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||| Observations on the English translation of Guy Debord's Oeuvres Cinématographiques Complètes
(Complete Cinematic Works, edited and translated by Ken Knabb, AK Press, San Francisco & Edinburgh, 2003)

John McHale

||| [part 1] ||| [part 2] |||

Page numbers are given first, followed by line numbers for the main text. Other remarks are labelled separately. "Forsyth" refers to the translation of In Girum Imus Nocte et Consumimur Igni by Lucy Forsyth (Pelagian Press, London, 1991). See http://www.bopsecrets.org/recent/responses.htm 'Translating Debord (III)', for further references in Knabb.
Hurlements en faveur de Sade

p. 4, line 22:
“The river and the misery continue" for “L’Isère et la misère continuent" could be left in French.

p. 5, line 4:
“degrees below freezing point or the absolute zero of…". James Joyce, Ulysses, Penguin, 1971, p. 625.

p. 6, line 6:
“Order reigns, but does not govern" for “L’ordre règne et ne gouverne pas". Cf. “The king reigns, but does not govern", Jan Zamoyski, Speech in the Polish Parliament, 1605.
Sur le passage de quelques personnes à travers une assez courte unité de temps

p. 14, line 2:
“groping in the dark" for “agissent…en tâtonnant". A détournement of the Cardinal de Retz, “l’on chercha en s’éveillant, comme à tâtons, les lois", Mémoires (Gallimard, bibliothèque de la Pléiade, p. 201).
Critique de la séparation

p. 38,
“Pan shot across sentence fragment": “The wine of life is drunk; in this pretentious nightclub only the dregs remain" for “Le vin de la vie est tiré; et la lie seule reste à cette cave pompeuse" should be “The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees/Is left this vault to brag of." (Macbeth, II, iii). Cf. “Seule la lie de ces caves" (Patrick Mosconi, Éditions Le Temps Qu’il Fait, Cognac, 1997).
La Société du Spectacle

p.43, “Subtitles":
Cf. “A single feeling is only a part and not the whole of life; the life present in a single feeling dissolves its barriers and drives on till it disperses itself in the manifold of feelings with a view to finding itself in the entirety of this manifold…In love the separate still does remain, but as something united and no longer as something separate; life senses life." Hegel, Love (fragment) in Early Theological Writings, trans. (from the German) by T.M. Knox (University of Chicago Press, 1948).

p. 53,
“Text Frame": Cf. “Just as supremacy passed from immediate artistic practice to theory as such so now theory cedes before self-begetting, synthetic, post-theoretical praxis whose unprecedented vocation is to be the basis and truth of art as well as of philosophy." Selected Writings of August Cieszkowski, edited and trans. by André Liebich (Cambridge University Press, 1979).

p. 68,
“Text Frame": Cf. “Man reverts once more to living in a cave... Moreover, the worker has no more than a precarious right to live in it, for it is for him an alien power that can be daily withdrawn [une puissance étrangère qui peut lui faire défaut d’un jour à l’autre] and from which, should he fail to pay, he can be evicted at any time. He actually has to pay for this mortuary." Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in Early Writings, trans. by Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton (Penguin, 1975, p. 359). Cf. the French translation from the German used by Debord: “L’homme recommence à loger dans des cavernes mais…l’ouvrier ne les habite qu’à titre précaire et elles sont pour lui une puissance étrangère qui peut lui faire défaut d’un jour à l’autre, et il peut aussi, d’un jour à l’autre, en être expulsé s’il ne paie pas. Cette maison de mort, il faut qu’il la paie."

p. 75,
“Subtitle": The French translation used by Debord runs: “Ainsi, puisque je ne puis être l’amoureux qui séduirait ces temps beaux parleurs, je suis déterminé à y être le méchant, et le trouble-fête de ces jours frivoles."
The Arden Shakespeare has:
“And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain,
And hate the idle pleasures of these days."
(King Richard III (I, i). The blank verse here (note on p. 231) could therefore be retained verbatim.

“Subtitle": “But if we consider the content of this experience…the positive that it negates." Cf. “If, however, we consider the content of this experience in its completeness, it is seen to be the vanishing work…the vanishing is itself actual and is bound up with the work and vanishes with it; the negative itself perishes along with the positive whose negative it is." Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. by A.V. Miller, OUP, p. 245.

p. 99,
“Text Frame": quotation from Clausewitz. Cf. “Not what we have argued but the manner in which we have argued may, we believe, benefit theory. Of course, to repeat what we have often said, here as in all practical matters theory has the function to form the practical man and to educate his judgment, rather than to assist him directly in the execution of his tasks." From Carl von Clausewitz, Strategic Critique of the Campaign of 1814 in France in Historical and Political Writings, ed. and trans. (from the German) by Peter Paret and Daniel Moran (Princeton University Press, 1992, p. 208).
Refutation of All the Judgements, Laudatory as Well as Hostile [tant élogieux qu’hostiles], Passed up to Now on the Film "The Society of the Spectacle"

p.126, lines 10-16:
“It’s no more contradictory than it is for someone to pride himself on having remained anonymously silent since 1968 while admitting that he has not even reached the point of scorning his professors" for “Pourquoi verrait-on qu’il est contradictoire de se donner pour un anonyme qui a tellement muté après 1968, et d’avouer que l’on n’en est même pas encore arrivé à mépriser les professeurs?". The restructuring apart, this seems to be based on a misreading of “qui a tellement muté" and mirrors a similar error in “Society of the Spectacle and Other Films" (trans. & edited by Richard Parry, Rebel Press, London, 1992): “Why should one see that it is contradictory to give oneself out (sic) as anonymous who has remained so utterly silent after 1968 and to admit that one has not even arrived at despising the professoriat?" Something like “Indeed, why should it be seen as any more contradictory to claim on the one hand to be some anonymous character who has flitted from one post to another ever since 1968 while admitting on the other that you have not even reached the stage of despising professors?" might be better.
In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni

p. 133, line 9:
“not even one like that of the age of Pericles" sounds odd for “fût-il composé des contemporains de Périclès". “Were it composed even of Pericles’ contemporaries" would be better.

p. 134, line 4:
“impudence" for “le cynisme" [cynicism]?

           line 5:
“they don’t avenge". Perhaps: “they leave unavenged".

p. 135, line 24:
“that reinforce the power of their masters" is strange for “qui correspondent aux intérêts de leurs maîtres" ; “that square/equate with their masters’ interests" would be better.

p. 136, lines 12-13:
“produce their [leur] physical, intellectual…degeneration".

p. 136, lines 20-21:
“which one day tell them one thing and the next day perhaps thevery opposite" for “[leur faisant admettre] n’importe quoi en le leur disant n’importe comment; et aussi bien le contraire le lendemain" does not fully convey the causticity of the original. Perhaps something along the lines of “which one day tell them one piece of nonsense only to reel off the exact opposite the next" might better hammer home the point.

p. 137, lines 8-9:
“is taken from them at an early age" might be better as “is taken from them very early on" [les enfants en bas âge] to avoid ambiguity in the case of teenaged parents.

p. 137, line 11:
“no longer listen to" for “n’écoutent plus du tout" needs to be stronger: “take absolutely no notice of"/ “pay no heed whatsoever to".

p.137, line 23:
“they are more like serfs" is perhaps over-elliptical for “Leur statut peut être plutôt comparé au servage". Perhaps: “Their condition might be said to be more akin to serfdom".

p. 138, lines 7-16:
the progression of ideas linked by “par" and “par le fait qu’il" is perhaps under represented here which leads to a slight alteration of what the author intended. Possibly: “But they also resemble modern proletarians by virtue of the precariousness of their livelihood which conflicts with the strict routine governing their spending, by virtue too of the fact that that they must hire themselves out on an open market whilst owning none of the tools of their trade, and by virtue of the simple fact that they need money."

p. 138, lines 17-18:
again, “they are more like peons" is elliptical for “s’apparente plus précisément au système particulier du “péonage". Rather “is more particularly akin to the specific system of “peonage" ". The OED defines the latter as “The work or service of a peon; the system of having or using peons or enslaved debtors. In South America, attendance upon a horse or mule. In Mexico, the condition of a peon serf, servitude for debt; the system of holding peons. Also, in parts of southern U.S. an arrangement whereby convicts are leased to contractors."

p. 139, line 6:
“are reduced" is very odd for “on rogne sans gêne"; “are brazenly whittled away" would have been better.

p. 139, line 12:
“of equating" should be “of wholly equating" [d’identifier entièrement].

           line 19:
“that they share" for “ils ne font que partager" should surely be “that they merely share".

           line 22:
“this annoying reality" is peculiar for “cette enrageante trivialité". Something like “this infuriating morass of trivia" might better convey the idea.

p. 140, line 8:
“They drive their own cars" needs more qualification for “ils conduisent eux-mêmes leurs propres voitures". “They themselves drive their own cars" [referring to the overwhelming number of car owners without chauffeurs].

           line 14:
“flimsy professional qualifications" lacks the pointed detail of “leur qualification très indirectement productive": something like “the qualifications that link them only very indirectly to productive labour" might better convey the idea.

           line 22:
“Those who never had…" should be “Those who had never had..." [Ceux qui n’avaient jamais eu...] – an allusion to/rephrasing of the proverb “lâcher la proie pour l’ombre" [to give up the substance for the shadow]. “Ne lâchez pas la proie pour l’ombre".

p. 142, line 23:
“who are occasionally/sometimes [parfois] up-to-date enough".

p. 143, lines 13-15:
The restructuring has unfortunately excised the significant (in view of the film's title) phrase “ne fait que se consumer inutilement": “merely consumes itself to no purpose/in vain".

p. 144, lines 2-3:
“This Vanity Fair is well-suited to these plebeian spectators" for “Il va bien à cette plèbe des vanités" is a striking reading but perhaps draws too much attention to Thackeray to the detriment of Ecclesiastes (Bossuet’s subject treated to a détournement in the first half of the paragraph). The magnificent “Funeral Oration for Henrietta-Anna of England" continues “Hé! s’écrie ce sage roi (l’Ecclésiaste), y a-t-il rien de si vain! ...Mais cela même, dit-il, ce repos, cette douceur de la vie, est encore une vanité, parce que la mort trouble et emporte tout." Perhaps: “Such vanities are well-suited to this common herd, constantly...".

p. 144, line 16:
rather “somewhat ‘dogmatic’ " [quelque chose de dogmatique].

p. 146, lines 7-8:
“I do not wish to preserve any of the language...". Cf. Bossuet: “Voulez-vous sauver quelque chose de ce débris si universel, si inévitable?" (Funeral Oration for Henrietta-Anna of England).

           line 15:
should be “every kind of rubbish".

p. 147, lines 4-6:
“But as Swift remarked, ‘It is no small satisfaction to present a work that is beyond all criticism’ " for “ce n’est pas une mince satisfaction pour moi que de présenter un ouvrage absolument au-dessus de toute critique" mirrors a similar error in Forsyth. The quotation comes from “Oeuvres de Jonathan Swift: Voyages de Gulliver, ‘Voyage chez les Houyhnhnms’, chapitre XII (Gallimard, bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1965 & 1988, page 303). What Swift actually remarked was “I am not a little pleased that this Work of mine can possibly meet with no Censurers" (A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms, chapter 12, in The Writings of Jonathan Swift, edited by Robert A. Greenberg and William Bowman Piper, W.W. Norton & Co. New York & London, 1973, p. 257).

p. 147, lines 11-12:
“for some obscure reason nothing else was possible". The restructuring of this paragraph would seem to require “absolutely nothing else was possible" in order to convey the emphasis in the original: “il n’y a eu littéralement rien d’autre, et par là même que rien d’autre..."

           line 20:
“expect revolutionary innovations" for “ici ou là des nouveautés révolutionnaires". The French is more qualified and underpinned by a savage irony that the restructuring of this paragraph has not fully conveyed. Perhaps “the odd/occasional revolutionary innovation".

p. 148, lines 3-4:
“More generally, despite the conspiracy of silence on this matter" for “Et même, plus profondément, quelle que soit la complicité générale pour faire le silence là-dessus" is somewhat elliptical. Perhaps “Indeed at a deeper level, and despite the pervading conspiracy to exact silence on the matter..."

           line 21:
“despicable society" is strange for “l’infamie existante". Perhaps “prevailing infamy".

p. 149, lines 3-5:
“This is one of the main reasons I have aroused such animosity on the part of my contemporaries" for “Il y a là de quoi déplaire aux contemporains" could be condensed to “Here alone is matter enough to displease my contemporaries".

p. 150, lines 17-18:
“slightly remodel by rearranging a few bits of paper" might be better as “slightly remodel in one or two crucial/fundamental respects [modifier un peu une ou deux bases] by rearranging..." the better to convey the searing critique.

           line 22:
“Like military units" is an odd translation of “ce sont des unités plus ou moins fortes": “they are units of varying strength that must be sent...".


Sculpture at Ostrich Central
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