vendredi 9 janvier 2015

Better to keep quiet and be thought a fool...

from the all-doubts-removed dept

I quite liked the Three Percent podcast in many ways: those guys served my mental model of conversation with a couple of smarty pants east coast literary types. Host Chad Post seems a knowledgeable guy, if slightly pressured in his speech; the lofty drawl of regular guest the bookseller Tom Roberge served in pleasant contrast to him—their chemistry is good. And their objective—of promoting the sale and reading of translated books in the US—is entirely honourable.

So it is with modest regret that I write this post (and hit unsubscribe), following my strict artistic rule that comments that I write for publication in situ "below the line" of a blogpost that do not get posted (for whatever reason) must be logged here.

Briefly, the setup: about 45 minutes into podcast #85, Chad and Tom start to discuss the translation of various English language titles that have been translated into French, and also French titles that have been translated into English. Unfortunately, in so doing, Tom Roberge revealed some rather basic ignorance of the French language, which, considering some of his claims in previous podcasts—to have been welcomed as an honorary member of "Oulipo" for example—are is plainly an embarrassment for all concerned.

Now, ignorance is not to be condemned wholesale—anyone that tussles regularly with the French language knows it's a tricky beast that's best not provoked—and we're all at where we're at in our knowledge of it.

But still, given the academic pretensions of the host, it seemed important to set the errors straight—to leave them unremarked would be to foster ignorance.

Turning to the comments to contest the matter, I found that someone called Marc had already beaten me to the correction of the most egregious errors—Chad and Tom had seemed unaware that the verb "tirer" does indeed mean "to fire [a shot]" as well as "to pull"; and that "personne" does indeed mean "nobody/no-one" as well as "person." As these matters can be resolved simply by consulting a dictionary, these are hardly worthy of further discussion. (Though obviously it would have been worth actually doing this before slagging off the translations in a podcast).

It is more challenging to consider the adequacy of "Whatever" as a translation for Michel Houellebecq's "Extension du domaine de la lutte," but emboldened by the evidently blank terrain that had opened before me, I wrote:
Wot Marc said.
And I would add Houellebecq's title "Extension du domaine de la lutte" is not so nonsensical as all that: "Lutte" (~struggle, but also wrestling (the sport), and political movement) is a common enough word in French. The protagonist's failure with women and incipient racism set up two areas of struggle in his life: what's not to translate?
It is understandable that a title along the lines of 'Expansion of the struggle into new areas'** was not felt to be a commercial proposition by the publisher. We can only surmise the editorial process that led to the choice of 'Whatever', but I sense loss (as in someone lost)—and mischief—all the way.

—**Maybe seek out some retro Trotskyist newsprint before committing to a precise phrase.
I just wrote the comment, clicked submit, and moved on. Someone was wrong on the internet, correction supplied, we've all learned something. But what is totally unacceptable to me (and it is for this reason that I have unsubscribed from the podcast) is that when I went back later to check the comments, I found that they've suppressed the comments altogether.

Fortunately the Disqus commenting system used makes it possible for me to reconstruct the discussion here. But how dishonest! If I have a bête noire online, it is sites that pretend to host comments, but then don't post the ones they don't like. Of course that is their right: but it's also contemptible, and I'll always call it out here.

Update 12:09h, 13/1/15. Both Chad and Tom have responded to this post on Twitter so I have Storify-ed the relevant tweets. (This was a good opportunity to play with Storify for the first time. Verdict: OK to meh). In setting up the comment in this post I mistakenly conflated two different Three Percent contributors in my own mind, Tom Roberge and Daniel Levin Becker. Becker is the Oulipo man, not Roberge. Sincere apologies for this error.

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