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Showing posts from April 2, 2023

In the mood for some Russians

  I’ve been in the mood for the Russians – and so thought it was time to re-read Notes from the Underground. So I looked up Peaver and Volokhonsky’s translation, and by the second sentence I knew exactly what Janet Malcolm was talking about when she said these translations were not awful, just bland – and thus worse than awful. The mouse-man says, in the (corrected)   Constance Garnett translation I read when I was a teen   – I am a sick man. I am a spiteful man. Peaver and Volokhonsky bobble the sentence, one of the great sentences, by turning it into: I am a wicked man. The Russian word is zloi. Other translators have used “angry”. That is a rather broad emotional term to start off with, without the bite of “spite”. The French translation by Bernard Kreise,   is “méchant”, which is mean or spiteful. Resa Von Schirnhofer, a friend of Nietzsche’s, reported in a memoir that she talked to Nietzsche about Dostoevsky in 1887, and he told her he had compared the French translation, L’

Fear of the People: a geneology of Macron's ultra-liberalism

  In Marie Helene Baylac’s aptly named “The Fear of the People, a history of the First Republic, 1848-1852, there is an account of one of those highly charged and very theatrical events that distinguish the 1848 revolution – which in spite of being the revolution of writers (Marx, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Sand, Hugo, and last but not least, Marie D’Agoult, whose history of that moment should be retranslated and introduced by some muckety muck for NYRB books – who will inevitably refer to D’Agoult as Franz Lizst’s lover and the mother of one Cosima, who married another famous composer, Richard Wagner) is not a revolution much loved by historians. A flop, they say. Such hopes, ending in Little Napoleon! The scene takes place at the Hotel de Ville, which is around 10 blocks from where I am typing this. To set the scene, Louis Phillipe, the last king of France, had fled, and a new republic had been proclaimed , at least in Paris. One of the notable figures in the provisional government was

Inactual observations, or how relevance nailed my ass

  In one of his notebooks from the 1880s, Nietzsche, who was re-reading his essay on the Use and disadvantage of history for life (the second of his Untimely Meditations – although I like inactual for unzeitgemassige), jotted down one of those lightning bolts “How little reason there is in being as old, and as reasonable, as Goethe!” It is one of those lines that deserves to be haloed with a laughter, something like Johnny Rotten’s guffaw in God Save the Queen. “Is there room in science for laughter?” Nietzsche had asked in The Gay Science – and tacitly, he put himself forward as the answer to that question. When one grows old – I am putting myself forward as that “one” – and one is as inclined to reason as a cow is to chew its fodder, it is good to remember how unreasonable it is to reason in the first place. It is good to remember that history serves, ultimately, life – and that the nexus between the two has never been satisfactorily resolved by either the mighty – Goethe – or the