Friday, November 15, 2013

Joseph Déjacque's style

I've finally completed a first-draft translation of Part I of Joseph Déjacque's The Humanisphere, which is not long, but has to be one of the most difficult translation tasks I've attempted. I decided to start from scratch, despite the existence of several previous attempts, because I encountered some obvious problems and missed references. If I had known quite how many difficulties I would encounter, I might not have taken the task on, but I'm glad I did. 

Déjacque's style is at once fascinating and maddening. Taking Scandal, as often as not, for his muse, he had a tendency to rant a bit, and sometimes much more than a bit, and the rants often took the form of catalogs of the offenses of capitalism, the church, Civilization, etc. Sometimes the sentences would be semi-colon-spliced catalogs of catalogs, in paragraphs sometimes 500 or more words long. On top of that, Déjacque was fond of literary references and often almost purely gratuitous word-play. He was apparently one of those writers who never met a metaphor he couldn't mix, and sometimes things spiraled out of his control a bit, and the reader finds themselves in a sort of cascading free-association of ideas and images. But one of his most interesting tricks was to construct passages in which two or more metaphors or sets of associations were sustained. The French word lame meaning both "blade" and "wave," Déjacque constructed a passage which kept both sets of associations in play. Whether or not the argument is enriched by the maneuver is open to debate, but from a purely aesthetic or technical point of view, the result is engaging. 

My favorite of these double metaphors comes to its climax in the following passage:
"The great barons of usury and the baronets of small business walled themselves up [literally "crenelated themselves"] in their counting-houses, and from the height of their platform launch at the insurrection enormous blocs of armies, boiling floods of mobile guards."
He was talking about the repression of the uprisings in June 1848. Because Déjacque saw capitalism as a financial feudalism, and because he was Déjacque, it wasn't enough for the repression of the June Days to be war; it had to be a war that was like another war, with forces deployed against the people as if from siege engines. So we have "bloc(k)s" of armies from symbolic trebuchets, and metaphorical cauldrons of boiling mobile guards.

It's all fascinating, and a bit mad, and will require some combination of fine editing and footnotes to present clearly. But I'm really looking forward to that stage of fine-tuning. It isn't every text that gives you so much to work with. 

Since Part III was completed some time ago, along with parts of Part II, I expect to have a working draft of the entire work by the end of the year, and then a comrade and I will tackle any additional fine tuning and correction that is necessary. For those who have yet to experience any of The Humanisphere, some of the completed sections are available online.

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