Archive for January, 2017

Ricochet : word sonnets = sonnets d’un mot

Although the one-word sonnets are defended of being worthy of the name sonnet in the introduction I have some lingering doubts: sonnets have a great many rules, and here there’s only the rule of 14 words, one per line. Perhaps I’m the purist, who thinks that “le terme quatorzain, qui désigne de façon générale tout poème de quatorze vers, conviendrait mieux.” But no matter what you call these haiku-like intensely precise little poems, they’re quite good. The French translation is also outstanding. My favorites are “Sleep” (p. 58), “Substance Abuse” (p. 98) and “Anti-Semitism” (p. 112).

Seymour Mayne, Sabine Huynh (Translator) (2011). Ricochet : word sonnets = sonnets d’un mot. Freely available from http://www.oapen.org/search?identifier=515358.

★★★★

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Magnificent Borderline Puerility: The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is a terrific example of how a bunch of money-obsessed, vacuous, overall completely unsympathetic characters can still combine into an atmospheric, humorous, layered and meaningful piece of writing. Without the always present, borderline puerile ironic undertone this may well have been absolutely terrible. Minor spoilers follow.

Somehow I’d never read The Great Gatsby. Unfortunately it’s constantly and surprisingly ubiquitously referenced, and a few days ago an almost undoubtedly wrong, random Internet comment served as the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was claimed that in Gatsby’s library you could see he didn’t read his books because his bindings were intact. All that tells you is that a person is not an animal. What must’ve evidently been meant is that the pages were uncut, still held together in their signatures. To see an uncut book is a rarity these days, though I find that in my own century-old books often the first few pages remain uncut. In any event, my suspicions were quickly confirmed. Gatsby hadn’t cut his pages, but not a peep about the bindings.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Guy Reynolds (foreword) (2001). The Great Gatsby.

★★★★½

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Fix No gksu(do) Permissions Prompt on Gparted, Synaptic, Mounting Drives, Etc. in Debian

I run Debian Stretch (testing) as my daily driver, and at some point I stopped being able to start programs like start Synaptic, Gparted, Synaptic etc. without manually typing gksu(do). The solution is as simple as it is seemingly unnecessary and stupid:

sudo apt install policykit-1-gnome

The problem is apparent upon reading the description:

This implementation was originally designed for GNOME 2, but most
GNOME-based desktop environments, including GNOME 3, GNOME Flashback,
MATE and Cinnamon, have their own built-in PolicyKit agents and no
longer use this one. The remaining users of this implementation
are XFCE and Unity.

Reported as Debian bug #843224. My first?


D’oh, I wrote this on November 5, 2016. I’ll still publish it anyway in case it’ll still help someone searching for a solution.

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A Well-Deserved Classic: Van den vos Reynaerde

Van den vos Reynaerde has it all: deception, conflict, sarcasm, violence, (homosexual) innuendo, parody, and black humor. To top it off, it’s even featured on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum — the Papal seal of quality.

Our hero in this epic is Reynaert, a wily fox. Surrounded by nobility and other animals that are lustful, voracious, miserly, and greedy, the basic moral of the story is that you can only be deceived if you’re greedy. The narrator always hints at or even tells you what the result of the next part of the story will be, but it’s all about the how, not the what.

This particular edition is very good. The introduction tells about the various Reynaert stories across Europe, and much more; the text itself seems to have the perfect amount of footnotes to make dictionary use unnecessary, unless you want to know more about the etymology of a word. Generally, though not always, the footnotes call out attention to similar words in e.g. German and English, when clarifying certain words that are no longer in use. The commentary on the text in the back gives much background information on why even seemingly innocent descriptions might carry meaning.

However, I suppose that you might want to try one of the translations into Modern Dutch, even if you’re a native speaker of Dutch, unless Middle Dutch interests you. For that purpose I hope that there’s an edition that puts the original text and the translation side by side.

F. Lulofs (ed.) (2001). Van den Vos Reynaerde.

★★★★★

I originally wrote this review on Goodreads on January 15, 2012.

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Of Horology and Letters

The fashionable thing to do these days would probably be to write a graphic novel based on the epistolary contacts of the Huygens family. Heck, I’d read it. But Lisa Jardine shows that just plain good writing is more than enough to keep you glued to the pages in this page-turner essay collection about archival science. Yes, you read that right, and no, there’s no irony hidden between the lines. Download the open-access book right now (clickety-click) and read chapter 3: “Never Trust a Pirate: Christiaan Huygens’s Longitude Clocks.” You can thank me later.

The first and titular essay is perhaps the worst of the collection, which is not nearly as bad a thing as you might think. Consider, after all, that it was the first essay on which I based my decision to read the rest of the book. A bigger thematic outlier is the final essay, which essentially offers a theoretical framework. This book is a paragon of intimate yet in-depth, meticulously sourced writing. As a bonus you’re given all of the relevant transcriptions in appendices at the end. The only thing which I felt was somewhat lacking, if only in a footnote, was a discussion of the deeper intricacies of the languages used in letter writing. Obviously (courtly) French was in vogue at the time, and I know that you could show off your language skills and appropriate register, but I was still somewhat surprised to see that every quoted intra-familial letter seemed to be in French. To experts I suppose this is so self-evident that it’s not the least bit remarkable. One thing is clear after reading this volume: the North Sea was referred to as the Narrow Sea with reason. England and the Netherlands were closely linked indeed.

Lisa Jardine (2015), Temptation in the Archives. DOI: 10.14324/111.9781910634035.

★★★★½

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Multilingual Gezelle Reception in Gezelle vertaald

As something of a cultural edifice in Belgium and a highly regarded poet in the Netherlands, Guido Gezelle should need little introduction. Yet perhaps Gezelle’s dynamic, melodic lyrical poetry from the 1850s deserves more international recognition for being ahead of its time. Some people even go so far as to disparage literature in Dutch, by saying that “Dutch poetry, whether from Flanders or the Netherlands, has a stronger claim to international appreciation than Dutch-language prose” (source, including a nice selection of some translated poems by a variety of authors). For the relevant time period of the the late nineteenth, early twentieth century they are probably not wrong. I can barely stand many a prose classic written in the period of roughly the 1880s to the 1910s myself, although when you compare it to the tedium of a George Eliot or a Thomas Hardy I’d be hard-pressed to say it’s any worse. The real question is, I suppose, whether Dutch literature of the time has anything as wonderful as Henry James.

The Gezelle vertaald anthology brings together some of Gezelle’s pearls, presented in the original Dutch as well as various translations in the neighboring languages of English, German, French… and Latin. An unfortunate shortcoming of this anthology, certainly for an international audience, is that the rights to the English translations by Christine D’haen and Paul Claes could not be secured, but a sampling of those can be found here. Incidentally, a fairly exhaustive list of translations in other languages can be found here, although unfortunately Flash is required.

Following is a list of some of my favorite translations included in this work. Keep in mind that this is not the same thing as a list of my favorite poems in Dutch.

  • “Message des oiseaux” (Boodschap van de vogels), translated by Liliane Wouters, p. 38.
  • “Besuch am Grab” (Bezoek bij ‘t graf), translated by Wolfgang Cordan, p. 55. Oddly enough, I don’t care for this one in Dutch at all. I’m not sure why it works for me in German, but apparently the perhaps even more than usual overt religiosity is not the problem.
  • “Bien plus vaste que ma vue” (Hooger als mijn oogen dragen), translated by Jan Schepens, p. 59.
  • “Cor tuum si patet” (Als de ziele luistert), translated by H. Vroom, p. 61. Admittedly my knowledge of Latin is rudimentary at best, but in spite of what I perceive as a loss in meaning — which could be mine to blame — I enjoy the interaction between the meter and the sounds.
  • “Un vers courait dans ma prière” (Daar liep een dichtje in mijn gebed), translated by Jan Schepens, p. 62.
  • “Weißt du, wie die Winde werden?” (Weet gij waar de wind geboren), translated by Wolfgang Cordan, p. 63.
  • “Le nid de mésanges” (Het meezennestje), translated by Liliane Wouters, p. 74. The joy and soundplay of the original Dutch is wonderfully captured in the French translation by Liliane Wouters.
  • “Le rossignol” (Waar zit die heldere zanger, dien), translated by Liliane Wouters, p. 98. It’s starting to become apparent that I regard Liliane Wouters’ translations highly.
  • “Schnee” (Wintermuggen), translated by J. Decroos, p. 130. I might slightly prefer the German translation.

Tallying up, I would definitely recommend the translation by Liliane Wouters for speakers of French. I also quite enjoyed the selection of German translations by Jérôme Decroos, even though a few years ago I wasn’t particularly enchanted by his German translations of some of Hadewijch’s work in Niederländische Gedichte aus neun Jahrhunderten (1960, p. 43, 44 [Selections from songs 19 and 22]). In the following bibliography I’ll mark the translations I recommend based on my sampling in bold. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Johan Van Iseghem (ed.) (2003), Gezelle vertaald: een meertalige bloemlezing.

★★★★

Sources of the mentioned translations

  • Cordan, Wolfgang. Guido Gezelle. Rauschendes Ried. Eine Auswahl von Wolfgang Cordan. Oostende: Erel, 1973.
  • Decroos, J. Guido Gezelle. Ausgewählte Gedichte. Paderborn: Verlag der Bonifacius-Druckerei, 1938.
  • Schepens, Jan. Kleengedichtjes. Guido Gezelle. Petits poèmes, traduits par Jan Schepens. Oostende: Erel, 1973.
  • Vroom, H. Centum Carmina quae composuit Guido Gezelle. Latinus versibus reddidit Dr. H. Vroom. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1967.
  • Wouters, Liliane. Guido Gezelle. Un compagnon pour toutes les saisons. Choix, préface et traductions: Liliane Wouters. Editions Autres Temps & Liliane Wouters, 1999.

Other works mentioned

  • Claes, Paul and Christine D’haen.The Evening and the Rose. Poems translated from the Flemish by by Paul Claes and Christine D’haen, Antwerpen: Guido Gezellegenootschap, 1989. – 115 + [I] p., 22 x 13 cm.
  • Decroos, Jérôme. Niederländische Gedichte aus neun Jahrhunderten, Freiburg: Herder, 1960, 320 pp.

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