Sunday, January 01, 2012

2012 translation plans / an anarchist-communist children's book from 1901

I'm in the process of working out my 2012 plan of action, including which works I'm going to concentrate of translating. I'm collaborating with a colleague on some of Charles Fourier's more entertaining writings, and will be serializing The Exploits of Ravachol in the "Gallery of Rogues," but what I generally find is that I can only give one translation project so much attention in a given day or week, before the work gets dull and, more importantly, I don't get a chance to process and internalize what I've learned from translating a given set of passages. If some of my translations have had a bit of a distracted air about them, it's because this business of translating and studying texts at the same time is a complicated dance. Those who have muddled through some of my more tentative productions may be pleased to know that all the early translations which have not been revised are in the process of revision, and should be available in fairly finished form soon. In any event, one of the things I've found, aside from the fact that some authorial voices take a lot of time to learn, is that I do better work if I putter away at three or four translations at once, giving each a couple of hours in a day, but not every day. So the big question has been what project I focus on in 2012, once a couple of nearly completed works, like The Celebration of Sunday, are done. My thought has been that Emile Armand's Individualist Anarchist Initiation and Proudhon's The Creation of Order in Humanity are the major works that have most to contribute to my ongoing research, and my thought was to start right in on those with the new year's beginning. But a little more thought made me reconsider. Arguably, the most important event of my year as publisher, translator and such is the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair, and it probably doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense to be focused on year-long projects, like those two major works, until after the 2012 fair. So I've given myself permission to push back those genuinely deserving projects and work on some shorter-term goals: the completion of the second issue of Bellegarrigue's Anarchy: A Journal of Order, work on a collection of the works of Joseph Déjacque, including The Humanisphere, The Revolutionary Question and a number of other articles from Le Libertaire, and an odd 1901 children's book, by the anarchist communist Jean Grave, The Adventures of Nono. I had actually made a start at translation Nono back in April of last year, and posted most of the first chapter for friends, but didn't get any response. But it came up in a conversation online this weekend, and the response was considerably more enthusiastic. So I guess I'll push forward, and hope to have something complete to share around the time of the book fair. For now, here's the first chapter, and a bit of the second....


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THE ADVENTURES OF NONO

by JEAN GRAVE

I

DESIRE

Nono is a little boy, nine years old, intelligent, noisy, but not a bad devil. Like all children, he certainly has some moments of high spirits and turbulence when he enrages his parents; some instants when his little, rapidly growing, pours itself out in leaps and cries of joy, not always choosing the favorable moment to give them free rein, expending his energies in mischief, without concerning himself whether his parents are in a mood to bear it.

But what spoils a bit his natural goodness, is a persistent stubbornness that he has no means to correct. Obstinate, not like a mule, not like two goats, but rather like ten thousand hogs.

When has once got it in his head that he does not want to do something, that’s the end of it; there is no longer any means of making him do it: reprimands, blows, arguments, sweet words, promises, nothing can move him. By himself, he recognizes that it is wrong, especially when he has been made to understand that if he cannot be agreeable to other, the others will do nothing to please him.

I do not mean that Nono was beaten; that is a means that parents use often enough against stubborn children; for it is easier to give a slap than a reason, and too often parents have recourse to that means. If they were obliged to give the reason for their orders, they would be forced to admit that they have none, other than their simple caprice, and no other right than being the strongest. When one is in a bad mood, it is a relief to be able to take it out on someone who can’t respond.

But Nono’s parents, if not entirely immune to this failing, if, at times, they have had a somewhat ready hand, they have not, however, abused too much this means of reprimand, and have sometimes gone to the trouble to reason with the dogged little one, making him understand that we cannot reasonably expect people to be kind to us only on the condition that we are the same to them in this regard.

Nono recognized that he was wrong to persist in its refusal, but he considered it a point of honor not to go back on what he had said — especially when it was a refusal to accomplish a thing that someone had asked him to do. — For him to return to better feelings, it was best to leave him to sulk in his corner, and wait for reflection to lead to more sociable sentiments.

If parents are, often enough, in a bad mood, children, on their side, also have their disagreeable moments. Among parents, household cares, worries about work; in the workshop, the boss has been unjust, we have not been able to say bluntly to him what we think, we return to the house in a bad mood; and it is the wife and kids who are on the receiving end.

When they are in this unfortunate state of mind, sometimes parents, without realizing it, give their orders in a very imperative tone. Nono is often hurt by this tone, even when he is most disposed to do what they ask him; then he balks, but he obeys.

Very often, too, when he does not always understand the necessity of an order, — after all, at nine years old, we cannot know as much as our parents, — a word of explanation would be enough, but the parents are too used to believing that children should obey without argument, and because, very often, they don’t know how to make themselves understood, they imagine that the children have no understanding, so they do not take the trouble to explain. “A child should obey his parents without argument,” and that dispenses with all explanation.

Also, there many opportunities to scolding and friction, as you see.

Many books have been written to teach children that they should be wise, obedient; but, sadly, it is parents who have written them, and we have forgotten to recommend to parents that they only ask children things within reach of their age and their reason; it happens that most fathers and mothers do not know their job as parents at all.

Let us hope that a few can be written to teach them to be reasonable with regard to their children. Perhaps one of the children who read me at this moment will remember, when he grows up, the things that seemed most unjust to him in the conduct of his parents toward him, and he will sit himself down to write that book; unless he finds it better to point them out in succession. But in that case, I am not very certain that he would not be more prudent to try to make a story of it. The least that he could do, would be to treat as cheeky, a heartless child who dares criticize the conduct of his parents. The story would be much more amusing to write than the stupidities that we are given as compositions at school, the parents would be rather amused by it; and if they were not too stupid, they would perhaps grasp the lesson without hitting the ceiling.

From the child’s side, it is another story: it is very hard to leave the book one holds to pour to go in search of four cents worth of butter or a quart of potatoes; just as you get to the most interesting passage: at the moment when the heroes of the book come to be taken by brigands, or at the point of being shipwrecked; one does not want to abandon them is such a critical position. Or else one is playing an exciting game of hide and seek with one’s friends; mother is very unwelcome when she disturbs you, to send you off for two cents worth of salt, or to make you come in to wash the crockery. Also, it happened that Nono did not always promptly execute the orders received, and made them repeat them many times, before performing them, not without murmuring and dragging his feet heavily on the ground as a sign of his discontent. Alas! no one is perfect, and good little children — like parents without flaws — exist only in the books one makes them read to teach them how to be well-behaved.

It also happened sometimes, that our young hero would fight with his big brother Alexandre — who was generally called Titi — and with his sister Cendrine. His brother Titi was much older than him, but scarcely more reasonably; so, sometimes they would argue like cats and dogs.

Cendrine was only one year older than him; she was also teasing at times. But as Nono was the youngest, his sister was required to yield to the fancies of monsieur; a necessity of which she was not particularly convinced, and to which she was even less inclined to submit.

One begins by squabbling a bit; one snatches the toys, and then, my faith! fists enter the game, until a few slaps, impartially distributed, come to make peace between the belligerents.

There was also another little brother, Paulo, but he was so young, barely a year old, that it was hardly possible to quarrel with him, and one was, on the contrary, very glad to have him, for he never finished his porridge or cake; with him there were always some crumbs to catch.

But, all told, Nono’s parents loved their children; their faults reflected prejudices, habits that they had found already established, that they picked up with the education they had been given, and not from their character, which was instead inclined to kindness.

Nono, if he was headstrong, was not a real devil, he loved his parents and, — especially when he had something to ask of them — knows to find some caresses which never fail to have their effect and have, more than once, made his father chuckle inside, and then, to make an impression, he frowns.

Besides the dreadful quarter-hours of which we have spoken, there are plenty of good moments in the house, and the squalls are soon forgotten, for nobody bears all ill will.

At the moment when we meet the family, Nono has just shown exemplary good behavior. — He had long desired that his father to buy him a book of stories, with good pictures! — his marks for the school-week are excellent; he has acquitted himself promptly, and without complaint, — inwardly only, so as not to lose the habit — of the errands that he has bee asked to do; also, his father has promised to go with him next day — since it will be Sunday — and take him to visit the shops, where he can choose an object that pleases him. — Not too expensive, for Nono’s parents are workers, and the rich spend much of their money trivially, but the workers almost never have more to spend than their children require. But this time his father wants to do things up, and he promises to spend at least forty cents on Nono!

And Nono, with a heart full of hope, went to be promising himself mountains and marvel for tomorrow. As his mother tucked him into bed:

— Tell me, mother, how much would it cost, a storybook, like the one that Charles lent me, with fine pictures?

The question is perhaps not in perfect in syntax, but as a child of nine is not expected to speak as well as an academician, if you don’t mind, we will write as our hero speaks.

— Father, said his mother, you boy wants to know how much it will cost for a storybook, with nice colored images?

— I don’t know. Three or four francs, at least.

— Mother, said Nono, throwing his arms around her neck, and pulling her close to kiss her, I have five cents in my piggy-bank, I will give them to Father to buy me one, if you will add what I lack. Try to convince Father?

— You know how to ask nicely, but will you always be so well-behaved?

— I promise, said the little rascal, and redoubled his kissing.

— You promise, you promise, you are not stingy with promises, but you do not always keep them, your promises!

— I will mother, I will be good, I will do my errands.

— Go on, sleep! We will do this tomorrow. I will ask your father.”

And thereupon, two big kisses on the eyes, with a recommendation not to wiggle too much, so as not to throw off the bedclothes.

And Nono, his nose stuffed under the covers, is thinking about all the books he has seen, asking himself which he should prefer. He wants one with engravings, beautiful colored pictures. His imagination retraces a whole ocean of volumes, among which he does not know where his preference should lie.

His reverie little by little becomes lively and animated: Donkeyskin, Don Quixote, Ali Baba, Red Riding Hood, and The Blue Bird dance a frenzied saraband around him. It is in the midst of a multitude of fairies, genii, elves, enchanters, gnomes, goblins, fabulous birds, and fantastic flowers that he falls asleep, losing the sense of reality.

His mother is exposed to the fury of the fairy Carabosse; his father held prisoner by the enchanter Abracadabra and forced to make, for Nono, a book in which the character, in the illustrations, speak and move. His sister Cendrine his brother Titi are changed into small pink pigs by the fairy Melusine, and he, Nono, is charged with guarding them, to lead them to the acorns and prevent them from escaping or be changed himself into a bat.


[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]


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4 comments:

David Albert said...

I'd LOVE to have a translation of the Jean Grave "Nono" book. Please continue on with it.

Coggy Wheelright said...

nice! I look forward to reading this to my boy and would enjoy more.

Anonymous said...

this is really good! do you plan to carry on translating it? i am a teacher and i would love to read this book to my year group! thank you.

Shawn P. Wilbur said...

Yes, I'll be getting back to it soon.