Thursday, February 05, 2009

art, dictionary, melting

Posted by Picasa Installations - exploded sheds, unmade beds, bags of garbage and the like - presented as works of art, are now so common as to be almost out of fashion and tedious. The reason for their existence rests on the idea of presenting them as art, rather than what they are when they are not art. Hence the term conceptual art. In this instance the burnt-out rubbish bin against a wall opposite the Victoria Place shopping arcade, seems ambiguous. Is it an installation or a burnt out rubbish bin? As I examine it, a woman who seems to share my interest, says with a laugh: "Is it art"?

I confess to a weakness for dictionaries. There are too many of them on my shelves. So when I spot the handsome Oxford University Press binding - gold letters on dark blue board - of the Oxford Concise French Dictionary, I deliberately ignore it, despite the fact that it is only £3. But days later, it is still there, and I succumb. And I'm glad that I have. First it provides the etymology of the 40,000 French words, which it lists - something, which Collins Robert doesn't do. Second, a delightful introduction composed with a passion, rare in such works, makes amusing reading. For example: What is wanted is an equiv-valent, not an equi-distant English rendering. Now the value of an English translation lies in the similarity of its impact on the English mind with the impact of the original on the French mind. What is only intellectual, logical, not affective, has no momentum. It misses both colour and warmth. This is what makes so many translations, although scrupulously faithful to the sense of the text, so unbearably nauseous to the reader's senses.Thirdly, it has a special symbol for false friends- those words, (deception, for example, which means disappointment and not deception in English), which have been mistranslated over the year even by established dictionaries. This dictionary is a new and true friend.

In the Grove, there is just a little snow left in hollows, and in scattered, uneven heaps, where melting snowmen lived out their brief lives.


marja-leena said...

I don't know if it is art, but I do like that image!

That is indeed an interesting introduction in a dictionary, and probably very true. The best translators of literature must be aware of this.

Rouchswalwe said...

I think it is a burned out rubbish bin ... the photographer has turned it into art. Bravo!

Barrett Bonden said...

Conceptually, the container has become that which it contained.

Surely the dictionary quote was written originally in French?

Lucy said...

Notes for primary school English teachers here stress that children should understand 'une langue n'est pas une calque d'une autre'.

I liked that as I'd learned 'calque' as tracing paper... I quote it sometimes to my older students who look slightly taken aback.

Plutarch said...

The dictionary introduction is in English. There are two editors, one French and one English, and I assume that it is written by the English one.
Thank you, Lucy, for the word, "calque", which I didn't know.