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Posts Tagged ‘translations’

Of Pimps and Pyknics

February 24, 2015 | by

Adventures in dictionaries.

Long_horned_european_wild_ox

An aurochs from The Wonderful Paleo Art of Heinrich Harder, 1920.

I.

In the novel by Patrick Modiano I’m translating, a bus stops at Cross Road in Bournemouth “devant un cottage pimpant,” and I had a feeling, somehow, that my first try, “in front of a pimpin’ little cottage,” was probably not right.

“Origin obscure,” says the Oxford English Dictionary about pimp. You can hear a titch more donnish vinegar in the etymology than the stolid lexicographers usually let show:

Generally thought to be in some way related to 16th century French pimper, vb., present participle pimpant alluring or seducing in outward appearance or dress…. French pimper is taken as ≈ Provençal pimpar, pipar, to render elegant. But these leave much to be explained in the history of the word before 1600.

Much to be explained indeed. Read More »

Divine Ordure

February 5, 2015 | by

A master class in hailing Satan.

cuadro felicien rops

An illustration by Félicien Rops for a bootleg edition of Là-Bas.

“The odor from those incense burners is unbearable … What do they burn that smells like that?”

“Asphalt from the street, leaves of henbane, datura, dried nightshade, and myrrh. These are perfumes delightful to Satan, our master.”

When J. K. Huysmans published Là-Bas (Down There) in 1891, it caused an immediate scandal in France. Huysmans serialized the novel in L’Écho de Paris, a newspaper; readers wrote in early and often to express their revulsion, threatening to cancel their subscriptions if the serialization was not halted posthaste. Not long afterward, when the book itself came out, it was banned from sale at railway kiosks, thus ensuring that it loomed all the larger in the public imagination. Controversy followed the book abroad, too—no one bothered to attempt an English translation for more than thirty years, and even then, the U.S. Society for the Suppression of Vice ruled that it was simply too immoral to see the light of day.

The outrage stemmed from the book’s frank depiction of Satanism—it culminates in a Black Mass, vividly described. Its protagonist, a novelist named Durtal, has pursued his interest in the occult to its logical conclusion, and he’s startled to learn that a thriving underworld persists in contemporary Paris. Huysmans conducted extensive research for the novel, basically embedding himself among a group of Satanists; he was disenchanted with ordinary life, and he wanted literature to present a thrilling alternative to quotidian reality. But he went too far. He grew so distressed by the darkness and evil in Là-Bas—and, perhaps, in his own soul; the novel’s subtitle is “A Journey into the Self”—that he came to regard it as a black book; he wrote a white book, En Route, to cancel its negative energy. (It’s sort of the same way that Prince, a century later, recorded Lovesexy to exorcize the demons of The Black Album.) Later in life, Huysmans converted to Catholicism. Read More »

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The Case of the Arabic Noirs

January 1, 2015 | by

We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

Cairo: the metal detector beeps. The security man wears a crisp white uniform. He nods and leans back in his chair. The lobby’s red oriental carpet, so worn it’s barely red, leads upstairs to the hotel tavern. Enter the glass doors, where a cat in a smart bow tie and vest reaches for a lonely bottle behind the bar. He takes his time; he’s been polishing glasses at the Windsor Hotel for thirty-eight years. Out the window, a motorcycle speeds through the dark alley. In 1893, this joint was ritzy—home to the royal baths, steps from the original Cairo Opera House. Tonight it’s dingy enough that Philip Marlowe might come here to tip a few back after clobbering some hoods. A fine joint in which to pore over pulp from the secondhand book market down the street.

It’s tempting to ponder the relevance of crime novels in contemporary Egypt. The 2011 revolution began on National Police Day as a revolt against the fuzz. When President Hosni Mubarak breezed off eighteen days later, the police dusted, too, leaving behind a Wild West. Gun sales skyrocketed, matched by holdups and carjackings. In the following two years, thugs ran Cairo’s streets. Ever since General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi ousted former President Mohammed Morsi last summer, the coppers have been back in full force. White uniformed police operate checkpoints littered throughout the capital like discarded Coke cans. Cabbies are so scared that they’ve started wearing seat belts. And now, as authorities attempt to restore law and order, the crime genre is making a comeback. Read More >>

The Death Instinct

December 12, 2014 | by

The autobiography of one of France’s most notorious criminals.

Jacques_Mesrine

Mesrine’s mugshot, 1973.

On the morning of November 2, 1979, a gold BMW pulled up behind a blue truck stopped at a stoplight in Porte de Clignancourt, in northern Paris. After a moment, a tarp covering the back of the truck opened to reveal four men with rifles. They opened fire in unison, blasting holes into the windshield. The man driving the BMW was hit fifteen times; the woman in the passenger seat was blinded and crippled by the attack. Her pet poodle died, too. And that was the end of Jacques Mesrine, France’s public enemy number one.

For nearly twenty years, Mesrine had humiliated the country’s judicial system with repeated high-profile bank robberies, murders, and daring prison escapes. But now the police had caught up to him. His bloodied corpse laid limp in his car, left out for the paparazzi. One of the officers tossed Mesrine’s wig, riddled with bullets, onto the car hood like roadkill into a dumpster. That last detail comes from one of the many YouTube videos you can watch of the shooting’s aftermath, waiting to be compared with Jean-François Richet’s 2008 two-part film Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One, both starring Vincent Cassel. And through the bullet holes of mythology, you can see in this tableau a bit of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, and a little bit of Jean-Paul Belmondo dying on the pavement, calling Jean Seberg a bitch.

This was a fitting death—and has been a fitting afterlife—for Mesrine. He was France’s most famous criminal not only because of his crimes but for the way he hot-wired the machinery of fame. While he was on the most-wanted list, he gave interviews and was photographed for the cover of Paris Match. Two years before his assassination, Mesrine wrote his autobiography, The Death Instinct, while incarcerated in the inescapable La Santé Prison, from which he later escaped. It was 1977, a bleak time for culture and politics: in England, it was “God Save the Queen,” with Johnny Rotten whinnying “no future” into recorded oblivion; in Germany, it was the Red Army Faction, their crimes, and their deaths in Stammheim Prison. For many in France, a few decades out of existentialism, the late seventies were a time of startling political conservatism, a time when the hopes of ’68 were being actively erased. It was this regime of erasure that Mesrine fought against, and that killed him two years later. Read More »

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The Lion Cage

December 4, 2014 | by

rilke in moscow 1928

Leonid Pasternak, Rilke in Moscow (detail), 1928.

Rainer Maria Rilke was born on this day in 1875. The below is excerpted from “The Lion Cage,” one in a series of Rilke translations by Stephen Mitchell in our Summer 1989 issue.

She paces back and forth around him, the lion, who is sick. Being sick doesn’t concern him and doesn’t diminish him; it just hems him in. The way he lies, his soft bent paws intentionless, his proud face heaped with a worn-out mane, his eyes no longer loaded, how is erected upon himself as a monument to his own sadness, just as he once (always beyond himself) was the exaggeration of his strength.

[…] But he just lets things happen, because the end hasn’t yet come, and he no longer exerts any energy and no longer takes part. Only far off, as though held away from himself, he paints with the soft paintbrush of his tail, again and again, a small, semicircular gesture of indescribable disdain. And this takes place so significantly that the lioness stops and looks over: troubled, aroused, expectant.

But then she begins her pacing again, the desperate, ridiculous pacing of the sentinel, which falls back into the same tracks, again and again. She paces and paces, and sometimes her distracted mask appears, round and full, crossed out by the bars.

She moves the way clocks move. And on her face, as on a clock dial which someone shines a light onto at night, a strange, briefly shown hour stands: a terrifying hour, in which someone dies.

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The Case of the Arabic Noirs

August 20, 2014 | by

2.Pocketbooks2

Pocket Novels: The Exile, J. Kessel, 1940. “A Novel of Human Untruths, about a Russian woman and her princesses, in exile, from the pen of the great French writer J. Kissel,” presumably the French novelist and journalist Joseph Kessel (1898-1979).

Pocket Novels: The Corpse, Georges Simenon, 1946. “A quirky police tale,” according to the inside. Many popular fiction books were messily translated and repackaged, without bothering to credit the original text, author, or publisher. The artist of this cover, for instance, is not credited.

3.PocketBooks3

Pocket Novels: Secret of Radium, Albert Dewar Nashton, 1943. “A police story of fantastic events written by the Briton, Albert Dewar Nashton.”

4.Agatha1

Charmer of Women, Agatha Christie, 1979 pocket book edition.

5.Agatha2

Mystery of a Woman, Agatha Christie, sold for thirty piasters, though undated.

6.Agatha3

Crime in Iraq, Agatha Christie, undated. (Arabic version of Murder in Mesopotamia, with a different title). Christie’s husband, an archaeologist, took her on digs across the Middle East and the scenes frequently appear in her prose.

7.floozy

Floozy from Paris, R. Leonard (French), artist: Gasoor. From the back cover: “In this book: The life of a French prostitute…” Undated; set in 1942.

8.Sherlock

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Devilish Dog, undated. A translation of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

9.Bond

Dr. No: The Adventures of James Bond, drawings by Shawky Matooly, 1989. Ian Fleming gets no acknowledgment in this pocket edition for young adults, complete with simple line drawings of action scenes.

10.fugitive

The Fugitive: Lust for Murder, Dr. Richard Campbell, undated.

11.malicious intent

Malicious Intent, Rashad Mohamed El-Essawy, undated. “Arabic stories from a new genre,” reads the inside cover.

12.Shackles

The Shackles of Sin, Georges Simenon, 1959. The backcover says the story is from the book, Four Days in a Lifetime, originally published in English in 1953.

13.Charade

Charade, Peter Stone, #346 in imprint/series “Novels of the World,” undated.

14.PolicemansDread

Policeman’s Dread, John Creasey, “Novels of the World” #399, undated. Creasey (1908-1973) wrote some six hundred books under twenty-eight different noms de plume; at one stage he wrote thirty to forty books annually. There were hundreds of books from the “Novels of the World” series and myriad copies are gathering dust in Cairo archives and bookstands.

15.Impossible Man

The Impossible Man: The Black River, Nabeel Farouk, undated, likely from the eighties. Inside cover reads: “Police stories for youths, replete with sensational events.”

Cairo: the metal detector beeps. The security man wears a crisp white uniform. He nods and leans back in his chair. The lobby’s red oriental carpet, so worn it’s barely red, leads upstairs to the hotel tavern. Enter the glass doors, where a cat in a smart bow tie and vest reaches for a lonely bottle behind the bar. He takes his time; he’s been polishing glasses at the Windsor Hotel for thirty-eight years. Out the window, a motorcycle speeds through the dark alley. In 1893, this joint was ritzy—home to the royal baths, steps from the original Cairo Opera House. Tonight it’s dingy enough that Philip Marlowe might come here to tip a few back after clobbering some hoods. A fine joint in which to pore over pulp from the secondhand book market down the street.

It’s tempting to ponder the relevance of crime novels in contemporary Egypt. The 2011 revolution began on National Police Day as a revolt against the fuzz. When President Hosni Mubarak breezed off eighteen days later, the police dusted, too, leaving behind a Wild West. Gun sales skyrocketed, matched by holdups and carjackings. In the following two years, thugs ran Cairo’s streets. Ever since General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi ousted former President Mohammed Morsi last summer, the coppers have been back in full force. White uniformed police operate checkpoints littered throughout the capital like discarded Coke cans. Cabbies are so scared that they’ve started wearing seat belts. And now, as authorities attempt to restore law and order, the crime genre is making a comeback. Read More »

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