Victor Segalen Online.

I had heard of Victor Segalen only fleetingly and long ago, and I’m not even sure whether in connection with poetry or Sinology, but he was clearly an interesting guy: the (absurdly skimpy) Wikipedia article says he was “a French naval doctor, ethnographer, archeologist, writer, poet, explorer, art-theorist, linguist and literary critic” and that he “died by accident in a forest in Huelgoat, France (‘under mysterious circumstances’ and reputedly with an open copy of Hamlet by his side).” The much more expansive French Wikipedia article goes into detail about his two expeditions to China, whose language he studied and loved; what Wesleyan University Press calls “his bilingual poetic masterpiece Stèles / 古今碑錄” sounds amazing:

Stèles / 古今碑錄 is a hermetic collection of wry, intriguing, and at times haunting prose poems that are presented like translations of imaginary Chinese “steles” or inscribed stone monuments (shibei 石碑), each of which bears a heading in classical Chinese — sometimes quoted from classical texts or actual monuments, sometimes composed in literary Chinese by Segalen himself. Although written in a tightly formal French and a broadly allusive style in imitation of Chinese inscriptions, these poems often speak of the more intimate matters of friendship and erotic love, the self and otherness, the spiritual and supernatural, in addition to the corruptions within organized religions (from Buddhism to Christianity). Among Segalen’s creative work, this collection of poems is the most sustained and concentrated realization of his ideas about l’exotisme and the transformative power of what he termed le Divers or la Diversité. It is a truly original work that continually thwarts the expectations of the typical critiques of Orientalism, and that has an immediate appeal and an enduring interest to lovers of poetry and theorists alike.

Wesleyan has published it in two volumes; the first, which contains a facsimile reproduction of the 1914 edition, a complete English translation, and extensive critical notes and materials, is available only in print, but they’ve put the text online, and “Volume Two (available only online) contains excerpts of sources and contexts as well as the unpublished stèles found in Segalen’s manuscripts, and much more.” What a great thing to do! I’m very glad to know about it, and I thank Jon for the link — it is, as he says, “a lovely model for how to share this sort of scholarship.”

(Incidentally, the name of the Breton village where he died, An Uhelgoad, means ‘high woods’; uhel ‘high’ = Welsh uchel, and koad ‘woods’ = Welsh coed. I don’t know whether there are standard rules of Frenchification that explain why it’s Huelgoat in French.)

Comments

  1. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    I was trying to remember why the name of Victor Segalen was very familiar when I remembered: before the fusion of three Bordeaux universities, the Université Bordeaux II was called l’Université Victor Segalen Bordeaux 2. “Mais, pour pallier une utilisation pas toujours homogène de ce nom, préjudiciable surtout dans les publications scientifiques, le Conseil d’Administration s’est prononcé en juin 2010 pour le changement de nom”. In other words they followed the same strategy to produce better results in the Shanghai rankings as many other French universities, which simply cannot resist thinking that a change in name will solve all their problems. Our nearest university when I came to Marseilles in 1987 was called l’Université de Marseille II, but in practice was usually called Luminy. Then they decided that l’Université de la Méditerranée would sound better. When the three universities were fused the new university was called Aix-Marseille Université (English word order, French spelling). However, that didn’t last long, and now we are instructed to put “Aix Marseille Univ” (no hyphen, and just “Univ”, so readers can decide for themselves if it means “University” or “Université”) on our publications, and it must be the first element in the address.

  2. Good lord. Sometimes I despair.

  3. “Despair is an emotion like any other. It is the habit of despair that damns, not the despair itself.”

  4. David Marjanović says:

    Such things happen when universities hire corporate-identity spin doctors. There’s a university that once wanted to be called Chicago so that the existing turn of phrase “at Chicago” would become unabridgedly correct…

  5. Hat, David: far more disturbing to me than this sort of academic re-branding is the fact that this serves as a perfect excuse not to solve, or indeed even face, serious underlying problems.

    Thus, there is a senior “scholar” at “Aix Marseille Univ” who is a specialist in a given (specialized) sub-branch of linguistics, who, to my mind, has been an utter catastrophe for this subfield in France: the problem is that the French University system is so centralized that senior scholars who are located high enough on the food chain enjoy a stranglehold on research which is much, much tighter than what can be found elsewhere. And this particular scholar’s total control over new students, over research money and how to allocate it, has been especially damaging since his positions can basically only be taken seriously if you know nothing of what has been done in dialectology, typology and historical linguistics over the past…oh, century and a half, roughly.

    I indeed had the pleasure of meeting some of this “scholar”‘s students at a conference in Southern France, once, and it was painfully clear that they had been carefully selected: ignorant enough not to realize the many flaws in their guru’s -err, I mean teacher’s- writings, sufficiently lacking in curiosity not to read anything by other scholars, stupid enough not to be able to understand anyone who might try pointing out the many flaws in this research which all took as the foundation of their own “work”.

    It is a truly…interesting experience to spend an evening with a group of doctoral students who cannot understand an argument you present to them a dozen times, to then go back home and explain the same thing to first-year students in a remedial course…and find that all of them get it.

    It is painfully obvious to me that a student in France wishing to make a genuine contribution to said field would need to both obtain a doctorate and pursue an academic career outside of France, indeed possibly outside the European Union. And, getting back to the theme of this comment, re-naming institutions is merely a convenient way to pretend that changes are being made. The expression “putting lipstick on a pig” somehow comes to mind.

    John Cowan: I’ve come to think that for readers of the Covenant novels, a good way to describe Academia would be to compare it to The Land: Tenured academics are Drool Rockworm, administrators and Department Chairs are Lord Foul, the government organizations in charge of funding are The Creator, and non-tenured academics are Ur-viles and Cavewights. Good students are Haruchai, and sound scholarship is Revelstone. Big difference: in Academia there are no Lords in Revelstone. Hmm. Maybe I should call myself Bannor 🙂

  6. Hat, David: far more disturbing to me than this sort of academic re-branding is the fact that this serves as a perfect excuse not to solve, or indeed even face, serious underlying problems.

    Oh, sure, it’s not that the name thing is so awful in itself, it’s the fact that it’s part and parcel of a whole set of anti-intellectual changes that symbolize much of what went wrong at the ass end of the twentieth century and continues to go wrong today. Of course, what with global warming we’ll have worse things to worry about before long.

  7. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Thus, there is a senior “scholar” at “Aix Marseille Univ” who is a specialist in a given (specialized) sub-branch of linguistics, who, to my mind, has been an utter catastrophe for this subfield in France: the problem is that the French University system is so centralized that senior scholars who are located high enough on the food chain enjoy a stranglehold on research which is much, much tighter than what can be found elsewhere.

    I was just visiting the web site at ttp://allsh.univ-amu.fr/llc/d%C3%A9partement/SCL in the hope (unfulfilled) of identifying the senior “scholar” you have in mind. I was struck by the image in which the word “language” is shown in different languages. I suppose the language shown under “Langage” is supposed to be Arabic, but is it? Can someone who knows Arabic enlighten me. Google Translate offers لغة, which is, as I’d expect, joined up, but the web site shows three isolated letters, which I thought was a no-no in Arabic. At least they seem (as far as I can tell) to be the right letters written from right to left. Maybe that’s the best one can expect for a modern linguistics department.

    Your more general comments are certainly correct, though perhaps it’s not so bad in science departments as it is in the humanities.

  8. Bob Gillham says:

    No sort of expert but the Frechification of High Woods looks like a transcription of phonetic rendering of the Breton, spoken with what are called ‘mutations’ when in Welsh, so bach becomes fach etc…

  9. I suppose the language shown under “Langage” is supposed to be Arabic, but is it? Can someone who knows Arabic enlighten me. Google Translate offers لغة, which is, as I’d expect, joined up, but the web site shows three isolated letters, which I thought was a no-no in Arabic. At least they seem (as far as I can tell) to be the right letters written from right to left.

    I don’t know Arabic, but I know the script. You’re entirely correct. The issue is that many, probably most desk top publishing programs fail at bidi and combining characters, with results like what you see. The Emergency Department in St James’s Hospital in Dublin has a mural with quotes from Rumi with exactly this issue, and it’s very jarring when you know how wrong it is.

  10. David Marjanović says:

    Hat, David: far more disturbing to me than this sort of academic re-branding is the fact that this serves as a perfect excuse not to solve, or indeed even face, serious underlying problems.

    They need an excuse for that now? If so, that is actually progress.

  11. @Bannor:. Maybe you should consider getting some sleep.

  12. Bannor:

    this sort of academic re-branding […] serves as a perfect excuse not to solve, or indeed even face, serious underlying problems

    Another kind of euphemism treadmill, I think. “[Names] change; deal with it; revel in it!”

    a group of doctoral students who cannot understand an argument you present to them a dozen times

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” —Upton Sinclair

    there are no Lords in Revelstone

    Of course not. “The Lords of Elfland are true lords, the only true lords, the kind that do not exist on this earth: their lordship is the outward sign or symbol of real inward greatness. And greatness of soul shows when a man speaks. At least, it does in books. In life we expect lapses. In naturalistic fiction, too, we expect lapses, and laugh at an ‘overheroic’ hero. But in fantasy, which instead of imitating the perceived confusion and complexity of existence, tries to hint at an order and clarity underlying existence — in fantasy, we need not compromise. Every word spoken is meaningful, though the meaning may be subtle.” —Le Guin, “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie”

    But I think you are too cynical about the Creator. He actually does mean well, though he is “too powerful and too powerless for despair”.

    Hat:

    what went wrong at the ass end of the twentieth century

    Rather, what went wrong at the Fall of Man. “[T]ogether through the ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.” —Galadriel. Or in more specific terms:

    “The enemy of the black is not the white. The enemy of capitalist is not communist, the enemy of homosexual is not heterosexual, the enemy of Jew is not Arab, the enemy of youth is not the old, the enemy of hip is not redneck, the enemy of Chicano is not gringo and the enemy of women is not men. We all have the same enemy. The enemy is the tyranny of the dull mind. The enemy is every expert who practices technocratic manipulation, the enemy is every proponent of standardization and the enemy is every victim who is so dull and lazy and weak as to allow himself to be manipulated and standardized.” —Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

    ObMeta: “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” —Pope

  13. Rather, what went wrong at the Fall of Man.

    That’s all very well if you want to be mistily philosophico-religious, but I still have it in for Reagan and Thatcher, thank you very much.

  14. Brett: Nice to see there are other Covenant readers here at the Hattery.

    Bob Gillham, Hat: For Breton “(An) Uhelgoad” to become French “Huelgoat” makes perfect sense to me. If we assume the Breton name was realized as /uhelgoat/ or /uxelgoat/ (Voiced stops are regularly devoiced word-finally in Breton), an adaptation into (Early Modern) French as /huelgoat/ would make perfect sense, as /h/ was possible morpheme-initially but not morpheme-internally. Which in turn matches the spelling of the French form perfectly.

    Athel Cornish-Bowden: Far worse than their blunder with Arabic script, to my mind, is their “Department of Romance linguistics and Romanian”:

    http://allsh.univ-amu.fr/llc/d%C3%A9partement/ROM

    I suppose the average educated reader of the page will assume that the name change must reflect recent scholarship disproving the Romance affiliation of Romanian (sigh…). What I suspect happened is that originally, as is still the case in many Universities, Romanian scholars were affiliated with a Department of Balkan or Eastern European languages/linguistics: subsequently, they were transferred to the Department of Romance linguistics with a name change indicating this transfer. The fact that the new name given to the Department indicates total ignorance about the subject matter says a lot about how little power/influence scholars within the University actually have, come to think of it.

    David, John Cowan: what irritates me about such name changes/re-branding is that, because it gives many people (especially outsiders) the illusion that something really has changed, it ultimately slows down the (already glacial) pace of (real) change.

  15. لغة
    lugha(t), as in Jabal al-Lughat

  16. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Far worse than their blunder with Arabic script, to my mind, is their “Department of Romance linguistics and Romanian”

    I should have noticed that. Over the past 50 years many departments and other bodies wth “Biochemistry” in their names have changed it to “Biochemistry and Molecular Biology”, raising the question of what molecular biology is, if not biochemistry. Many years ago Erwin Chargaff, who was not keen on molecular biologists, and in particular was not keen on Francis Crick and James Watson (“So far as I could make out, they wanted, unencumbered by any knowledge of the chemistry involved, to fit DNA into a helix”), said that molecular biology was the practice of biochemistry without a licence.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    raising the question of what molecular biology is, if not biochemistry

    Having studied molecular biology as a subject with that name, I find the question easy: biochemistry is a subfield of molecular biology, which also includes immunology and development genetics and and other areas farther removed from what is usually considered chemistry.

    Of course it’s all ultimately reducible to biochemistry, but so is all the rest of biology, so…

  18. “Cash registers don’t really compute, they just grind their gears. But then they don’t really grind their gears either, they just follow the laws of physics.”

  19. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Having studied molecular biology as a subject with that name

    Are you the David Marjanović that is interested in the origins of amphibians? (I thought another D. Marjanović might be a more plausible candidate, but he’s not David.)

    Anyway, you can think of me as an elderly guy from the last century who hasn’t really caught up with the new names, and still thinks of molecular biology as an upstart field. I expect that there are people who regret the change from philology to linguistics.

  20. That same is he.

  21. I expect that there are people who regret the change from philology to linguistics.

    That same would be me if I didn’t keep a firm grip on myself.

  22. I think of molecular biology as “big molecules”: DNA, RNA, Proteins—and of biochemistry as “small molecules”: ATP cycles, neurotransmitter synthesis, etc. Of course it’s an artificial division with much overlap.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    Are you the David Marjanović that is interested in the origins of amphibians?

    Yes! Not the one who actually works in molecular biology – there is one. 🙂

    you can think of me as an elderly guy from the last century who hasn’t really caught up with the new names

    Never fear! By the time the title of Bachelor was introduced and it turned out I was eligible to receive it for my molecular-biology studies, “Molecular Biology” was no longer an independent field of study at the university in question, and I got a B.Sc. in “Biology”. Such is university life.

  24. Matthew 26:48 or Mark 14:44.

    Edsger Dijkstra (1930-2002) had to list “physicist” (his degree) on his 1957 Dutch marriage license, because the registrar denied that there was such a profession as “computer programmer”.

  25. Stephen C. Carlson says:

    I expect that there are people who regret the change from philology to linguistics.
    Well, mostly the philologists. 😉

    The best characterization of the difference between the two I got from Peter T. Daniels: Philology is the study of texts; linguistics is the study of language.

  26. It’s perfectly non-crankish to lament that linguistics *replaced* philology, though. In a better world, we could have had both.

    A less optimal but still superior solution would have been for philology to continue on within linguistics (though of course such a linguistics would be vey different from what we know under that name in this iteration of the multiverse.)

    I’ve often wondered: if we assume that there’s a steady number of potential recruits to philology out there, people whose interests and skills are a good match for philological labor, and who would have, given the opportunity, found a flourishing home in the discipline, where are they now? In linguistics? I’m not so sure it’s that attractive. Philologists are necessarily interested in many aspects of linguistics, of course, but the feeling is, if experience be a guide, hardly mutual.

  27. Speaking of philing the logos, I just found out about The Oxford Handbook of the Word. A lovely title.

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