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After FlaubertGalen Strawson
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Vol. 40 No. 5 · 8 March 2018
Poem

After Flaubert

Galen Strawson

109 words

à mon pote Jules

merde en croûte,
merde en daube,
merde du pays,
merde d’antan.

merde de province,
pâté de merde,
folie de merde
(merde boulangère).

merde Chantilly,
merde de Paris,
merde anglaise,
putain de merde.

merde longue durée,
merde d’occasion,
merde maison,
merdorama!

merde d’Auvergne,
merde de Brest,
merde de souche,
merde magnanime.

merde marinière,
merde montagnarde,
merde de joie,
merde du jour.

merde comprise,
merde maternelle,
confit de merde,
merde à l’ancienne.

merde de ma tante,
merde vierge extra,
merde de chez nous,
la grande merde.

la sainte merde,
la merde perdue,
la merde c’est moi.
vive la merde!

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

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Letters

Vol. 40 No. 9 · 10 May 2018

Quite often the London Review publishes articles containing quotations in foreign languages with no translation, as for example in T.J. Clark’s piece on Cézanne’s portraits (LRB, 25 January). My last year at comprehensive school was 2010 and, like more than 90 per cent of my classmates, I do not speak any foreign language fluently. I doubt that the majority of your readers are fluent in French. What’s more, I would be surprised if, in an article about a Vietnamese artist, you would publish an untranslated quotation in Vietnamese. Or in Polish or Arabic (which must be more commonly spoken in London than French).

Does the LRB have a well-defined policy on this? In the 8 March issue Marina Warner’s article appears with French quotations usefully translated, and there is a poem by Galen Strawson entirely in French, which I found evocative in the same way I find, say, Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange to be evocative, though one of the feelings evoked is alienation since none of these languages is intelligible to me.

I concede that there is something alluring about the old attitude of expecting everyone to know French, and I do wish it was still reasonable. When I first started to read the LRB, the occasional untranslated quotation contributed to the impression of intellectualism (along with the austere layout, which should last for ever). It is part of the tradition of literariness in Britain. But it seems more and more to me a pointless tradition. The LRB should be progressive and inclusive, not disdainful of its readers. It should be challenging because it deals with complex concepts and is written to the limits of the language. In Amia Srinivasan’s piece on the ‘right to sex’, the word ‘unfuckability’ is used without scare quotes (LRB, 22 March). It is ‘unfuckability’ that is dangerous, highbrow and literary; untranslated French is just atavism.

Conrad Teixeira
Manchester

A number of people have expressed puzzlement about the title of my poem ‘After Flaubert’ (LRB, 8 March). I shouldn’t have omitted the epigraph, a deeply characteristic comment from Flaubert’s letters (which are, arguably, his greatest achievement): ‘De quelque côté qu’on pose les pieds on marche sur la merde’ (to Louise Colet, Saturday, midnight, Croisset, 29-30 January 1853).

Galen Strawson
University of Texas at Austin

Which, translated, means: ‘However carefully you tread, you end up with shit on your shoes.’

The Editors

Vol. 40 No. 11 · 7 June 2018

Conrad Teixeira describes the LRB’s use of untranslated French as ‘atavism’ (Letters, 10 May). For me, emerging proudly monolingual from the same sort of comprehensive school as his, it was just such moments of untranslated French or German in the books I was reading that drew me into a lifelong obsession with language learning. To remove such passages from the LRB would be to remove yet another incentive, small but significant, for English readers to extend themselves beyond the Anglophone world. Indeed, as long as English remains so dominant, learning even the basics of a foreign language is a much more radical act than undertaking the linguistic play internal to English that Teixeira cites so admiringly.

James Harris
London E8

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London Review of Books
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