Translating Malaprops in Don Quixote

Don Quixote - RutherfordOne of the many humorous elements of Don Quixote is the repeated use of malaprops by Sancho. Don Quixote is constantly correcting him and Sancho is not pleased about this. He points out — quite correctly — that Quixote clearly knows what he means, or he wouldn’t be in a position to correct. Thus, Sancho reasons, Don Quixote should just shut up. But these malaprops pose something of a problem to translators. Literal translations of malaprops will rarely work. So they have to come up with substitutes — which often works because both languages have a lot of Latin root words. Or they just have to copy other translators — which they do with great regularity. And understandably so.

A good example of this is found in chapter 5 of the second book. It is a nice reversal. In it, Sancho is talking to his wife and we learn that he has picked up a bad habit from Don Quixote: he corrects his wife. In the original Spanish, this reads as follows:

[Replicó Teresa,] “Y si estais revuelto en hacer lo que decis…”

Resuelto has de decir, mujer,” dijo Sancho, “y no revuelto.”

In this case, his wife mistakenly uses the word “revuelto” (mixed up) when she means to use the word “resuelto” (resolved). So she says, “If you are mixed up to do what you say.” And Sancho replied, “Resolved, not mixed up.” That doesn’t work at all. So it would appear that the very first English language translator of Don Quixote, Thomas Shelton, came up with the following solution:

[Teresa says,] “And if you be revolved to do what you say…”

“Resolved you must say, wife,” quoth Sancho, “and not revolved.”

The second translation, by Peter Anthony Motteux, used “devolved” and “revolved,” which is actually not that bad. But given that this is widely (and rightly, I think) considered the worst translation of the novel, it isn’t surprising that no one followed its lead. It also has the problem of not being an accurate translation. “revuelto” means mixed up or scrambled. So Shelton’s translation of “revolved” is actually fairly accurate.

I went through about half of my translations and they all followed Shelton. I didn’t bother checking the others because it got to be very boring. Everyone just seems to agree that there really isn’t going to be a better solution to this particular translating problem. It reminds me of the evolutionary development of major organs. Nature does not seem to have independently created multiple livers. It came upon a designed that worked and stuck with that. (This is not the case with the eye, though — which we would think would be more complex but is not at all.)

There are many other examples this kind of thing in Don Quixote. I suspect that there is more disagreement in other cases. As I make my way through John Rutherford’s excellent (probably best) translation, I’m marking different cases. Perhaps in the future I will do some others. But in general, I don’t expect to see too much variation. Translating Don Quixote is hard enough without trying to find different ways to translate every little thing. And that’s especially true today when there already exist so many great translations.

Israeli Politics Very Similar to Ours

Charles PierceAs to the rhetorical tactics that probably won Netanyahu the election, they shouldn’t be unfamiliar to any American. It is the same argument Kris Kobach makes about voter-ID laws. It is the same philosophy that underpinned the successful attempt to undermine the Voting Rights Act in front of the Supreme Court. It is the accepted wisdom at the heart of John Roberts’ Day of Jubilee. The Other is coming to hijack your democracy and steal your country. And the ghost of Atwaterism rolls back the stone and walks across the Holy Land.

—Charlie Pierce
Bibi’s Kids: The Rise Of The Scapegloat

Oregon Increases Freedom in Our Democracy

Vote Baby Vote!As you may have heard, Oregon passed a law so that people are automatically registered to vote when they go to the DMV to renew their drivers licenses. I am, of course, totally in favor of this. It is an outrage that people even have to register to vote. What is that all about anyway? For at least the last three decades, newborns automatically get social security numbers. We know who the citizens are so we know who is eligible to vote. And all this nonsense of revoking voting rights for felons in the more backward states is part of the same thing. It is all about limiting the voting franchise. So hooray for Oregon!

As Domenico Montanaro at NRP noted, the Oregon move is an interesting contrast to so many deep red states that are doing everything they can to make voting more difficult. One thing about us liberals is that we actually believe in democracy. Maybe it is because we know that in a fair fight — idea versus idea — we win. Or maybe it is just that we know that our policies are more popular. I don’t know. But it isn’t just Oregon that is moving in this direction:

Colorado, for example, like Oregon is all vote-by-mail; Vermont is considering automatic registration… and a Philadelphia politician on Tuesday proposed the same for Pennsylvania. New York and Maryland, meanwhile, have expanded early voting.

The Republicans who are against this law argue that this could harm the privacy rights of individuals. That’s a laugh out loud complaint. If you are a driver, the government already knows all about you. And anyone can “opt out” of the program. I’m not clear who exactly is going to be interested in doing that. The conservative freaks will already be registered and the unregistered are unlikely to care one way or the other.

That gets to an important question, and the point of Montanaro’s article: would automatic voter registration increase turnout? We don’t know, but it certainly won’t hurt. I suspect that it will increase turnout by a small, but measurable, amount. The more important issue is that registration is a precondition for voting. Here in California, if it is four weeks before the election and a citizen decides that she wants to vote — it is too late. You have to be registered 30 days before the election — long before most people really start to pay attention. So automatic registration is a good thing.

As time goes on, conservatives are more and more open about the fact that they really don’t want people voting. Their policies are unpopular. They are dependent on the Fox News set to win elections — people who are convinced that they are the most knowledgeable people but turn out to be more ignorant of actual facts than people who don’t follow politics at all. And that brings us to another bit of news this last week. Apparently, Holly Yan on CNN posted something that the president said and reported the completely distorted headline, Obama: Maybe It’s Time for Mandatory Voting. That, of course, got the right wing media echo chamber going. Ed Kilgore reported about the whole thing, How Anti-Obama Myths Get Started.

But you have to wonder about half of the American political system that is so against this idea. To me, voting is something that we owe to our democracy, just as surely as we owe taxes. So there is nothing wrong with the idea of taxing people an extra couple of bucks for not voting. I can see problems with such a law, but I don’t see the very idea being the leading edge of tyranny. “Obama wants to make sure we all vote; it’s tyranny! We want people to be able to take jobs for a dollar an hour; that’s freedom!”

Anything that increases the ability of the people to vote is a good thing. And anything that encourages them to vote is a good thing. That’s not a controversial thing for a liberal to say. And the more we increase the ease of voting, the more it will become clear that conservatives oppose us, not for any good reasons, but because they don’t believe in democracy.

Don’t Protect Liberal Democracy by Destroying It

Glenn GreenwaldWhen Oliver Wendell Holmes created the metaphor of “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater,” the specific example that he had in mind was a socialist who was passing out literature encouraging young men to resist the draft for World War I. Today, there is much confusion about what that war was even about. And that is nowhere more true than in the United States. How was encouraging draft resistance “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater”? If anything, that’s shouting fire in a theater that is on fire. But at the time, I’m sure that Holmes thought the war was very serious business: the Central Powers posed an existential threat to us!

That’s the problem with government suppression of free speech. It is trivial to find examples that seem too extreme. And when people are afraid, clear political speech that the First Amendment should apply to becomes illegal. There’s a pretty clear distinction between “Kill the president” and “Don’t kill for the president.” Yet that distinction was lost on as great a mind as Holmes during the First World War. Of course, now most people would think that encouragement of draft resistance ought to be legal, just as most people think the Japanese deserved Fourth Amendment protections during the Second World War. We humans are great thinkers in retrospect.

In France, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the government enacted a law that blocks websites that encourage “terrorist” activities. It’s a wonderful irony, right? After all the marches and speeches about the right to say anything you like, the government comes in and clamps down on websites that say things they don’t like. I get it: most of those websites are probably pretty vile. But it’s curious, nonetheless. The government will shut down an entire website just because one page offends them. And the decision is made unilaterally — apparently with no due process.

Of course, I find this greatly disturbing. Governments do not have a great history of oppressing just the “right kind” of people. Just recently, we found out that American “security” forces were spying on a local Black Lives Matter group that protested at the Mall of America. Sadly, as far as the government is concerned, there really isn’t much of a line between advocating the overthrow the US government and protesting against the official murder of minority groups. Even if the new French law is perfect right now, eventually it will be expanded as more and more minor things are defined as “encouraging terrorism.”

This also has personal resonance. Let’s assume that right now the law is limited to people inciting others to acts of terrorism. I doubt it is, but let’s assume that. The same logic that allows the government to shutdown that kind of behavior applies to my writing an article defending those people’s rights. It could be called support for terrorism. And though I don’t generally accept slippery slope arguments, the government does tend to broaden such programs — especially when there is little to no oversight.

Glenn Greenwald provided a great overview of what’s happening, What’s Scarier: Terrorism, or Governments Blocking Websites in its Name? He gave the details about the French law as well as laws and proposed laws in other “enlightened” countries. He pointed out how tyrannical governments use the same excuses to block free speech with a recent headline, “China Tells Seoul Messaging Apps Blocked to Curb Terrorists.”

You see: there are always terrorists! That’s one of the big problems with all this. At this point, I’m not even sure what terrorists are other than violent groups that we don’t like. Greenwald put it well:

As those and countless other examples prove, the concepts of “extremism” and “radicalizing” (like “terrorism” itself) are incredibly vague and elastic, and in the hands of those who wield power, almost always expand far beyond what you think it should mean (plotting to blow up innocent people) to mean: anyone who disseminates ideas that are threatening to the exercise of our power. That’s why powers justified in the name of combating “radicalism” or “extremism” are invariably — not often or usually, but invariably — applied to activists, dissidents, protesters and those who challenge prevailing orthodoxies and power centers.

I have to admit to being especially angry about this stuff for an odd reason. I am so sick of people — great and small, near and far — freaking out about something that is happening; doing something stupid about it; and then looking back and saying, “I guess I overreacted. Oh well!” My whole life is a history of overreacting to things. Over time, I’ve gain what I think is a little wisdom. When I hear a news report about some outrageous thing, my thought is, “I’ll bet when I learn more, I’ll find out that it isn’t what it seems.” That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still outrages — sometimes I’m more outraged the more I know. But I’m convinced that we humans are hardwired to have an addiction to outrage. And it is a very, very bad thing.

Morning Music: Public Enemy

911 Is a Joke - Public EnemyThe other day, a client mentioned the song “911 Is a Joke” by Public Enemy. Since the song was released after 1980, I had not heard it. But I was pleased that I actually knew who Public Enemy are. That probably has a lot more to do with their politics than their music, although I certain have heard “Fight the Power.”

“911 Is a Joke” is about the situation — probably as true today as it was then — of very slow response times for paramedics when calls came from African American neighborhoods. As with most music of that time, the song is haunted by its use of electronic sounds that were great then but over used. But it is still catchy and enjoyable.

I read something painful on Wikipedia, “According to law professors Peter DiCola and Kembrew McLeod, if the samples used on ‘911 Is a Joke’ and the other tracks on Fear of a Black Planet had been cleared for copyright under 2010 rates, each copy of the album would have generated a loss of five dollars per album sold, instead of a profit.” As regular readers know: I think our copyright system is out of control. Here is yet another example of how copyright decreases innovation and creative work.

Birthday Post: Russ Meyer

Russ MeyerOn this day in 1922, the great filmmaker Russ Meyer was born. As a first approximation, you wouldn’t think of me as a Russ Meyer fan. But as I said about David Cronenberg: his obsessions are not mine. But that doesn’t much matter. It seems to be far more important that artists have obsessions than that I share them. Meyers was very interested in sex with particular attention to beautiful women with very large breasts. But he is much more than that. Meyer was probably the first filmmaker who taught me that a great deal could be done with the simplest ingredients.

Nowhere is that more clear than in one of my two favorite Meyer films, Eve and the Handyman. There is basically nothing to the film. Eve, played by Meyer’s wife and collaborator Eve Meyer, is some kind of private eye — or just a stalker — who is tailing the handyman, played by Anthony-James Ryan. So the film is alternating between Eve being very sexy and her watching Ryan do janitorial and handyman work. It was also shot MOS with only voice-over from beginning to end. But it is filled with constantly interesting shots, genuinely funny bits, and nonstop sexiness — completely without showing any of the naughty bits. Here is a good example of everything that I just said in two minutes:

One thing I like about Meyer is that he is obsessed with women and not the kind of androgynous boy-girls that seem to be the ultimate expression of female beauty in much of America today. His obsession is so natural that him making twenty odd feature films about it doesn’t seem especially creepy. Regardless, I find most of the films rather sweet today. They are rarely more risqué than modern perfume commercials. And I never feel anything but that Meyer genuinely respected and admires women, and thought of them as powerful.

That leads us to the other Meyer film that I most admire, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! It tells the story of three go-go dancers who go on a killing spree. Most of the film takes place on a farm where they torture and kill — in theory looking for money. It’s the ultimate exploitation film. And it looks great. It is the one Russ Meyer film that everyone interested in film must watch. And here is the whole thing on YouTube below. I assure you, this will be taken down soon, so you really should spend an hour and a half with it now:

Happy birthday Russ Meyer!