Julien Leyre on translation

29 Dec

Much of continental philosophy actually grows in the gap between Greek semantic and conceptual structure and those of modern European languages. One of the most original and stimulating books I ever read on language is a little-known opus by Italian Professor Lo Piparo, and consists entirely of proposing an alternative translation of a short passage by Aristotle on language, then expanding as commentary the basic assumptions that led to that new translation.

Translation is a radical alternative to debating. In debate, thinking happens collectively, and the debating tradition acknowledges this phenomenon. It relies on the presence of an intellectual opponent – past, present or imaginary – and offers ideas in the form of a contention. Fresh, original thought emerges dialogically between competing contenders. Translation follows a different model, and obeys a different set of values: here, the translator-interpreter is a mediator between an author and an external reader, whose worldviews are assumed to be different. Translators bring across foreign or forgotten thoughts within the conceptual world of their audience.

For all its diplomatic underpinnings, translation is a fantastic bullshit detector. Abstract bureaucratese, vapid thought, loose constructions based on cloud-like associations of words, or sheer ‘sound-good’ rhetorics dissolve under the harsh acid of translation. Translation is the great enemy of sophistry, because sophistry, fake reasonings and paralogics, are often harder to translate, but also because sophistry goes against the core ethics of translation.

Translation is a school of honesty and humility for the mind. It teaches how difficult and resistant language is to the feeling of intellectual power that we may have – and forces us to acknowledge the resistance of the real. A good translation is judged on two criteria: how faithful and generous it is to the original, and how well it fits within the shape of its host language. The two, however, are inseparable in their material expression. The task brings translators a special benefit. By challenging our own inherited, sclerotic intellectual constructs embodied in lazy language, translation forces us to stretch our brains, because foreign ideas don’t spontaneously fit within the shape of our own clichés.

Translation is a remarkable writing exercise. Translators are directly confronted with the resistance of language. Different grammar systems or bodies of vocabulary will not allow an idea to simply come across on its own.

Translation also teaches us how much can – and unfortunately sometimes does – get lost in the process: ideas have to be pared down, folded over, flattened, in order to translate easily. In this regard, translation teaches us to listen and read better.


  • Julien Leyre

Henry Fielding, “Tom Jones”

19 Dec

IT is possible, however, that Mr. Allworthy saw enough to render him a little uneasy; for we are not always to conclude that a wise man is not hurt, because he doth not cry out and lament himself, like those of a childish or effeminate temper. But indeed it is possible he might see some faults in the captain without any uneasiness at all; for men of true wisdom and goodness are contented to take persons and things as they are, without complaining of their imperfections, or attempting to amend them. They can see a fault in a friend, a relation, or an acquaintance, without ever mentioning it to the parties themselves, or to any others; and this often without lessening their affection. Indeed, unless great discernment be tempered with this overlooking disposition, we ought never to contract friendship but with a degree of folly which we can deceive: for I hope my friends will pardon me when I declare, I know none of them without a fault; and I should be sorry if I could imagine I had any friend who could not see mine. Forgiveness of this kind we give and demand in turn. It is an exercise of friendship, and perhaps none of the least pleasant. And this forgiveness we must bestow, without desire of amendment. There is, perhaps no surer mark of folly, than an attempt to correct the natural infirmities of those we love. The finest composition of human nature, as well as the finest china, may have a flaw in it; and this, I am afraid, in either case, is equally incurable; though, nevertheless, the pattern may remain of the highest value.


19 Dec


音速 / 商禽

17 Dec

音速 / 商禽



一九八七年八月二十八日 中和

Brian Turner: Elegy for Peter Hooper

17 Dec


(novelist, poet, teacher, environmentalist)


A grey day in Greymouth and a gathering of people

most of whom I’ve never met and won’t again.

There’s scripture, hymns, eulogies and that undeniable

finality that never fails to reduce me to tears.


Time alone will fill the spaces your going’s opened up

like evening shadows stealing into the valleys

of the Grey and the Arahura that you knew and loved.

I’d like to think Westland’s laureate will one day


receive his due but doubt it, for writing that conveyed

a love of place, respect for people and other creatures,

and an unwavering faith in the force of patient instruction

has never been sexy in a land where cultural cringing’s


enduring. Add to that work which celebrated natural beauty,

advocated continuance and expressed a desire for peace,

and you were always going to be swimming against the tide.

Peter, with your calming goodwill, you were that rare


sort of man we call decent if not saintly. At your service

I was awash with memories and regrets

while up and down the Coast and over the mountains

a raw wind blew, and bells tolled wherever I turned.


Shingle ground on the shore like pebbles in a crop

and the wind off the Tasman badgered the flax

at the top of the beach where you gathered wood often.

Offshore, pickets of rain were driving into a slowly


heaving grey sea. I know you hoped for a longer life

in your green-painted wooden house

on the edge of the forest a kilometre or more

inland at Paroa, a stream talking constantly


within metres of your backdoor. Instead a friend

found you dead several days on the floor

under your bed, and it all seemed tragic and unfair,

the stingy absence of dignity or justice that fate


decreed for you. Now, asking Where to go from here?

and What more could I have done? – the one a puzzle,

the other futile – I think of the people who admired and maybe

even loved you, too, and never told you so because we seldom do.


  • from Taking Off (2001)


17 Dec
































Moral Complexity in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment

22 Jan
                            Chapter Seven                                   
  THE SAME day, about seven o'clock in the evening, Raskolnikov was on      
his way to his mother's and sister's lodging- the lodging in                
Bakaleyev's house which Razumihin had found for them. The stairs            
went up from the street. Raskolnikov walked with lagging steps, as          
though still hesitating whether to go or not. But nothing would have        
turned him back: his decision was taken.                                    
  "Besides, it doesn't matter, they still know nothing," he thought,        
"and they are used to thinking of me as eccentric."                         
  He was appallingly dressed: his clothes torn and dirty, soaked            
with a night's rain. His face was almost distorted from fatigue,            
exposure, the inward conflict that had lasted for twenty-four hours.        
He had spent all the previous night alone, God knows where. But anyway      
he had reached a decision.                                                  
  He knocked at the door which was opened by his mother. Dounia was         
not at home. Even the servant happened to be out. At first Pulcheria        
Alexandrovna was speechless with joy and surprise; then she took him        
by the hand and drew him into the room.                                     
  "Here you are!" she began, faltering with joy. "Don't be angry            
with me, Rodya, for welcoming you so foolishly with tears: I am             
laughing not crying. Did you think I was crying? No, I am delighted,        
but I've got into such a stupid habit of shedding tears. I've been          
like that ever since your father's death. I cry for anything. Sit           
down, dear boy, you must be tired; I see you are. Ah, how muddy you         
  "I was in the rain yesterday, mother...." Raskolnikov began.              
  "No, no," Pulcheria Alexandrovna hurriedly interrupted, "you thought      
I was going to cross-question you in the womanish way I used to; don't      
be anxious, I understand, I understand it all: now I've learned the         
ways here an truly I see for myself that they are better. I've made up      
my mind once for all: how could I understand your plans and expect you      
to give an account of them? God knows what concerns and plans you           
may have, or what ideas you are hatching; so it's not for me to keep        
nudging your elbow, asking you what you are thinking about. But, my         
goodness! why am I running to and fro as though I were crazy...? I          
am reading your article in the magazine for the third time, Rodya.          
Dmitri Prokofitch brought it to me. Directly I saw it I cried out to        
myself, there, foolish one, I thought, that's what he is busy about;        
that's the solution of the mystery! Learned people are always like          
that. He may have some new ideas in his head just now; he is                
thinking them over and I worry him and upset him. I read it, my             
dear, and of course there was a great deal I did not understand; but        
that's only natural- how should I?"                                         
  "Show me, mother."                                                        
  Raskolnikov took the magazine and glanced at his article.                 
Incongruous as it was with his mood and his circumstances, he felt          
that strange and bitter sweet sensation that every author                   
experiences the first time he sees himself in print; besides, he was        
only twenty-three. It lasted only a moment. After reading a few             
lines he frowned and his heart throbbed with anguish. He recalled           
all the inward conflict of the preceding months. He flung the               
article on the table with disgust and anger.                                
  "But, however foolish I may be, Rodya, I can see for myself that you      
will very soon be one of the leading- if not the leading man- in the        
world of Russian thought. And they dared to think you were mad! You         
don't know, but they really thought that. Ah, the despicable                
creatures, how could they understand genius! And Dounia, Dounia was         
all but believing it- what do you say to that! Your father sent             
twice to magazines- the first time poems (I've got the manuscript           
and will show you) and the second time a whole novel (I begged him          
to let me copy it out) and how we prayed that they should be taken-         
they weren't! I was breaking my heart, Rodya, six or seven days ago         
over your food and your clothes and the way you are living. But now         
I see again how foolish I was, for you can attain any position you          
like by your intellect and talent. No doubt you don't care about            
that for the present and you are occupied with much more important          
  "Dounia's not at home, mother?"                                           
  "No, Rodya. I often don't see her; she leaves me alone. Dmitri            
Prokofitch comes to see me, it's so good of him, and he always talks        
about you. He loves you and respects you, my dear. I don't say that         
Dounia is very wanting in consideration. I am not complaining. She has      
her ways and I have mine; she seems to have got some secrets of late        
and I never have any secrets from you two. Of course, I am sure that        
Dounia has far too much sense, and besides she loves you and me... but      
I don't know what it will all lead to. You've made me so happy by           
coming now, Rodya, but she has missed you by going out; when she comes      
in I'll tell her: your brother came in while you were out. Where            
have you been all this time? You mustn't spoil me, Rodya, you know;         
come when you can, but if you can't, it doesn't matter, I can wait.         
I shall know, anyway, that you are fond of me, that will be enough for      
me. I shall read what you write, I shall hear about you from every          
one, and sometimes you'll come yourself to see me. What could be            
better? Here you've come now to comfort your mother, I see that."           
  Here Pulcheria Alexandrovna began to cry.                                 
  "Here I am again! Don't mind my foolishness. My goodness, why am I        
sitting here?" she cried, jumping up. "There is coffee and I don't          
offer you any. Ah, that's the selfishness of old age. I'll get it at        
  "Mother, don't trouble, I am going at once. I haven't come for that.      
Please listen to me."                                                       
  Pulcheria Alexandrovna went up to him timidly.                            
  "Mother, whatever happens, whatever you hear about me, whatever           
you are told about me, will you always love me as you do now?" he           
asked suddenly from the fulness of his heart, as though not thinking        
of his words and not weighing them.                                         
  "Rodya, Rodya, what is the matter? How can you ask me such a              
question? Why, who will tell me anything about you? Besides, I              
shouldn't believe any one, I should refuse to listen."                      
  "I've come to assure you that I've always loved you and I am glad         
that we are alone, even glad Dounia is out," he went on with the            
same impulse. "I have come to tell you that though you will be              
unhappy, you must believe that your son loves you now more than             
himself, and that all you thought about me, that I was cruel and            
didn't care about you, was all a mistake. I shall never cease to            
love you.... Well, that's enough: I thought I must do this and begin        
with this...."                                                              
  Pulcheria Alexandrovna embraced him in silence, pressing him to           
her bosom and weeping gently.                                               
  "I don't know what is wrong with you, Rodya," she said at last.           
"I've been thinking all this time that we were simply boring you and        
now I see that there is a great sorrow in store for you, and that's         
why you are miserable. I've foreseen it a long time, Rodya. Forgive me      
for speaking about it. I keep thinking about it and lie awake at            
nights. Your sister lay talking in her sleep all last night, talking        
of nothing but you. I caught something, but I couldn't make it out.         
I felt all the morning as though I were going to be hanged, waiting         
for something, expecting something, and now it has come! Rodya, Rodya,      
where are you going? You are going away somewhere?"                         
  "That's what I thought! I can come with you, you know, if you need        
me. And Dounia, too; she loves you, she loves you dearly- and Sofya         
Semyonovna may come with us if you like. You see, I am glad to look         
upon her as a daughter even... Dmitri Prokofitch will help us to go         
together. But... where... are you going?"                                   
  "Good-bye, mother."                                                       
  "What, to-day?" she cried, as though losing him for ever.                 
  "I can't stay, I must go now...."                                         
  "And can't I come with you?"                                              
  "No, but kneel down and pray to God for me. Your prayer perhaps will      
reach Him."                                                                 
  "Let me bless you and sign you with the cross. That's right,              
that's right. Oh, God, what are we doing?"                                  
  Yes, he was glad, he was very glad that there was no one there, that      
he was alone with his mother. For the first time after all those awful      
months his heart was softened. He fell down before her, he kissed           
her feet and both wept, embracing. And she was not surprised and did        
not question him this time. For some days she had realised that             
something awful was happening to her son and that now some terrible         
minute had come for him.                                                    
  "Rodya, my darling, my first born," she said sobbing, "now you are        
just as when you were little. You would run like this to me and hug me      
and kiss me. When your father was living and we were poor, you              
comforted us simply by being with us and when I buried your father,         
how often we wept together at his grave and embraced, as now. And if        
I've been crying lately, it's that my mother's heart had a                  
foreboding of trouble. The first time I saw you, that evening you           
remember, as soon as we arrived here, I guessed simply from your eyes.      
My heart sank at once, and to-day when I opened the door and looked at      
you, I thought the fatal hour had come. Rodya, Rodya, you are not           
going away to-day?"                                                         
  "You'll come again?"                                                      
  "Yes... I'll come."                                                       
  "Rodya, don't be angry, I don't dare to question you. I know I            
mustn't. Only say two words to me- is it far where you are going?"          
  "Very far."                                                               
  "What is awaiting you there? Some post or career for you?"                
  "What God sends... only pray for me." Raskolnikov went to the             
door, but she clutched him and gazed despairingly into his eyes. Her        
face worked with terror.                                                    
  "Enough, mother," said Raskolnikov, deeply regretting that he had         
  "Not for ever, it's not yet for ever? You'll come, you'll come            
  "I will, I will, good-bye." He tore himself away at last.                 
  It was a warm, fresh, bright evening; it had cleared up in the            
morning. Raskolnikov went to his lodgings; he made haste. He wanted to      
finish all before sunset. He did not want to meet any one till then.        
Going up the stairs he noticed that Nastasya rushed from the samovar        
to watch him intently. "Can any one have come to see me?" he wondered.      
He had a disgusted vision of Porfiry. But opening his door he saw           
Dounia. She was sitting alone, plunged in deep thought, and looked          
as though she had been waiting a long time. He stopped short in the         
doorway. She rose from the sofa in dismay and stood up facing him. Her      
eyes fixed upon him, betrayed horror and infinite grief. And from           
those eyes alone he saw at once that she knew.                              
  "Am I to come in or go away?" he asked uncertainly.                       
  "I've been all day with Sofya Semyonovna. We were both waiting for        
you. We thought that you would be sure to come there."                      
  Raskolnikov went into the room and sank exhausted on a chair.             
  "I feel weak, Dounia, I am very tired; and I should have liked at         
this moment to be able to control myself."                                  
  He glanced at her mistrustfully.                                          
  "Where were you all night?"                                               
  "I don't remember clearly. You see, sister, I wanted to make up my        
mind once for all, and several times I walked by the Neva, I                
remember that I wanted to end it all there, but... I couldn't make          
up my mind," he whispered, looking at her mistrustfully again.              
  "Thank God! That was just what we were afraid of, Sofya Semyonovna        
and I. Then you still have faith in life? Thank God, thank God!"            
  Raskolnikov smiled bitterly.                                              
  "I haven't faith, but I have just been weeping in mother's arms; I        
haven't faith, but I have just asked her to pray for me. I don't            
know how it is, Dounia, I don't understand it."                             
  "Have you been at mother's? Have you told her?" cried Dounia,             
horror-stricken. "Surely you haven't done that?"                            
  "No, I didn't tell her... in words; but she understood a great deal.      
She heard you talking in your sleep. I am sure she half understands it      
already. Perhaps I did wrong in going to see her. I don't know why I        
did go. I am a contemptible person, Dounia."                                
  "A contemptible person, but ready to face suffering! You are, aren't      
  "Yes, I am going. At once. Yes, to escape the disgrace I thought          
of drowning myself, Dounia, but as I looked into the water, I               
thought that if I had considered myself strong till now I'd better not      
be afraid of disgrace," he said, hurrying on. "It's pride, Dounia."         
  "Pride, Rodya."                                                           
  There was a gleam of fire in his lustreless eyes; he seemed to be         
glad to think that he was still proud.                                      
  "You don't think, sister, that I was simply afraid of the water?" he      
asked, looking into her face with a sinister smile.                         
  "Oh, Rodya, hush!" cried Dounia bitterly. Silence lasted for two          
minutes. He sat with his eyes fixed on the floor; Dounia stood at           
the other end of the table and looked at him with anguish. Suddenly he      
got up.                                                                     
  "It's late, it's time to go! I am going at once to give myself up.        
But I don't know why I am going to give myself up."                         
  Big tears fell down her cheeks.                                           
  "You are crying, sister, but can you hold out your hand to me?"           
  "You doubted it?"                                                         
  She threw her arms round him.                                             
  "Aren't you half expiating your crime by facing the suffering!"           
she cried, holding him close and kissing him.                               
  "Crime? What crime?" he cried in sudden fury. "That I killed a            
vile noxious insect, an old pawnbroker woman, of use to no one!...          
Killing her was atonement for forty sins. She was sucking the life out      
of poor people. Was that a crime? I am not thinking of it and I am not      
thinking of expiating it, and why are you all rubbing it in on all          
sides? 'A crime! a crime!' Only now I see clearly the imbecility of my      
cowardice, now that I have decided to face this superfluous                 
disgrace. It's simply because I am contemptible and have nothing in me      
that I have decided to, perhaps too for my advantage, as that...            
Porfiry... suggested!"                                                      
  "Brother, brother, what are you saying! Why, you have shed blood!"        
cried Dounia in despair.                                                    
  "Which all men shed," he put in almost frantically, "which flows and      
has always flowed in streams, which is spilt like champagne, and for        
which men are crowned in the Capitol and are called afterwards              
benefactors of mankind. Look into it more carefully and understand it!      
I too wanted to do good to men and would have done hundreds, thousands      
of good deeds to make up for that one piece of stupidity, not               
stupidity even, simply clumsiness, for the idea was by no means so          
stupid as it seems now that it has failed.... (Everything seems stupid      
when it fails.) By that stupidity I only wanted to put myself into          
an independent position, to take the first step, to obtain means,           
and then everything would have been smoothed over by benefits               
immeasurable in comparison.... But I... I couldn't carry out even           
the first step, because I am contemptible, that's what's the matter!        
And yet I won't look at it as you do. If I had succeeded I should have      
been crowned with glory, but now I'm trapped."                              
  "But that's not so, not so! Brother, what are you saying."                
  "Ah, it's not picturesque, not aesthetically attractive! I fail to        
understand why bombarding people by regular siege is more                   
honourable. The fear of appearances is the first symptom of impotence.      
I've never, never recognised this more clearly than now, and I am           
further than ever from seeing that what I did was a crime. I've never,      
never been stronger and more convinced than now."                           
  The colour had rushed into his pale exhausted face, but as he             
uttered his last explanation, he happened to meet Dounia's eyes and he      
saw such anguish in them that he could not help being checked. He felt      
that he had any way made these two poor women miserable, that he was        
any way the cause...                                                        
  "Dounia darling, if I am guilty forgive me (though I cannot be            
forgiven if I am guilty). Good-bye! We won't dispute. It's time,            
high time to go. Don't follow me, I beseech you, I have somewhere else      
to go.... But you go at once and sit with mother. I entreat you to!         
It's my last request of you. Don't leave her at all; I left her in a        
state of anxiety, that she is not fit to bear; she will die or go           
out of her mind. Be with her! Razumihin will be with you. I've been         
talking to him.... Don't cry about me: I'll try to be honest and manly      
all my life, even if I am a murderer. Perhaps I shall some day make         
a name. I won't disgrace you, you will see; I'll still show.... Now         
good-bye for the present," he concluded hurriedly, noticing again a         
strange expression in Dounia's eyes at his last words and promises.         
"Why are you crying? Don't cry, don't cry: we are not parting for           
ever! Ah, yes! Wait a minute, I'd forgotten!"                               
  He went to the table, took up a thick dusty book, opened it and took      
from between the pages a little water-colour portrait on ivory. It was      
the portrait of his landlady's daughter, who had died of fever, that        
strange girl who had wanted to be a nun. For a minute he gazed at           
the delicate expressive face of his betrothed, kissed the portrait and      
gave it to Dounia.                                                          
  "I used to talk a great deal about it to her, only to her," he said       
thoughtfully. "To her heart I confided much of what has since been so       
hideously realised. Don't be uneasy," he returned to Dounia, "she was       
as much opposed to it as you, and I am glad that she is gone. The           
great point is that everything now is going to be different, is going       
to be broken in two," he cried, suddenly returning to his dejection.        
"Everything, everything, and am I prepared for it? Do I want it             
myself? They say it is necessary for me to suffer! What's the object        
of these senseless sufferings? shall I know any better what they are        
for, when I am crushed by hardships and idiocy, and weak as an old          
man after twenty years' penal servitude? And what shall I have to           
live for then? Why am I consenting to that life now? Oh, I knew I was       
contemptible when I stood looking at the Neva at daybreak to-day!"          
  At last they both went out. It was hard for Dounia, but she loved         
him. She walked away, but after going fifty paces she turned round          
to look at him again. He was still in sight. At the corner he too           
turned and for the last time their eyes met; but noticing that she was      
looking at him, he motioned her away with impatience and even               
vexation, and turned the corner abruptly.                                   
  "I am wicked, I see that," he thought to himself, feeling ashamed         
a moment later of his angry gesture to Dounia. "But why are they so         
fond of me if I don't deserve it? Oh, if only I were alone and no           
one loved me and I too had never loved any one! Nothing of all this         
would have happened. But I wonder shall I in those fifteen or twenty        
years grow so meek that I shall humble myself before people and             
whimper at every word that I am a criminal. Yes, that's it, that's it,      
that's what they are sending me there for, that's what they want. Look      
at them running to and fro about the streets, every one of them a           
scoundrel and a criminal at heart and, worse still, an idiot. But           
try to get me off and they'd be wild with righteous indignation. Oh,        
how I hate them all!"                                                       
  He fell to musing by what process it could come to pass, that he          
could be humbled before all of them, indiscriminately- humbled by           
conviction. And yet why not? It must be so. Would not twenty years          
of continual bondage crush him utterly? Water wears out a stone. And        
why, why should he live after that? Why should he go now when he            
knew that it would be so? It was the hundredth time perhaps that he         
had asked himself that question since the previous evening, but             
still he went.