelling in Cyrano follows French rules. So does “millodious” which occurs in a short song I learned from my grandparents, whose cultural links were with Toulouse (which is not far from the Gascon area).

  87. John, I’m glad you sorted that out.
    I did know that there was this lowbrow writer of the same name. I did not know about the onions.

  88. Marie-Lucie, John Cowan: David came closest to the truth about Gascon DIOUS, I think.
    Spanish DIOS owes its final /s/ to learned influence: its etymon is the Latin accusative form DEUM, which first yielded Old Spanish DIO (still preserved as such in Judeo-Spanish, which for obvious reasons was unexposed to direct Latin influence, and after 1492 was unexposed to indirect Latin influence via other varieties of Spanish) before becoming DIOS through the influence of the Latin (nominative!) form DEUS.
    On the basis of forms such as CAPDEDIOUS “God’s head” (how nice, yet another cognate of French CHEF/Catalan CAP/Romanian CAP(U)/Spanish CAB(EZA)…) DIOUS is plainly singular, and I thus strongly suspect the final /s/, like the final /s/ of DIOS in Spanish, is due to the influence of Latin DEUS.

  89. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne, that sounds very plausible. Unfortunately I don’t know the word for God in my grandparents’ dialect (such as Diéu, Diou or Dious). Some of the songs I know are or were widely known throughout the South, with dialectal adjustments, so the “millodious” in the song I referred to could be a borrowed Gascon form while the local word in isolation might not have the -s.
    Alternately, Rostand (whose family was from Marseille, not from Gascony although they spent much time in Gascony) might have generalized a plural dious rather than a singular diou in the Gascon swearwords other than the obviously plural milledious.

  90. jamessal says:

    Note however that Murphy, Watt, and the abandoned but posthumously published Dream of Fair to Middling Women were written and published in English first.
    Yes, Molloy was the first book he published in French; he’d written the books John mentioned, as well as More Kicks Than Pricks, in English first. Should have mentioned that.

  91. jamessal says:

    Beckett also later translated both Molloy and Godot into German, with collaborators, though I don’t know if he found his Godot collaborator, Erich Franzen, as useless as Patrick Bowles. Has anyone read him in German?

  92. I didn’t know about the onions either, but I like Jacqueline Carey the Younger’s books very much, and I certainly wouldn’t call them lowbrow.

  93. Sorry, John. I should not have disparaged the books, certainly not without ever looking at one!

  94. marie-lucie says:

    Perhaps I would enjoy Beckett in German: surely the translator would not have changed B’s simple French sentences into the typically long and convoluted German ones.

  95. As the poet said, Only God can make a tree probably because its so hard to figure out how to get the bark on.
    Quoted for Hatticness.

  96. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks Jamessal.
    I guess Beckett must have read a lot of literature in English, especially by Irish authors, but did he similarly read a lot of French? Perhaps that’s why his style in French is so colloquial: he did not have the temptation to sound literary in French because he did not have the long familiarity with literary French that he had with literary English. What do Beckett fans think?

  97. jamessal says:

    Beckett also later translated both Molloy and Godot into German, with collaborators,
    After doing a little more reading, I realized that the above was an overstatement. Though competent enough to read Schopenhauer and write letters himself in German, Beckett lacked the fluency to have translated his own books. Apparently he did find a translator, whose name I can’t now find, with whom he did get along.

  98. jamessal says:

    did he similarly read a lot of French?
    He did read a lot French, including Racine at an early age; it was one of his chief areas of study in school, he never broke with it, and he was simply a voracious intellectual. But I think you still put it almost just right: “he did not have the temptation to sound literary in French because he did not have the long familiarity with literary French that he had with literary English.” He had the long familiarity, I think; he was just able to resist what he called — complicatedly — “style,” because it still wasn’t his first, and best, language.

  99. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks again. Racine would hardly be a suitable model of 20th century French prose style!

  100. By the way, I’ve now started Molloy and am loving it—beautiful prose, and it makes me laugh out loud frequently. Thanks, jamessal!

  101. jamessal says:

    Oh, now that’s great news! Please, any little passages you feel like sharing — sentences even — I’d love to root through that book again; and of course the Kindle makes it especially easy!

  102. jamessal says:

    Racine would hardly be a suitable model of 20th century French prose style!
    Of course not. What I meant to imply is that he started studying French literature as a whole at an early an age; he lectured on French literature at Trinity College in 1930 — the same year he published a famous essay on Proust. I’m not sure which of his contemporary French authors he read.

  103. jamessal says:

    Here are a few pages from the Cronin bio which best describe Beckett’s decision to write in French — an epiphany about his writing in general (from the last paragraph on 358 to the first on 361).

  104. Well, I’ve just started, but that whole first paragraph, for instance. If I start quoting I’ll just keep quoting. You know how it is.

  105. I regret my comment of March 12 11:04. The regret has several layers. Here, let me tease them apart and slowly eat them raw.
    (1) It shouldn’t be personal: “writer of lowbrow fiction” would have been better than “lowbrow writer”. Of course it is personal, because of my visceral objection to there being a second novelist of the same name as my friend. Imagine being in the shadow of someone in that way: subject to humiliation by a Wikipedia disambiguation page. That on top of being married to a more famous writer than yourself. I am afraid that the younger JC’s books sell better than hers, too. It must be because they are trashy popular stuff, says a sort of sour-grapes voice within me.
    (2) Better than “lowbrow fiction” would have been “trashy fiction”. The “lowbrow/highbrow” distinction makes me uncomfortable, and I rarely use those words without irony. This discomfort has to do with mixed feelings about elitism (whatever that means–talk about disambiguation!). I think that it is also akin to jamessal’s feelings about his memory of solemnly reading The Brothers Karamazov in public. I have no problem calling a book trashy if I think it’s bad, but to call it lowbrow is to make a value judgement about who a person writes for.
    (3) Better than “this writer of lowbrow fiction with the same name” would have been “this other novelist with the same name”. I have no reason whatsoever to think that the fantasy novels of the younger JC are trashy, except a vague personal prejudice against fantasy novels. Any hunch I may have in that direction is probably based mainly on spite (see (1) above). Although, seriously, people who enter speed-eating contests, how serious can they be? They probably write the same way they eat.

  106. marie-lucie says:

    LH, in what language are you reading Molloy?

  107. jamessal says:

    You know how it is.
    Yes, non-stop perfection; the best English prose ever written, IMHO. So yeah, no quotes necessary; in fact, in part because of the lack of paragraphing and in part because of the related densely interwoven psychology (dense to the point of truth), isolating quotes is exceptionally difficult: it’s all really inseparable. I’ll just dip in again myself to celebrate the occasion!

  108. jamessal says:

    seriously, people who enter speed-eating contests, how serious can they be?
    “Beware of seriousness: it is a form of stupidity.”

    – Evelyn Waugh (presumably — hopefully — before Brideshead)

    I wonder what he would have thought of speed eaters?

  109. LH, in what language are you reading Molloy?
    English.
    Evelyn Waugh (presumably — hopefully — before Brideshead)
    Man, what the hell happened to Waugh? Think of the things he could have given us if he hadn’t gone all Brideshead.

  110. I see that I used the word serious twice in one sentence. Maybe I’m taking myself too seriously.
    I was reading Molloy in the bosom of my family last night and started quietly laughing to myself. I then read half a page or so aloud, trying to share the experience with Tesi and Asa. It went more or less as I expected. She wishes me well but it’s clear that she can’t imagine why anybody would read such stuff. He said something about “absurdism”, but I don’t think he was listening properly. Also, yes, isolating quotes is difficult.
    I don’t know how far I’ll get. I was going to say that I may yet run out of steam, but that’s not right: this stuff pulls or carries you along, with no effort required except actually paying attention.

  111. Sir JCass says:

    Man, what the hell happened to Waugh? Think of the things he could have given us if he hadn’t gone all Brideshead.
    Well, he wrote The Loved One after Brideshead (I think), so it wasn’t all aristocratic nostalgia.
    (Having said that, I’ve never read Brideshead. A brief encounter with the TV series rightly or wrongly persuaded me that it was unlikely to be my cup of tea).

  112. David Marjanović says:

    Has anyone read him in German?

    “Und wenn er kommt?”
    “Sind wir gerettet.”
    Haven’t actually read more than that.

  113. A brief encounter with the TV series rightly or wrongly persuaded me that it was unlikely to be my cup of tea
    It’s awful, purple as can be. Skip it.
    My guess to Hat’s question — “what the hell happened to Waugh? — is that as a congenital misanthrope he fought the accompanying misery with brilliant satires until either the misery overcame him or the satirical well ran dry, or both, and he ended up seeking solace in Catholicism, which not only didn’t make him much happier, I don’t think, but was also disastrous for his writing.
    I was reading Molloy in the bosom of my family last night and started quietly laughing to myself. I then read half a page or so aloud, trying to share the experience
    Wonderful! I’ve done the same, of course — tried to share the experience — with Robin (my wife), and her reactions have ranged from full-bore enthusiasm to sweet indulgence, depending, I think, both on her mood and my performance. Wait, what were we talking about?

  114. I’ll mention that JC the Younger’s novels are only lightly fantasy in the usual modern sense of “war novels, only with elves instead of artillery” (I forget who said this; Google is unhelpful). What they mostly are is alternative history (as Tolkien said his fantasy was). The main topics are religion and sex, to be sure, but if we are to exclude religion and sex, what becomes of the whole Western Tradition? Granted, the two are cross-connected in a slightly different way: the main meaning of hérésie is ‘rape’, but that’s very natural in a culture whose deified founder is best remembered for his maxim “Love as thou wilt”.
    My real objection is that the French in them should be Occitan, as modern Terre D’ange has full continuity with Roman Provence (there was never a Frankish invasion), but something must be allowed for the linguistic limitations of the typical reader. It’s also jarring to me that although the kingdom of Dalriada is much the same there as here, the rest of Alba (Great Britain) is also settled by Pictish Goedelic-speakers: the Cullach Gorrym, the Tarbh Cro, the Eidlach Or, and the Maghuinn Donn, who are descended from migratory shamans from Central Asia, of all things. While certainly there is no reason to expect the English to ever have left the Angle, the complete disappearance of Britons is quite surprising.

  115. jamessal says:

    he’d written the books John mentioned, as well as More Kicks Than Pricks, in English first. Should have mentioned that.
    Whoops! That should have been More Pricks Than Kicks, of course — far too good a title to get backward. The current meaning of pricks makes the biblical allusion so ripe for wordplay it’s about to fall off the tree. Yet the only other instance I’ve encountered is in a poem by Frank Bidart:
    Marilyn Monroe
    Because the pact beneath ordinary life (If you
    give me enough money, you can continue to fuck me—)

    induces in each person you have ever known
    panic and envy before the abyss,
    what you come from is craziness, what your
    mother and father come from is
    craziness, panic of the animal
    smelling what you have in store for it.
    Your father’s name, she said, is too
    famous not to be hidden.
    Kicking against the pricks,
    she somehow injured her mind.
    You are bitter all that releases
    transformation in us is illusion.
    Poor, you thought being rich is utterly
    corrosive; and watched with envy.
    Posing in the garden,
    squinting into the sun.

  116. Today, momentarily overwhelmed by the number and variety of objects in my coat and trouser pockets, I said something about Beckett’s sucking stones. This stopped Asa in his tracks. He stared at me as he recalled where he had heard of it before: at his friend’s house there is a recording (a gift from his “weird uncle”) of “… the whole thing’s coming out of the dark”. Here is a sample.

  117. jamessal says:

    Thanks for that, Ø! Really: one of the related links is to an entire fine performance of Endgame, my favorite of Beckett’s plays; that’s the most happily I’ve bookmarked a web page since I can’t remember!

  118. that’s the most happily I’ve bookmarked a web page since I can’t remember!
    I suspect this sentence would be a tough nut to parse for many learners of English.

  119. It doesn’t work for me—I’d have to say “since I can’t remember when.” But I am an acknowledged antique.

  120. jamessal says:

    I think if I were to edit it I’d make it, “That’s the most happily I’ve bookmarked a web page since . . . I can’t even remember!”

  121. jamessal says:

    Eh, too bad it seems this thread will be closed (my prediction owing to an abundance of spam and a dearth of comments) — to bad, IMO, because it’s the first extended thread I can remember largely about my favorite prose stylist. Before it is closed, I’d just like to note that I regret not making Beckett’s erudition in French literature clear, especially to Marie-Lucie, earlier; looking back, I seem to have revealed it in dribs and drabs.

  122. I’ll keep it open as long as people keep commenting on it, and damn the spammers!

  123. marie-lucie says:

    Beckett and French literature
    Jamessal, I was glad to read another opinion than my own on Beckett’s style and its origin, but it is quite possible that his work does not sound the same in the English versions (that most of you here read) and the French ones (which are the ones I read). But I have not read any of his work for decades, and I am not a literary person, so I won’t try to argue one way or another but trust to a more expert opinion (at least for the English versions).
    since I can/can’t remember
    I am not a source for native English grammatical awareness, but I think that traditional grammar would favour since I can remember, using the positive after since in its temporal meaning. However, since I can’t remember seems to me to be on a par with since time immemorial, both using a negative to refer to time beyond memory.
    It seems to me that both can and can’t could be used (although the negative would not be acceptable to all), can implying you remember a lot since a certain time (eg habitual or frequent activities starting from early childhood), while can’t implies that you cannot remember even the last instance of whatever it is you might remember.

  124. jamesssal says:

    but it is quite possible that his work does not sound the same in the English versions (that most of you here read) and the French ones (which are the ones I read).
    Oh, of course; I think I made that point myself. And I wasn’t trying to say that because Beckett was well-versed in French literature, the French versions of his novels must be great too, pace ML’s readings. We just spent some time trying to figure out why we had such differing opinions, and rereading the conversation, I realized I could have provided more of Beckett’s history with French up front; I certainly wasn’t trying to continue any argument (I hadn’t thought we’d been arguing for some time now!).
    I’ll keep it open as long as people keep commenting on it, and damn the spammers!

    Yay!

  125. marie-lucie says:

    Jamessal, no need to apologize!
    LH, as long as you don’t confuse the spammers with the Hatters (which you won’t do)!

  126. I took “since I can’t remember” as a shorter form of “since I can’t remember when”. It made me think of the song lyrics
    I ain’t felt this good since I don’t know when,
    And I might not feel this good again.

  127. but I think that traditional grammar would favour since I can remember, using the positive after since in its temporal meaning.
    I think on the contrary that that is impossible because it says the opposite of what is meant. Temporal since governs an event in the past and denotes the entire interval between that event and the present moment. What is meant here is the period from some unremembered event until the present, hence it must be since [a time that] I can’t remember. Saying while I can remember would be logical but is unidiomatic.
    (In Italian, the idiom runs the other way: one says, or can say, fin che non giunga il Re ‘until the King comes’, literally ‘[up to] the end of the King not coming’. Here it is the King’s not-yet-arrival that is treated as the event of interest.

  128. Not just the ‘can’t remember’ bit. The cleft construction ‘that’s the most happily I’ve (done something)’, with an omitted ‘that’, is also likely to trip learners up. Altogether a great sentence!
    As for ‘since I can’t remember’ (without a ‘when’), I would probably use it, despite being a fuddy-duddy.

  129. that’s the most happily I’ve bookmarked a web page since I can remember!
    This seems ok to me.
    The ‘I can’t remember’ construction injects an intact and separate sentence into the clause, thusly:
    that’s the most happily I’ve bookmarked a web page since… [I can't remember!]

  130. Not just the ‘can’t remember’ bit … is also likely to trip learners up.
    I agree.
    cleft construction
    Is this in fact a cleft construction?

  131. jamessal says:

    The ‘I can’t remember’ construction injects an intact and separate sentence into the clause, thusly:
    that’s the most happily I’ve bookmarked a web page since… [I can't remember!]
    Yeah, that’s how I intended it, and your syntactically explicit rewrite is almost exactly what I’d said I’d edit the sentence to for ease of reading. Now that people are coming to its defense, though, I’m starting like my original more and more; obviously, even in blog comments, I don’t write with ESL students in mind.

  132. Even the part before the “since” was a wee bit challenging, I thought — in a good way. Maybe just because, like most adverbs, “happily” requires an extra word to make the superlative form and this interferes slightly with recognizing what sort of oddball compound clause one is in.

  133. Is this in fact a cleft construction?
    Now that you ask, I’m not sure. It’s very cleft-like, though.

  134. From Wikipedia example of a cleft:
    It’s money that I love = I love money
    From jamessal
    that’s the most happily I’ve bookmarked a web page since… = I haven’t bookmarked a web page so happily since…
    More complex than a cleft! That’s why it’s bad, man!

  135. marie-lucie says:

    I hesitated about “cleft”, but I don’t think the sentence in question is an instance of a cleft construction. That here is not equivalent to it: that refers to an instance or situation, and it could be replaced by this with only a slight change of meaning, while it in a cleft sentence is just a pronoun required by the following verb but having no actual referent, and it cannot be replaced by a demonstrative such as that or this, or by a longer phrase such as this time, that situation, among other possibilities.
    Compare That’s …/This is … the most happily that I have bookmarked a web page with It’s most happily that I’ve bookmarked a web page. The initial It cannot be changed, and the sentence is equivalent to I’ve most happily bookmarked …, except for a special emphasis on most happily.

  136. OK, too much spam and nobody’s commented for a few days, so I’m reluctantly closing it up. If anyone wants to comment, let me know and I’ll reopen it.

  137. jamessal says:

    Earlier I said that I didn’t know which of Beckett’s French contemporary authors he admired, but just this morning I learned from Andrew Gibson’s biography that “Beckett much admired” Céline’s novels.
    (Hat was kind of enough to reopen the thread for me to add that tidbit, but damn, those spammers have got this sucker marked.)

  138. Beckett is (obviously) a very different kind of writer than Céline, but it doesn’t surprise me that he admired him.

  139. jamessal says:

    Gibson himself doesn’t seem to like Céline all that much; here’s a larger quote: “[Beckett] never seriously lapses into the brutal repudiation of common humanity that so marred the work of certain contemporaries, like Céline (whose novels Beckett much admired). He merely understood very well that humanism has little to do with human beings.”

  140. Oh dear. Well, I guess Céline isn’t easy to like. He sure wrote well, though.

  141. jamessal says:

    Oh dear. Well, I guess Céline isn’t easy to like. He sure wrote well, though.
    Any especially good English translations?

  142. I think there’s just the one of Journey to the End of the Night, by John H. P. Marks (that’s the one I read, anyway); there seem to be two of Mort à crédit, one by the selfsame Marks called Death on Credit and the one I read, by Ralph Manheim, called Death on the Installment Plan. I’m afraid I’ve only read bits and pieces in French; his French isn’t the easiest, and I’m lazier about French than Russian.

  143. jamessal says:

    Would you start with Journey to the End of the Night or Death and Credit?

  144. marie-lucie says:

    LH: I guess Céline isn’t easy to like
    Indeed.
    his French isn’t the easiest
    From the few pages I have read, his French is very colloquial, with a lot of slang (some of it probably very dated now!) as well as sentence structures you would not have been taught in school.
    translations : The title Death on the Installment Plan seems British to me, is it? if so, that translation might use British rather than American slang. But I don’t intend to read either the French or English versions at this point.

  145. marie-lucie says:

    Beckett vs. Céline
    Beckett is also colloquial, but more standard as concerns sentence structure. He probably wished he could write as freely and idiomatically as Céline did in his chosen register. Fascination with Céline’s mastery of this style does not mean one has to like his works.

  146. Installment Plan sounds more American than British, and this seems to confirm it.

  147. jamessal says:

    He probably wished he could write as freely and idiomatically as Céline did in his chosen register.
    Beckett had many demons, but a wish to write like another writer doesn’t seem to have been one of them.

  148. marie-lucie says:

    jamessal, you yourself said he admired Céline. “As freely and idiomatically” does not mean “identically”.
    Ø, thanks for the correction. “On the installment plan” does not seem to be used much in North America, at least it is not something I remember anyone saying. Perhaps it is just called by another name now.

  149. jamessal says:

    It’s one thing to admire a writer, another to wish you could emulate certain aspects of his or her style. The latter implies a degree of influence I highly doubt existed.
    From Blake Bailey’s biography of John Cheever:

    Hemingway['s] importance to Cheever is hard to measure. Much of Cheever’s apprentice fiction reads almost like deliberate homage (or parody), but there was more to it than that: “I remember walking down a street in Boston after reading a book of his,” Cheever wrote after Hemingway’s suicide in 1961, “and finding the color of the sky, the faces of strangers, and the smells of the city heightened and dramatized. The most important thing he did for me was to legitimatize manly courage, a quality that I had heard … extolled by Scoutmasters and others who made it seem a fraud. He put down an immense vision of love and friendship, swallows and the sound of rain.” A little later, Cheever met the great man’s widow and was thrilled to learn that Hemingway had once rousted her out of bed to read “Goodbye, My Brother.” As time went on, though, Cheever became more ambivalent about his lifelong hero: reading the posthumous A Moveable Feast (with its unseemly reference to “Scott [Fitzgerald]‘s cock” and so on) made Cheever feel as if he’d met “some marble-shooting chum of adolescence who has not changed.” Finally, at the height of his own fame, Cheever seemed to worry that readers would overestimate Hemingway’s (passing) influence on his work, the earliest samples of which he’d labored to keep out of the public eye. “What have you learned from Ernest Hemingway?” asked a well-meaning admirer at the Ossining Library. “Not to blow my head off with a shotgun,” Cheever replied.
    He also read Faulkner,* with whom he had a more subtle affinity but an affinity nonetheless. As Malcolm Cowley pointed out, both men were autodidactic high-school dropouts with “enormous confidence in their own genius,” and Cheever also cultivated his “little postage stamp of native soil” à la Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha (postage stamps plural in Cheever’s case, as he mythologized—inimitably if less ambitiously—such diverse locales as provincial New England, the West-chester suburbs, and the lost midcentury Manhattan that “was still filled with a river light”). Both writers, too, were attracted to the sprawling, picaresque novels of the eighteenth century—though, as with Hemingway, Cheever would sometimes hesitate to admit the breadth of his debt to Fielding (whose work he’d consumed “intravenously”). “Oh no, no,” he hemmed when a visiting graduate student asked about Fielding’s influence on the Wapshot novels. Cheever’s wife had overheard the exchange, however, and sniped “That’s not true! You’ve been reading Tom Jones again!”—then vanished back into the house.
    The fact was, Cheever had read so much as a young man, and come so far as a writer, that he could honorably deny any particular influence—there were simply too many. “I seem to be running down,” he wrote a few months before his death, “but as a very young man, choosing a career, to be a serious writer seemed to be to emulate heroes. Thackeray, Dickens, George Eliot, Ernest Hemingway all seemed to me heroes.”
    Bailey, Blake (2009-03-10). Cheever (Kindle Locations 825-849). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

    Considering Beckett was more erudite than Cheever, the same last paragraph (or at least its first sentence) could certainly be written of him.

  150. jamessal says:

    The latter implies a degree of influence I highly doubt existed..
    I probably should have written, “. . . a degree of influence, or preoccupation, I highly doubt existed.”

  151. jamessal says:

    There are plenty of writers I admire but whose stylistic talents, impressive as they may be, I don’t envy. DeLillo, Saunders, and Millhauser spring to mind, as extreme examples. And I’m not a canonical writer.

  152. The installment plan is pretty much obsolete now because of the pervasiveness of credit cards. Instead of obtaining something right away and then paying the seller in installments, we pay the seller (and thus obtain the object) right away by taking out a loan, and then repay the bank in installments. Clearly the seller prefers credit cards, as they don’t assume the risk of nonpayment unless the buyer goes to the trouble of having the charge reversed, and even then the issue may go to binding arbitration. The BrE equivalent was called hire-purchase: as the name indicates, the object was hired (NAmE: rented) for a period of time, during which payments in excess of the rental fee were paid, so that when the rental terminated, the object had been purchased.
    One thing that’s still available on the installment plan is college tuition (non-NAmE: tuition fees), when not covered by financial aid. I regularly paid for my daughter’s tuition in this way. In the end, if I hadn’t paid, even though my daughter would have attended classes, she probably wouldn’t have gotten credit for them.
    There was another procedure known as layaway, in which the seller received a series of payments covering the purchase price and “laid away” the object so that it could not be sold to a third party. The buyer obtained the object only when the full price had been paid. In this case, it was the buyer who assumed all the risk: if the object was never paid for, the buyer lost all their money, although it was sometimes possible to renegotiate the terms. Layaway was much more down-market than the installment plan, as it was usable even by very non-creditworthy customers.

  153. I’ve been trying to figure out why this talk of admiring writers seems hard for me to identify myself with. I think that it conflates two things, admiring the writer and admiring their work. Now we admire people for their deeds or actions, and writing is not (in the relevant sense) a deed. I don’t admire Zola for writing “J’accuse”, rather I admire him for publishing it, because the act of writing produces a work (Werk) only, that is to say, a tangible object. But publishing a work is very much a deed, which does not create a tangible object but has potentially infinite ramifications. (I am relying here on Arendt’s labor/work/action trichotomy.)
    On the other hand I can easily admire a writer’s work, but not (I think) if its style is bad, or to speak less judgmentally, if I cannot enjoy its style. This is my true objection to Pound’s writing, which perhaps only coincidentally coincides (*snicker*) with my objection to his deeds. I think, indeed, that it is no coincidence, but this is not subject to proof. In the same vein, I cannot admire Dreiser’s writing, because I abhor his style, no matter how important writing and publishing his works might have been as an action (I don’t really know if it was important or not). What I hear of Celine’s work, especially his late works (“atrocious chaos”) makes me think the same of him, though I haven’t read him.

  154. I read Voyage two years ago in a Russian translation and it turned out just as everybody said it would, great. I could see why Trotsky was a fan (he wrote a pretty good review of Voyage in Céline et Poincaré.). But reading Mort (Смерть в кредит sounds natural in Russian despite the five-consonant sequence рт’фкр’ or рт’вкр’) is a different business: all triple-dots and bodily excretions. Translated, this time, by the Céline and Genet specialist Маруся Климова, an accomplished fiction writer… so I shouldn’t really be complaining.

  155. JC: Do you really not admire the style of this? Pound is almost infinitely various, and I can certainly understand not liking large chunks of The Cantos (I skip over chunks of it/them myself), but I find it hard to imagine any lover of English poetry not liking Cathay.

  156. Would you start with Journey to the End of the Night or Death and Credit?
    The former. If you don’t like that, you’re not going to like Death. And even if you do, you might not like the latter, as Alexei demonstrates.

  157. marie-lucie says:

    installment plan: Thanks JC.
    The term “layaway” still exists. I first encountered it when coming to the US (decades ago), in women’s clothing stores. I had no idea what it meant at the time. I think it is used by teenage girls who don’t qualify for credit cards yet. The store keeps the article until it is paid in full. I have never bought a wedding dress, but that would be the type of expensive garment (often bought months in advance) where “layaway” would be very useful.

  158. Hat. Umm, prose written in lines that don’t make it to the right margin? But I do like Pound’s Winter is icumen in.

  159. jamessal says:

    In the same vein, I cannot admire Dreiser’s writing, because I abhor his style, no matter how important writing and publishing his works might have been as an action (I don’t really know if it was important or not).
    Dreiser is the canonical writer most frequently trotted out as a bad writer sentence by sentence, the trotting often done to argue that a book can’t be dismissed in a review by singling out awful passages. I’ve never found that argument persuasive, just took it for granted that I wouldn’t enjoy Dreiser and that canonical writers are not all necessarily good ones (the test of time seems as arbitrary to me as any other). A lot of people brought up Dreiser in response to B.R. Myers’ manifesto. Not so much Pound, whose style I enjoy.

  160. jamessal says:

    And thanks for the recommendation, Hat!

  161. Since commenting on this post, I started reading Moby Dick again, along with Andrew Delbanco’s fantastic biography Melville: His World and Work and George Cotkins Dive Deeper: Journeys with Moby-Dick, a breezy cultural and historical guide, with chapters corresponding to each chapter in the novel; and I soon came to realize that everything I said about Moby Dick in this thread was utter nonsense: Melville knew exactly what he was doing with the whale chapters, parodying contemporary scientific writing, and knowing that (or even without knowing that) those chapters can be quite funny. Unfortunately, I suffered a bad concussion a little more than a third through each book, and entered a fugue state in which I not only couldn’t read but couldn’t tell if I was awake or dreaming for about a week. It took about six weeks for me to recover, and I have yet to return to the books. But I will, and when I do, I’ll write more.

  162. marie-lucie says:

    Let’s hope you feel better soon, jamessal.

    Reading the old posts is really entertaining! And sometimes we are now wiser.

    Case in point: rereading my latest comment on swearwords in my grandparents’ Occitan dialect, I suddenly remembered one which (as a child) I heard as a single word Boudiou! (/budíu/), but actually in two words, literally ‘Good God!’. The official spelling (the graphie occitane recommended by the University of Montpellier) would have Bon Diéu, with a diphthong in Diéu: /dyéw/. My grandparents’ Languedocien Bou Diou stressed the i in /díu/), as does Italian with Dio, even though their dialect was much closer to Spain than to Italy.

    Bou Diou was a kind of all-purpose comment on events and situations whether good or bad (perhaps like “My God!”), unlike the French Bon Dieu!. usually expressing anger and frustration, which was considered quite bad and definitely unladylike.

  163. marie-lucie says:

    Back to Beckett:

    In jamessal’s extensive quotes (March 17 at 5:31) from Beckett’s translation of his French original, I see two instances which suggest literal translation from French:

    Judge then of my relief when …: This does not sound like idiomatic English to me, but Jugez donc de [mon soulagement/ma surprise, etc] quand … is often found in literary French, attributed to a first-person narrator (I don’t remember anyone actually saying those words). It seems to me that English would use something like You can guess how relieved/surprised/etc I felt when …

    you understand : Although this does not look particularly French, I think that vous omprenez or tu comprends are used more frequently than the English equivalent, to mean something like you know what I mean, when the speaker cannot quite describe their attitude or feelings.

    In the same vein, some years ago, probably some time after Picasse’s death, I read an article about him in an American magazine. The reporter had interviewed one of the women who had shared Picasso’s life, who (as quoted in the English text) kept peppering her reminiscences with “you have understood me”. For instance, when she talked about the beginning of their relationship, I was struck by (in the translation) “You have understood me. A woman does not resist a man like Picasso”. This memorable though awkward sequence started with a literal translation of Vous m’avez comprise, a very common phrase used when a speaker does not wish to give too many specifics. The correct interpretation of Vous m’avez comprise would have been something like “I don’t need to go into details, you know what I mean”. (I think there is a more colloquial way to put it, but I can’t remember offhand).

  164. Although “Judge then of my relief” is not (or is no longer) idiomatic English, it used to be pretty standard literary usage — I’m sure it was a calque from French, but of course English is full of those. “You can guess how…” renders the sense, but is far too colloquial for Beckett’s purposes.

  165. marie-lucie says:

    Thanks LH, I just couldn’t think of something more formal, though less so thatn Judge ….

  166. marie-lucie says:

    p.s. I think I have read You may judge of my … in older English literature, but not plain Judge … which is the calque.

  167. I read finally some of the book Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist by Anthony Cronin that James linked to upthread. Cronin says about Mercier et Camier on p. 361:

    Although written in French [...], it is what might be called an old-fashioned Beckett novel, set in an all too real and circumstantially described Ireland and, worse still, written in the old clever-clever, knowing and literary Irish mode. ‘The journey of Mercier and Camier is one I can tell, if I will, for I was with them all the time’ [Beckett's trans.], it begins, and though this flimsy justification of omnipotence [sic; omniscience?] is soon abandoned, the omnipotent tone of voice is not. ‘What stink of artifice,’ the narrator remarks on the third page [...] But unfortunately artifice is not abandoned [Google Books visibility stops here]

    I can’t tell (which is itself a fault) whether these negative value judgments are Cronin’s own or Cronin’s opinion of Beckett’s at the time. But if Cronin associates himself with them (even if they are also Beckett’s) then it’s pretty ironic that on p. 373, where Cronin is clearly speaking for himself, he says:

    In Molloy and most of what followed he would employ a narrator, a fictitious creation whose life and circumstances were not Samuel Beckett’s life and circumstances and who felt things Samuel Beckett did not necessarily feel. In other words, the three books beginning with Molloy and now generally known as the trilogy would be novels or, if one prefers, fictions or, to be more accurate, a series of fictions, for in the books there are fictions within fictions and fictions within them again.

    Which, if not as mannered as early Beckett, is at least as mannered as late Beckett, and rather sounds like a pastiche of him. Indeed, I would say that if Beckett wrote in French because he wanted to avoid a mannered style, he failed, at least with respect to the English versions (since I haven’t read and can’t read the French ones), as their almost schizophrenically flat affect is itself a mannerism, and one that can and does become wearisome in large doses. I enjoyed, if that is the word, Malone Dies, but as for The Unnamable, forget it. If I want the real Finnegans Wake I know where to find it.

    By the way, the first person narrator who is instantly dropped comes right out of the Odyssey; I wonder if Cronin knows that?

    ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
    πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν:

    “Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy.”

    solemnly reading The Brothers Karamazov in public

    Eh, as a teen I read books in public (indeed, while walking) and still do, and I never cared about what anyone thought either of that or my choice of books. I read or tried to read all sorts of books way over my head, but not in order to impress anyone, but just to see if they were good. This may have been solemn objectively speaking (if that means anything), but it certainly wasn’t self-conscious in any way.

  168. @John Cowan: I don’t see the “me” at the beginning of the Odyssey as a first-person narrator, because that passage is not really part of the narrative at all, but rather part of a preparatory prayer. The “me” would have been the person actually doing the recitation, Homer himself or someone who came later. The performances of these epic poems were not purely literary; they were also religious rituals. The person doing the recitation is invoking the power of Calliope to guide him through the story. (The first line of the Odyssey is sometimes translated more evocatively as, “Sing in me, muse….”)

  169. The “me” would have been the person actually doing the recitation

    Well, sure. And who is that if not a narrator? Homer or whoever is the person who tells the story, and so is the “I” of Mercier et Camier, though the former is (only in imagination, but once in reality) an actual person standing before the audience, and the latter was invented by Beckett (we assume). It’s true that Homer doesn’t claim to report what he saw, but rather what he was inspired to see: but then again, was the M&C narrator really there all the while in the book’s reality as opposed to his own imagination? (And does that question really make sense?)

    An interesting article on what Beckett left out of the English version (PDF), amounting to conservatively 12% of the French text.

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