Follow by Email

Friday, June 14, 2013

Mythmaking Abraham's Sacrifice (Gen. 22:1-13)

If you are not familiar with the story, in the Hebrew Bible (in Genesis 22:1 to 22:13) there is the story of the patriarch Abraham, who God asks to offer up his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice to God. The Binding of Isaac - or the Akedah - as the story is called, has all kinds of fanciful theosophical or religious interpretations, but in essence it is usually interpreted to show how Abraham demonstrates complete faith and total obedience to the Divine command which is asked of him. In the end, though, another sacrifice - a ram - is provided as a substitute, a "scapegoat" instead of Isaac, and therefore Abraham's son survives nearly being killed by his murderous father.

 Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio (c. 1603)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sacrifice_of_Isaac-Caravaggio_%28Uffizi%29.jpg
 
Let's "mythmake" (for a full explanation just read my Literary Mythmaking article) this story to see what happens... And it does not matter in the least that the Biblical story has most certainly attained a mythic status already. Although, before beginning this literary experiment, below a simplified version of the story is provided for those of you who aren't familiar with the particular passage - as found in the English New American Standard Bible (Gen. 22:1 to 22:13):

1 Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."
2 He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you."
3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him and Isaac his son; and he split wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.
4 On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance.
5 Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship and return to you."
6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son, and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.
7 Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
8 Abraham said, "God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together.
9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
10 Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am."
12 He said, "Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."
13 Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son.

Ok so now I can begin my experimentation. For no particular other reason than to suit my own fancy, the languages that I have chosen to make travel or warp the Binding of Isaac text are the following: English > Gujurati > Kannada > Marathi > English > French > Hebrew > German > English. I translate the text, from language to language, copy pasting the results from each new translation, on and on I go inputting the linguistic data into the ever so handy dandy free online Google Translate multilingual translation service. And also, just because I was curious to see how the Kannada version translated into English, I included this too as an added ingredient in my final results. The same goes for the Marathi which I also ended up translating into English to see what (non)sense was to come of it. In addition, just because this technique is a little addictive, I've even traveled the Marathi > Hebrew > English, and this was for the sheer excitement of seeing the end results (I know, wonderfully weird how some people get their kicks). Ah, and now let's take a look at what I've got. The goal here is to see if I can recreate a new text that has somewhat been warped as it has been made to virtually travel from one cultural zone to another - and to see if the text has given in to the pressures of this artificial cultural transformation that I have submitted it to.

If you're like me and you can appreciate the history behind these scripts, as I work on mythmaking my text I find that the writing systems used to represent many of these languages are enough to make one admire the beauty of this experiment - and, of course, to appreciate the genius of Google Translate (even if it is far from being anything close to perfect).

Here below is what I've got to work with... I'll copy here for convenience's sake our warped translations to see what interesting distortions we can use to recreate a more interesting version:




From Kannada to English:


1. Now that God tested Abraham came, and said to him, after these issues, "Abraham!" And "Here I am." Said
2. He said, "Now that your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land Moriah, where I can say that the mountains have to offer them a burnt offering." He said the
3. So Abraham rose early morning and a donkey saddled, and his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and two burnt offerings to the tree split, and arose and went to the place God had told them.
4. On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and kalpisikottaru remote location.
5. Abraham "Stay here on a donkey, and I and the lad will go there, and we will worship and return to you.", Said to his young men,
6. Abraham took the wood burnt offering, and Isaac his son on the attack, and he took the fire and the knife in his hand. So the two of them walked on together.
7. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, "My father!" He said, "I am here, I have my son." He said, and he said, "Look, the fire and the wood, but where the burnt offerings of the Lamb?", Said
8. Abraham, "The Lord himself burnt offering, my son, for the sheep.", He said, so the two of them walked on together.
9. And Abraham built the altar there is a God, he was a wooden structure, and bound Isaac his son, and said she would come to this place, and on the tree, and laid on the altar.
10. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.
11. But the Angel of God, "Abraham, Abraham!" He said that to heaven, and said, "Here I am." Said
12. "Stretch out your hand against the lad, and now I know that you fear God, because there is nothing, you have me as your son, your only son, that has not stopped." Said
13. Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold behind him, in a thicket by his horns caught in RAM and RAM, and Abraham went and took them to lunch instead of his son as a burnt offering.


From Marathi to English:


1. God tested Abraham, and the problem is, the longer he said, "Abraham!" And "Here I am." Said
2. He said, "Your son, your mulanam, which you love, Isaac, and I can tell you where the mountains are the only Pruning offer Moriah, be." It
3. Abraham vadharala the early morning and a donkey saddled, and his young men, and Isaac his son, and the offering of the tree split, and arose, and went to God and said the.
4. The third day Abraham and his eyes kalpisikottaru to have a remote location.
5. Abraham "Stay here a donkey, and I will be there and so much, and we worship, and you will." The young man said,
6. Pruning is only wood Abraham, Isaac, and attack on a child, and in the hands of the fire and the knife was. The two together on God.
7. Isaac Abraham his father, and said, "My father!" He said, "I am here, I have a son." He said, and he, "refer to the wood fire and the offering of the Lamb? Brothel said,"
8. Abraham, "The Lord only for sheep Pruning, my son.", God said to them two together.
9. Abraham and the God of a wooden structure with a, and bound Isaac his son, and she is at, and built a tree on the altar, and put on the altar.
10. Abraham stretched out his hands and took the knife to kill his son.
11. But an angel of God, "Abraham, Abraham!" So to heaven, and said, "Here I am." Said
12. "There's no reason, Ladd stretch your hands, and now I fear I do not know, your son, you did not stop at the mulanam, as I have." Said
13. To have his eyes and saw Abraham a, c and RAM and RAM in the thicket by its horns, the back one, and Abraham went and took a lunch instead of just Pruning as a child.



From German to English:


First. God put Abraham to the test, and the problem, he added, "Abraham" and "Here I am." say
Two. He said: "My son, mulanam you love, Isaac, and I can tell you where the mountains are only trimming offers teachers, as" it.
Three.
4th. Third day Abraham his eyes kalpisikottaru a remote location.
Five. Abraham "be serious here, and I'll be there and so, and we love, and you'll make it." Said the young man,
Six. Pruning of trees is only Abraham, Isaac and grab the child, and in the hands of the fire and the knife. Two together about God.
Seven. Isaac Abraham his father and said: "My father," he said, "I'm here, I have a son," he said, "and see the fire victims and Ramp brothel said!.?"
Eight. Abraham: "God is pruning sheep, my son," said God both ..
Nine. Abraham, the God of the wood construction, and bound Isaac his son, and she is, and builds a tree on the altar, and put on the altar.
10th. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
11th. But an angel of God, "Abraham, Abraham!" How to heaven and said, "Here I am." say
12th. "There is no reason Vlad stretch their hands, and now I'm afraid that I do not know your son, am, you should not stop at mulanam how he did it." say
13th. Eyes and saw Abraham, C and RAM and RAM thicket by its horns once again, and Abraham went and take a meal instead of just cutting a child.


And like I mentioned earlier, I played around with Marathi to Hebrew then back to English:


First. God tested Abraham, and the problem is that as it is said, "Abraham!" And "Here I am." Saying
Two. He said, "Your son, your mulanam, you love, Isaac, and I can tell you where the mountains are proposed pruning teachers only, to be."
This
Three. Abraham vadharala my day early morning and severely bandaged, and his young men, and Isaac his son, and the proposal of splitting the wood, and arose, and went to God and said.
Four. The third day Abraham his eyes and to have kalpisikottaru remote location.
Five. Abraham "remain serious here, and I'll be there and so many, and we worship, and you do it." The young man said,
Six. Tree pruning is only Abraham, Isaac, and an attack on a child, and in the hands of the fire and the knife. Two together about God.
Seven. Isaac Abraham his father, and said, "My father!" He said, "I'm here, I have a son." He said, and he "refers to wood fire and the offering of the Lamb? Prostitutes said,"
Eight. Abraham, God said, "The only pruning sheep, my son." Them two together.
Nine. Abraham and the God of the wooden structure, and bound Isaac his son, and she is in, and built wood on the altar, and put on the altar.
10th. Abraham reached out and took the knife to slay his son.
11th. But an angel of God, "Abraham, Abraham!" So to heaven, and said, "Here I am." Saying
12th. "There is no reason, by Vlad stretch your, and now I'm afraid I do not know, your son, you did not stop at mulanam, as I have." Saying
13th. To get up and saw Abraham, C and RAM and RAM thicket by its horns, back once, and Abraham go take lunch instead of just pruning a child.



 Some of the distortions that occur, interestingly, are not unlike some of the techniques James Joyce employed during the composition of his Finnegans Wake. For various reasons, as the text traveled from one cultural zone to another, some words or expressions got lost in translation as the expression goes. And in the end, we get in the Marathi > English text a beautiful distortion like in 2. He said, "Your son, your mulanam, which you love, Isaac..." and also in 4. The third day Abraham and his eyes kalpisikottaru to have a remote location.What do I do with these results, with these distortions? Well, here is where one can use a good dose of creativity to "James Joyce it up" as it were, in recreating a final version composed of these interesting strands. All this just because I want to see what comes of it. (What can I say, I'm curious by nature.) 

I take a line here... a line there... Add a period. Splice a sentence down the middle, and hey why not keep two different translations and put them side by side and... Voilà! I'm done. Here what I get in the end... 

This is my mythmaker version:
1. God put Abraham to the test, and the problem is that as it is said, “Abraham! Here I am."  
2. He said, "Your son, your mulanam, which you love, Isaac, and I can tell you where the mountains are the only Pruning offer Moriah, be."  
3. Abraham vadharala my day early morning and severely bandaged, and his young men, and Isaac his son, and the offering of the tree split, and arose, and went to God.  
4. The third day Abraham raised his eyes to have kalpisikottaru remote location.
5. Abraham "Remain serious here, and I’ll be there and so many, and we worship, and you do it,” the young man said.  
6. Pruning is only wood Abraham, Isaac, and attack on a child, and in the hands of the fire and the knife. Two together about God.  
7. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father. "My father!" he said. "I am here, I have my son." And he said, "Look, the fire and the wood, but where the burnt offerings of the Lamb? Prostitutes said."  
8. “Abraham, the Lord only for sheep Pruning, my son." God said to them two together.  "The Lord himself burnt offering, my son, for the sheep," he said, so the two of them walked on together.
9. And Abraham built the altar there is a God of the wooden structure, and bound Isaac his son, and said she would come to this place, and on the tree, and laid on the altar.
10. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
11. But the Angel of God, "Abraham, Abraham!" How to heaven and said, "Here I am."  
12. "There is no reason, by Vlad stretch your hands, and now I'm afraid that I do not know, your son, you did not stop at mulanam, as I have.”
13. Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold behind him, in a thicket by his horns caught in RAM and RAM thicket by its horns, back once, and Abraham go take lunch instead of just pruning a child.

But the fun doesn't stop here... Curiosity gets the best of me when I copy my mythmaker version and translate it into Haitian Creole and back into English. Here's what I get:

1. God put Abraham to the test, and the problem is that as it is said, "Abraham: Here I am."
2. He said, "Your son, mulanam you, which you love, Isaac, and I can tell you where the mountains of Moriah Cut only offer, be."
3. Abraham vadharala early morning and I seriously erect, with his servants, and Isaac his son, and offered to the Lord divided into trees, and arose, and went to God.
4. Third day Abraham lifted up his eyes have kalpisikottaru remote location.
5. Abraham "serious Stay here, and I will be with for many, and we worship, and you do it," the young man said.
6. Cut only wood Abraham, Isaac and assault on a child, and in the hands of the fire and the knife. Two together on God.
7. Isaac spoke to Abraham his father are. "My father!" he says. "I am here, I have my son." Then he said, "Look, the fire and the wood, but where offerings were made ​​by prostitutes to Lamb? Said."
8. "Abraham, the Lord only for Cutting sheep, goats, my child." God told them two together. "Lord himself burnt offering, my son, to lamb," he said, so the two of them went together.
9. And Abraham built an altar there is a God in the wooden structure, bound Isaac his son, he said he would come to this place, and on the tree, and laid on the altar.
10. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son servants.
11. And the angel of God, "Abraham!" How in heaven, he said: "Here I am."
12. "There is no reason, no Vlad stretch your hands, and now I'm afraid that I do not know, son, you did not stop at mulanam, as I have."
13. Then, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold behind him, in a thicket by his horns caught in the thicket by his horns RAM and RAM back once, and he went to take lunch instead of just cut a child.
The final Hatian Creole backtranslation seems to smooth out the wrinkles in my mythmaker version. Moreover, the text has become more sexual in nature it seems, like in 3. Abraham vadharala early morning and I seriously erect, with his servants, and Isaac his son... In line 7. ...Then he said, "Look, the fire and the wood, but where offerings were made ​​by prostitutes to Lamb? Erections and prostitutes have somehow made it into the story - and there's even a guy named Vlad in there? (Look at 12. "There is no reason, no Vlad stretch your hands, and now I'm afraid that I do not know, son, you did not stop at mulanam, as I have.") Interesting to backtrack and see which language Vlad gets written into the storyline. Incidentally I do see how it happened, "and the boy" became somewhere along the way "and the lad", but the Hebrew did not translate "lad" but only added the prefixal consonantal letter vav - basically v/u, which merely means "and" - in front of "lad", thus a distorted "v-lad" (that would mean in "and the lad" in Hebrew) got lost in translation and became capitalized to Vlad. Interesting. Maybe, just maybe Vlad - if I try to make sense of the Haitian Creole text - perhaps Vlad is one of Isaac's servants. You ask which servants? Well, they appear in line 10. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son servants. At this point it looks like the ram is no longer needed to take Isaac's place if Vlad his servant is willing to take the place of his master. In this case, why not rename our new story more appropriately to better reflect its content - to something like The Prostitutes' Sacrifice of Vlad, Isaac's Erect Manservant... 



Thursday, May 30, 2013

Literary Mythmaking: Reworking Warped Threads

As languages evolve over time, their words they contain change ever so slightly as they are uttered from one person to the next. At first, the words might only slightly change in the manner they are pronounced, yet the interlocutors' accents do not prevent them from being mutually understood. A good example is the difference between different forms of Modern English, such as when Canadian English speakers talk to their distant British friends, or with their Australian mates from the other side of the world; regardless, the forms of the English language spoken between these countries are mutually understandable, all except for certain terms which are certainly more common to each "locality" or country. Evidently, context plays a very important part in language evolution, be it historical, cultural, geophysical or whatever else that contributes to certain innovatory features that appear in a form of English and not the other.

English is the present-day lingua franca in the world today, therefore it is difficult to imagine the evolution of Modern English into so many other tongues - linguistic offshoots - but if history can bear testimony to language change; it is unavoidable. English, too, shall one day cease to exist and out of one main stem, branches will grow in many different directions. We need only to look at what happened to another great lingua franca, Latin, and all that sprouted from it, e.g. French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian... Hard to believe, but  until the end of the 18th century - not too long ago - most books were written in Latin instead of the more common everyday vernaculars. 

So where am I going with all this? No, this article is certainly not going to be about any specific language family's history or whatever else topic that could be classified under the general heading of historical linguistics in general. What I think that I wanna do with this article is just to explore a little bit... I wanna explore how language travels, how it is that through one ear to another when a story is told from one wayward traveler to another, then onwards from that last one listening to a companion and so on and so forth... Or the same goes for text, when the word has been written down. Until in the end, the story has traveled from one place to the next, and the next, and so on - until it has traversed cultures, the story translated from one language group to another. To put it simply, people like to talk and to entertain each other, and so they have always been. Everyday, everywhere, we communicate in communion with each other. Cultures often connect not on any great stage, but rather instead cultures connect when people meet together on a personal level and just talk. In a world where religions, cultures, and languages, are ruled and constantly kept into check by religious leaders, computer spell checks, dictionaries, the 40 Immortals from the French Academy come to mind... In short, there are certain constrains that try to prevent change sometimes, whether this change be found in the way we think, speak, write, or whatever else.

I feel like being creative and to invent a virtual laboratory where I can permit myself to explore how a story travels from one culture and language to another - a sort of machine that can can permit us to look at a story and to see how it changes, how it differs as it travels - as it unravels - across cultures and languages, a process not too dissimilar to how myths are created in the realm of "great" stories with "great" big and important themes. me to look at. Think about how often kids at a birthday party play the telephone game, sitting in a circle and secretly telling a simple strand of story to the boy or girl sitting directly next to them, who retells it to the next kid, then this kid retells again to the next, and then so on it goes, until the story comes back full swing making its way all too often than not a little distorted to the first kid. Then everybody has a good laugh when the original storyteller reveals to the group what the original version of the story was, and the kids all piecemeal their misunderstandings together hysterically as they realize what they had thought they had heard whispered into their ear. Think of this telephone game on a grander scale, let's say the stage of the world's cultures and languages thousands of years ago in a predominantly illiterate existence. Over millennia, seemingly this is how myths are formed, for stories take on many mythic proportions as they get passed on.



However, since we cannot build a time machine to return to any specific ancient epoch to study the "myth making" process - nor can we see it over the centuries it would take for a myth to form-, let us instead use the marvelous technological tools (Google Translate) we have at our disposal in order to set up our, hmm... for simplicity's sake - let's call this virtual lab we're creating the "mythmaker". It has a nice ring to it. To begin our experiment, let's take a simple strand of story to feed through Google Translate and make it "travel" from one ear to the next until we revert it back into the original language it started in - in this case being English. The demonstration will serve to show how the story seems to sound a little bit "odd" as it "travels" through languages and cultures, and that upon it's return the final version is quite different from the original. Then we'll put them side by side just to look at what strange changes have occurred, and that how a simple story becomes and sounds somewhat "mythical" as it traverses "cultural" zones.

In my mythmaking recipe, I'll take some strand of text and make it travel from point A to point B. England will be my Point A - since we're working in English - and point B will be located somewhere in the Punjab. This means that I will feed my "story" into the mythmaker and see what happens as the "story" makes its  way from person to person over many great distances, for many centuries (why not?), onwards until it reaches my point B, somewhere in the Punjab (Pakistan). And what languages does this story get to be recounted in? Well, an English fisherman might've told the story to a Frenchman at a tavern, who then told it to an Italian at the fish market, who then recounted it to an Austrian, who then told it to a Hungarian, and then it got passed on to a Romanian, a Greek, Turk, Iranian, and onwards until it reached my point B speaker in the Punjab in Pakistan. Are you getting the jist of it? It's like the children's telephone game on a grand scale. Look at the map below to reorient yourselves with the Eurasian languages I mentioned in my point A to point B story traveling. 

Our Mythmaking Atlas: The Eurasian Political Map

Source:http://www.silkroadproject.org/Portals/0/images/lg_PoliticalMap_color.jpg

 

First, as for the English text that I'll insert into the mythmaker, I'll use something that easily accessible. Let's say a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, one of my favourite philosopher's, taken from his Wikipedia bio article. It is a quote from Thus spoke Zarathustra (Prologue, §§3–4):
 
I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?... All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood, and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is ape to man? A laughing stock or painful embarrassment. And man shall be that to overman: a laughingstock or painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape... The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth... Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman—a rope over an abyss ... what is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.

Let's make this text travel from England all the way to the Punjab in our virtual little lab. So, first, we feed this text into our mythmaker machine - Google Translate is our tool for this. The recipe to make our story travel through culture, time, and space is the following: I just copy and paste the above text into Google Translate and translate from English to French, then copy paste results and translate from French to German, then German to Hungarian, Hungarian to Romanian, Romanian to Greek, Greek to Turkish, Turkish to Persian, Persian to Urdu and then finally just translate the final result into English again to see what you get.


Below, is my Point B Urdu version translated back into English. For comparison's sake, look at the mythmaking process and compare it to the above original which left from Point A in English, and see how the text changed as it traveled from culture to culture - not unlike the results one would expect from the familiar kid's telephone game. Here's the somewhat nonsensical text I get when it is retranslated in English from its Point B destination which is in Pakistan where is spoken Urdu:
Superman you. Man is something that must be overcome. You can overcome this? Fratr all by himself and Echo ... darayy cyzy wild animals, even by the Census tuannd at times stormy kaهs elderly men insult and mskrه set mamoon or pain? Shame. And human Übermensch: fun, or a painful embarrassment. Now, you guys, worms, and insects. You were apes, and even now he's a monkey, monkey ... So if Superman Earth. Views: Superman on Earth ... Man with rope between animal and human bone ... What a great man, a bridge or over.
Or, even more fun, even if this lab we've just created isn't a real world situation, it is nevertheless amusing to look at what else you get when you mythmake. Taking the same above recipe, below is the Hungarian version of the text when retranslating it into English:

You the Overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What did you do to overcome it? ... All beings have created something beyond themselves, and want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the wild animals do not beat people? What is the monkey man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And the man, the Übermensch: a laughing stock or painful embarrassment. Got the path of the worm people, and that is still worm. If you were apes, and even now, the man is more ape than any ape ... Superman is on the ground. Have your say: The Overman is on the ground ... Man is a rope between animal and man, tied a rope to divide the ... what a great man that he is a bridge and not a goal.
Not too distorted that one.

But let's move on now and follow Nietsche's words a little farther down the road - in the same "recipe" - and let's take a look what we get when retranslating into English from the Turkish:
You are Superman. Adam is available on a bad thing. What did you do to overcome it? ... All assets created something beyond themselves and return to the wild animals, even if people can not beat the great flood to decline and would make a mockery of the man is the monkey or pain? shame. And man, Übermensch: ridicule, or painful embarrassment. People and wounded wolf trail is still worm. If you were apes, and even now he's a monkey, a monkey ... If Superman is on the ground. Views: Superman on the ground ... The man is a rope between animal and human rope attached to divide the ... what a great guy is not a bad bridge, an end.
I think this is my favourite one. Or simpler still, just send the text from England to France and back again and see what you get... I even bother to show you the results because it is virtually the same - the cultural distance is not great enough. If anything, the mythmaker process could be just as useful to demonstrate what people have already known for years, that culture and language affects/effects the story being told and the way it is being heard -and retold. And this even if the listener has paid as much close attention to it as possible. In the end, since the birth of human speech, I regret to inform you dear reader that we have all been playing the telephone game, and shall continue to do so forevermore. All of the great religions, cultures, and languages of the world, in sum, have all depended on it in acquiring new knowledge and spinning new tales from old ones - with the storyteller simply reworking the warped thread.

Source: http://www.thetapestryhouse.com/media/transfer/img/mc020.jpg








Tuesday, May 21, 2013

William S. Burroughs and Cut-Up Writing

I think William S. Burroughs was on to something. Aside from Jack Kerouac, Burroughs was another one of the influential authors of the Beat Generation that in the 1950s and 60s found popularity - if not notoriety in Burroughs' case - in his experimental writing styles. Burroughs was introduced to the cut-up technique of writing, which basically means he would quite literally "cut-up" a strand of linear text into segmented pieces with one or a couple of words a piece, and then simply reorder them in whatever fashion he saw fit.

Source: www.openculture.com

Burroughs experimented with the cut-up technique at great length and it suited him fine, for he found that by doing so he could somehow alter reality - or even foretell future events. The Nova Trilogy, published in the early 1960s were a series of three experimental novels published by Burroughs in which he made use of the cut-up. The Soft Machine was the first book in the trilogy - published two years after his groundbreaking Naked Lunch- , and it is often considered by many as the definite cut-up work as far as serving as an exemplar of this particular methodology. If you have never heard Burroughs explain his cut-up technique, then you have to watch this video: William S. Burroughs on the Art of Cut-Up Writing  (I particularly like Burroughs' raspy voice explanation of cutting-up text, like at around 1:10 in the vid when he explains, "When you cut into the present, the future leaks out...")

Source: http://berglondon.com/blog/2012/01/06/gardens-and-zoos/


To give you an idea of what the result is, just read the following passage from Burroughs' The Soft Machine  (p. 7):

Well the traffic builds up and boosters falling in with jacket shirts and ties, kids with a radio torn from the living car trailing tubes and wires, lush-workers flash rings and wrist watches falling in sick all hours.  


William S. Burroughs was not the first to use this cut-up style of writing. Many years earlier, in 1920s the Dadaist writers were using it. In his article, Dan Colman (William S. Burroughs on the Art of Cut-Up Writing) relates that in his "dada manifesto on feeble love and bitter love," Dadaist writer Tristan Tzara, in the late 1920s, included a section called “To Make a Dadaist Poem,” and it gave these instructions (quoting Colman's article):
Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that makes up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are – an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

But alas, in this day in age, who has time to get ye olde tyme paper and scissor and actually cut the old fashion way when we can simply direct ourselves to an online article, cut and paste into a virtual cut-up machine and away we go. To this effect, knock yourself out, just go get some text on Google News, Wikipedia or some other online text and then pay a visit to the "cut-up machine" set up on Lake Rain Vajra's website, where the author has replicated a simple tool for you to cut-up text virtually without getting your hands too dirty. (No need to shake the bag filled with words, just click on the Cut It Up button.)

A scene from David Cronenberg's screen adaptation of Burroughs' Naked Lunch





Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Kérouac: Joual Royalty

The great American novelist, poet, the so-called King of the beats, Jack Kerouac - or as he was known in his French Canadian community in Lowell, Massachusetts, by his birth name Jean-Louis Kérouac or simply by his nickname Ti-Jean. His jazzy second novel, On the Road (1957), is an iconoclast literary masterwork, often referred to by critiques as one of the more influential pieces of writing in the postwar era.

Image Source: http://www.jackkerouac.com/


But alas, what many people do not know is that Kerouac had initially written On the Road (1957) in French - or quite specifically - the form of Canadian French often referred to as Joual. In fact, Sur le chemin was the title Kérouac gave to the initial and original version of the work which he penned in 1952 while in Mexico. It is Gabriel Anctil, a Canadian journalist, who made this unexpected discovery while gaining access to the author's manuscripts in 2007 (see article interview with Anctil in Le Monde  "Sur le chemin" un inédit de Jack Kérouac écrit en français). Alongside this, there was also found another unpublished French novel, La nuit est ma femme.   

Cover image of the 50th anniversary edition On the Road: The Original Scroll (2007)
 
Kérouac's Sur le chemin is apparently written in much the same style as its later English parallel version, being all at once innovatory, jazzy, catchy and filled with cool prose and with smoke you can almost smell in between the lines the huffs and puffs as the author pored over it...Sur le chemin (1952), although and oddly even if it remains unpublished, is a literary work which has the particular distinction of being the first literary work to have been written in Joual. In the province of Quebec, Joual literature would only emerge a little later, in the 1960s with authors such as Michel Tremblay.

Here's an extract that appeared in Le Monde (2008/09/08) of Sur le chemin (1952):

"Dans l'mois d'octobre 1935, y'arriva une machine du West, de Denver, sur le chemin pour New York. Dans la machine était Dean Pomeray, un soûlon ; Dean Pomeray Jr. son ti fils de 9 ans et Rolfe Glendiver, son step son, 24. C'était un vieille Model T Ford, toutes les trois avaient leux yeux attachez sur le chemin dans la nuit à travers la windshield."

Kérouac's language is clear, for he wrote in an unbridled language, unrestrained by any artificial language laws, orthographic constraints, or any other fakeries. In short, his was Joual as it was spoken as his native language in New England, not even Joual as it was spoken in Quebec. He had made the language his own by being loyal to the sounds and words of his childhood and his native tongue as he had learnt it.

Sadly though, when he had tried to reconnect with his French Canadian culture and roots by visiting the set of a popular Quebec TV show, Le sel de la semaine, when Kerouac was interviewed in French... Well, essentially at one point he is openly mocked by the Quebecois audience present there. (Watch the vid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ShxmZUdQDo)

This gives you an idea of his reception in French Canada. Kerouac was somewhat of a curiosity, albeit a sensational American one on the one hand, while on the other he spoke Joual... For many snotty francophones at the top of the social pecking order in French Canada, it just seemed too weird to hear a great American novelist come to Canada and speak in everyday French - and I imagine this is why "Sur le chemin" (1952) remains unpublished, except for some brief extracts that have appeared as a freakshow to this linguistic curiosity. No posthumous recognition in French Canada for Kerouac's literary contribution and innovation. We don't even get to read it. Sur le chemin (1952) will remain in the Kerouac vaults, in New York city, until some brave Francophone publisher goes and rescues these precious pages to make them known to all.         



Monday, April 8, 2013

Acadia, The Old Far - Really Really Old "Far West": Sprachbund and Kulturbund

A Sprachbund is the usual German term employed in linguistics in order to describe a language which has experienced a high level of convergence with another, and that as a consequence of this close proximity, the languages - be they genetically related or not - are "bound" together, meaning their mutual influence on one another can be felt in many ways. For instance, as it relates to the Indian Subcontinent, the fusion between the Dravidian (Tamil) and Indo-Aryan (Hindi) languages make the two unrelated language groups close as far as sharing many distinguishing features, and this aside from a commonly shared vocabulary in reference to the similar culture and values held by the two separate groups of speakers. Much the same can be observed in Romanian, an Italic language (from Latin), which because of the close proximity of other unrelated languages in Central and Southeastern Europe, basically the Slavic languages in the Balkans - around the Black Sea-, as a consequence of this geographic coexistence with Bulgarian for instance, Romanian and Bulgarian have over time come to share many distinguishing features.

Well, if you have read my previous article (see Acadian Prehistory) exploring the long history of interaction between the English and French languages - and all of the other related languages such as those that belong to the langues d'Oïl group, such as the Poitevin-Saintongeais variety that gave rise to Acadian/Cajun - then it is not surprising in the least to see English and French in general as a Sprachbund. English contains by far the most Latin borrowing of any Germanic language, whereas the French language is noticeably quite different that other Latin-derived languages (i.e. Italian, Spanish), since French contains a substrate influence from Gaulish (from the Celtic-speakers living in Gaul when Julius Caesar invaded it and imposed Roman rule and Latin along with it) and a superstrate influence from Frankish (Germanic). The Frankish kingdoms and subkingdoms were basically first restricted to the Ile-de-France where Paris is located, but eventually the name spread to all of what is modern-day France (again, read my previous article).

So basically, in a nutshell, the Celtic-speaking Gallic people under Roman rule spoke Latin with a Gallic accent, until the Frankish imposed their rule - and Germanic accent - years later after having carved themselves out a fair chunk of the Roman Empire in what would be eventually known as Francia or the Frankish Empire.

The Frankish Empire, 481 to 814

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Frankish_Empire_481_to_814-en.svg
The French language can therefore trace back its Germanic influence to 481 when the Franks came to rule over this former Roman territory in Late Antiquity. This Celtic and Germanic influence is what distinguishes the French (and other langues d'Oïl) language from Latin-derived languages such as Italian and Spanish. The  Oïl accent opposes the Oc (Occitan) accent which dominates the South of France and which is more Latin. The Oïl accent heard in French Acadian is more from the Poitevin influence than from Parisian French variety, for "French" per se does not even exist yet at this early point in history. The Frankish borrowings passed into the Romance languages, meaning the vulgar forms of Latin that existed on the territory of Roman Gaul when the Germanic tribes invaded; Classical Latin was purely for scribal purposes, reading and writing, while in everyday usage, Old French - an artificial term that comprises such different dialectal forms of Latin as Francien ("French" from the Ile-de-France), Picard, Saintongeais, Occitan, etc... - basically it is in these precursors of "French" that inherited the Germanic borrowings. It is estimated that nearly close to a thousand Germanic Frankish terms were inherited by the these Romance languages, with only 400 that remain in Standard French today (Leclerc 1989: 339).

English inherited, it is estimated, nearly two-thirds of its vocabulary of words from French, mostly from Norman French since the Norman Conquest of England which is marked by the Battle of Hastings in 1066, where William the Conqueror defeated the English. Over the centuries, the English-speakers absorbed an astonishingly high percentage of words from the Norman language into their own. However, the reverse, with the English rule over France with the Angevin Empire (see previous article, Acadian Prehistory) did not have the same results on the "French" language(s), and this for the simple reason that most of the English rulers from the Angevin line were all originally from French pedigree and at this point in time the Kingdom of France was by far the most populated country in Europe and also the lingua franca of the epoch. As opposed to the thousands of French words which have passed into the English language since the 11th century Norman Conquest, in stark contrast to this the same cannot be said of English borrowings into French. As a matter of fact, English contributions to the French language are fairly recent in the history of the language, because up until the 17th century, the English linguistic influence was rather insignificant (Leclerc 1989: 349): a total of 8 English words borrowings in the 12th century, 2 in the 13th, 11 in the 14th, 6 in the 15th, 14 in the 16th, and then 67 in the 17th and 337 in the course of the 19th century (ibid. 349). As can be seen with these figures, the increase in English word borrowings into French coincided with the rise of the British Empire in the mid-17th century when England became the dominant colonial power in North America and India. The English words borrowed into French therefore usually had something to do with the exotic places and things being discovered in the course of their world conquest, along with other words typical to British morals, maritime trade, and political and judicial terms, equestrian sports, the newly established steam locomotive railroad system, and finally words that belong to the industrial revolution (Leclerc 1989: 349).

The cultural legacy of the British Empire is truly great, and until the 20th. century the English word borrowings were mostly inherited from the British, but then, henceforth, the English contribution would come by way of the United States of America. The U.S.A. would influence the French language and culture through cinema, industrial innovations, commerce, sports, science and technology, and... Well, to say the least, when all is said and done, the English contribution to the French language in the long run might possibly outnumber the Italian influence, which up until now was the most important one with a little over 1500 "italianismes" having incorporated themselves over time in French - especially since the Renaissance period (ibid. 347-49). 

Another important detail to consider is that with the increase of English borrowings into the French language in the mid-17th century, importantly this period also marks the foundation of the Académie française by Cardinal Richelieu, the "French Academy" responsible for the preservation of the French language. The Académie and its forty immortels - the name reserved for its members - is considered as the ultimate authority on all matters pertaining to the French language, its grammar and spelling. The origins of the Académie française date to the 1620s and 30s and was modeled on the Accedemia della Crusca, founded in Florence in 1582. The Académie française would help France do what the Accademia had done for Italian, having formally made the dominant Tuscan dialect of Florence the model for "Italian" as an official national language.

So far any of this sound familiar at all? Germanic speaking barbarians overrunning the Roman Empire - Roman Gaul - in the end influencing the vernacular Latin spoken their to the extent that the langues d'Oïl group would retain this trace of influence to this day in languages such as Francien (the precursor to Standard French) and Poitevin (the precursor to Acadian) - what linguists refer to as the superstrate influence or trace of Frankish. Latin gave way to vernacular forms of Latin in "France" between the 7th to 9th centuries, and Francien and Poitevin among other vernacular forms of Latin are the culminating result of this Frankish influence in the North of "France". Then there are the Germanic-speaking Vikings from Scandinavia (Norway or Sweden) that terrorized the Frankish rulers into giving them what would be known as Normandie, and then barely a century and a half later these Normans would rule over England. Ironically, the Germanic cultured Vikings somewhat assimilated into French customs and developed their own vernacular, Norman French which they imposed on the English. The Angevin Empire (again, see Acadian Prehistory) is another prime example of the Sprachbund (language convergence) and Kulturbund (convergence of cultures over time) over Germanic (Frankish, Scandinavian, English) and Latin vernaculars (Francien, Poitevin).

This convergence even seems to follow the Poitevin people when they come to settle in Acadia, for as they fled a war-torn Poitou where the French Wars of Religion (1562-98) had destroyed and ruined, the peasantry had ultimately signed up to flee their feudal overlords and opted to leave France behind them. Although, at the beginning of the 17th century, the first Acadians certainly did not consider themselves to be French nationalists (as contemporary French immigrants consider themselves nowadays) but rather it was their regional Poitou identity that would have been most important to them. French nationalism simply did not exists as it does today at this point in time.

Since the first settlement of Acadia in 1604, with all the ensuing colonial wars that would culminate with the British conquest of Acadia in 1710, le Grand Derangement starting in 1755, the Battle of the Plains of Abraham 1759, the Louisiana Purchase in 1803... Seemingly, history is cyclical. The end result of all this is Canada and the U.S.A., which leaves the French element as a substrate - a minority - in a majority Germanic English-speaking majority. However, to understand the fact that both the history of the Quebecois and Acadian long before their North American origins are steeped in a world where the Germanic and Latin tongues has formed a convergence since the barbarians invaded Rome and the Germanic-speaking and -cultured Franks made France into what it is today.

To think of l'Office québecois de la langue française (OQLF) in the grand scheme of things,  their mandate of enforcing the province language laws, dealing with violations to these linguistic rights guaranteed by Québec's Charte de la langue française... In short, OQLF might indeed be a good instrument in the fight against rampant Anglicization and assimilation rates, but it is nevertheless nothing but an autodefense mechanism against a perceived threat - of the Germanic barbarian invasions? Notwithstanding, lest we forget, that it is these same barbarians - the Frankish that is - that for the most part basically created the "French" language, something that Cardinal Richelieu's creation of the Académie française in the first half of the 17th century, has consequently had the effect of preserving something as artificial and fleeting as a language that seemingly can be written down on a pile of paper somewhere for all to admire as a grandiose cultural achievement - as though something as full of life and breath as language, could ever remain static over time.

But all this is getting a little off topic...

Back to Sprach und Kultur bundes... hmm, I mean language and cultures convergences. Acadia seems to emerge as a sort of 17th century distant European Far West, in terms of cultural paradigms. Not unlike a final stage set for the ultimate expression of the eternal strife between Germanic (English) and Latin (Acadian French) cultures and languages. The fact that Chiac emerges as an ultimate mariage or hybridity of Acadian and English languages - a contact language that leaves native speakers often socially marginalized as potential Francophones or Anglophones. Chiac is quite interesting; a kind of in-between cultural and/or linguistic state - the ultimate expression of Sprachbund if ever there was one.     

I cannot help but think Charlemagne and Rollo would have approved.

Charlemagne statue in front of Notre-Dame-de-Paris

Source: http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/paris/118-1805_IMG.JPG


Interesting to see language on a grander scale than what is usually permitted according to a nationalistic discourse. Sometimes, in North America, one gets the distinct impression the world began at Plymouth Rock down south, while here in Canada, it's mostly the Plains of Abraham for the Quebecois and Port Royal for the Acadians. Why can't we not expand our horizons a little bit past caricaturist representations of ourselves - La Sagouine and Acadieman quickly come to mind - and look back a little further in time to when the first traces of Acadian language and literature can be discerned in the parent Poitevin language which composed the Sermons poitevins around 1250 when the language was first emerging as a distinct linguistic entity and language by comparison to others of the period.   

There you go, Acadian literature and language starts in the 13th century: How's that for a prehistoric Acadian nationalist discourse? Or am I simply the product of an assimilated Francophone mind to even want to embrace Anglicisms and Anglicization as symptomatic of a great Germano-Latino Sprachbund? If English, having embraced an estimated two-thirds of its vocabulary from Norman French and other Latin roots, then why should French fear Anglicization to the extent that it does? At least Chiac seems to embrace it, so maybe it the lingua franca of the future ;)

I'll have to give it some more thought. But for now, as I like to say in Chiac: Worry pas ta brayne, juste va t'otchuper avec tcheuchouse d'aute. (lit. "Don't worry your brain, just go preoccupy yourself with something else.")

Here are some interesting links for more about Chiac:
http://www.ocol-clo.gc.ca/newsletter_cyberbulletin/11_10_2012/content_contenu_e.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiac
http://www.acadieman.com/

Source

Leclerc, Jacques. Qu'est-ce que la langue ? Synthèse (Laval, Quebec), Mondia Editeurs, 1989.