Sigh-Lent Night

Morrissey’s stag night, like sim. Descriptive of a public house peopled entirely by broken men of indeterminate age staring silently at their half-empty pint glasses. […]

mortal adj. Refreshed (qv) within an inch of one’s life.

mortal combat n. Fighting between intoxicated fellows. Or occasionally, in the case of certain self-sufficient Harold Ramps (qv), between a single intoxicated fellow. — from Roger’s Profanisaurus: Das Krapital, The Revolutionary Dictionary of Bad Language (Viz 2010)

Colorfool

Album primo-avrilesque, meaning April-Foolish Album, is a collection of visual jokes published by the French humourist Alphonse Allais (1854-1905) on 1st April 1897. Note that some of the captions can’t be translated fully into English, because they use French idioms that refer to color.

Combat de nègres dans une cave, pendant la nuit
Negroes fighting in a cellar at night


Stupeur de jeunes recrues apercevant pour la première fois ton azur, O Méditerranée!
Astonishment of young naval recruits seeing for the first time your blue, O Mediterranean!


Des souteneurs, encore dans la force de l’âge et le ventre dans l’herbe, boivant de l’absinthe
Pimps, still in the prime of life and with bellies to the grass, drinking absinthe
(Pimps were then known as dos verts or “green-backs”)


Manipulation de l’ocre par des cocus ictériques
Handling of ochre by jaundiced cuckolds
(According to one page I’ve found, coucou is the name given to some yellow wild-flowers, and cuckolds can be yellow with jealousy)


Récolte de la tomate par des cardinaux apoplectiques au bord de la mer Rouge (Effet d’aurore boréale)
Harvesting of tomatoes by apoplectic cardinals on the shore of the Red Sea (effect of the Aurora Borealis)


Ronde de pochards dans le brouillard
Dance of drunks in the fog
(Slang for “drunk” in French is gris, which also means “gray”)


Première communion de jeunes filles chlorotiques par un temps de neige
First communion of anaemic young girls in snowy weather


Marche funèbre, composée pour les funérailles d’un grand homme sourd
Funeral March, composed for the obsequies of a great deaf man


Tolk of the Devil

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I wish someone would translate Lord of the Rings (1954-5) into English. By that I mean (of course) that I wish someone would translate LOTR into good English. I’ve looked at Tolkien’s bad English in “Noise Annoys” and “Science and Sorcery”. Here’s another example:

Pippin declared that Frodo was looking twice the hobbit that he had been.

“Very odd,” said Frodo, tightening his belt, “considering that there is actually a good deal less of me. I hope the thinning process will not go on indefinitely, or I shall become a wraith.”

“Do not speak of such things!” said Strider quickly, and with surprising earnestness. – The Fellowship of the Ring (1954), Chapter 11, “A Knife in the Dark”

Strider should have added: “Or in such a way!” In the second paragraph, Frodo suddenly talks like a Guardian-reader. Why on earth did Tolkien use “thinning process”, “indefinitely” and “actually” amid otherwise good, simple English? Thinning is obviously a “process”, so there’s no need to say it is, and “indefinitely” and “actually” are badly out of a place in a fantasy novel, let alone in dialogue there. “Considering” is less bad, but it should go too. I would improve the paragraph like this:

“Very odd,” said Frodo, tightening his belt, “seeing that there is now a good deal less of me. I hope the thinning will not go on much longer, or I shall become a wraith.”

Now there’s nothing incongruous: the only un-English word is “very”, but that doesn’t seem un-English on the tongue or to the eye. The Guardianese is gone, but it should never have been there in the first place. Tolkien should not have written like that in Lord of the Rings. And not just as a professional scholar of language: simply as a literate Englishman. H.W. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1926) had been in print for twenty-eight years when The Fellowship of the Ring was first published. It’s hard to believe that Tolkien wasn’t familiar with it.

If he wasn’t, that’s a great pity. If he was, the bad prose in LOTR becomes even more inexplicable and unforgiveable. Alas for what might have been! Imagine if, per impossibile, Tolkien’s masterwork had been edited by the second-greatest Catholic writer of the twentieth-century, namely, Evelyn Waugh.

When bad prose appears in something by Waugh, it’s deliberate:

I had a fine haul – eleven paintings and fifty odd drawings – and when eventually I exhibited them in London, the art critics, many of whom hitherto had been patronizing in tone as my success invited, acclaimed a new and richer note in my work.

Mr. Ryder [the most respected of them wrote] rises like a fresh young trout to the hypodermic injection of a new culture and discloses a powerful facet in the vista of his potentialities … By focusing the frankly traditional battery of his elegance and erudition on the maelstrom of barbarism, Mr. Ryder has at last found himself.Brideshead Revisited (1945), Book II, “A Twitch Upon the Thread”, ch. 1

Waugh was deliberately mocking the mixed-metaphor-strewn prose and pretensions of modern critics. Waugh paid great attention to language and compared writing to carpentry. It was a craft and good craftsmen do not work carelessly or use bad materials. Nothing in Brideshead is careless or casual, as we can see when the narrator, Charles Ryder, first meets the “devilish” æsthete Anthony Blanche, who has “studied Black Art at Cefalù” with Aleister Crowley and is “a byword of iniquity from Cherwell Edge to Somerville”. Blanche has a stutter and Waugh uses the stutter to underline his iniquity. Or so I would claim. Here is Blanche engaging in some papyrocentric performativity:

After luncheon he stood on the balcony with a megaphone which had appeared surprisingly among the bric-à-brac of Sebastian’s room, and in languishing, sobbing tones recited passages from The Waste Land to the sweatered and muffled throng that was on its way to the river.

“’I, Tiresias, have foresuffered all,’” he sobbed to them from the Venetian arches –
“Enacted on this same d-divan or b-bed,
I who have sat by Thebes below the wall
And walked among the l-l-lowest of the dead….”

And then, stepping lightly into the room, “How I have surprised them! All b-boatmen are Grace Darlings to me.” Brideshead Revisited, Book I, “Et in Arcadia Ego”, ch. 1

Talking about the Greek sage Tiresias, who experienced life as both a man and a woman, Anthony Blanche, a man whose surname is the feminine form of the French adjective blanc, meaning “white”, stumbles over the initial consonants of three words: “divan”, “bed” and “lowest”. Is it a coincidence that the same consonants, in the same order, appear in the Greek diabolos, meaning “devil”?

I don’t think so. If Blanche had stuttered on “surprised” too, I would be even more certain. But the –s isn’t essential. After all, it was lost as diabolos journeyed from Greek to Latin, from Latin to French, and from French to English, where it appears as “Devil”. And what does Charles Ryder later call Anthony Blanche after Blanche has spent an evening tête-à-tête trying to turn Ryder against Ryder’s great friend Sebastian Flyte? You can find out here, as Ryder discusses the evening with Sebastian:

“I just wanted to find out how much truth there was in what Anthony said last night.”

“I shouldn’t think a word. That’s his great charm.”

“You may think it charming. I think it’s devilish. Do you know he spent the whole of yesterday evening trying to turn me against you, and almost succeeded?”

“Did he? How silly. Aloysius wouldn’t approve of that at all, would you, you pompous old bear?” – Brideshead Revisited, Book I, “Et in Arcadia Ego”, ch. 2

Blanche is “devilish” and his reputation for “iniquity” is well-deserved. That’s why I think the three words over which Blanche stutters were carefully chosen by Waugh from The Waste Land. Waugh was a logophile and that is exactly the kind of linguistic game that logophiles like to play.

Prose Shows

I don’t know about you, but this is exactly what I like to see in the opening paragraph of an essay engaging issues around William S. Burroughs and the cult of rock’n’roll dot dot dot…

Naked Lunch is inseparable from its author William S. Burroughs, which tends to happen with certain major works. The book may be the only Burroughs title many literature buffs can name. In terms of name recognition, Naked Lunch is a bit like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which also arrived in 1959. Radical for its time, Kind of Blue now sounds quaint, though it is undeniably a masterwork. — William S. Burroughs and the Cult of Rock ’n’ Roll, Casey Rae

Did you spot it? Didja?


Previously pre-posted:

The Hum of Heresy
The Conqueror Term
Bill Self

Mullennial Mysterium

Mull (island) Arg. Malaios c. 150. Pre-Celtic island name. (The Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names)


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Place of Glades — a review of The Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names, A.D. Mills (1991)

The Hum of Heresy

I don’t know any exceptions to the rule that someone who likes William Burroughs will also be a member in terms of core issues around the hive-mind. From Kurt Cobain to Will Self: if you get a buzz outa Burroughs, that won’t be the only buzzing you’re corely acquaintanced with… And I predict that you’ll frequently use, hear and read core items from the hive-mind term-set such as “in terms of”, “prior to”, “issues around”, “engagement with”, “spike”, “skill-set”, “core”, “key”, “toxic” and “edgy”… You’ll also like italics and trailing dots

“There was a certain edgy excitement to turning on the computer every morning and immediately checking to see what Mark had thrown down in terms of an ideas-gauntlet.” – Simon Reynolds in the foreword to K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004–2016), edited by Darren Ambrose, Repeater Books 2018.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Ex-term-in-ate!
Don’t Do Dot…
Prior Analytics
Spike-U-Like?

Ratschläge einer Raupe

“Alice and the Caterpillar” by John Tenniel (1820-1914), from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865)


Ratschläge einer Raupe is one possible German translation of “Advice from a Caterpillar”, which is the title of chapter five of Alice in Wonderland. But the drawing above doesn’t need a translation. John Tenniel and Lewis Carroll were a classic combination, like Quentin Blake and J.P. Martin or Thomas Henry and Richmal Crompton. Tenniel drew fantastic things in a matter-of-fact way, which was just right.

But that makes me wonder about Ratschläge einer Raupe. In German, Rat-schlag means “piece of advice” and Ratschläge is the plural. At first glance, the title is more fun in German: it alliterates and trips off the the tongue in a way the English doesn’t. And Schlag literally means “blow, stroke”, which captures the behaviour of the caterpillar well. Like many of the characters Alice encounters in Wonderland, he is a prickly and aggressive interlocutor. “Advice from a Caterpillar” is plain by comparison.

So perhaps that makes it better: it’s a matter-of-fact title for a surreal chapter. Tenniel’s art echoes that.

Oh My Guardian #6

[…] the whole vintage package – which started as essentially a rediscovery of simple skills, tying generations together and serving as a visual cake-based bulwark against modern turbulence – has been used to sugar-coat a free-market nationalism that isn’t sweet at all. — Zoë Williams, Let’s ditch the nostalgia that’s invaded our TV and seeped into our politics, The Guardian, 30iv2018.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Oh My Guardian #5
Zo with the Flow
Reds under the Thread (more on mixed metaphory)

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #60

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Conteur CompatissantShort Stories, Guy de Maupassant, translated by Marjorie Laurie (Everyman’s Library 1934)

Riff-Raph100 Pre-Raphaelite Masterpieces, Gordon Kerr (Flame Tree Publishing 2011)

Fall of the WildA Fall of Moondust, Arthur C. Clarke (1961)

Orchid and OakVine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, W.E. Vine et al (Thomas Nelson 1984)

Hoare HereRisingtidefallingstar, Philip Hoare (Fourth Estate 2017)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR