FYI France

File 3: Ejournal and archive

by Jack Kessler,

July 15, 2015 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on July 15, 2015.

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Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to:

Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe. Please email suggestions for improvements to me at




French translation technique, at the Bibliothèque Nationale


T he BnF has mounted an interesting online exhibit on French translation, at the time of the Renaissance, complete with a good bibliography... For those of us interested in French translation -- as who among us isn't, nowadays in this age of machine-translation, first step towards The Very Scary Singularity for some, badge of ongoing human job-security for others tho -- how and why the Renaissance did it, with all those then-new Greek and Latin ancient works, can become an object of extreme and even extreme-ist fascination --


To download the complete bibliography:

-- and see-also, for the well-done & nicely-illustrated BnF presentation of the above,




A Note:

Translation is an art, not a science... That valuable lesson is best learned via jokes and anecdotes -- they are the way most of us learn the sad truth, often after years of relying-upon and learning-from "accurate" translations so-called.

For instance one legend about machine-translation recounts that the English expression, "The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak", was fed into the new automated system, churned into German, then spat back out in English as, "The liquor was good but the meat was bad"! :-)

None of us has not experienced this sort of thing, particularly when we have traveled... from fausses amies in French, to two-nations-separated-by-a-common-language in American vs. British English, particularly all those wrong-spellings and that very-strange "whilst", to the stylistic differences between American and German linguistic practice which so delighted Mark Twain --

-- as quoted from Twain's essay, "The Awful German Language" [A Tramp Abroad, Appendix D, 1880], by the excellent-stylist-himself Stephan Leibfried, in his Transformations of the Welfare State, 2010, p. vii, who apologizes to readers and to Twain for "intractable Teutonisms"... Twain's own somewhat-huffy conclusion being --

Some poets have suggested that translation in fact is impossible -- that a translation is an entirely-independent creation, bearing little or only-misleading resemblance to its original -- Biblical scholars, Old and Middle English experts, anyone who ever has delved into the "originals" of Shakespeare's texts, oftentimes have wondered how different and sometimes-entirely our modern editions may be from what was originally-intended. But then cultural practices have changed, as well, also all other frames of reference: "love", in 16th c. London must have been very different from the phenomenon described today, at least as different as that tiny city then was from the giant urbanized-region which has engulfed it since.

So, what to do?... How best to understand -- as the French Renaissance writers tried -- language and cultures un-studied and in some ways even unknown at all for a preceding thousand years or more. And the gnawing question of whether our current understandings are hopelessly flawed...

A great translator taught me a technique, for this purpose, as he taught it to many others spanning several generations: Arthur Waley, urbane Bloomsbury resident, who took it upon himself to open Western Civilization to the considerable glories of ancient Chinese literature -- his translations still echo, although many others exist now -- his were among the earliest however which reached curious non-Chinese readers, when we first were despairing of the complexities of the alphabets and the sheer foreign-ness of those ideas and that general culture.

A wonderful book, about Waley and his efforts, bears a wonderful title taken from one of his own translations: Madly Singing in the Mountains, ed. Ivan Morris, 1981 -- Waley's translated title of a poem by 9th c. Po Chü-i / Bai Juyi -- that however is an expression straight out of not China but Bloomsbury -- one can imagine a rainy day in London-town and Waley out with his umbrella, or a stalwart march across the Lake District by an Edwardian Englishman on-holiday, but only with great difficulty a 9th c. Chinese government official and gentleman-poet -- so one wonders how "accurate" the translation is... Waley never saw China... all appear to agree now that his "accurate" knowledge of the place and its literature and its language was far less than many others have possessed...

But it doesn't matter: Waley himself was an artist, and his English words are wonderful, in the poem,

-- if this is not a 9th c. gentleman-poet in China, out on a walk, then at least it describes a 20th c. gentleman-translator, somewhat-eccentric, walking the Lake District mountains and enjoying the solitude -- and at least the two gentlemen would have found much to share in-common in the resemblance, perhaps.

That last may be the point of "translation", then -- the effort of one person to understand another -- the art and the magic may be at both ends, of the process, not the technical correctness but the effort at understanding being the thing that truly counts.


Jack Kessler



FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal ISSN 1071-5916
      |         FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic
      |         journal published since 1992 as a small-scale,
      |         personal experiment, in the creation of large-
      |         scale "information overload", by Jack Kessler.
     / \        Any material written by me which appears in
    -----       FYI France may be copied and used by anyone for
   //   \\      any good purpose, so long as, a) they give me
  ---------     credit and show my email address, and, b) it
 //       \\    isn't going to make them money: if it is going
                to make them money, they must get my permission
in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. 
Use of material written by others requires their permission. 
FYI France archives are in various places on the Internet, i.e. 
at (PACS-L), 
or Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, 
praise, and poison-pen letters all gratefully received at .
        	Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler,
	all rights reserved except as indicated above. 




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