Saturday, September 29, 2012

Working Translations blog

I have been featuring the list of "working translations" on the sidebar of this blog for quite awhile now, and it has reached the point of being a bit ungainly, taking up space that perhaps would be better used improving the navigational tools. And from time to time I find that, even despite the list, people have a hard time finding some of the translations. In order to simplify access to the most current version of all of my translations, I've launched another specialized blog, Working Translations, which will simply contain current versions of all of my (roughly) finished work, along with some occasional chatter about the translation process. Expect all of the important material to appear, or be announced, on this blog as well.

There is some method behind the mad proliferation of blogs, and it's all about letting readers pick and choose from my various interests and projects, without necessarily committing themselves to wrestling with the full synthesis, and giving me some options to compartmentalize my work a bit as well. Slowly but surely most of the blogs will get zines of their own, and probably Corvus Editions product lines attached. For folks who like to follow things through Facebook, there are now Pages set up for most of the blogs, and I regularly update them. I am also at work on a sort of index/reader's guide to the first seven year's worth of material on this blog, as well as compiling an index to the material archived at From the Libertarian Library.

Paschal Grousset and the Paris Commune

I've been researching the life and works of Paschal Grousset, the radical journalist, Paris Communard and science fiction writer, whose odd little political utopia-in-a-newpaper, The Dream of an Irreconcilable I recently translated. It's not everyday that I can indulge both my interest in radical history and my interest in early science fiction at the same time. I've been reading some of his untranslated adventure stories, with an eye to translating some of them, and in the process of looking for details on a work I had not yet seen, found two English-language accounts of Grousset's experiences during and after the Paris Commune.
The second account seems to leave off about where Les condamnés politiques en Nouvelle-Calédonie, récit de deux évadé, a work he co-wrote with François Jourde (identified in some sources as a "Proudhonian"), begins, so it should be possible to bring together quite a few biographical details by translating that work (which is already high in my translating pile) and uniting it with the others.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Varieties of Proprietors: Lovers, Husbands, and Mother Hens

Le propriétaire qui épargne empêche les autres de jouir sans jouir lui-même ; pour lui, ni possession ni propriété. Comme l'avare, il couve son trésor il n'en use pas. Qu'il en repaisse ses yeux, qu'il le couche avec lui, qu'il s'endorme en l'embrassant : il aura beau faire, les écus n'engendrent pas les écus. Point de propriété entière sans jouissance, point de jouissance sans consommation, point de consommation sans perte de la propriété : telle est l'inflexible nécessité dans laquelle le jugement de Dieu a placé le propriétaire. Malédiction sur la propriété! 
Back in April 2010, in a post called "Amant ou mari," I made some initial comments on Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's comparison of possessors and proprietors with lovers and husbands. In What is Property? he said: "If I may venture the comparison: a lover is a possessor, a husband is a proprietor."At the time, I was primarily concerned with gathering clues to what Proudhon really meant by "possession" in his various works—but I was also just beginning to explore the sexually charged language that he sometimes used to discuss property (language which Tucker's translations sometimes obscured.) I have finally had a chance, in the context of my current work on Proudhon and feminism, to take another, closer look at this potential subtext and, while it is a commonplace that dirty minds can always find a dirty joke, it's hard to deny that there is a good deal in the works on property that begs to be read as double entendre. And the fact that, in several instances, the more libidinal reading actually makes more sense than Tucker's rather staid, economic interpretations suggests that perhaps I am not simply indulging my own bad passions.

Now, once you have set out on a search for double meanings, there is always plenty of potential material to be sifted through. Not every reference to "possession" need be taken "in the biblical sense," and many of a philosopher's references to "penetration" will be perfectly innocent. But there are moments when Proudhon doesn't leave much open to question:
The rent has become for the proprietor the token of his lechery, the instrument of his solitary pleasures. [The System of Economic Contradictions]
And, of course, there is the passage from What is Property? (quoted at the top of this post) where Proudhon literally depicts the proprietor (of a particular sort) sleeping with his money in his arms. Here is the full section.
The proprietor who consumes annihilates the products: it is far worse when he decides to save. The things that he has put aside pass into another world; they are never seen again, not even the caput mortuum [worthless remains], the manure. If there were means to journey to the moon, and the proprietors took a fancy to carry their savings there, after a while our whole terraqueous globe would be transported to its satellite.
The proprietor who saves prevents others from enjoying without enjoying himself; for him, neither possession, nor property. Like the miser he broods [literally, like a hen] over his treasure, but does not use it [use it up, or exploit it]. Let him feast his eyes on it, let him lie down with it, let him fall asleep embracing it: no matter, the coins will not beget coins. No complete property without enjoyment [jouissance, which has a range of meanings including “use,” “pleasure” and “orgasm”], no enjoyment without consumption [or consummation], no consumption without loss of property: such is the inflexible necessity [in the sense of inevitability] in which the judgment of God has placed the proprietor. A curse on property! 
[The translations are my own. Benjamin R. Tucker chose less provocative renderings, which generally capture the basic arguments, but tend to mute and muddle things a bit, consistently rendering "enjoyment" in terms of "coming into possession." This certainly hasn't helped clarify what Proudhon really meant by "possession," the keyword that English-speaking anarchists have tended to attach themselves to, a keyword that Proudhon admitted he had not really defined very well. Anyway...]

There are some interesting details here, at least one of which seems to have been obscured by a real translation error. Tucker apparently mistook fumier (manure, dung) for fumée (smoke), which would not have been as good a match for caput mortuum, and the mistake obscures a possible echo of Pierre Leroux's theory of the circulus, an anti-Malthusian theory of natural circulation which led Leroux (like others in those early days of experimentation with fertilizer) to sometimes be rather preoccupied with manure. I wouldn't have much doubt that this was indeed an indication of Leroux's influence, except that it is so early that it may well have been an anticipation of some of the same ideas. In any event, we have an interesting similarity between the works of the two authors, and a confirmation that Proudhon was concerned with the circulating side of what I've been calling "the larger antinomy" in terms that allow us to draw fairly straightforward connections to figures like Leroux and Joseph Déjacque. But the much more interesting detail, relatively unobscured in Tucker's translation but outside our "common sense" about the terms of Proudhon's work, is that there are at least three sorts of property-relations described in the second paragraph: alongside the lover/possessor and the husband/proprietor, we have another figure, a sort of mother hen (though also almost certainly a "he") who takes his property to bed, but without consummation, jouissance or issue.

Had it been Charles Fourier, instead of Proudhon, who had written this passage, we might expect to find a regular Series of Proprietors—perhaps twelve in all, plus a focal figure—like Fourier's Series of Cuckolds. As it is, the range of possible proprietary types threatens to multiply. We start with the Possessor, characterized by a simple relation of "fact" with his property, and the Proprietor, who has the right to his property. Then our Proprietors split into Enjoyers and Savers. But there are more possibilities. Let's look again at the other passage from What is Property?
In property we distinguish: 1) property pure and simple, the right of domain or seigniorial right over the thing, or, as they say, naked property; 2) possession. “Possession,” said Duranton, “is a matter of fact, and not of right.” Toullier: “Property is a right, a legal power; possession is a fact.” The tenant, the farmer, the general partner, the usufructuary, are possessors; the owner who rents or lends for use; the heir who only awaits the death of a usufructuary to enjoy, are proprietors. If I dare make this comparison, a lover is a possessor, and a husband is a proprietor.
Proudhon introduces some potential confusions in this particular passage, as at this point in his career he wanted to draw a fairly distinct line between Possessors and Proprietors, so while we have a mere Proprietor who waits impatiently to become an Enjoyer lined up among the Possessors, we do not have any instance of a simple Enjoyer, who consummates the joining of possession and legal ownership. This is, however, essentially the type of "true proprietor," which he invoked in his Theory of Property, and which seems to be implied by the formula for "complete property" in the other passage. There is, of course, another good reason why Proudhon resisted presenting any example of "complete property," since his argument was that consummated property was essentially property lost. But let's throw one more related quote, this time from Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, into the mix:
Every lover is idolatrous, and has lost possession of himself. 
Here we see that possession enjoyed may defeat the Possessor as completely as "complete property" undoes the Enjoyer as a Proprietor. But the problem seems to be essentially one we've long since identified: Proudhon, unlike Stirner, really does not have a way of talking about the form of property—ownness, the quality of the unique—which persists in its self-enjoyment, which never equals itself but still circulates through all the crises of self-possession, all les petites morts. Aside from rare moments, he doesn't seem to have understood that what destroys the despotic property of the Enjoyers-by-Proxy and sterile Savers, and shakes the self-possession of the Possessor was itself a form of property—or at least a character of the individual as proper to him—or her—as it flows across the persistent self, opening that self to evolution and progress, that it is the little deaths that prevent the stasis of real and final death.

But he seems to have been very close...

There is more that will eventually have to be said about these libidinous undercurrents in Proudhon's writings, and what they reveal about his negotiation and performance of masculinity. But for now perhaps it's most useful to focus on this new figure of the Saver, the "mother hen" whose embraces of his beloved are doomed to bring forth now new issue, and a clear contrast to the "true proprietor" of the later works. The property of the Saver is quite clearly the "putting aside" of Proudhon's "Celebration of Sunday," and an interruption of the universal circulus. But it is also apparently "another world" even for the would-be proprietor, held apart not only from the general mixing of the natural world, but from any sort of "labor-mixing," which all this sexy imagery might lead us to think about "in the biblical sense." Our Saver is pretty clearly a miser, like "The Cheapskate" of Han Ryner's tale, a figure of "avarice without an impulse toward gain, all wrapped up in the fear of loss." And perhaps we have found our way back onto familiar ground, where the fear of material loss drives our Saver-Miser to a deadly, sterile avoidance of mixing, and perhaps we are approaching a familiar solution, the "two-gun" "gift economy of property," by a new road and in the context of an expanded understanding of our basic antinomy. Although the circulating side of property remains somewhat elusive, the hints he have dug up in this particular examination suggest that we will find it, if we do, by engaging more closely with mixing, with consummation, and with the openings and crises of self-ownership and self-possession that seem to go along with the "complete property," while not neglecting the more stable, concentrating side of things.
We have [once again] understood that the opposition of two absolutes—either one of which, alone, would be unpardonably reprehensible, and both of which, together, would be rejected, if they worked separately—is the very cornerstone of social economy and public right: but it falls to us to govern it and to make it act according to the laws of logic.—PIERRE-JOSEPH PROUDHON, THE THEORY OF PROPERTY. (1864)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

From the neo-Proudhonian blogosphere

Over at Mutualism and Solutions to the Social Problem, Derek has posted a new essay: "A Letter to Communists and Capitalists of the Libertarian Form." And David at Blazing Truth has posted a "New Mutualist Manifesto." Both are ambitious attempts to pull together diverse elements from the mutualist tradition and contemporary theory. Give them a look.

Jean Grave, The Adventures of Nono — Chapter V


[continued from Chapter IV]



The castle that the children headed towards stood on a broad, well-sanded esplanade, cut through large lawns, some of which were planted with trees.
Under these trees those not at work harvesting fruit, or milking cows, had set some large, square tables, which, this evening, in honor of the new arrival, on been arrange end to end, but were ordinary set up apart from one another, covered with fine tablecloths, bearing plates and dishes embellished with simple designs in raw tones.
Chairs indicated the place of each guest.
The newcomers lined up their fruit in bowls of the same earthenware as the plates. There was a sample of almost all the fruits, not only apples, peaches, grapes, apricots, dates, oranges, bananas, but a host of others that Nono had never seen. Pastries of all shapes, thanks to the ingenuity of Labor, arranged in pretty bowls, alternated with the fruit. Flowers, in vases of various slender forms, added the brilliance of more vivid colors to the more subdued hues of the fruit.
Other children decanted the creamy milk in pretty stoneware jugs, with elegant shapes, in warm, harmonious tones. This flattered the eye, and a discrete perfume tickled the nostrils, making mouths water among even the least gluttonous.
When all the little ones had seen that the harvest was arranged on the tables, each seated themselves according to their tastes and preferences, sitting beside the comrade who, for the moment, attracted them the most.
Nono was among those of his new friends that we would say were the closest. Across from him were Gretchen, Fritz, Lola, Wynnie, Beppo, Pat, and Stella. It seemed that every name in the world was represented there.
And not far from him, Nono could see some little black faces, and yellow faces with slanted eyes.
All laughed, chattered, as little Mab had said, without worrying about what corner of the earth they came from.
The bowls were passed around the table, each choosing from them according to their like; some taking from all, while others stuffed themselves with the sort that was, for the moment, the object of their preference. But the distribution was managed very cordially, the most voracious knowing that there would always be enough to fully satisfy it.
“Hey! I will serve you,” said Mab, picking up a cup. “What do you prefer: peaches, or grapes?”
“No,” said Hans, “here are the bananas that I picked for you.”
And each put their preferred fruit on Nono’s plate.
“I want to taste them all,” said Nono. And he began to peel a banana, Hans having shown him that he must remove the peel.
But from the first bite, he had to stop.
“Don’t you like it?” asked Hans, a bit disappointed; for he expected some exclamations of pleasure.
“Yes,” said Nono, “it is not bad; however, I think it prefer the grape; and he bit into the bunch that Mab had put on his plate. Mais but after eating a few, he had to admit defeat. Setting the cluster on his plate, he pushed it away slowly, regarding with say eyes the bowls of fruit, as diverse and as appetizing as they had seemed to him, before seating himself at the table, not being able to eat his fill, and that now his bulging stomach refused to take in.
“Well! What’s wrong?” said Mab and Hans, his neighbors on the right and left, seeing him stop eating and push away his plate.
“I am not hungry!” he said, in a tone that could not have been sadder if he had announced the loss of half of his family.
“You are not hungry!” said Mab, “for such beautiful fruit!”
Nono shook his head.
“Are you sick?” asked Hans.
“Are you sad?” added Mab.
Biquette and Sacha had rise and now, standing around Nono, they also asked what was wrong.
Ashamed and embarrassed, Nono eventually let slip that, already stuffed with the bees’ honey, and with the raspberries and strawberries given by the beetles, his appetite had led him to stuff himself still more with cherries while he picked them. His distended stomach refused to swallow anything.
“Drink a little milk,” said Sacha. “That will settle your stomach. Then you can eat that fine peach.”
Nono tried to swallow a few drops, but the milk would not go down either.
Casting a last covetous look at the succulent fruit that excited his regrets, the young gourmand had to be content to watch his friends eat, while they, reassured, they went back to gobbling the fruit of their preferences, promising himself to be wiser in the future, and to moderate his appetite.
He had to tell them about his adventures with the bees and beetles, the mention he made of his meal in the woods having aroused their curiosity.
When everyone was full, they began to clear the tables, taking the table cloths back to the linen room, the dishes to the kitchen, where machines invented by Labor washed and dried plates and bowls, so that they only had to be arrange in the sideboards that adorned the kitchen, situated in a building not far from the castle, hidden by a curtain of trees, shrubs and flowers; the tables and chairs were put away in some nearby sheds.
When all was in order, the children spread throughout the garden, discussing the games they would play. Most of the girls wanted to play mom or schoolmistress, vague memories of their games before arriving in Autonomy, the young men at leap-frog, at tag; and after discussing it well, they ended by organizing themselves in groups according to their preferences.
But, little by little, some of them broke away from the groups of which they were a part, attracted by others nearby, which seemed to suit them better; some boys let themselves be attracted by the pleasures of playing with dolls; some girls, among the most impish, hitched up their petticoats, and played fearlessly at leapfrog
Gradually the groups were mixed, others came to play at blind man’s bluff, at hide and seek, at pigeon-vole, and various other games.
Nono, who had started by playing tag with Hans, Mab, Biquette and Sacha, found himself in the end in a game of blind man’s bluff, with around twenty other boys and girls, and already counted among them a half-dozen friends of both sexes, named Gretchen, May, Pat, Beppo, Coralie, a pretty little mulatto from Guadeloupe, and Doudou, a solid black Congolese.
Mab and Hans were part of a group occupied with resolving some riddles that each posed in his turn. Biquette and Sacha jumped rope.
Those who were tired from playing, came and sat on the lawn, where, étendus sur les marches, they watched their fellows play.
The sun had set a moment before, darkness fell slowly, but the evening was mild, the stars lit up one by one in the heavens, as little by little the roars of the players were extinguished.
Solidaria appeared on the top of the front steps:
“My children,” she said, we have a surprise today. A troupe of gymnasiarchs has just offered to show us a performance of their exercises this evening. It is a question of preparing everything to receive them well. Where do you want the show to take place? In the theater or outside?
“Outside, outside,” said the children, who had rushed up, and who felt the charm of that evening.
“Well, then, to work. Here is Labor who will help you.”
And the children clapped their hands with enthusiasm and jumped for joy.

[Continued in Chapter VI]

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Paschal Grousset, "The Dream of an Irreconcilable" (1869)

I've posted a working translation of Paschal Grousset's 1869 The Dream of an Irreconcilable, an odd little political "utopia" of sorts, which begins with the narrator falling asleep over his newspaper, as he reads the new revisions to the French constitution, explores in a novel fashion some of the details of a rather Paris Commune-like post-revolutionary future, and then ends with one last jab at the current regime. Translation is, in this case, simply the first step in making the work intelligible, since it is full to overflowing with topical references and in jokes, which I've now started to explore and will eventually document in an annotated edition. Grousset, who is probably best known for his work as a writer of adventure fiction and a collaborator of Jules Verne, was a radical journalist, a communard deported to New Caledonia, and an escapee from the penal colony there. The Dream originally appeared as an issue of Le Diable à Quatre (The Devil to Pay).

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Proudhon, women, and the "organ of justice"

Back in March, 2010, at the end of the essay "Two-Gun Mutualism and the Golden Rule," I promised to delve deeper into the question of Proudhon's writing on women and the family—a promise I'm in the midst of fulfilling in a series of essays destined for the second issue of The Mutualist—and in July of this year I posted a working translation of Proudhon's "Catechism of Marriage—a provocative act which apparently provoked nobody, judging from the resounding near-silence. (One friend did say "worse than I expected.")

There's no question that, in many ways, the "Catechism" is pretty awful, in part because it seems so anomalous alongside Proudhon's constant insistence on a justice based in equality. But my inclination is to treat Proudhon's contradictions with Proudhon's tools, to see if a closer examination of contradiction really does lead us to some means of progressing beyond. And with the "Catechism," it seems to me that there are at least four sorts of questions raised, only two of which we've tended to deal with very directly in our talk about Proudhon and women. We might ask ourselves:
  1. What, precisely, were Proudhon's ideas, and how were they wrong? In answer, we have probably settled much too easily on words like "misogyny," when Proudhon thought he was engaged in a defense of women. But whatever his general feelings about women, he seems to have had his facts badly wrong, generally misunderstanding women's capacities.
  2. How adequate have the responses to Proudhon's writings on women been? Proudhon certainly inspired a series of clever and impassioned responses, but we would be kidding ourselves if we ignored the fact that they were certainly not all fair, or even free from sexism or other forms of discrimination. The feminism that existed for Proudhon to oppose was not necessarily of a sort that would appeal much to modern readers, and in some ways Proudhon was at least as close to the ideas of the feminists with whom he fought as his ideas are to those of contemporary critics. As more and more of the material in those debates becomes available, the complexity of the issues, and the personal and institutional connections between the participants, become clearer, and the whole affair becomes considerably more interesting—if not precisely in the ways we might have expected.
  3. What led Proudhon to his ideas on women and the family, and what were the connections of those ideas to the rest of his work? There is a strangely libidinous current that run through Proudhon's work, charging his writings on property, for example, with sexualized imagery which sometimes seems to run counter to his explicit writing on issues regarding the gender, family and sexuality. And there is undoubtedly a tension introduced by his partial appropriation of Fourier's thought. So there is no doubt a very interesting analysis to be done of the role of passion and jouissance in his writings. But perhaps the most important of the questions we might ask is one which I am not certain has been asked at all:
  4. What insights essential to mutualism was Proudhon unable to adequately articulate because of the problems with his treatment of the "woman question"? The "Catechism" begins with the claim that marriage is the "organ of justice:
    Every power of nature, every faculty of life, every affection of the soul, every category of the intelligence, needs an organ, in order to manifest itself and act. The sentiment of Justice can be no exception to that law. But Justice, which rules all the other faculties and surpasses liberty itself, not being able to have its organ in the individual, would remain for man a notion without efficacy, and society would be impossible, if nature had not provided the juridical organism by making each individual half of a higher being, whose androgynous duality becomes an organ of Justice.
    And then he goes on to talk about why this is the case, why the two individuals in the "androgynous duality" must be different, and what the consequences of all of this are. But we know that Proudhon was constructing this potentially important element of mutualist theory with deeply flawed materials. So what, if not the married couple, is the "organ of justice"? Is it perhaps still the case that justice, perhaps the central keyword of mutualism, doesn't not manifest itself (as Jenny d'Hericourt suggested in her response to Proudhon) in the individual, but that the extra-individual "organ" has some other, perhaps more general form?
That last question is the one I want to take up in the second issue of The Mutualist, as I pursue the possibility that the basic unit of analysis for mutualist treatments of justice, property, etc., cannot simply be the individual, and that all of the complications of the divide between self and non-self, which we have seen in the writings of Proudhon, Pierre Leroux, Whitman, Dejacque, and even Stirner, demand a little more complex analysis of mutualism's basic building blocks and assumptions—a more complex analysis that we may not get to if we simply stop when confronted with Proudhon's antifeminist failings.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Five-sixths of a Smart Set set

Over at From the Libertarian Library, I've added translations of two more of the short stories by Han Ryner published in French in The Smart Set:
Of the new pieces, one revolves around a bit of wordplay which translates fairly well, and the other is rather opaque in any language. All are entertaining, and together I think they give some indication of Ryner's breadth as a writer of fiction.

The sixth story was not available online, and I've sent of an interlibrary loan request for the text.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Jean Grave, The Adventures of Nono — Chapter IV


[continued from Chapter III]



The sun continued its course. If he did not want to let himself by caught by nightfall in his solitude, it was necessary that our wanderer not let himself be beaten down by sadness. He must, on the contrary, summon all his energy and get on his way again.
So, shaking his head, as a sign of his resolution and to chase away unwelcome ideas, he got up to resume his journey, but not before tying up two of the baskets of fruit, which still remained, in his handkerchief and attaching it to his wrist.
But he found that, without any noise having revealed her arrival or her presence, a tall, beautiful woman stood in front of him. Her face and her expression were as sweet as that of the mother of the bees, but he sensed, under the charm of her smile, a strong will and a powerful energy.
Nono stopped in awe, looking curiously at the lady.
“You are brave, my child, and that is what I like to see in little boys. But I don’t want to leave you in uncertainty any longer. It is I who, having noticed you long ago, and having heard you wish for a storybook, wanted to give you the treat of living one yourself.
I started by carrying you from your parents’ home, without you being aware of it. But don’t worry about them. They know where I have taken you, and will be kept current about what you do, and what you see. As to what will happen, and what you will see, that will depend on you. I will acquaint you with the situation. Whether it will bring good or ill for you will depend on how you act. So it is you who, in the end, will make your adventures, and decorate them by the way you behave.
Madame fairy, I promise to be very good, said Nono, intimidated by this long speech, from which he only understood that he must be well-behaved and obedient.
“Well-behaved! Obedient! That is indeed what is asked of the inhabitants of the world you come from. He you will be asked, first of all, to be yourself, to be frank and honest, to always say what you think, to act in conformity with your thought, and to never do your mates anything you wouldn’t want them to do to you, to be towards them as you would like them to be towards you. Anything else will go without saying.
“Perhaps I speak in language that is a bit incomprehensible at your age. But when, though ignorance and not a wicked heart, you make mistakes, I will be there to help you out.
“Have no fear, then and come. I will take you to some comrades of your own age, who will teach you, better than me, to be what you must be.”
And Nono saw beside him a beautiful chariot drawn by six beautiful storks.
At a signal from the lady, speechless with admiration, he took his place beside her in the chariot, and the storks, taking flight, rose up into the air. The young voyager saw the details gradually disappear as the countryside seemed to scroll past below him, the woods becoming smaller and smaller, until the green of their foliage looked like the carpet of a meadow.
After having soared for some time, the storks began to descend back to earth. First, Nono saw some hills and rivers take shape below him, then he distinguish the trees, and then a building which at first seemed to him the size of a toy, in the middle of an immense garden that he recognized by its lawns, and its baskets of flowers in various colors. In the garden strolled a crowd of people who seemed to be amusing themselves.
The storks headed toward this garden, coming to drop off the travelers at the foot of the front steps of the building Nono had glimpsed, which was a magnificent palace.
When the chariot arrived, the people whom Nono had seen in the garden, and were little boys and girls, the oldest of which was not more than twelve years old, rushed up, and when Nono’s companion got out, hastened towards her with cheers of joy:
“It is Solidaria, our friend Solidaria!” they shouted. “We looked for you without being able to make out where you had gone. You left us without warning.”
“There, there,” said the lady, “who was struggling to satisfy this whole crowd, which was clinging to her with the hope of catching a hug, a kiss, or a kind word; “if you throw yourselves at me this way, you will knock me down.
“There is a surprise that I kept from you: Look, I went to find you a new playmate. I count on you to inform him about our way of life, and to make it pleasant enough for him that he enjoys it here.
“But, one last recommendation,” she added, turning towards Nono. “Do not stray to far from your comrades. Our enemy, Monnaïus, king of Argyrocratie, sends his emissaries prowling the woods around our little domain; his janissaries seize, to lead them off as slave, the unwary who put themselves out of reach of rescue.”
Then, having given one last smile of encouragement to the children, she disappeared in a cloud, which hid her from their eyes.
The children had scattered, but some remained to examine the new arrival.
“What is you name?” asked a little girl with a cunning air about her, a young person who appeared at least eight years old.
“Nono,” said our hero, intimidated to see all theses eyes trained on him.
“My name is Mab, replied the imp, “and if you want to be friends, I like your face. I will show you how we play. You see, we have fun here. No masters to punish you, or to bother you all the time, trying to make you calm down. And then, I will introduce you to my friends Hans and Biquette. They are my best friend, but there are others, and you will meet them all.
“Hans, don’t you want to be friends with the newcomer?” asked the little girl.
“Yes, certainly, very much,” said the boy, who might have been about ten, as long as he is a good guy. How old are you?” He asked Nono.
“Where are you from?” asked another little girl, a blond, seven years of age.
“Oh, that Sacha, how nosy she is!” said Mab.
“So ask her what it is to her,” said another.
“Here, we do not care where you come from. If you are a good comrade, that is enough.
“Let’s go and play instead.”
And taking Nono by the hand:
“We will visit the garden, if you like!”
“Yes, I would like that very much.”
You forget that it is time to pick food for our supper,” said another young lady. It was the Biquette that Mab had spoken of, who was nine years old.
“Oh, yes, I had forgotten. But you will have the time to see it tomorrow. Let’s go find our baskets.”
And the band went to a lawn where there stood a tall, vigorous-looking man. His muscular arms were bare, and the energetic features of his face, framed by a silky, black beard, exuded strength and energy. But very gentle eyes improved an expression that could have been too severe.
Surrounded by the children, he passed out little baskets and little shears appropriate for their strength. They all held out their hands, shouting: Me! me, Labor!
“So my sister Liberta will have nobody to help her today? said Labor, smiling and pointing to a you woman in a long, flowing, sea-green robe, her loose hair spilling over her shoulders.
“I went this morning,” said several boys and girls.
“Oh! I want to go!” said Biquette.
“Me too, me too,” said several others, and grabbing the little buckets that the young woman held out, they followed her to a building at the end of the lawn.
Nono watched silently, staying close to Mab and Hans, who remained close to Labor.
“Take a basket,” said Hans, nudging Nono with an elbow, “Labor! A basket for the newcomer.”
“Ah! You are the one Solidaria has taken under her protection,” said Labor. Come here, young man. I see that you have already made some friends. Do you think you will like it here?”
“Yes, I think so,” said Nono, taking the basket and shears that Labor held out to him.
“I am sure you will. Go with your friends, who are waiting. They will tell you what you need to do.”
The distribution of the baskets completed, the youngsters were divided into groups, spreading through the groves that adjoined the lawn, from which they were separated by walls supporting trellises of golden fruit, and all kinds of fruit trees.
“C’mon,” said Sacha, the others have gone with Liberta, to milk the cows. I like milk, but it’s no fun to be behind the cows. I am always afraid will give me a kick. It is more fun to climb the trees.
“Oh!” replied Hans, “Me, I like to work in the stables. There is no danger of the cows doing you any harm. They are good creatures, and very calm, but I was there this morning, and I don’t like to do the same thing twice in a row.
Some other children joined the group with Nono, Hans and Sacha.
“What are you going to pick?” asked one of them.
“I don’t know. What do you like? Hans asked Nono. You see, there are grapes, peaches, pears, plums, bananas, pineapples, gooseberries, and strawberries. The only trouble is choosing.”
And with a gesture, he showed Nono the vast orchard, where were gathered not only the fruits of all latitudes, but at the same time the ripened fruit of all seasons, where trees of the same species showed all degrees of maturity, from the flower in bud to succulent ripe fruit ready to be picked.
They were at that moment at the foot of a fine cherry tree, bearing lovely “geans,” black and plump.
“Oh, Cherries! It is a long time since I have eaten them,” said Nono, tempted by the fruit that hung above his head.
“Well, climb. I’m going to get a stepladder.”
And leaning against the tree, he laced his hands together, indicating to Nono to put his foot there, and then to climb on his shoulders.
But, alas! he was still not tall enough to reach the lowest branches, and, raised in the city, he had never learned to climb a tree.
“Hold on, and watch,” said one of the children, a big boy, stocky and red-headed, who had stayed with the group. “This is how you do it.”
“And, hugging the tree, he climbed like a monkey, and was soon installed between two branches, from which he was not slow to make an avalanche of fruit rain down into the apron of a comrade, a young person, six years old, who was called Pépé, because of the doll that she always carried.
Nono looked enviously at the boy in the tee.
“Wait,” said Hans, “I’ll be back in a minute.” And he rushed to a sort of shed from which he wasted no time in bringing a light ladder, which he rested against the cherry tree.
“Now you can join Sandy.
“But do you only like cherries? Have you tasted bananas, or pineapples?”
“No, I have never seen them,” said Nono, already installed in the tree, his mouth full of cherries.”
“Well, I will pick some for your dinner.”
Mab had attached herself to some superb bunches of gooseberries, which grew in thick bushes near the cherry tree.
“Heh!” said Sandy, “It’s fun to pick your own dinner.”
“Yes, it is very nice,” said Nono, gobbling up a handful of cherries that he had just picked, his hand more often taking the road to his mouth than to his basket. But as the branches bent under the weight of the fruit, he could amply satisfy his gluttony and still, despite that, fill his own basket, and Sandy’s as well. Sandy had long since descended, being reminded that nobody had spoken of going to gather some leaves. They were needed to decorate the fruits on the table. He left his basket with Nono to go to the vines, where he chose the best-looking leaves.
As Nono linger, grazing here and there at some red currants, Mab, who had already finished her harvesting, took him by the hand, and led him toward the place where Nono had seen Labor, and where each of the children brought back his haul, which they deposited on the law, and then arranged them in a pyramid in the baskets.
Indeed, nobody had thought to provide leaves, so Sandy was cheered by everyone when he arrived with an ample supply.
When the baskets were full, and well-adorned, the children headed for the castle that Nono had just glimpsed as the chariot descended.
Toto, with Mab, Biquette and Sacha, who had obviously taken him under their protection, walked with them.
Nono was astonished that they were left to themselves. Solidaria, Liberta, Labor, except for the brief appearances when he had only caught a glimpse of them, had disappeared without more than showing they existed.
“What is amazing,” responded Hans, “is that it is like this every day. We only see them when we need them. Then, there is no need to seek them. We see them beside us, as if they sensed that we needed their help.
“And when you are not good, how are you punished? Who punishes you?”
“Nobody,” said Mab. Why would you want to be anything but good, when there is nobody on your back, preventing you from having fun, or forcing you to do what does not please you?”
“Yes, but who takes care of the garden and the trees, and of the cows who give the milk we drink?
“We do! It’s very nice, you see, to dig, water, and sow, especially since, if it is necessary, Labor is there to help us with his troupe of little sprites, who have only to put their hands to the hardest work to get it done effortlessly.
“But you will have plenty of time to see that, since you’re going to stay with us. Here we are.”

[to be continued in Chapter V]

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Jean Grave, The Adventures of Nono — Chapter III


[continued from Chapter II]



The reflections of our little friend were not cheerful: In what country was he? Would he find something to eat? Was he doomed to die of hunger, or, like a new Robinson Crusoe, would he be forced to make the best of his life, far from every companion?
Robinson, in his shipwreck, had been able to save weapons, tools, and provisions. He had landed on an island stocked with game and edible fruits. In his walk Nono had seen nothing edible, apart from some little birds. As for weapons or tools, he possessed on a little stick, incapable of felling trees, sawing planks, or catching a blackbird in flight.
And he always returned to the starting point of his thoughts: Why was he there all alone? Where were his parents, his brothers, and his sister? Certainly, there was something incomprehensible about his situation.
Completely absorbed in his reflections, Nono perceived nothing of what was going on around him, when he was struck by a loud and prolonger buzzing, produced by a bee that was hovering around him, in order to attract his attention.
And—a new surprise for Nono—this buzzing, which was at first confused and indistinct, gradually took the form of language and became intelligible.
“Calm yourself,” he seemed to hear it say, “we will not abandon you. Come with my sisters. Come that I may present you to our mother, and we will ease your distress.”
And raised his head, Nono recognized his protégée, which made some signs, which this time he understood immediately. The bee indicated that he should rise and follow it.
He obeyed immediately, rose and followed his guide, who directed him towards the tree which housed the hive. But as they approached it, the old trunk lost its shape; its contours softened, its appearance was transformed, and when Nono had taken only a few steps, there appeared before him a magnificent palace, situated on a large terrace which one reached by a wide staircase with marble banisters.
An elegant colonnade, forming the vestibule, surrounded the monument, where the crowd of noisy, bustling bees thronged, some occupying themselves with airing the various parts of the palace, and others with transporting the spoils that they had brought from the fields; still others worked to restore the walls of the palace, fashioning the rooms according to the needs to which they were destined.
But stranger still, these bees were no longer simple insects: s the trunk was transformed into a palace, the bees also grew, transformed into human beings, though still recalling their original form, preserving the diaphanous wings that allowed them to flit through space.
The bee that led Nono underwent the same transformation. And with her fluttering beside him, Nono climbed the steps of the monumental staircase. They arrived before a lady seated in the vestibule in a magnificent high-backed chair. Around her bustled the mass of bees that were not called to other labors, bringing him cushions on which to prop himself, some excellent, fragrant food, and sweet-smelling drink.
Her face was marked with a very great gentleness. She gazed at Nono with an expression full of kindness, gesturing for him to approach.
And as Nono did not dare come closer:
“Do I scare you, my child?” she said in a suave et melodious voice.
Nono had heard from his father that the kings, queens, emperors and empresses were made of the same stuff as other mortals, and differed from them only in costume; but at school he learned so much of their acts and their power, attributing to them so much influence on events, on the destinies of the nations, that he could not imagine that they were not made of some superior essence. And as he had also heard that the bees were governed by a queen, he did not doubt for a single instant that he was face to face with that redoubtable person.
“Oh! no, Madame Queen,” he hastened to answer.
“Who told you that I was queen?” asked the lady, smiling.
“Oh! Madame, it shows,” said the child, growing bolder.
“Ah! And what signs have you see?”
“Because I see all the other bees rush around you and serve you, and because of the golden crown you have on your head.”
“Child! Come now!,” said the lady, laughing out loud this time. “This is my hair that you take for a crown. As for the bees that you see so eager to serve me, they are, you must understand, neither slaves, nor ladies of the court, nor servants. They are devoted daughters who take care of their mother, whom they love.”
Nono, quite abashed, remembered the bee which had led him had indeed spoken of "our mother", and as he saw her standing beside him with a mocking smile, he became as red as a peony. But he found the strength to say, to excuse himself, that it was at school that he had heard that the bees were governed by a queen.
“My child” said the lady, “becoming serious again, while continuing to smile good-naturedly, your teacher is ignorant. He talks about things he doesn’t know. While studying our hives, humans have judged our custom according to their own.
The first who was able to penetrate the secrets of our life, seeing the bees take special care of one of their number, striving to spare her any further work and fatigue, concluded that this one was a privileged figure, as useless as a king, that the others owed her obedience, and that it was her will that ruled the hive. They published that. It was too similar to what happens among you, for them not to have accepted it as truth. The partisans of authority took it as an argument in their favor, and it continued to be taught in school that the bees were ruled by a queen.
However, that is not have it is among us. Each of us fulfills the function inherent in their nature, but there is no queen, and there is no duty imposed. Some make honey, and others care for the young. If the needs of the hive demand it, some of the inhabitants can even change functions, but without anyone ordering it, only because they feel that it is the general good that demands us.
As for me, I am not a queen, but simply a mother, responsible for providing the eggs which will create workers for our Republic, futures mothers for new swarms; and if the other bees pamper, care for, and indulge me, it is simply because I accomplish a work that they cannot do, having no sex, and that its accomplishment prevents me from concerning myself with any other chore. I admit that I am a Mother Gigogne, but we know no queens here.”
Nono listened, dumbfounded, to this little lesson in natural history, which overturned all his acquired notions. But deep down, as he was a bit mischievous, and held a slight grudge against his teacher, who had sometimes reprimanded or punished him without good cause, he formulated the intention of catching him red-handed, in his turn, in his ignorance, when it came time to speak of royalty among the bees. And a naughty smile passed across the corners of his lips.
“Behave, imp,” said the mother bee, and patting his cheek, she continued: “Remember the good and evil done to you, but never be unjust.”
“But I’m keeping you here, making speeches that doubtless seem very tiresome to you, and your friend reminds me that you are very hungry, and I have very little time to myself, so I must return to my work. Sit at that table, which my daughters have set for you, and satisfy your appetite.
Indeed, the emotions that Nono felt had at first made him forget his hunger, but for some moments, his hungry eyes could not tear themselves from a table that a group of bees had stocked with honeycombs set on fig leaves, exciting the appetite of our hungry young man with their sweet perfume, which tickled his nostrils.
Without making her repeat herself, he sat down and tasted the honey. In a wax cup molded for him, the bees had distilled the sweet nectar they collect from the calyx of flowers. Nono was rapt, and feasted with delight.
He had already largely finished the honey and drawn from the cup. His hunger had died down a bit, and he no longer found so much pleasure in eating the honey, or drinking the nectar, beginning to find them too sweet.
In the hive, the bees had disappeared, without him noticing it, his attention being drawn at that moment by a swarming which came from the woods across from him. It sparkled in the sun, with glints of gold. And it advanced towards Nono who was very intrigued, being unable to distinguish anything.
As it continued to advance, he eventually sorted out a swarm of beings. Haunted by his reading, he did not doubt for a single instant that it was an army of marching knights. He even already some distinctly some warriors in golden cuirasses, helmets topped with horns and crests, the reflections from their emerald bucklers shining in the sun. it was only because they were far away that they seemed so small.
But when they came closer, Nono had to admit that he had been, once again, led astray by his imagination. He had before him some simple golden beetles.
And as they advanced, he saw them stand up on their feet, no longer seeing anything but their all-black bellies. Farewell to the brilliant warriors, fine cuirasses, sparkling bucklers! Standing on their feet, they grew and grew, until they became as large as penny dolls, but, cruel deception, it seemed to Nono that it was a crowd of Lilliputian undertakers in front of him.
A dozen of them marched two by two, carrying on each shoulder a twig, cut from the surrounding undergrowth, forming a litter on which rested a large une large paulownia leaf, which they had gathered at the edges, attaching them with thorns to form a sort of basket. Some of these baskets were full of fragrant, succulent strawberries from the forest, and others containing raspberries with a more acidic scent.
Behind each litter walked a group of beetles from which others detached themselves from time to time, to relieve the tired porters.
They all came in a procession towards Nono, seated on the tree trunk into which his chair had been transformed. The table had disappeared.
When the procession arrived before him, the beetles ranged themselves in a semicircle, the holders of stretchers slightly ahead.
One of them broke away from the group and climbed on Nono’s knee. Once there, it gave a salute, rising up on its two front paws, with the back paws in the air, and, and with its hind legs, vigorously rubbing its elytra, made a sound which was hardly harmonious, but Nono enjoyed very much, for here is what he thought he heard:
 “Young child, I am the one you rescued when I was in danger. Without realizing it, you've practiced the great law of universal solidarity, which decrees that all beings help one another. We cannot, like the bees, give you a treat, fruit of our labor, but here are some excellent strawberries and raspberries, picked for you. I hope that they will please you, and complement the rustic meal offered by our sisters.”
And at a signal, the porters came and laid their burdens at the feet of the one for whom they were destined.
But before going on, a see a smile of disbelief pass over the lips of my young readers; I hear them murmur that my orator has chosen an odd position to give his speech. You do not see your schoolmaster delivering his lesson walking on his hands, or your headmaster, at the distribution of the prizes, giving his rant standing on his head, with his feet in the air.
But, my dear children, the mother bee has taught us, we must never judge things solely by our own standards, and believe that what we do must serve as a rule for the universe. And if many of our speakers, political or otherwise, were forced to make their harangues thus, perhaps it would make some ideas descend into their heads, that their clumsiness doubtless prevents from showing there when standing up, their speech is so empty and hollow.
At the sight of these appetizing fruits, Nono sfelt his mouth water. But he had begun to learn, and he realized that, before sitting down like a glutton, he should thank the beetles for their generous gift.
“Mr. Beetle, you and your comrades are really too kind, and I am delighted with your present; it is with great pleasure that I will eat these strawberries which seem to me to be excellent. But, in truth, I do not deserve so much, you exaggerate the service that I have done you. You were aught in a tangle of branches, seeing you in trouble, I freed you without any trouble to myself. You see that the action was nothing very meritorious, and I am ashamed to be so undeserving of your praise.”
“Oh!” said the beetle, “if we measure service by the trouble it costs, yours is of minimal importance. But since it is my life that I owe, it is worthy of my consideration. But a service is not measured that way. What is important is the manner in which it is given, the spontaneity and good grace that accompanies it.
“So take these fruits with as good as heart as we offer it to you, and you will please us.”
And the beetle, waving its antennae it the form of a salute, prepared to descend from the podium that it had chosen.
“In that case, thank you,” said Nono, “you see, I ask permission.”
And the beetle having left his knee, Nono stooped, took up one of the baskets, and having quickly devoured its contents in two bits, took up a second.
The beetles, seeing him eating, returned to their insect forms and took off towards the woods.
And Nono, who watched them go, felt a little pang, thinking that we would still find himself alone. He saw them disappear beneath the foliage. It seemed to him like they were old friends who left him.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]