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Rejection, the Lot of the Translator

I enjoyed reading Lawrence Venuti’s article in the most recent issue of Translation Review, though I found myself at odds with its academic jargon at times, its incessant referring to “the global circulation of texts,” “the global hegemony of English,” and what I take to be other abstractions.

Recounting his experience of translating J.V. Foix’s Daybook 1918 and seeking a publisher for it, Venuti makes the claim — in no way contentious, I do not think — that the work in translation of authors writing in a minority language (as Foix in Catalan) faces an additional hurdle to earning the attention of readers, especially that special class of readers: editors and publishers.

I took bittersweet consolation in reading of Venuti’s bootless attempts to publish his translations of Foix’s prose poems, which met with a “succession of rejections” from publishers “unable to appreciate Foix in English (or perhaps my English).” A bittersweet consolation, because as a translator I too have received a “succession of rejections” from publishers, and because I learned that the difficulties I face there are faced equally by the likes of someone as accomplished as Venuti. Of course that latter point could just as soon be reason for discouragement as for consolation: if Venuti in his laurels can’t get a contract for his Foix book, I’m not likely to fare much better, lowly upstart I am.

But what struck me most is that Venuti names names and quotes a number of prominent publishers in their rejection letters to him. (Whether he obtained their permission to do so was something I asked myself about; his commentary on their remarks I found subtly barbed, but perhaps I was projecting.) This is a lovely thing but far too specialized for our list, wrote Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I cannot get close to this work, said  Jack Shoemaker, editorial director of Counterpoint Press. Nor did the project seem a good fit to Jill Schoolman, editor-in-chief of Archipelago Books, despite her appreciation of certain qualities of the work.

So the struggle that is literary translation goes on. This is just how it is.

Venuti, Lawrence. “Translation, Publishing, and World Literature: J.V. Foix’s Daybook 1918 and the Strangeness of Minority.” Translation Review 95: 8-24. 2016.

November reading log

Pierce Penniless His Supplication to the Devil (1590s) – Thomas Nashe (stuck)

“The Avenger” (1838) – Thomas De Quincey

Erik Satie (1930) – Pierre-Daniel Templier (trans. E.L. French & D.S French, 1969)

The Man in the High Castle (1962) – Philip K. Dick

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Erdritch (1964) – Philip K. Dick

Nothing Like the Sun (1964) – Anthony Burgess

Peace (1975) – Gene Wolfe

The Mechanic Muse (1987) – Hugh Kenner

by the same author (2014) – jack robinson

“France tolerates extremes of heterodoxy and outrageous behavior because it knows that ultimately no one will be harmed: the life of the nation will scarcely be touched. The avant-garde formed first in France because there was an artistic tradition of defiance, and it has lasted longer there because the country as a whole has only reluctantly taken to heart the lessons of its own most venturesome talents. France is innoculated against itself. In the United States, any active avant-garde is so rapidly absorbed by the cultural market that it scarcely has time to form and find a name. Like the profound stability of the ocean beneath its waves and storms, there is a great reservoir of indifference and conservatism in the French which has sustained a dynamic culture.”

– Roger Shattuck, The Banquet Years: The Origins of the Avant-Garde in France, 1885 to World War I: Alfred Jarry, Henri Rousseau, Erik Satie, Guillaume Apollinaire (Vintage, 1968), pp. 42

(Whether this is true anymore today, who knows; I doubt it. Roger Shattuck’s excellent book appeared in 1955. I have resumed work on a reflection on Satie which I began long ago and found this in my notes, and I thought of you.)

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Statistics reveal that Caucasians in the United States are dying earlier, I recall reading some months back in a national newspaper. Alcoholism, addiction, and suicide play no small part there, it said. Southern Ohio, where I grew up, is no exception. Stories reach me now of the early deaths of my former associates: a cousin of mine, a chronic alcoholic who survived numerous car crashes, once severed his carotid artery, and was saved by doctors. Years later he dove into shallow water and was paralyzed; he died two years later from meningitis. The neighbor-boy down the street from where I grew up died last year of an overdose (opiates, I presume). My one-time tennis teacher drank himself to death, my parents factually inform me. (He was 41; he might have had a new liver, but refused to abjure alcohol.) The Daubenmire boy is dead too (opiates or heroin). The younger brother of one of my classmates, a Navy cryptographer, took his own life. There is no end to these stories.

NEPEAN, ONTARIO. It is snowing now, and I feel more caught-off guard than ever before. Why would that be, when I have lived in Québec, then Ontario, for over eight years already? Why does the arrival of the first snowfall leave me feeling unprepared, threatened even? I cannot say. Better to live in this clime than in a nation to the south that is teetering now on the brink of fascism. And yet I do not feel entirely at home.

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11/9

I was in the dumps before the shit hit the fan. After the catastrophic events of Tuesday, I go on, mired in the same uncertainty as everyone, reading The Life of Tymon of Athens, Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great, consulting my preferred source of ultra-contemporary information and opinings (Twitter), wracked with doubts as to the goodwill of the American electorate.

I am luckier than some, nay, than so many, if not all. Though I’m American, I live in Canada, generally considered a more peaceful, tolerant nation (with many exceptions). I migrated here during the final years of the last Republican president, and I’ve remained here since that time, excepting the occasional visit. And yet my exile does nothing to allay the despair and inquietude I feel at the victory of such a malignant cad as this Donald Dump. Our feelings verge at times on despair.

Peace, to those who love it; and knowledge, knowledge, that the struggle goes on. Take heart, friends. Once more, unto the breach! – Hell and its minions are at the door.

“Of course there’s always the risk that you’ll like it, which is a little scary, because then you’ll want to read the others, and what you’re basically doing here is signing away a percentage of the rest of your life to this writer. I don’t know what exact percentage because I don’t know when you’re going to die, and neither do you.”

– by the same author, Jack Robinson, p. 3

October reading log

“The Fight,” “The Indian Jugglers” (c. 1820) – William Hazlitt

“The Last Days of Immanuel Kant” (1827) – Thomas De Quincey

“Modern Manufacture and Design” – John Ruskin

Because I Was Flesh (1961) – Edward Dahlberg

Orality and Literacy (1982) – Walter J. Ong

Nineteen Seventy Four (1998) – David Peace (abandoned)

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life & Times of Warren Zevon (2007) – Crystal Zevon et al. (skimmed)

The Novel: An Alternative History, vol. 1 (2010) – Steven Moore (in good progress)

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic (2015) – Sam Quinones (stalled)

Medieval Monsters (2015) – Damien Kempf & Maria L. Gilbert

“In Luria’s field work, requests for definitions of even the most concrete objects met with resistance. ‘Try to explain to me what a tree is.’ ‘Why should I? Everyone knows what a tree is, they don’t need me telling them’, replied one illiterate peasant, aged 22. Why define, when a real-life setting is infinitely more satisfactory than a definition? Basically, the peasant was right. There is no way to refute the world of primary orality. All you can do is walk away from it into literacy.”

– Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy, p. 53

“Early charters conveying land in England were originally not even dated, probably for a variety of reasons. Clanchy suggests that the most profound reason was probably that ‘dating required the scribe to express an opinion about his place in time,’ which demanded that he choose a point of reference. What point? Was he to locate this document by reference to the creation of the world? To the Crucifixion? To the birth of Christ? Popes dated documents this way, from Christ’s birth, but was it presumptuous to date a secular document as popes dated theirs? In high technology cultures today, everyone lives each day in a frame of abstract computed time enforced by millions of printed calendars, clocks, and watches. In twelfth-century England there were no clocks or watches or wall or desk calendars.”

– Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy, p. 96

“Texts can be felt to have intrinsic religious value: illiterates profit from rubbing the book on their foreheads, or from whirling prayer-wheels bearing texts they cannot read. Tibetan monks used to sit on the banks of streams ‘printing pages of charms and formulas on the surface of the water with woodcut blocks.'”

– Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy, p. 92

“It is demoralizing to remind oneself that there is no dictionary in the mind, that lexicographical apparatus is a very late accretion to language as language, that all languages have no help from writing at all, and that outside of relatively high-technology cultures most users of languages have always got along pretty well without any visual transformations whatsoever of vocal sound.”

– Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy, p. 14

Kant impatient for coffee

A third sign of his decaying faculties was, that he now lost all accurate measure of time. One minute, nay, without exaggeration, a much less space of time, stretched out in his apprehension of things to a wearisome duration. Of this I can give one rather amusing instance, which was of constant recurrence. At the beginning of the last year of his life, he fell into a custom of taking immediately after dinner a cup of coffee, especially on those days when it happened that I was of his party. And such was the importance he attached to this little pleasure, that he would even make a memorandum beforehand, in the blank-paper book I had given him, that on the next day I was to dine with him, and consequently that there was to be coffee. Sometimes it would happen, that the interest of conversation carried him past the time at which he felt the craving for it; and this I was not sorry to observe, as I feared that coffee, which he had never been accustomed to, might disturb his rest at night. But, if this did not happen, then commenced a scene of some interest. Coffee must be brought ‘upon the spot,’ (a word he had constantly in his mouth during his latter days,) ‘in a moment.’ And the expressions of his impatience, though from old habit still gentle, were so lively, and had so much of infantine naïveté about them, that none of us could forbear smiling. Knowing what would happen, I had taken care that all the preparations should be made beforehand; the coffee was ground; the water was boiling; and the very moment the word was given, his servant shot in like an arrow, and plunged the coffee into the water. All that remained, therefore, was to give it time to boil up. But this trifling delay seemed unendurable to Kant. All consolations were thrown away upon him: vary the formula as we might, he was never at a loss for a reply. If it was said—‘Dear Professor, the coffee will be brought up in a moment.’—’Will be!’ he would say, ‘but there’s the rub, that it only will be:

Man never is, but always to be blest.’

If another cried out—‘The coffee is coming immediately.’—‘Yes,’ he would retort, ‘and so is the next hour: and, by the way, it’s about that length of time that I have waited for it.’ Then he would collect himself with a stoical air, and say—‘Well, one can die after all: it is but dying; and in the next world, thank God! there is no drinking of coffee, and consequently no—waiting for it.’ Sometimes he would rise from his chair, open the door, and cry out with a feeble querulousness—‘Coffee! coffee!’ And when at length he heard the servant’s step upon the stairs, he would turn round to us, and, as joyfully as ever sailor from the mast-head, he would call out—‘Land, land! my dear friends, I see land.’

– Thomas De Quincey, “The Last Days of Immanuel Kant”, 1827

(Bravo to Adelaide University for their wonderful collection of public domain eBooks, including a rich De Quincey treasure-store. This reader finds it appalling that so much of Thomas De Quincey’s writing, among the finest in the English language, has remained long out of print. Certain of his more well-known texts like Confessions of an English Opium Eater and The English Mail Coach and The Vision of Sudden Death remain ever in print, but what’s lurking beneath? Alas, we dig on still, spurning this vulgar age.)

September reading log

Finding it hard to sustain any kind of regular reading routine these days. Same old story: family responsibilities, work, too many books I want to read, distracting me, many books commenced, dipped into, many threads scrambled and lost. But what thee lovest well remains.

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Tamburlaine (part 1) (1590) – Christopher Marlowe (struggling to read)

The Secret of the Old Clock (1930) – Carolyn Keene (a Nancy Drew book, reading with my daughter)

The Novel: An Alternative History, Vol. 1 (2010) – Steven Moore (started)

White-Out: The Secret Life of Heroin, A Memoir (2013) – Michael Clune

Here Are the Young Men (2014), This Is the Ritual (2016) – Rob Doyle

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montreal aerien

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img_8752groovy even  though no one not even us understands it

Le discours sur la tombe de l’idiot

Fly on over to Quebec Reads for a short translation from Julie Mazzieri’s Le discours sur la tombe de l’idiot that I did. It’s a bizarre and unsettling book, that’s for sure. Thanks to Peter McCambridge at Quebec Reads for publishing it and to Editions José Corti and the author, Julie Mazzieri, for granting permission to do so.

Pisces (Ekphrasis)

Quimper-postcard

A text fragment, composed as a caption to the above, can be read now at TXTOBJX. Composed first in French before being adapted to English, the text is one of a series of texts corresponding to fifteen postcards depicting scenes in and around the French village of Quimper.

I visited Quimper ever so briefly in the fall of 2004. Fine, fond memories. It was only years later, while living in Ottawa, that I came upon the postcard booklet at a used book sale. (Trigger flashback…)

P.S. TXTOBJX is seeking submissions, so why not write something short and wild and send it to them?

August reading log

Billy Budd, Sailor (1888/1924) – Hermann Melville

Classic American Graffiti (1934) – Allan Read

Because I Was Flesh (1961) – Edward Dahlberg (in very slow progress)

The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1966) – Carlo Ginzburg (trans. John & Anne Tedeschi, 1983)

Chanting at the Crystal Sea (in Frame Structures) – Susan Howe (reread)

On the Ceiling (1997) – Eric Chevillard (trans. Jordan Stump, 2000)

Les théories de Suzie (2015) – Eric Chevillard (a children’s book, with illustrations by Jean-François Martin)

Vestiges_02: Ennui (2016)

Cendres des hommes et des bulletins (2016) – Sergio Aquindo and Pierre Senges

Michel Butor has died. A sad day, but a triumphant life.

Use infelicitous words? perchance not

There are a great many gradations between words of everyday use and such as are not at all understood by the common people, and to the latter class may sometimes belong words which literary people would think familiar to everybody. Hyde Clark relates an anecdote of a clergyman who blamed a brother preacher for using the word felicity, “I do not think all your hearers understood it; I should say happiness.” “I can hardly think,” said the other, “that any one does not know what felicity means, and we will ask this ploughman near us. Come hither, my man! you have been at church and heard the sermon; you heard me speak of felicity; do you know what it means?” “Ees, sir!” “Well, what does felicity mean?” “Summut in the inside of a pig, but I can’t say altogether what.”

– In Growth and Structure of the English Language, by Otto Jespersen. Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1905. P. 98.

Lyly’s Euphuism, 1591: “O fair Cynthia…”

“O fair Cynthia, why do others term thee unconstant, whom I have ever found immovable? Injurious time, corrupt manners, unkind men, who finding a constancy not to be matched in my sweet mistress, have christened her with the name of wavering, waxing, and waning. Is she inconstant that keepeth a settled course, which since her first creation altereth not one minute in her moving? There is nothing thought more admirable, or commendable in the sea, than the ebbing and flowing; and shall the moon, from whom the sea taketh this virtue, be accounted fickle for increasing and decreasing? Flowers in their buds are nothing worth till they be blown; nor blossoms accounted till they be ripe fruit; and shall we then say they be changeable, for that they grow from seeds to leaves, from leaves to buds, from buds to their perfection? then, why be not twigs that become trees, children that become men, and mornings that grow to evenings, termed wavering, for that they continue not at one stay? Ay, but Cynthia being in her fulness decayeth, as not delighting in her greatest beauty, or withering when she should be most honoured. When malice cannot object anything, folly will; making that a vice which is the greatest virtue. What thing (my mistress excepted) being in the pride of her beauty, and latter minute of her age, that waxeth young again? Tell me, Eumenides, what is he that having a mistress of ripe years, and infinite virtues, great honours, and unspeakable beauty, but would wish that she might grow tender again? getting youth by years, and never-decaying beauty by time; whose fair face, neither the summer’s blaze can scorch, nor winter’s blast chap, nor the numbering of years breed altering of colours. Such is my sweet Cynthia, whom time cannot touch, because she is divine, nor will offend because she is delicate. O Cynthia, if thou “shouldest always continue at thy fulness, both gods and men would conspire to ravish thee. But thou, to abate the pride of our affections, dost detract from thy perfections; thinking it sufficient if once in a month we enjoy a glimpse of thy majesty; and then, to increase our griefs, thou dost decrease thy gleams; coming out of thy royal robes, wherewith thou dazzlest our eyes, down into thy swath clouts, beguiling our eyes; and then——”

From Endymion, by John Lyly. (Euphuism wasn’t so bad, now was it?)

Editing Typography (Faulkner)

Further to last week’s post on translating punctuation, here are some thoughts on respecting an author’s punctuation, from a typographer’s point of view — this time via Robert Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style, an extraordinary work, of interest to many more than just typographers.

Under a section titled Treat the punctuation as notation, not expression, most of the time, we read :

Now and again the typographer finds on his desk a manuscript in which the exclamation marks and question marks stand six or nine together. Certain words may be written in bold capitals and others may be underlined five times. If the page has been written by hand, the dashes may get longer, and the screamers (exclamations) may get taller as they go. With sufficient equipment and time, the typographer can actually come close to reproducing what he sees; he can even increase its dramatic intensity in any of several ways. Theatrical typography is a genre that flourished throughout most of the twentieth century, yet whose limits are still largely unexplored.

Most writing and typography nevertheless remain contentedly abstract, like a theater script or a musical score. The script of Macbeth does not need to be bloodstained and spattered with tears; it needs to be legible. And the score of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata does not need bolder notes to mark fortissimos nor fractured notes to mark the broken chords. The score is abstract code and not raw gesture. The typeset script or musical score is also a performance in its way — but only of the text. The score is silent so the pianist can play. The script can whisper while the actors roar.

William Faulkner, like most American novelists of his generation, typed his final drafts. Noel Polk, a literary scholar and specialist on Faulkner, has prepared new editions of these novels in recent years. He found that Faulkner usually typed three hyphens for a long dash and four or five dots for an ellipsis, but that once in a while he hammered away at the key, typing hyphens or dots a dozen or more in a row. Polk decided not to try to replicate Faulkner’s keyboard jigs exactly, but he did not want to edit them entirely away. He evolved the rule of converting two, three or four hyphens to an em dash, and five or more hyphens to a two-em dash. Anything up to six dots, he replaced with a standard ellipsis, and he called for seven dots wherever Faulkner had typed seven dots or more.

These are typographic decisions that other editors or typographers might have made in other ways. But the principle underlying them is sound. That principle is: punctuation is cold notation; it is not frustrated speech; it is typographic code.

Faulkner, we can presume, did not resort to bouts of extravagant punctuation because he was unable to express himself in words. He may, however, have been looking for some of the keys that the typewriter just doesn’t have. The typographer’s task is to know the vocabulary and grammar of typography, and to put them to meaningful use on Faulkner’s behalf.

– Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style, version 3.1, pp. 83-84 (Hartley & Marks, 2005)

I haue been only the procurer of mine own hurt

O how many have we seen in the court of princes, to whom it had been better for them that they had been no lordes of their will, & lesse of their desires, because sythens they did that they might & desired, begon to do that they ought not to do? If the man ye offendes vs ought to aske pardon, let euery man aske pardon to himself before any other, for in my life I found neuer none yt hurte me so muche as my self, I haue been only the procurer of mine own hurt. Who made me fall into pryde, but mine only presumpsion and fondnes? Who durste haue prisoned my sorowfull heart with enuye, but lacke of naturall gouernement? who durst haue inflamed myne inwardes with the fyer of yre, if it had not been my great impacience? what is the cause I am so great a gurmander, but that my bringyng vp was to delicate? what is the cause I haue not departed with my goodes to the poore and nedye, but the excessiue loue I had to my riches? who gaue leue to my flesh to rise against my folish desire, if my heart had not been fixed in voluptuous pleasures? O my soule, of all this domage & open faultes, to whom do you lay ye blame, but to myne owne sensualitie? Great folly it is, ye thefe beyng within the house, to seke for him without: euen so it is with vs a manifest faulte of experience, when seyng in vs the blame, and yet charge another with the occasion: by this we ought to perceiue that we shall neuer cease to complaine vntil the tyme we begyn to amende. Oh, howe often & many tymes hath vertue fought with the botome of our consciences, whiche stirred vs to be good, and our sensulitie resisted, whiche is vaine frowardnes, by the which battail folowed a darke corrupte judgement: but to conclude, we of oure selues as of our selues are very miserable.

Sunday and I am stricken with ennui. Thus this. Lines stolen from Antonio de Guevara’s A Looking Glass for the Court (a.k.a. A difpraife of the life of the Courtier, and a commendacion of the life of the husbandman, a second-degree translation of Menosprecio de corte y alabanza de aldea, 1539, Englished from the French translation of Anthony Alaygre by the “Vicar of Hell,” Sir Francis Bryan, 1548).

(Can some intrepid publisher publish this, please? (It would be nice to also see a translation of the never-before-Englished Arte de marear on the market, too. I’m not going to hold my breath.))