Friday, November 09, 2012
Planet of the Apes
A zoologist, who in Africa has observed apes close up, is surprised by the monotony of their lives and their great lethargy. Hours and hours of doing nothing ... Don't they experience boredom then?The French:
Typical question of a man, of a busy monkey. Far from fleeing monotony, animals seek it out, and what they fear most is to see it end. For monotony ends only to be replaced by fear, cause of all feverish activity.
Inactivity is divine. Yet it is against inactivity which man has rebelled. He alone in nature cannot stand monotony, he alone at all costs wants something to happen, no matter what. By this he shows that he is unworthy of his origin: the need for novelty is characteristic of a misguided ape.
Un zoologiste qui, en Afrique, a observé de près les gorilles, s'étonne de l'uniformité de leur vie et de leur grand désoeuvrement. Des heures et des heures sans rien faire ... Ils ne connaissaient donc pas l'ennui?When quoting from authors who write in a foreign language, I usually try to find an existing translation, for a few reasons. First, I'm lazy and prefer someone else to do the work. Second, I'm afraid of making a fool of myself, by posting a howler. Finally, my own translations seem to me too flat and over-literal.
Cette question est bien d'un homme, d'un singe occupé. Loin de fuir la monotonie, les animaux la recherchent, et ce qu'ils redoutent le plus c'est de la voir cesser. Car elle ne cesse que pour être remplacée par la peur, cause de tout affairement.
L’inaction est divine. C’est pourtant contre elle que l'homme s'est insurgé. Lui seul, dans la nature, est incapable de supporter la monotonie, lui seul veut à tout prix que quelque chose arrive, n’importe quoi. Par là, il se montre indigne de son ancêtre: le besoin de nouveauté est le fait d’un gorille fourvoyé.
But sometimes, for practice, I attempt my own translation, and I may ask a friend to vet my version before I post it. In this case, I picked on Ian Jackson, because I had read and admired several of his translations from French to English. He replied with a long, interesting email, in which he described how he approaches translation, and suggested some changes to my version, with reasons for each change. He cautioned me not to accept his suggestions uncritically, but I prefer his translation (based on mine, and probably not what he would have come up if he had started from scratch) to my own:
A zoologist, who in Africa has observed apes close up, is surprised by the monotony of their lives and their massive indolence. Hours and hours of doing nothing ... Are they never bored?For comparison's sake, here is another version, by Richard Howard, from his translation of the entire book (The Trouble with Being Born):
It's a question typical of man — that busy monkey. Far from fleeing monotony, animals seek it out, and what they dread most is to find it at an end. For monotony ends only to be replaced by fear, cause of all frantic activity.
Inactivity is divine. Yet it is against inactivity that man has rebelled. He alone, in all of Nature, cannot endure monotony, he alone at all costs wants something to happen, no matter what. By this he shows that he is unworthy of his heritage: an ape that craves novelty is lost.
A zoologist who observed gorillas in their native habitat was amazed by the uniformity of their life and their vast idleness. Hours and hours without doing anything ... Was boredom unknown to them?
This is indeed a question raised by a human, a busy ape. Far from fleeing monotony, animals crave it, and what they most dread is to see it end. For it end only to be replaced by fear, the cause of all activity.
Inaction is divine; yet it is against inaction that man has rebelled. Man alone, in nature, is incapable of enduring monotony, man alone wants something to happen at all costs — something, anything ... Thereby he shows himself unworthy of his ancestor: the need for novelty is the characteristic of an alienated gorilla.