15 setembro 2017

Greek philosopher or ailment? The Art of Wrong Hands

Translating and Being Translated

by Primo Levi. Translated by Harry Thomas, found at Berfrois

Genesis tells us that the first men had only one language: this made them so ambitious and powerful they began building a tower high into the sky. God was offended by their audacity and punished them subtly: not with lightning, but by confounding their language, and so making it impossible for them to go on with their blasphemous work. A not casual parallel to this tale, which comes just before it in the text, is that of original sin and its punishment by expulsion from Eden. One can conclude that from the earliest times linguistic differences were felt as a curse.
And a curse they still are, as anyone knows who has to stay, or worse, to work, in a country in which one doesn’t know the language, or who has had to contend with learning a foreign language as an adult when the mysterious material in which meaning does its work gets more refractory. Besides, on a level more or less conscious, many regard someone who speaks another language as a foreigner by definition, the stranger, the “alien,” the different from me, and the different is a potential enemy, or at least a barbarian: that is, etymologically, a stammerer, one who doesn’t know how to speak, an almost non-human. In this way, linguistic discord tends to become racial and political discord, another of our curses.
It ought to follow that those who exercise the trade of translator or of interpreter should feel honored because they exert themselves to limit the damage of the curse of Babel. But this seldom happens, because translating is difficult, and therefore the result of the translator’s work is often unsatisfactory. A vicious circle is born: the translator is badly paid, and whoever might be or become a good translator seeks a more profitable occupation.
Translating is difficult work because the barriers between languages are larger than we commonly think. Dictionaries, especially pocket dictionaries for tourists, can be useful for basic needs, but they represent a dangerous source of illusions, which can also be said of the those multilingual electronic devices that have been available for some years now. There is seldom a true equivalence between a word in the language one is moving from and the language one is moving to. Their respective meanings may partly overlap, but they rarely coincide, even when the languages are structurally similar and historically related.
The Italian invidia carries a more specialized meaning than the French envie, which also signifies desire, or the Latin invidia, a word that includes hatred, aversion, as witnessed by the Italian adjective inviso. It is possible that this family of words began by expressing ill-seeing, both in the sense of causing damage by watching, that is, by casting a spell, and of feeling uneasiness when watching someone we dislike, someone we “cannot see,” non possiamo vedere, as one says in Italian, but that later this family slid off in a different direction.
There do not seem to be any languages with closely defined word meanings or indeed any with broadly defined word meanings: the whole thing is always a mess. The Italian fregare has at least seven meanings; the English to get is really without meaning; Stuhl in German is chair, but also, by way of a chain of metaphorical associations that are easy to retrieve, excrement. Italian appears to be the only language that distinguishes piume (down) and penne (feathers); French, English, and German do not, and in German Feder refers to at least four different objects: a feather, down, a pen, and any kind of spring.
Other traps for translators are the so-called false friends. For remote historical reasons (which may be interesting to trace, case by case), or deriving from a single misunder-standing, some words in one language can turn up in another with completely different meanings. In German, Stipendium is scholarship, Statist is theater company, Kantine is cafeteria, Kapelle is orchestra, Konkurs is failure, Konzept is draft copy, and Konfetti is confetti.
French macarons are not macaroni but macaroons. In English, aperitif, sensible, ejaculation, apology, compass do not mean, as an Italian might think at first sight, aperitivo, sensibile, eiaculazione, apologia, and compasso. Second mate is the third officer. An engineer is not an ingegnere, but someone who deals with engines, which explains how, in the years after World War II, an aristocratic lady from southern Italy married a train conductor in the United States on the basis of a statement made in good faith but sadly misunderstood.
I am not fortunate enough to know Romanian, a language that linguistic experts love passionately, but I am told that it is full of false friends, and it is a real mine field for translators, if it is true that friptura means a roast, suflet is soul, dezmierda means to stroke, an indispensabili are underpants. Any one of these terms waits in ambush for the careless or inexperienced translator, and it is amusing to think that the trap works both ways: a German risks mistaking a statista, an Italian statesman, for an actor with a small part.
Other traps for the translator are idiomatic expressions, present in every language but specific to each. Some are easy to interpret or else so bizarre as to alert even a neophyte translator. When translating it’s raining cats and dogs into Italian, nobody, I think, would lightheartedly write that piovono cani e gatti instead of piove a dirotto, even though in some other contexts a sentence may get confused with standard speech and so be translated literally, as when, in the rendering of a novel from English, one reads in Italian, with interest, of a respectable dowager who has a skeleton in her cupboard, which is indeed possible, though unusual.
A writer who does not want to embarrass his or her translators should refrain from using idiomatic expressions, but this is hard, because all of us, when we speak and when we write, come up with these turns of phrase without thinking. There is nothing more natural for an Italian than saying siamo a posto (we are fine), fare fiasco (to fail), farsi vivo (to keep in touch), rendere un granchio (to make a mistake), non posso vederlo (I can’t stand him), and hundreds of other similar expressions. Yet they are meaningless to a foreigner, and not all of them are in bilingual dictionaries. Even asking someone’s age is an idiomatic expression: an Englishman or a German asks how you are, which sounds ridiculous to an Italian, especially if the question is addressed to a child.
Other difficulties are generated by the use, in every language, of localisms. Every Italian knows what Juventus is, and every Italian reader of newspapers is aware of what Quirinale, Farnesina, Piazza del Gesu and via delle Botteghe Oscure stand for. But the translator of an Italian text who has not been immersed in our affairs will be puzzled, and no dictionary will help. What will help the translator (if he has it) is his linguistic sensitivity—the translator’s strongest weapon. But this sensitivity cannot be taught in school any more than the ability to write verse or compose music can be taught. Linguistic sensitivity enables the translator to take on the personality of the author, to identify with the author, and alerts him when something in the text doesn’t seem right, doesn’t work, doesn’t read well, doesn’t make sense, or comes across as redundant or inconsistent. When this happens, it may be the author’s fault, but more often than not it is a warning: some of the traps described above are there, invisible but with jaws gaping.
But to be a good translator it is not enough to avoid snares. The task is more demanding: to transfer the expressive energy of the text to another language is super-human work, so much so that some well-known translations (like the translation of the Odyssey into Latin and the Bible into German) have been turning points in the history of our civilization.
However, because a text is generated by a profound interaction between the creative talent of the author and the language he uses, every translation involves inevitable loss, just like when you change currency. This loss may be great or small, depending on the translator’s skills and the nature of the original text. It is usually minimal with technical or scientific texts (but here the translator, in addition to speaking both languages, has to understand what he is translating: in other words, he needs a third expertise), but it is greatest with poetry (what is left of Dante’s e vegno in parte ove non e che luca if it becomes I come to a dark place or, in Italian, vengo in un luogo buio?)
All these “cons” can frighten and dishearten any aspiring translator, but one can throw a few “pros” into the mix. Apart from being civilized peaceful work, translating can bring unique rewards: the translator is the only one to really read the text, to read it in depth, in all its nuances, weighing and appreciating every word and every image, or perhaps detecting voids and untruths. When the translator manages to come up with or even to invent a solution for a crux, he feels godlike, without the responsibility that burdens the author. In this sense, the joys and efforts of translating compared to creative writing are like the joys and efforts of grandparents compared to those of parents.
Many authors, both ancient and modern (Catullus, Foscolo, Baudelaire, Pavese), translated texts that were congenial to them, getting joy out of it for themselves and for their readers, and often achieving the happy state of mind of someone who takes time out to devote himself to a job different from the one he does every day.
It is worth saying a few words about the situation of the author when he is translated. Being translated is neither a weekday nor a holiday job; actually, it is not a job at all, it is a semi-passive state similar to that of a patient on a surgeon’s operating table or on the psychoanalyst’s couch, though it is a state filled with strong and contradictory emotions.
When the author comes across a passage of his work translated into a language he knows, the author feels—one at a time or all at once—flattered, betrayed, ennobled, x-rayed, castrated, flattened, raped, adorned, killed. It is rare that an author remains indifferent toward a translator, however renowned or unknown, who has stuck his nose and fingers into the author’s guts: the author would like to send the translator—one at a time or all at once—the author’s heart (carefully packed), a check, a laurel wreath, or the mafia’s enforcers.

“Tradurre ed essere tradotti” appeared first in Levi’s column in La Stampa, the Turin newspaper, then in the collection of Levi’s articles, L’altrui mestiere (1985).

17 agosto 2017

The Most Iconic Books Set in 150 Countries

Click to access Global English Editing's blog and full explanation on books selected by country.

Eliminating the Human, by David Byrne, with mention to António Damásio

Click to read fully at David Byrne's website.

I have a theory that much recent tech development and innovation over the last decade or so has had an unspoken overarching agenda—it has been about facilitating the need for LESS human interaction. It’s not a bug—it’s a feature. We might think Amazon was about selling us books we couldn’t find locally—and it was and what a brilliant idea—but maybe it was also just as much about eliminating human interaction. I see a pattern emerging in the innovative technology that has gotten the most attention, gets the bucks and often, no surprise, ends up getting developed and implemented. What much of this technology seems to have in common is that it removes the need to deal with humans directly. The tech doesn’t claim or acknowledge this as its primary goal, but it seems to often be the consequence. I’m sort of thinking maybe it is the primary goal. There are so many ways imagination can be manifested in the technical sphere. Many are wonderful and seem like social goods, but allow me a little conspiracy mongering here—an awful lot of them have the consequence of lessening human interaction.
I suspect that we almost don’t notice this pattern because it’s hard to imagine what an alternative focus of tech development might be. Most of the news we get barraged with is about algorithms, AI, robots and self driving cars, all of which fit this pattern, though there are indeed many technological innovations underway that have nothing to do with eliminating human interaction from our lives. CRISPR-cas9 in genetics, new films that can efficiently and cheaply cool houses and quantum computing to name a few, but what we read about most and what touches us daily is the trajectory towards less human involvement. Note: I don’t consider chat rooms and product reviews as “human interaction”; they’re mediated and filtered by a screen.
I am not saying these developments are not efficient and convenient; this is not a judgement regarding the services and technology. I am simply noticing a pattern and wondering if that pattern means there are other possible roads we could be going down, and that the way we’re going is not in fact inevitable, but is (possibly unconsciously) chosen.
Here are some examples of tech that allows for less human interaction:

Online ordering and home delivery- Online ordering is hugely convenient. Amazon, FreshDirect, Instacart, etc. have not just cut out interactions at bookstores and checkout lines, they have eliminated ALL human interaction barring the (often paid) online recommendations. New York has had home take-out delivery for decades—one simply phones the local take-out place—but New York also has never had a shortage of random human interaction.
Here’s an Amazon warehouse in Peterborough, Cambridge. Increasingly the picking is done by a combination of humans working with robots. (...)

Gig Jobs- TaskRabbit and other services—there are people who perform these tasks in the gig economy, but as a client one does not necessarily have to interact with them in a meaningful way.
Airbnb- There is no check-in desk interaction; often there is no human contact at all.
Digital music- Downloads and streaming—there is no physical store, of course, so there are no snobby, know-it-all clerks to deal with. Whew, you might say. There are algorithmic recommendations on some services so you don’t even have to discuss music with your friends to know what they like—the service knows what they like, and you can know too without actually talking to them. Is music as a kind of social glue and lubricant also being eliminated?
Car driver apps- There is minimal interaction—one doesn’t have to tell the driver the address, the preferred route or interact while paying the check.
Driverless cars- In one sense, if you’re out with your friends, not having one of you drive means more time to chat. Or drink. Very nice. But driverless tech is also very much aimed at eliminating taxi drivers, truck drivers, delivery drivers and many others. There are huge advantages to eliminating humans here—theoretically machines should drive more safely than humans—so there might be fewer accidents and fatalities. The disadvantages include massive job loss. But that’s another subject. What I’m seeing here is the consistent “eliminating the human” pattern.
Automated checkout- Eatsa is a new version of the Automat, a once popular “restaurant” with no visible staff. My local CVS has been training their staff to help us learn to use the checkout machines which will replace them. At the same time, they are training their customers to do the work of the cashiers.

Amazon has been testing stores—even grocery stores!—with automated shopping. They’re called Amazon Go. If the items are placed perfectly on the shelves, then sensors know what you’ve picked up, and you can simply walk out with your “purchases” without any human contact. But they still need to get quite a few bugs out.
At some airports, one orders and pays via tablets—that system has some bugs in it too. I watched a lot of people simply walk away in frustration, but those bugs will get sorted someday soon.

Online Art Sales- Art is increasingly being sold online, so one can avoid any possible awkward encounters with intimidating gallery staff.
eBay- “Auctions” without the human drama and excitement.

AI- AI is often (though not always) truly better at decision-making than humans. In some areas, we might expect this. For example, AI will suggest the fastest route on a map accounting for traffic and distance while we as humans wouldn’t have the time to check all that traffic data, and we’d be prone to taking our tried and true route. But some less expected areas where AI is better than humans are opening up. As Siddhartha Mukherjee writes in The New Yorker, AI is getting better at spotting melanomas than many doctors. Much routine legal work will soon be done by computer programs and financial assessments are now being done by machines.

Robot workforce- A little distinct from AI, robots are physical machines. Factories increasingly have fewer and fewer workers, which means no personalities to deal with, no workers agitating for overtime, and no illnesses. Using robots avoids an employer’s need to think about worker's comp/liability, healthcare, social security and medicare taxes and unemployment benefits.

Personal assistants- Google Home and Amazon Echo—with improved speech recognition, one can increasingly talk to a machine rather than a person. (There is the attendant question of whether these machines are always listening and possibly recording or at least tabulating one’s speech. Even when not officially addressed, an “offline” discussion might be used to improve a recommendation, for example). Amusing stories abound as the bugs get worked out. The child who says “Alexa, I want a dollhouse”... and lo and behold the parents find one in their cart. When this story became an online viral news item, the news segment replayed the girl’s request, and soon a lot of people with Amazon Echos had dollhouses in their carts.
Data analysis of behavior- Improvements and innovations in crunching massive amounts of data mean that patterns can be recognized where they weren’t seen previously. “Trust the data, not your lying eyes.” We will come to trust the gleanings from data crunching more than we do ourselves and our human colleagues and friends.
Video games (and VR)- Yes, some online games are interactive—but most are played in a room by one person jacked into the game—the interaction is virtual.
Automated high-speed stock buying and selling- A machine crunching huge amounts of data can spot trends and patterns quickly and act on them faster than a person can.

MOOCS- Online education, with no direct teacher interaction.

Lastly, "Social" media- social “interaction” that isn’t really social.
While the appearance on social networks is one of connection—as Facebook and others frequently claim—the fact is a lot of social media is a simulation of real social connection. As has been in evidence recently, social media actually increases divisions amongst us by amplifying echo effects and allowing us to live in cognitive bubbles. We are fed what we already like or what our similarly inclined friends like… or more likely now what someone has payed for us to see in an ad that mimics content. In this way, we actually become less connected except to those in our group.
Social networks also increase envy and unhappiness. From a recent study:
“The challenge is that most of the work on social interaction has been conducted using ‘real world,’ face-to-face social networks, in contrast to the types of online relationships that are increasingly common.
Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.”
While claiming to connect us, the sad and surely unintended effect is that they also drive us apart. This, in my opinion, is partly due to pandering to the pleasure one gets from only hearing things you agree with, but it’s also because the social connection was never real, it was virtual—not between real people but between their online selves.
The counterargument to the dangers of social media has been “look at Arab Spring”. Yes, social media was a much used tool to spread news and to alert, but can social media be credited with facilitating the uprising? The answer is complicated, and there are various points of view.
It seems that an equally important factor in the rise and manifestation was how well-organized the groups were. And we can’t forget that it’s a two way street—social media was also used by the oppressive regimes to tack down and locate the resistance.
“‘High risk’ social activism requires deep roots and strong ties. But surely the least interesting fact about them is that some of the protesters may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another. Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along. Barely anyone in East Germany in the nineteen-eighties had a phone—and they ended up with hundreds of thousands of people in central Leipzig and brought down a regime that we all thought would last another hundred years—and in the French Revolution the crowd in the streets spoke to one another with that strange, today largely unknown instrument known as the human voice. People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.”
Many transformative movements in the past succeed based on leaders, agreed upon principles and organization. Although social media is a great tool for rallying people and bypassing government channels, it does not guarantee eventual success.
Social media is not really social—ticking boxes and having followers and getting feeds is NOT being social—it's a screen simulation of human interaction. Human interaction is much more nuanced and complicated than what happens online. Engineers like things that are quantifiable. Smells, gestures, expression, tone of voice, etc. etc.—in short, all the various ways we communicate are VERY hard to quantify, and those are often how we tell if someone likes us or not.
Why this focus on bypassing humans?
There are lots of reasons one might want to avoid human interaction:
1. Human interaction is perceived as complicated, inefficient, noisy and slow.
2. Less human interaction makes for cheaper manufacturing, services and exchange. It’s good, at least in the short run, for the bosses, owners and investors.
3. We’re told that automation means we won’t have to work at menial tasks any more. We’ll have more leisure time—though how we’ll make a living is a looming question.
4. Engineers and coders as people are often less than comfortable with human interaction, so naturally they are making a world that is more accommodating to themselves.
This last one might be a bit contentious, but hear me out. My theory is that much tech was coded and created by folks somewhere on the spectrum (I should know—I’m different now, but I used to find most social interactions terrifying). Therefore, for those of us who used to or who do find human interactions awkward and uncomfortable, there would naturally be an unconscious drive to make our own lives more comfortable—why wouldn’t we? One way for an engineer to do that would be to remove as much human interaction from their life, and therefore also our lives, as possible. Part of something being “frictionless” is getting the human part out of the way.
Humans are capricious, erratic, emotional, irrational and biased in what sometimes seem like counterproductive ways. Some claim that the survival of humans depends on us giving some control over to the machines—we seem to be botching the CO2 emission control issue pretty badly, for example. It often seems that our emotional, quick-thinking and selfish nature will be our downfall. There are lots of arguments for getting humans out of the equation, but many might not admit that it is a conscious goal. The stated goal might be finding melanomas or ordering groceries, not eliminating human interaction.
I’m also not saying that any of these apps and tech are not hugely convenient, clever or efficient. I use many of them. But from the automated checkout lines to self-driving cars, I see a trend that is accelerating, and I sense that as it does, human interaction will become rarer and therefore increasingly more difficult for people—not just people on the spectrum, but for all of us.
Is there a downside?
Obviously jobs are a big question mark. When people become superfluous, what do they do for a living? Two MIT faculty members claim that productivity has become “decoupled” from wages and employment. We’re becoming more efficient but don’t need as many people.

My dad was an electrical engineer—I love the engineer's’ way of looking at the world. I myself applied to both art school AND to engineering school (my frustration was that there was little or no cross-pollination. I was told at the time that taking classes in both disciplines would be VERY difficult). I am familiar with and enjoy both the engineer's mindset and the arty mindset (and I’ve heard that now mixing one’s studies is not as hard as it used to be).
The point is not that making a world to accommodate oneself is bad, but that when one has as much power over the rest of the world as the tech sector does, over folks who don’t naturally share its worldview, then there is a risk of a strange imbalance. The tech world is predominantly male—very much so. Testosterone combined with a drive to eliminate as much interaction with real humans as possible—do the math, and there’s the future.
We’ve gotten used to service personnel and staff who have no interest or participation in the businesses where they work. They have no incentive to make the products or the services better. This is a long legacy of the assembly line, standardising, franchising and other practices that increase efficiency and lower costs. It’s a small step then from a worker that doesn’t care to a robot. To consumers, it doesn’t seem like a big loss.
Those who oversee the AI and robots will, not coincidentally, make a lot of money as this trend towards less human interaction continues and accelerates—as many of the products produced above are hugely and addictively convenient. Google, Facebook and other companies are powerful and yes, innovative, but the innovation curiously seems to have had an invisible trajectory. Our imaginations are constrained by who and what we are. We are biased in our drives, which in some ways is good, but maybe some diversity in what influences the world might be reasonable and may be beneficial to all.
To repeat what I wrote above—humans are capricious, erratic, emotional, irrational and biased in what sometimes seem like counterproductive ways. I’d argue that though those might seem like liabilities, many of those attributes actually work in our favor. Many of our emotional responses have evolved over millennia, and they are based on the probability that our responses, often prodded by an emotion, will more likely than not offer the best way to deal with a situation.
Neuroscientist António Damásio wrote about a patient he called Elliot, who had damage to his frontal lobe that made him unemotional. In all other respects he was fine—intelligent, healthy—but emotionally he was Spock. Elliot couldn’t make decisions. He’d waffle endlessly over details. Damásio concluded that though we think decision-making is rational and machinelike, it’s our emotions that enable us to actually decide.
With humans being somewhat unpredictable (well, until an algorithm completely removes that illusion), we get the benefit of surprises, happy accidents and unexpected connections and intuitions. Interaction, cooperation and collaboration with others multiplies those opportunities.
We’re a social species—we benefit from passing discoveries on, and we benefit from our tendency to cooperate to achieve what we cannot alone. In his book, Sapiens, Yuval Harari claims this is what allowed us to be so successful. He also claims that this cooperation was often facilitated by a possibility to believe in “fictions” such as nations, money, religions and legal institutions. Machines don’t believe in fictions, or not yet anyway. That’s not to say they won’t surpass us, but if machines are designed to be mainly self-interested, they may hit a roadblock. If less human interaction enables us to forget how to cooperate, then we lose our advantage.
Our random accidents and odd behaviors are fun—they make life enjoyable. I’m wondering what we’re left with when there are fewer and fewer human interactions. Remove humans from the equation and we are less complete as people or as a society. “We” do not exist as isolated individuals—we as individuals are inhabitants of networks, we are relationships. That is how we prosper and thrive.

19 maio 2017

08 março 2017

International Women's Day 2017

It Seems to Me: What young women may not know

by / Sharon Weeks

It came to my attention recently, after the March on Washington, that many young women are completely satisfied with their lives right now. I will refer to this as their “status quo.” But first a crash course in women’s history and a mention of many past marches and the influence they have had. I beg them, and you, to read on.
One thing I want to point out, as I am going to discuss women’s rights from more than a hundred years ago to 2017, is what I think these young women are missing. Women’s history has been basically excluded from the classroom text books in public schools. Many people are not aware that a select group of white men, a board of education in Texas, has been charged with the job of editing all of the history textbooks for decades. Their editing is final. (See Bill Moyers, “Messing with Textbooks,” June 2012)
That is the reason you probably didn’t know that in the 1870s women could not own property, could not sign contracts, could not vote, file law suits, nor have their own money. Under their father’s roof, he had control and that control was passed to her husband upon marriage. A woman running away from violent domestic abuse was hunted down by the law and returned to her husband as she was his property.
From the 1840s to 1920 women fought for the vote. The struggle to gain the right to vote began nearly 200 years ago. Attempts to vote in 1870 were turned away. The Supreme Court ruled against them in 1875. In 1916 Alice Paul formed the National Women’s Party. They marched. Over 200 supporters were arrested while picketing the White House. They were beaten with clubs and thrown in prison. Some went on hunger strikes and endured forced feedings. Forty prison guards wielding clubs went on a rampage against 33 women known as the “Night of Terror” on Nov. 15, 1917. (See HBO movie, “Iron Jawed Angels”).
In the 1960s women fought for birth control. It was illegal in many parts of the country then, you see. Margaret Sanger, a pioneer in the struggle for a woman’s right to birth control in an era “when it was illegal to discuss the topic,” was arrested many times for her publications and her New York City clinic.
Civil rights marches (1960s)
Again people were beaten, drowned and hanged. Because of the media, there was more attention and the marches for these rights were better known. After the Civil War, the 14th and 15th amendments adopted in 1868 and 1878 granted citizenship and suffrage to blacks, but not to women. A suffrage amendment to the federal Constitution was presented to Congress and repeatedly failed to pass.
1972: Title IX is a landmark federal civil right that prohibits sex discrimination in education. Title IX is not just about sports and it protects all students; the federal government threatened to stop aid to all public schools that did not correct this.
1973: Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal and safe. Women stopped dying from abortions. The government is planning to stop funding for Planned Parenthood and tens of thousands of women will not only lose coverage for basic health care, but they will also no longer have access to birth control. That pretty much means there will be more unwanted pregnancies and if Roe vs. Wade is overturned, which seems likely with the appointment of a new Supreme Court judge by this administration, there will be more women dying from abortions again.
Gay rights marches
Again people were beaten and killed, even when not participating in marches, but while just trying to live their lives like people of color before them. Eventually gains were made and gays were given the right to marry and the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples. LGBT people and their rights are now being subject to reversal.
Now it is 2017 and people are marching. Women, their husbands, children and fathers descended upon Washington, D.C., to march for women’s rights. There were people marching in 57 other countries around the world. They marched for women who still make less money than men for the same work; for Muslim women and their families who fear deportation and being sent back to the terribly dangerous places they were trying so hard to flee; for Mexican families who live in fear of being deported and being torn from their children; and to raise awareness for women in other countries who have few, if any, rights.
Every march, every right that was fought for, that women died for, was for your “status quo,” for the life you have now, that you take for granted. Please know that every one of these rights that let you live the life you have can be erased with the swipe of a pen. Don’t let all those who died, the fighting and suffering be for naught.
Guess what? The Equal Rights Amendment did not pass. It won the two-thirds vote from the House of Representatives in October 1971. In March of 1972 it was approved by the Senate and sent to the states for ratification. It failed to achieve ratification by 38, or three-quarters, of the states. It was not brought to a vote again.
Because of that rejection, sexual equality, with the exception of when it pertains to the right to vote, is not protected by the Constitution. However, in the late 20th century the federal government and all states have passed legislation protecting women’s rights. These protections are not amendments to the Constitution. They, too, can be wiped away with the swipe of a pen.
Please don’t be complacent and too comfortable with your life. Be aware of what has happened over the years, decades and literally centuries to get you here. Women fought and died. People march to make other people aware; pay attention, please, lest you lose it all. Lest we all lose it all.

Leader Telegram, from Wisconsin, USA, of all places :)

25 janeiro 2017

The HistoMap

Courtesy of the the David Rumsey Map Collection online and zoomable :)

29 novembro 2016

Poema, de Maria Teresa Horta

A tradução de Lesley Saunders foi galardoada com o prémio Stephen Sender de poesia traduzida.

Deixo que venha
se aproxime ao de leve
pé ante pé até ao meu ouvido

Enquanto no peito o coração
e se apressa no sangue enfebrecido

Primeiro a floresta e em seguida
o bosque
mais bruma do que neve no tecido

Do poema que cresce e o papel absorve
verso a verso primeiro
em cada desabrigo

Toca então a torpeza e agacha-se
um lobo faminto e recolhido

Ele trepa de manso e logo tão voraz
que da luz é a noz
e depois o ruído

Toma ágil o caminho
e em seguida o atalho
corre em alcateia ou fugindo sozinho

Na calada da noite desloca-se e traz
consigo o luar
com vestido de arminho

Sinto-o quando chega no arrepio
da pele, na vertigem selada
do pulso recolhido

À medida que escrevo
e o entorno no sonho
o dispo sem pressa e o deito comigo

I let him come.
He sneaks on tiptoe
right up to my ear;
under its ribs my heart
quivers, quickens
as the excitement mounts:
first the forest appears,
then the woodland-sequel,
more mist than snow to the touch –

from the new poem’s
very first line the paper sucks up
every waif-word
and an ugliness steals in,
a cunning hungry thing
crouching there incognito,
pretending to be tame and yet so wolfish
that he’s the kernel of light
and then the noise of its cracking;
he’s lithe on the path,
doubling back on himself,
running with the pack, loping alone;
pussy-footing through the night
he trails moonlight behind him
like a mink coat.
I feel him when the hairs on my skin
lift, and in the delicious dizziness
of my private pulse –
in the midst of my writing, in my dream-life,
I slip all his clothes slowly off
and slide him down beside me

The translation by Lesley Saunders of Poema, by the Portuguese writer and activist Maria Teresa Horta, recently took first prize in the Open category of the Stephen Spender prize for poetry in translation. (Horta’s Portuguese language original is reproduced at the foot of this column and all the prize’s winning entries can be seen here.)
Readers of a certain age may remember Horta from an admired, and sometimes maligned, radical feminist text of the early 1970s, New Portuguese Letters (Novas Cartas Portuguesas). With Maria Velho da Costa and Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta formed the trio of writer friends who came to be dubbed “the Three Marias”. Their collaborative volume, known in English as The Three Marias: New Portuguese Letters, was a multi-genre response to a 17th-century collection of letters allegedly written by a young nun, Mariana Alcoforado, to her absconding “chevalier” lover. Horta had already received adverse criticism for her poetry, and the New Letters were no sooner published than banned by the Portuguese government. A prosecution ensued, and the women faced jail sentences until, with the 1974 “carnation revolution”, all charges were dropped.
Alcoforado had recovered her psychological independence through writing. The 20th-century authors, with their collage of poems, fiction, letters and erotica, each work dated but unsigned, set out to assert their female authenticity through solidarity. Lesley Saunders traces the source of her interest in Portuguese poetry to her first acquaintance with the New Letters, noting that it renewed her sense of “what literature could accomplish, formally, as well as psychologically and politically”. Saunders was delighted to finally meet Horta in Lisbon in 2015.
Her translation of Horta’s new poem, Poema, combines narrative clarity and an erotically charged, fairytale atmosphere. Saunders writes that she tried to reproduce the “abbreviated, even dislocated, diction that disguises itself as something direct and uncomplicated”. By introducing punctuation into the English version, she underlines Horta’s control of phrasing and tempo, and adds to the musical interest of our melody-resistant language.
The lineation has an excited tension in the first two stanzas. The wolf’s presence is registered at once, but he quickly becomes elusive. It’s in the third that the mystery fully registers: “first the forest appears, / then the woodland-sequel, / more mist than snow to the touch –”. The word “sequel” contributes to the idea of the poem as storytelling, while the soft, crisp, tactile evocation of mist-damp forest and woodland suggests body hair in different thicknesses and distribution. With the next stanza we go deeper into metaphor land. The new poem has arrived, stealthy and “incognito”, and instantly “the paper / sucks up every waif-word”. It’s an unfamiliar, maternal kind of animation: few poets see the language of their emergent poem as a vulnerable orphan.
Saunders finds similarities between Horta’s Poema and Ted Hughes’s The Thought Fox: the difference is that “Hughes’s fox turns out to be the poet’s poem; Horta’s wolf emerges as the poem’s poet”. Whoever “he” is, I like the shifts in his character, and the general craftiness of his approach, “pretending to be tame, and yet so wolfish”. It’s recognised that the intimately known body – of man, woman or poem – may fall short of the ideal and even reveal a sudden “ugliness” – a quality that, in the original poem, is a moral grossness, depravity (torpeza). To receive the muse, the artist may have to overcome revulsion. But perhaps what is most special about this wolf-muse is that he resists banal transformation. Saunders uses a wonderful, almost punning, feline metaphor, “pussy-footing”, in the eighth stanza, and darkens the trailed cape of moonlight, which is compared to ermine in the original, mink in the translation. This being is sometimes magical but he is always an animal.
The narrative rises to a sensuous and role-reversing climax when the speaker undresses the newly passive creature: “I slip all his clothes slowly off / and slide him down beside me”. At first seductive, finally seduced, the poem-wolf lies down with the poet-lamb. Saunders’s translation reveals Horta’s mature voice to have an easy, fearless, unapologetic authority. Poema seems an important culmination and assertion of her status as an artist and radical thinker.
Horta has continued to add to her output of poetry and novels and her work has gained some recognition. But the groundbreaking early achievement is often underestimated, or marginalised by what Saunders describes as “a general wish to forget all of that”. It’s to be hoped that this prize will help more of Horta’s poems and fiction, and those of the other Marias, to become visible to a new, international generation of readers. 
The Guardian

17 novembro 2016

World Philosophy Day 2016

This year, we celebrate World Philosophy Day immediately after International Day for Tolerance. This coincidence is deeply significant, given the link between tolerance and philosophy. Philosophy thrives on the understanding of, respect and consideration for the diversity of opinions, thoughts and cultures that enrich the way we live in the world. As with tolerance, philosophy is an art of living together, with due regard to rights and common values. It is the ability to see the world with a critical eye, aware of the viewpoints of others, strengthened by the freedom of thought, conscience and belief.

For all these reasons, philosophy is more than an academic subject; it is a daily practice that helps people to live in a better, more humane way. Philosophical questioning is learned and honed from the youngest age, as an essential key to inspiring public debate and defending humanism, which is suffering the violence and tensions in the world. Philosophy does not offer any ready-to-use solutions, but a perpetual quest to question the world and try to find a place in it. Along this road, tolerance is both a moral virtue and a practical tool for dialogue. It has nothing to do with the naive relativism that claims everything is equally valid; it is an individual imperative to listen, all the more striking because it is founded on a resolute commitment to defend the universal principles of dignity and freedom.

This year, UNESCO celebrates the birthdays of two eminent philosophers, Aristotle and Leibniz, who contributed to the development of metaphysics and science, logic and ethics. Both of them, a few centuries apart and in very different cultural contexts, placed philosophy at the core of public life, as the centrepiece of a free and dignified life. Let us, in turn, celebrate this spirit; let us dare to open spaces for free, open and tolerant thinking. On the basis of this dialogue, we can build stronger cooperation between citizens, societies and States, as a lasting foundation for peace.

08 novembro 2016

13 maio 2016

Tyger, Tyger - Three Translations, and some Fun!


Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what the grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Tradução de Augusto de Campos:


Tygre! Tygre! Brilho, brasa
que a furna noturna abrasa,
que olho ou mão armaria
tua feroz symmetrya?

Em que céu se foi forjar
o fogo do teu olhar?
Em que asas veio a chamma?
Que mão colheu esta flamma?

Que força fez retorcer
em nervos todo o teu ser?
E o som do teu coração
de aço, que cor, que ação?

Teu cérebro, quem o malha?
Que martelo? Que fornalha
o moldou? Que mão, que garra
seu terror mortal amarra?

Quando as lanças das estrelas
cortaram os céus, ao vê-las,
quem as fez sorriu talvez?
Quem fez a ovelha te fez?

Tygre! Tygre! Brilho, brasa
que a furna noturna abrasa,
que olho ou mão armaria
tua feroz symmetrya?

Tradução de Vasco Graça Moura:

tigre, tigre, chama pura
nas brenhas da noite escura,
que olho ou mão imortal cria
tua terrível simetria?

de que abismo ou céu distante
vem tal fogo coruscante?
que asas ousa nesse jogo?
e que mão se atreve ao fogo?

que ombro & arte te armarão
fibra a fibra o coração?
e ao bater ele no que és,
que mão terrível? que pés?

e que martelo? que torno?
e o teu cérebro em que forno?
que bigorna? que tenaz
pro terror mortal que traz?

quando os astros lançam dardos
e seu choro os céus põem pardos,
vendo a obra ele sorri?
fez o anho e fez-te a ti?

tigre, tigre, chama pura
nas brenhas da noite escura,
que olho ou mão imortal cria
tua terrível simetria?

26 abril 2016

01 abril 2016

RIP Imre Kertész

Em português, (Observador):

Kertész, nascido em 9 de Novembro de 1929, recusou mais tarde que Sem Destino, publicado em 1975, fosse um livro autobiográfico mas a verdade é que as rimas entre o que é contado e um certo período da vida do escritor são demasiado evidentes para não serem valoradas. 

Ernesto Rodrigues, tradutor para português deste livro que vendeu 8 mil exemplares em Portugal (e de outros quatro livros do autor), também acha que a distância entre a ficção e a realidade é frágil. “Ele também foi para os campos de concentração em idade juvenil e teve experiências semelhantes às que são narradas”.

Ernesto Rodrigues, que foi leitor de português na Hungria entre 1981 e 1986, conta que quando o livro saiu não teve impacto algum e que nos anos em que viveu no país ocupado pelos nazis em 1944, e depois liderado por uma ditadura comunista, percebeu que o autor e a obra eram pouco considerados. Os dicionários literários oficiais do país só lhe dedicavam “uma linha e meia”. Só mais tarde é que veio o reconhecimento – que lhe chegou de uma atenção que teve na Alemanha, país que o acolheu e que se interessou pela sua voz.
Depois de ter saído dos campos de concentração, a vida de Imre não foi fácil. “Ele nunca foi bem aceite”, refere o tradutor de Kertész (...)

Escreveu 15 livros. O seu tradutor português assume a sua preferência por A Recusa (Presença, 2007), no qual Imre se demora sobre o trabalho de escritor. Aqui e ali vão-se apagando os sinais de luminosidade. Ernesto Rodrigues relembra: “Chega a escrever que depois da experiência dos campos de concentração não vale a pena ter filhos” – e de facto não os teve. 

A certa altura, começa a interessar-se por Fernando Pessoa e usa como epígrafe de um livro uma frase de Bernardo Soares. Em “Um Outro, Crónica de uma Metamorfose” escreve: “Tudo, em mim, adormece, imóvel e profundamente. Vou remexendo os sentimentos, e os meus pensamentos, como num tambor de alcatrão tépido.”

En français (Le Monde):

On le revoit en compagnie de son épouse, Magda, dans son lumineux appartement de Meinekestrasse à Berlin – ou bien à deux pas de là, à l’hôtel Kempinski où il avait ses habitudes près de la cheminée –, les mains croisées sur le pommeau de sa canne, son fameux chapeau mou jamais très loin, ses lunettes rondes pendant sur son ventre – rond lui aussi. « Vous remarquerez que je ne me suis pas suicidé, nous avait-il dit un jour avec un sourire. Tous ceux qui ont vécu ce que j’ai vécu, Celan, Améry, Borowski, Primo Levi… ont préféré la mort. »
Kertész, lui, avait un fol appétit d’exister. Ce pessimiste qui avait fait le pari de la vie entendait la boire jusqu’à la dernière goutte. Parce que vivre était synonyme de créer et que créer était transformer la matière la plus abjecte de l’humain en quelque chose de fortifiant, d’éclairant et d’intemporel, la littérature. Faire du sens avec du non-sens. L’art comme réponse. Recours et secours à la fois. Dans L’Holocauste comme culture (Actes Sud, 2009), Kertész avait eu cette formule saisissante :
« Je peux dire peut-être que cinquante ans après, j’ai donné forme à l’horreur que l’Allemagne a déversée sur le monde (…), que je l’ai rendue aux Allemands sous forme d’art. »
Né le 9 novembre 1929, à Budapest, dans une modeste famille juive, d’un père marchand de bois et d’une mère employée, Kertész – prononcer Kertéss, un nom qui signifie « jardinier » en hongrois – est déporté en 1944, à l’âge de 15 ans. D’abord à Auschwitz puis à Buchenwald et dans le camp satellite de Zeits, en Allemagne. L’écrivain racontait sobrement son retour d’enfer, en 1945. Lorsqu’il avait voulu prendre un bus à Budapest et qu’on lui avait demandé de payer son ticket. Lorsqu’il s’était aperçu que l’appartement où il avait grandi avec ses parents était « occupé » par d’autres. Lorsqu’il avait compris que sa famille avait été exterminée et qu’il était seul… « C’était étrange, dira-t-il. Comme j’étais encore un enfant, je devais aller à l’école, alors que j’avais, si l’on peut dire, une certaine expérience de la vie… » Cette « expérience » est d’une certaine façon synthétisée dans Liquidation (Actes sud, 2004), où le personnage principal expose son « idée de base » : « Le mal est le principe de la vie (…). Ce qui est véritablement irrationnel, c’est le bien. » Toute l’œuvre de Kertész interroge la façon dont on peut survivre à cette idée.
Dans les années 1950, sous la dictature stalinienne, Imre Kertész devient journaliste. Mais le journal pour lequel il travaille se transforme bientôt en organe officiel du Parti communiste. Incapable d’écrire sur ordre, Kertész est mis à la porte. Il décide alors de devenir écrivain et vit avec sa femme dans une chambre minuscule, totalement en marge de la société hongroise. Il survit en écrivant des comédies musicales et en traduisant de grands auteurs germanophones – Nietzsche, Freud, Hofmannsthal, Canetti, Wittgenstein, Joseph Roth… « L’allemand reste pour moi la langue des penseurs, pas des bourreaux », disait-il non sans panache.
En 1960, il commence son grand « roman de dé-formation ou de formation à l’envers » qu’est Etre sans destin. Il mettra treize ans à l’écrire. Lorsque le livre sort en Hongrie, en 1975, il est accueilli de façon glaciale – de même que le sera son prix Nobel quelque trente ans plus tard. Interrogé par Le Monde en 2005, Kertész expliquait que le titre de ce qu’il persistait à appeler « roman » était « une conséquence éthique » de la Shoah :
« Ce que je voulais décrire, c’est comment, dans un univers concentrationnaire, un adolescent pouvait être méthodiquement spolié de sa personnalité naissante. C’est l’état dans lequel vous vous trouvez lorsqu’on vous a confisqué jusqu’à l’idée même de votre histoire. Un état où il est interdit de se confronter à soi-même. Tout le défi du roman consistait à inventer une langue qui lie ces notions et indique une existence verrouillée. »

Lire l'entretien : Imre Kertész : « Briser de l’intérieur les limites de la langue »

Cette langue – un phrasé extrêmement personnel, mélange unique de détachement apparent et de distance sarcastique –, cette langue « atonale », comme il la qualifiait, mais dont il a toujours voulu qu’elle « entre dans la chair » de son lecteur, Kertész expliquait qu’elle lui venait indirectement de Camus. Il avait souvent raconté comment à 25 ans il était un jour, par hasard, tombé sur L’Etranger. « Je me suis dit : ce livre est si mince qu’il ne va pas me coûter trop cher… J’ignorais tout de son auteur et j’étais loin de soupçonner que sa prose allait me marquer à ce point. En hongrois, L’Etranger était traduit par L’Indifférent. Indifférent au sens de détaché – du monde, de lui-même. Mais aussi au sens d’affranchi, c’est-à-dire d’homme libre… »
Un homme libre. Imperméable à toute sorte de pose, sociale ou littéraire : voilà ce qu’aura été Imre Kertész toute sa vie. A travers ses livres traduits tous chez Actes sud, dont Kaddish pour l’enfant qui ne naîtra pas (1995), Liquidation (2004), Le Refus (2002) ; Journal de galère (2010), Le Chercheur de traces (2003)… – l’écrivain se présentait comme quelqu’un qui, « du nazisme au stalinisme, aura accumulé suffisamment de savoir intime sur la dictature » pour la traduire en une expérience créatrice. Une œuvre où « l’affect » de l’Histoire est aussi présent que la mémoire des crimes. Où l’écrivain cherche à cerner comment l’un et l’autre façonnent nos destins, fût-ce à notre insu. Une œuvre où l’humanisme triomphe toujours, du moins sur la page. Et où la notion de liberté rejoint toujours celle du langage. « Briser de l’intérieur des limites de la langue », voilà l’objectif que s’était imposé Imre Kertész.
Dans La Vocation de l’écriture : la littérature et la philosophie à l’épreuve de la violence (Odile Jacob, 2014), le philosophe Marc Crépon note ainsi que pour Kertész, l’écriture n’est pas seulement « une technique de survie », une manière d’échapper au « bourbier de l’inexistence ». C’est aussi un acte de résistance profondément éthique. « Dans les sociétés totalitaires, le “consentement au meurtre” va de pair avec le renoncement à la vérité, le culte de son illusion (sous la forme d’un dogme imposé) et les ruses du mensonge organisé. Le langage ainsi livré à la puissance de ceux qui ont tout pouvoir de le manipuler est d’abord un enfermement. » Marc Crépon souligne que pour Kertész, qui s’est toujours appliqué à étudier la façon dont s’élabore la langue de toutes les dictatures, écrire consiste justement à « ouvrir une brèche à travers laquelle luit l’étincelle d’une liberté possible ».
Kertész avait « mal » lorsque les Hongrois lui reprochaient d’être le seul prix Nobel national alors même qu’il ne glorifiait pas la « hungaritude ». Il avait mal lorsqu’il voyait la Hongrie d’aujourd’hui « envoûtée par Viktor Orban comme par le joueur de flûte de Hamelin ». Il ne cachait pas son désarroi face à la situation d’un pays gangréné par l’antisémitisme et la « culture de la haine », où les rampes de métro, disait-il, sont couvertes d’affiches qui lui rappelaient douloureusement « celles du Parti des Croix fléchées en 1938 », parti pronazi fondé en 1939 par Ferenz Szalasi. Il ne cachait pas son « effarement » devant la recrudescence de l’antisémitisme tout comme le risque de voir « les gardes-frontières qui entreprennent de défendre l’Europe contre la barbarie montante » devenir « à leur tour des fascistes ». « Auschwitz n’a pas été un accident de l’Histoire », déclarait-il au Monde en 2015, « et beaucoup de signes montrent que sa répétition est possible ».

Lire l’entretien : Imre Kertész : « Auschwitz n’a pas été un accident de l’Histoire »

Pourtant – hormis peut-être dans son dernier ouvrage, L’Ultime auberge (2015) où l’on trouve ça et là quelques remarques déconcertantes de sa part (mais peut-être dues au grand âge ?) sur l’Europe et sur l’Islam – il y a toujours quelque chose de profondément lumineux et d’éminemment généreux chez Kertész. Qu’il vous prenne par la main et vous emmène en promenade au bord du lac Balaton ou le long des rives du Danube, qu’il vous parle de musique, de Bach, Wagner ou Schönberg, ou encore de « ses vieux amis », Musil, Arendt, Thomas Mann, Beckett et surtout Kafka, l’écrivain nous apprend humblement et intelligemment à tout savourer. A ne rien attendre. Dans son Journal de galère (2010), il note cette phrase de Lao Tseu qui lui va comme un gant : « “Non pas vivre en esclave de son avenir” mais “dans la liberté infinie de sa finitude”. »
La mort, qu’il avait frôlée si précocement et de si près, Imre Kertész s’y préparait en un sens depuis toujours. Afin qu’elle ne l’atteigne pas « comme un accident ou comme un malfrat qui vous assommerait au coin de la rue », il travaillait à « atteindre la sagesse d’une vie qui enseigne le savoir de l’aboutissement ». Lui qui avait côtoyé la barbarie n’avait jamais perdu son sens de l’humour si typique des écrivains de la Mitteleuropa. Un jour qu’il était descendu à l’hôtel Raphaël, à Paris, il nous avait confié en souriant : « Il ne fait sûrement pas bon être mort, mais avec le temps on doit pouvoir s’y faire… »

Photo credit: Handsome Young Writers