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Pete Atkin
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Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« : 08.09.04 at 16:58 »
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For anyone who can lay hands on a copy -- and it's unfailingly worth it if you can -- Clive has a piece about a new translation of Madame Bovary in the new (October) issue;  and a piece by him about Philip Roth is due in a forthcoming one.  
 
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #1: 08.09.04 at 23:30 »
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My wife Sonia is in Cambridge MA this week and can easily bring a few copies of the current issue home with her on Sunday.  Any orders?
 
You can get a taste of Clive's article at http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/prem/200410/james
 
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #2: 11.09.04 at 20:31 »
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Asked about Atlantic Monthly in the Cambridge branch of Borders - they do get it in although none were on the shelf today. Presume other branches also stock it.
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #3: 11.09.04 at 20:32 »
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Oops.  That's Cambridge as in May Week was in June, not Cambridge MA...
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Murray McGlew
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #4: 13.09.04 at 05:52 »
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I was really enjoying that article until my free sample ran out. One day I'll get a credit card and subscribe to a few of these online magazines.
 
The book itself has long been on my list of things to read.  In translation obviously. Sadly, my entire knowledge of French comes from the numerous phrases peppered through P G Wodehouse's books, and it goes without saying that I can't pronounce them, let alone know what most of them mean.
 
The few books I have read in translation have always seemed to drag a bit, except for "All Quiet on the Western Front" which I couldn't put down. I always wondered why that should be different, and Clive explained it rather well (early in the article as luck would have it.)
 
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #5: 13.09.04 at 10:33 »
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Murray wrote:
 
<<The book itself has long been on my list of things to read.  In translation obviously. Sadly, my entire knowledge of French comes from the numerous phrases peppered through P G Wodehouse's books, and it goes without saying that I can't pronounce them, let alone know what most of them mean. >>
 
There's a joke in one of P.G. Wodehouse's novels where Bertie is in the garden with the dreadful Madeleine Basset, discussing Gussie Fink-Nottle. Bertie says "A sensitive plant, what?" to which Madeleine replies "Oh, Bertie! You know your Shelley". His reply was "Oh! Am I? When I got hold of the French translation of the complete Jeeves, I was curious to see how this was translated; In fact, Bertie's reply became:"Ah, bon?", which confirms what I've always felt about reading novels or poetry in translation: don't bother, you'll miss 75% of it.  
 
Ian C
 
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Pete Atkin
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #6: 13.09.04 at 12:38 »
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As he so often does, Clive turns what's at first glance a book review into an essay that encapsulates a much larger subject, in this case the whole problem of translation.  
 
It is worth reading a translation of "Madame Bovary" (though maybe not this new one) but, as with everything, don't allow yourself to think for a moment that your experience is a full one, any more than a recording of a great piece of music (I exclude rock and roll, where the recording is often the primary medium), or a reproduction of a great work of art, or a reading of a play, for instance, is capable of giving you the full experience.  They can give an indication, and sometimes a very good one, but they will always come up short, and that should always be allowed for.
 
Pete
 
PS -- Clive also makes an incidental statement towards the end of his piece which made me catch my metaphorical breath, perhaps because I fear he may be right:  that we have lost forever 'the once universal assumption among the literate that their time at university was merely the beginning of an education that would last for the rest of their lives'.
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #7: 15.09.04 at 05:47 »
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Well Clive has certainly set an example (of continuing his education post-uni) and I have to give him some credit for my own, painfully slow, exploration of "art". Getting into classical music late in life, for example, was confusing. Confronted with shops full of CDs containing different versions of many works by hundreds of composers, I started out the easy way with "best-of" albums, but occasionally take a punt on a work, or version of a work, that I have picked up from one of Clive's books.
 
The same applies with books and poets. The first I have heard about some of them is in "From the Land of Shadows" or his other books containing literary criticism.
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #8: 15.09.04 at 16:52 »
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on 13.09.04 at 12:38, Pete Atkin wrote:

...don't allow yourself to think for a moment that your experience is a full one, any more than a recording of a great piece of music (I exclude rock and roll, where the recording is often the primary medium)...

 
This is debatable. I find Glenn Gould's ideas about the advantages of recorded music over the live version quite convincing. In particular, the control over apsects of performance that modern technology might give a listener. How often I listen to modern renditions of Bach and want to reach for an invisible knob that will tell the performers: "slow down a bit, won't you?"
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Pete Atkin
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #9: 16.09.04 at 11:16 »
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Don't get me wrong, I'm not dismissing the value of recorded music, and certainly not recorded 'classical' music, any more than I'm dismissing the enormous value of translations and reproductions in any form, but Glenn Gould is an entirely exceptional case.   His views are based on his own feelings about playing and recording.  I'd be willing to bet that like many musicians, he listened to very little music himself, and I'd be astonished if he of all people listened to his own recordings at all after he'd left the studio, and maybe not even there.
 
The difference between listening to a recording and hearing a live performance may not be of the same order as the difference between reading a novel in translation or in the original language, but there's no doubt in my mind that they are quite different kinds of experience.   Personally, I find that hearing a live performance, even a flawed one, is often -- even usually -- far more involving and revealing than the best recording.  (The chances of getting to hear some of my favourite recorded music performed live are in many cases close to non-existent, which is, of course, another of the big plusses of recordings.   It's one of the sad and strange paradoxes of the 'classical' music world that less commonly performed works often sell well on CD, but put them on a concert programme and hardly anyone will turn up.)
 
A 'classical' music recording engineer once complained bitterly to me about 'hi-fi buffs' (the kind of people who in his words "put up with the music in order to listen to the recording, rather than putting up with the recording in order to listen to the music.").   He insisted that no matter how superb the recording "it's only ever a reproduction".   Not true at all of lots, maybe even most, of rock music.   That's a technical response, of course, but for me the difference is more to do with 'live-ness', and a sense of participating in something that's happening only there and then.   You may get something of that sense the first time you listen to a CD, but it's dissipated with each subsequent listen -- an effect that's directly proportional to the importance of spontaneity in the performance, as in jazz, for example.  But still we wouldn't want not to have the recordings, would we?
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #10: 16.09.04 at 15:38 »
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on 16.09.04 at 11:16, Pete Atkin wrote:
That's a technical response, of course, but for me the difference is more to do with 'live-ness', and a sense of participating in something that's happening only there and then. You may get something of that sense the first time you listen to a CD, but it's dissipated with each subsequent listen -- an effect that's directly proportional to the importance of spontaneity in the performance, as in jazz, for example.

 
Interesting point about the 'live-ness' of listening to a CD for the first time.
I'm currently catching up on some Richard-Thompson-related music I didn't hear at the time it was released, and it's so good I've got to play it and play it. So I'm going through exactly these changes. As I do when I periodically hammer my Pete Atkin albums.  
 
After a while my curiosity over the nuances of phrasing and emphasis in the performance turns to frustration - at which point I feel the urge to submit opinionated guff to Midnight Voices...
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #11: 16.09.04 at 18:23 »
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I have not read Clive's article, and don't know what his criticism is precisely. A translation is by definition, of course, at at least one remove from the original. Translating older works, even something as relatively recent as Madame Bovary, is fraught with difficulty. In the case of Flaubert, it is especially irksome as dear ol' Gustave attached more importance than most to the sound of his prose (he used to declaim it in what he called his "gueuloir". Turning the novel into English changes the sounds as well as only approximating to the semantics of 19th-century French. This is one of the problems in translating poetry: you may get close to the basic meaning but you'll never reproduce the poetry of the original. You might produce another kind of poetry, however, and this is often what happens when poets translate other poets. Perhaps the best translations transform completely, using the original as a starting-point. Take Yeats's "When you are old and grey and full of sleep," the first line of which is to my mind a perfect (but not literal) rendering of Ronsard's "Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, a la chandelle." The ending of Yeats's piece is startlingly different to that of Ronsard. When Glyn Burgess and I set out to translate The _Lais_ of Marie de France for Penguin Classics (still in print, so get yours while supplies last), we made no effort to reproduce the octosyllabic rhyming couplets and went for plain prose, purposely somewhat archaic. The translations are still good yarns, but they're not the real thing.
 
And as for translating Wodehouse, try "If not exactly disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled."
 
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #12: 17.09.04 at 09:49 »
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Some translations I have always admired are the Axterix comic books (how's THAT for coming out of the closet). Because a lot of the jokes are puns (in English) I presume that much of the dialogue is re-written completely rather than translated, but it still fits in with the plot and the pictures.
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #13: 17.09.04 at 09:54 »
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The ultimate example of that process might be Eric Thompson's magnificent The Magic Roundabout dubs.
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #14: 17.09.04 at 10:21 »
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I must say, I think poetry, if it's of any value, almost completely resists translation in the conventional sense.  As Keith suggests, you can translate ballads or epic poetry for the narrative (though I don't envy him the task of translating Old French, which must extraordinarily difficult), but you inevitably lose most of what constitutes the poetry.  
 
This links to the Eliot quote that Jan laid before us a while back (apparently stunning us into silence). I'm not sure I buy the full thrust of Eliot's argument but he's surely right to imply that the denotive 'meaning' of a poem is generally only a small part of its workings.  Dragging this back on topic before I have to moderate myself, the Eliot quote also reminded me of the quote from Peter Porter on the back of 'The Book of My Enemy': 'Clive James is a true poet.  Line after line of his has a characteristic personal tone, a kind of end-stopped singingness which is almost independent of what it says.'   Imagine trying to translate CJ's tone of voice, even in his prose, into another language.  I'd be interested to see one of the translations of his novels or memoirs....
 
Regards
 
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #15: 19.09.04 at 20:46 »
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Murray wrote:
 
<<Some translations I have always admired are the Axterix comic books (how's THAT for coming out of the closet). Because a lot of the jokes are puns (in English) I presume that much of the dialogue is re-written completely rather than translated, but it still fits in with the plot and the pictures.  >>
 
By a charming coincidence there was an interview in "Le Parisien" this week with the chap who has just written the latest Lucky Luke comic. Lucky Luke is just about as big here in France as Asterix. The chap said that he'd done something his predecessor had steadfastly refused to do i.e. put in a few puns. The predecessor was afraid that they wouldn't be translated properly.
 
Asterix contains a lot of caricatures of well-known French personalities (I mean well-known in France) which can't mean much to non-Frenchmen.  
 
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Pete Atkin
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Re: Clive in The Atlantic Monthly
« Reply #16: 15.10.04 at 11:47 »
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This should probably be a new thread, but not wanting to clutter things up too much . . .
 
The November 2004 edition of The Atlantic Monthly includes a piece by Clive about Philip Roth and his new book . . .
 
and there's a new poem in the October 18 issue of the New Yorker.
 
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