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||| Observations on the English translation of Guy Debord's Oeuvres Cinématographiques Complètes
(Complete Cinematic Works, edited and translated by Ken Knabb, AK Press, San Francisco & Edinburgh, 2003)

John McHale

||| [part 1] ||| [part 2] |||

Page numbers are given first, followed by line numbers for the main text. Other remarks are labelled separately. "Forsyth" refers to the translation of In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni by Lucy Forsyth (Pelagian Press, London, 1991). See http://www.bopsecrets.org/recent/responses.htm 'Translating Debord (III)', for further references in Knabb.
In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni [continued]

p. 151, line 13:
“What passions do we have, …" for “Quelles sont nos passions...". Cf. Forsyth: “What are our passions…". Perhaps “What are these passions of ours…" might be better here.

           lines 20-21:
“and then taking up one or another paid position" is again elliptical for “et puis ensuite d’occuper quelques functions ou de s’adonner à divers travaux rémunérés". Something like “and then taking up a few public service posts, or devoting themselves to various paid undertakings at the level of…" might better convey what the author had in mind.

p. 153:
the references to The Children of Paradise could be changed to Children of Paradise (the English-language title of Les Enfants du Paradis)?

p. 153, lines 7-10:
Cf. “Here where the garden of Wu palace bloomed, the deep grass hides the paths; Where the kings of Chin vaunted their regalia is only an old hill" The Works of Li Po the Chinese Poet, trans. by Obata Shigenyoshi, New York, 1922.

           line 15:
not “districts" here but arrondissements.

           lines 16-18:
“on any night a bacchanal might shift from one neighbourhood to another and yet another" might be better (albeit elliptically) as “and might see revellers blaze a trail nightly across several localities" for “permettait à la débauche de changer trois fois de quartier dans chaque nuit".

p. 153, lines 18-19, also note p. 237:
“Its inhabitants had not yet been driven out and dispersed", cf. also the Cardinal de Retz: “Les Importants furent chassés et dispersés, et l’on publia par tout le royaume qu’ils avaient fait une entreprise sur la vie de Monsieur le Cardinal [Mazarin]" (Mémoires, Gallimard, bibliothèque de la Pléiade, p. 175).

p. 154, lines 13-17:
It is unfortunate that the restructuring here has eliminated “[on n’avait pas encore vu] le beau temps disparaître".

p. 156, line 1:
“Bliss it was to be young..." for “C’est une grande chance que d’avoir été jeune..." is of course itself a détournement of Wordsworth: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/But to be young was very heaven!" (The Prelude, XI [referring to the French Revolution]) [“En cette aube, c’était un bonheur que de vivre,/mais être jeune était le ciel même!", Le Prélude, traduction de Louis Cazamian, éditions Aubier, Paris, 1949]. Forsyth nevertheless chooses to retain the notion of chance or luck here: “It was a great blessing to have been young in this town when, for the last time, it shone with so intense a fire." (p. 31).

p. 156, lines 5-6:
Cf. “it is not possible to step twice into the same river, nor to touch mortal substance twice in any condition" (Early Greek Philosophy, ed. and trans. by Jonathan Barnes, Penguin, 1987 – merely one of the many translations, of course, of Heraclitus).

p. 156, line 7:
“the negative held court" is right for “le négatif tenait sa cour" but the author intended this to be a détournement of Shakespeare: “car, dans la couronne des rois, la mort tient sa cour" – the magnificent “for within the hollow crown/That rounds the mortal temples of a king/Keeps Death his court." Richard II (III, ii). Thus “the negative kept its (or his) court" (Forsyth has “the negative held its court").

p. 156, line 9:
the word “even" not needed here?

p. 157, lines 8-9:
“They accorded no importance whatsoever [aucune sorte d’importance] to those of their contemporaries".

           lines 16-17: “and disdained to entangle itself in any project" for “s’était superbement affranchi de tout projet." Perhaps: “and had majestically broken free of involvement in any specific project".

p. 158, line 2:
“riffraff" (also in Forsyth) should be “underworld" [la pègre]. “La racaille/la canaille" = the riffraff.

p. 160, lines 1-5 and note p. 237:
Cf. “but how can someone who is so weak as a child become really strong when grown up? ...Nothing that was once weak can ever be absolutely strong. It is no good saying [On a beau dire]: ‘He has grown, he has changed’; he is still the same." (Pascal, Pensées, trans. by A.J. Krailsheimer, Penguin, 1966, p.263).

p. 160, line 9:
“our life" for “l’existence de tous" might be better as “the existence of all" in order to retain the coolly objective tone of this paragraph.

p. 162, lines 2-3:
“I don’t believe that any of those". It is not clear why “je crois bien qu’aucun de ceux qui..." has been restructured here; “I do believe that not a single one of those..." would be better.

           line 6:
“Each of us" for “Chacun", see note on p. 160, line 9 above.

p. 164, lines 12-13:
should be “ ‘Drink and the devil had done for the rest’ ".

           lines 18-19/p. 165, lines 1-2:
regarding the punctuation and wording of the Fitzgerald translation: Chequer-board/ Nights and Days/Men/Pieces/and mates, and slays,/Closet.

p.165, lines 7-8:
“What is man? A slave of death, a passing traveller, a guest on earth..." for “Qu’est-ce que l’homme? L’esclave de la mort, un voyageur qui passe, l’hôte d’un seul lieu…" Cf. “ “What is man?" – “The slave of death, a traveller passing, the guest of one place" " in Huizinga’s own English translation of Homo Ludens (1950, p. 154).

p. 165, lines 16-17:
“will not last forever" – possibly: “will not endure", cf. “youth’s a stuff will not endure" Twelfth Night, II, iii).

p. 166, line 4:
“we turn in the night, consumed by fire". More fully: “we turn round (and round) in the night and are consumed [et consumimur (indicative passive)] by fire".

           lines 17-23:
These rewritten quotations (from Ecclesiastes, King James version, ch. 6, v. 9 & 12) are as follows in the original: “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit... For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth like a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?" With regard to line 18 and the note on page 238: “one desireth"/"one knoweth", nowhere in the King James Bible is “one" used as a personal pronoun.

p. 167, line 19:
“launch" should surely be “lead" [mener]?

p. 168, line 8:
“who simply don’t catch on quickly enough" for “qui n’ont pas compris assez vite" might be better as “who have not caught on in time".

           line 23:
“none of us". Perhaps: “none of those" [de ceux qui].

p. 170, lines 16-17:
“ “You must traverse the paths of time to reach the center of opportunity" ". Cf. “Stroll through the open spaces [la vaste carrière, in the French translation from the Spanish] of time to the center of opportunity." Baltasar Gracián, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, trans. by Christopher Maurer, Doubleday, New York, 1992, p. 31.

           line 18:
“But can I ever forget the one whom I see everywhere..." – a détournement of Bossuet: “Mais puis-je oublier celui que je vois partout dans le récit de nos malheurs?" (referring to the Cardinal de Retz) from Oraison Funèbre de Messire Michel Le Tellier, Chevalier, Chancelier de France in Bossuet, Oeuvres (Gallimard, bibliothèque de la Pléiade, p. 175).

p. 174, lines 13-16:
“Prince of Darkness [prince des ténèbres]. Which is in fact a fine title - ...". Cf. “On criait aussi: Vive l’Empereur! Vive le Prince Noir! mystérieux prince des ténèbres qui apparaît à l’imagination populaire dans toutes les révolutions." Chateaubriand, Mémoires d’Outre-Tombe (1841) Book 33, chap. 3 Révolution de Juillet.

p. 175, lines 17-18:
“delirious" for “chimérique" is rather strong here. “Fanciful" might be better.

p. 176, line 15:
“a truth (?) spoken in its time" for “la parole dite en son temps". A Biblical expression best translated as “a word spoken in due season" (King James Bible, Proverbs, ch. 15, v. 23) or even “a word fitly spoken" (Prov., ch. 25, v. 11).

p. 177, lines 11-12:
(from Victor Hugo’s Les Châtiments) might be best left in French.

p. 178, line 13:
“From its almost imperceptible beginning" for “Dans son commencement presque imperceptible ..." Cf. “et ce signe de vie, dans les commencements presque imperceptible, … se donne par le Parlement" (Cardinal de Retz, Mémoires, Gallimard, p. 201).

p. 179, lines 8-9:
Good Old Cause (upper case without inverted commas). See Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down (Penguin, 1972, pages 378 & 403.)

p. 180, line 1:
“I admit that I ...". Perhaps: “I freely admit that I ..." [J’admets, certes, être celui qui ..."].

p. 180, lines 13-14:
“launching a sudden attack on" is peculiar for “on se jette sur" – “falling upon/on" is the equivalent military term.

p. 182, lines 1-3:
“the best thing that can happen to them is to have enlivened their time without outliving it." for “ce qui peut leur arriver de plus heureux, c’est, au plein sens du terme, d’avoir fait leur temps." Perhaps: “the best thing that can happen to them is to have, in the fullest sense of the term, had their day.".

           lines 8-9:
“supported" should be “defended" [défendue]?

           lines 17-19:
Cf. “While the earth would rot your bones as you lay in Troyland with your task undone." The Iliad, trans. (of the many English translations) by E.V. Rieu, Penguin, 1950.

           line 20:
“On the eve of a battle" is odd for “sur un champ de bataille": “on a battlefield".

p. 183, lines 2-6:
Cf. “ “Ah my friend, if after living through this war we could be sure of ageless immortality, I should neither take my place in the front line ...But things are not like that. Death has a thousand pitfalls for our feet and nobody can save himself and cheat him. So in we go." The Iliad, op. cit.

           line 10:
perhaps “in the craw of the reigning system of lies".

           line 13:
“I had to quickly [conceal myself]" is elliptical for the military term “par une soudaine marche dérobée". Perhaps: “I had swiftly and unobtrusively [to conceal myself]".

p. 184, line 2:
“repugnant" for “vulgaire". “vulgar"?

           line 10:
to the restructuring here could be added “perfectly possible" for “l’on peut fort bien".

p. 185, lines 1-2:
“in some sort of fantasized orthodoxy" seems strong for “de je ne sais quelle orthodoxie" – “in some orthodoxy or other" might be better.

           lines 15-17:
is it not rather that those who eventually do better will be free to comment on what they themselves have done? “[ceux qui auront fait mieux] donneront librement leurs commentaires".

p. 186, lines 2-3 and note on page 240:
Cf. “Monsieur le Prince, ..., n’étudiait pas avec assez d’application les principes d’une science dans laquelle l’amiral de Coligni disait que l’on ne pouvait jamais être docteur" (Cardinal de Retz, Mémoires, op. cit., p.822). “The prince, ..., did not study with application enough the principles of a science which the admiral de Coligny used to say, that nobody could ever be master of." (Memoirs of the Cardinal de Retz containing the particulars of his own life with the most secret transactions of the French Court and the Civil Wars, trans. by Peter Davall, 1723).

p. 187, lines 18-19:
“you cannot fail to recognize that it was designed to be seen in this particular way and no other" for “l’on doit convenir qu’elle a été bâtie ainsi, et pas autrement". Perhaps something like “it must be admitted that it was fashioned thus, and not otherwise".

p. 188, line 1:
perhaps “rounding the cape" [doublons ce cap].

           lines 6-10:
The Fitzgerald translation runs: “Myself when young did eagerly frequent Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument – With them the Seed of Wisdom did I sow, - And this was all the Harvest that I reap’d – ‘I came like Water and like Wind I go.’" (Rubáiyát 27-28, rendered in one quatrain in the Charles Grolleau translation).

           line 11:
“Those were always admitted" [toujours été reçu].

p. 191, lines 9-10:
“They wake up in alarm and gropingly search for life" for “Ils se réveillent effarés, et ils cherchent en tâtonnant la vie." A détournement of the Cardinal de Retz: “l’on chercha en s’éveillant, comme à tâtons, les lois" (Mémoires, op. cit. p. 201). “At their awakening, they groped in the dark to find out the laws" (trans. Peter Davall, 1723). Perhaps: “They wake up scared and grope in the dark for life"

p. 192, lines 4-8:
Cf. “On your departure I dismount and drink to your health.
I ask: “Where are you going?
You say, “I have not found the voice of my heart;
So I shall return to my hermitage in the foothills of the
Southern Mountain: there I shall find rest" "
(Poems by Wang Wei, trans. by Chang Yin-nan and Lewis C. Walmsley, Rutland Vermont and Tokyo, Japan, 1958). p. 192, lines 19-22:
Cf. “You will hardly suggest that my opinion of the present is too exalted and if I do not despair about it this is only because its desperate position fills me with hope." (Marx, translation in Early Writings, op. cit.)

p. 233, note 92:
“Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right"?

           note 93:
“humanity won’t be happy until the ..." : a détournement of Curé Meslier (1664-1729): “Il souhaitait que tous les grands de la Terre et que tous les nobles fussent pendus et étranglés avec les boyaux des prêtres." Curé Meslier, Mémoire, Exils Éditeur, Paris, 2000, p. 43 (foreword). See also pages 11-12 of the preface by Armand Farrachi on the long history and enduring appeal of this sentence.

p.238, note171:
“Here lies a man whose name has been writ in water" should read “Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water", the actual words and punctuation on Keats’ tombstone in the Protestant cemetery in Rome. The epitaph on Shelley’s grave in the same cemetery quotes from The Tempest: “Nothing of him that doth fade/But doth suffer a sea-change/Into something rich and strange".

p. 240, note 193 (also p. 193, line 8):
"No wising up and no settling down." for "La sagesse ne viendra jamais." Cf. " ...et l’esprit de sagesse est venu en moi." Sagesse, chapitre 7, verset 7 ["...and the spirit of wisdom came to me." Wisdom, ch. 7, v. 7, King James version].

London, October 2008.

(“The best memoirs that I know of, are those of Cardinal de Retz. – I hardly know any book so necessary for a young Man to read and remember: you will there find how great Business is really carried on, very differently from what People who have never been concerned in it imagine. In short you will, in every Page of that Book, see that strange inconsistent creature, Man, just as he is."

Lord Chesterfield, letter to his son.)


Sculpture at Ostrich Central
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