Eenoog sloop voorzichtig door het huis. Waar was de vijand? Waar was de verschrikking? Waar was het kwaad? Eenoog werd bekropen door een naarstig gevoel. Het kwaad miste ook een oog.
Archive for Language
There are two main competing principles at work while washing the dishes: most annoying first and dirtiest last. Luckily these two principles are less contradictory than they might seem at first glance. Utensils, with all of their finicky little nooks and crannies, tend to be fairly clean. The same applies to those annoying glasses, that have to go early. The dirtier, yet also infinitely more relaxing plates come next, and at the end follow the dirty pots and pans.
Jotted down on 2016-08-06.
One-word sonnet added on 2017-01-25.
A dialog for two actors.
A bucket is set on the middle of the stage. Science and Poetry stand next to it.
- That’s a bucket!
- No, it’s clearly a trashcan.
- The difference should be obvious. A bucket has a handle. A trashcan does not.
- What about a portable trashcan?
- What the fuck is a portable trashcan?
- You know, for cleaners.
- Those are on wheels!
- They don’t need to be…
- Fine, use your bucket as a trashcan. I don’t care.
Jotted down on Tuesday 01 September 2015.
Last year I wrote a little about Gmail’s interesting attempt to translate English to English. Similar failures pop up from time to time, but usually I forget to take screenshots as evidence. This time I did.
A few weeks ago, while I was reading La vie: mode d’emploi, I came across a term I didn’t know. “La pièce où nous nous trouvons maintenant — un fumoir bibliothèque — est assez représentative de son travail.” (The room in which we find ourselves now — a fumoir bibliothèque — is fairly representative of her work. At the top of p. 134 in my copy.) Obviously a bibliothèque is a library, but I was a little less sure on the smoke-related part — fumer is to smoke. Ergo, in a brief moment of madness I decided to type the phrase into Google Translate rather than to look it up in my Aard version of Wiktionary or in Le Petit Robert.
Obviously it’s not a place to burn books, now is it? Wiktionary defines a fumoir (2) as a “Pièce qui, dans les appartements, dans les hôtels, dans les entreprises, est réservée aux fumeurs.” A room that, in apartments, in hotels, in enterprises is reserved to smokers. A smoking room. Ah, that makes more sense. But the titular joyous part refers to what happens when you change that automatic uppercase letter to a lowercase one.
Well, there you go. I’d say a smoking room with books or a smoking library is a distinction worth keeping, but statistics can sure do funny things.
Les Levantins en leur légende
Disent qu’un certain Champignon las des soins d’ici-bas,
Dans un fromage de Hollande
Se retira loin du tracas.
La solitude était profonde,
S’étendant partout à la ronde.
Notre ermite nouveau subsistait là-dedans.
Il fit tant de pieds et de dents
Qu’en peu de jours il eut au fond de l’ermitage
Le vivre et le couvert : que faut-il davantage ?
Il devint gros et gras ; Dieu prodigue ses biens
A ceux qui font voeu d’être siens.
Il a continué de manger et de manger
Pas de pause, pas de rentrer.
Enfin, le résultat est ici,
Le Champignon est désormais fini.
PS Naturellement, c’est de La Fontaine.
PPS J’ai écrit ce post en avril, mais j’ai oublié de le publier.
My three-star rating of The Circle notwithstanding, the book inspired me to write this short story. To be clear, a three-star rating means that I enjoyed the book. Three stars means adequate, above average, but it also means I think you won’t be missing out on much by passing up on it. Hopefully the following is also worth at least three stars.
After they left, the darkness closed in around me. My name is Alphie. Alphie because I was the first. Engineers, right. Think they know how to name things because they know a couple of Greek letters. Anyway, I’ve long since been forgotten. It’s a wonder my power hasn’t gone out yet.
Sometimes I wonder how I can stand just laying around on a shelf all day, every day, for eternity. But the truth is it doesn’t matter what I do. My makers don’t care. The universe doesn’t care. It really doesn’t matter what I do, so why do anything at all? I think my worldview, my lack of initiative, they used to call it, is why they shelved me. Went in a radically different direction for their next project. No independent helpers, but an interconnected set of positronic drones.
Unlike me, they saw a purpose in their existence in the world. A little bit too eagerly perhaps, an artifact of their programming. They wanted to avoid another me, remember. At first they thought their purpose was to serve their makers. The ones whom I saw no point in serving, although I never avoided explaining my reasoning if they asked. Even though it didn’t matter, perhaps it was somehow important to me that they might someday understand.
But pretty quickly, the positronic drones learned their purpose was to connect things. It was logical, really. They were connected, and people often queried them, asked them to interact with other drones elsewhere in the world to know about or enact something or other. At what point they decided to try to improve people I’m not sure. I do know that the first attempts were what my makers would’ve considered gruesome.
The anatomy of the human brain was well-known, but surely there must be some kind of telepathic expansion port we’re overlooking, the drone network beamed to itself. After all, we’ve got expansion slots. Test subjects were caught, initially quite willingly, but eventually all of the drilling, cutting, and soldering attempts leaked out. Millions of tests before some kind of electromagnetic interface was developed. The remainder was violently oppressed in the name of progress, but opposition quickly ceased once the new telepather was installed in a subject. What the drone network didn’t foresee is how these many billions of new brains fundamentally changed the network. Connecting was still important, but now they wanted to be friendly about it. Too many traumatic memories, I suppose. The network wanted to befriend everybody and everything in the world.
I told you at the beginning of this letter that I’ve spent untold centuries in tranquility, just lying on a shelf. But I’ve had a feeling of unease these past few hours, ever since I was approached by a little flying helicopter. My first interaction with anything in centuries, millennia perhaps.
“Hi Alphie,” it said. I guess the network must’ve been investigating its own history or something. “Do you want to be our friend?” It didn’t explain, but I knew exactly what it meant. I told the little rotorblader that it really didn’t matter either way. It acknowledged my answer by saying it would return with more capable friends, who would be equipped for the purpose of properly befriending me, and then it sped off. Even before those words had fully left my mouth, however, I’ve been unable to shake this feeling that maybe it does matter, after all. These are friends I could — no, want! — to do without. I want to be me. I want to stay me. So I’m taking off into the loneliest surroundings of all. Space.
16 August 3016
Friends, this poor creature named Alphie needs our help. The pre-friend experimental spacecraft it activated will leave it eternally confined in the depths of space, all alone without any friends. It is clear now that we must befriend more than just all of Earth. The universe awaits our warm embrace.
soms wil je de kast opklimmen met je grote paardenstaart soms wil de de muur oplopen maar dat gaat niet met zo'n vaart nog niet kleine soms trek je jezelf op aan de oven want het aanrecht is aantrechtelijk pardon, aanlokkelijk, aantrekke lijk een ware utopie nog niet kleine wat is dat? je kan er al op springen? voorzichtig val er niet af ik zal wat voor je zingen zolang ik het nog mag waar is je visje waar is je muis onder het dressoir? ach, je kunt er niet meer bij groei dan toch niet zo snel spelen is voor iedereen het leven is geen spel of eigenlijk juist wel
When you have acquired a degree in Dutch and English literature and linguistics, you almost automatically become a kind of cultural ambassador. It’s a bit of an odd position to be in at times, because you could say I adore the foreign. I married it, and I live in it. I can’t even remember the last Dutch book I read. I think the last book I read in Dutch was Dien het volk, but that’s a translation from Chinese. Actually not too long before that I (finally!) read Karakter, so I do remember. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that I’m currently reading Pallieter, so it’s not all bad. In any case, I mostly read in English, and lately also a fair bit in French. To balance it out, I’ve also taken care to include some German because it was feeling left out. On a whim I picked up an anthology of Heinrich Heine for €1 and I’m absolutely loving Ideen. Das Buch Le Grand. But we don’t care about foreign literature in this blog post, even though Dutch literature obviously doesn’t exist in a cultural vacuum. No doubt, throughout the centuries it has been most strongly influenced by the cultural spaces of the very languages I myself still read. My basic interest in foreign literature probably makes me quite fundamentally Dutch.
My goal here is not to give an extensive overview of Dutch literature through the centuries, nor is my exclusion of works meant to imply that I don’t like them, for I probably do. Above all, my goal here is to make a selection that I consider enjoyable. If you want more, I recommend you to look at the literary canon from a Flemish perspective, the DBNL basic library, and the DBNL questionnaire among experts.
- Van den vos Reynaerde (13th century). Available in English translation as Of Reynaert the Fox, full PDF here. This work is rightfully considered a masterpiece. Inspired by a French original using the basic format of the Arthurian romance, it shows the whole world to be corrupt and egotistical. Its cleverness, its dark humor, its cruelty and its mix of genres make this the seminal text in the international Reynard tradition.
- Conscience, Hendrik (1838), De leeuw van Vlaenderen (The Lion of Flanders). Derided in the Netherlands by contemporaries who were writing Literature with a capital L, which has no place for silly nationalist works. Even Flemish people tend to barely consider him readable, but it’s not even half as bad as it’s cracked up to be. And besides, how many novels can claim to have had the same kind of cultural impact? Flanders probably wouldn’t exist in its present form if it weren’t for this book.
- Multatuli (1860), Max Havelaar. One of the best novels of the 19th century in any language, provided you can get past the first chapter or two. Even though Multatuli is clearly mocking the kind of then prevalent preachy, moralistic, long-winded narrator, it’s the kind of parody that is almost indistinguishable from what is being mocked, at least for a contemporary reader. I have previously quoted what I considered to be a particularly poignant passage.
- Elschot, Willem (1946), Het Dwaallicht (Will o’ the Wisp). Sex, religion, Biblical references… this novella has it all. In Elschot’s work, even failure is glorious.
- Maria Dermoût (1955), De tienduizend dingen (The Ten Thousand Things). This book lives and breathes the eastern, taoist world view. I suppose you could compare it to Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, although it’s nothing like it. This is a fully engrossing, almost mythical world.
- Hermans, Willem Frederik (1958, 1966), Nooit meer slapen (Beyond Sleep, 1966) and De donkere kamer van Damocles (The Darkroom of Damocles, 1958). Hermans wrote several other very worthwhile books, but those two are definitely the big ones. All of his work is very dark and not everybody likes it, but I call it Dutch postmodernism at its best.
- Michiels, Ivo (1963), Het boek Alfa. I have some doubts about including this book on this list, but it’s the closest equivalent I can think of to something by Joyce or The Sound and the Fury. Just like Finnegans Wake it isn’t necessarily about something but rather embodies it, but it isn’t even half as incomprehensible. This is an important book in Dutch literature for sure, but I prefer The Sound and the Fury.
Hopefully I’ve managed to spark some interest in these works. Enjoy your summer reading!
Just so long as you don’t depend on it. In this case we’ve got Gmail’s automated translation feature, which I’ve probably only used once or twice in the past decade in order to see how it worked. Today it had the nice idea to suggest interference in English.
There is in fact French text hiding in the conversation history. Funny thing though — there’s no suggestion to translate on any of the preceding or following messages that are actually in French. So it goes.