Thursday, 19 June 2014

Never is an empty Always

Proust declared that “les beaux livres sont écrits dans une sorte de langue étrangère”—“beautiful books are always written in a sort of foreign language.”

Leyland de la Durantaye in a review of various translations of Proust’s Remembrances of Things Past wrote this
Boston Reviewand perhaps it’s a professorial trick to discover whether we are paying attention but where’s the ‘toujours’ for ‘always’. My French isn’t good so I checked with Google translate and I was given - 'fine books are written in a kind of foreign language’.

That ‘always’ may be the epigram makers tick where there often is a strong contrast with a paradoxical element. Here’s a little Oscar faux of mine own: ‘Women may be good or evil, a mother is always vicious’. de la Durantaye may not be a native English speaker. He writes:

At one moment we read that Swann, in Moncrieff’s translation, is “embarrassed.” Proust’s expression is “être sur la sellette,” an almost exact match of the English idiom “to be on the hot seat.”

Surely the expression is ‘in the hot seat’ deriving I’m told variously from the electric chair but now having the connotation of being under scrutiny in an embarrassing position. My internet Larousse tells me that sallette = Siège de bois sur lequel on faisait asseoir l'accusé au tribunal pour lui faire subir un dernier interrogatoire avant l'application de la peine.

The translation of ‘la sellette’ by Larousse is 
mettre quelqu'un sur la sellette   to put somebody in the hot seat
être [critiqué]   to be in the hot seat, to come under fire
[examiné]   to be undergoing reappraisal

I’m not sure what the furniture of a French Courtroom is like but to retain the forensic connection ‘in the dock’ or 'on the stand’ or ‘at the bar’,or would be a possible English translation. With ‘in the hot seat’ l’application de la peine is about to happen. I have looked for an image of that ‘petit siege’ but I can’t find one. Dommage or something.

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