Antimedia

…on cria haro sur le baudet

Posted in Books, epizootics, FMD, Foot and mouth, France, Justice, La Fontaine, Language, translation by Deputy city editor on October 2, 2007

Gustave Doré : Les Animaux malades de la peste

I have been rude elsewhere to Charles Timoney who has written a reasonable book about French that is amusing even if spotty. “Pardon my French” is good at interpreting various phrases but not always so good at getting to the bottom of them. He annoyed me with his entry on the word ‘haro’ which suggests to me that researches were shallow. (Does he have a copy of Le Petit Robert?) The celebrated usage is that of Jean de La Fontaine.

The word is also used by Baudelaire: Il est bon de hausser la voix et de crier haro sur la bêtise contemporaine. This is in Curiosités esthetiques, Salon de 1859.

So do not rely on Charles Timoney in this instance. However my researches led me back to the fable which was first introduced to me, of course, by my French mistress.

This is all as it happens amazingly topical on our island cursed as it is with animal plagues, and so I reproduce it gleefully below. An English translation is available here – also one in Italian!

This really is a remarkable fable and I would like to believe it is still taught to all French school children. It conveys the important lesson that life is very sad. The punishment of the innocent baudet, whose only crime was to have eaten grass, speaks of the exquisite cruelty of justice. Once again I reach for Gustave Doré (above), one of many who have illustrated this story but who really does pathos better than anyone.

Les Animaux malades de la Peste
Jean De La Fontaine (1621-1695)

Un mal qui répand la terreur,
Mal que le ciel en sa fureur
Inventa pour punir les crimes de la terre,
La peste (puisqu’il faut l’appeler par son nom),
Capable d’enrichir en un jour l’Achéron,
Faisait aux animaux la guerre.
Ils ne mouraient pas tous, mais tous étaient frappés:
On n’en voyait point d’occupés
A chercher le soutien d’une mourante vie;
Nul mets n’excitait leur envie,
Ni loups ni renards n’épiaient
La douce et l’innocente proie;
Les tourterelles se fuyaient:
Plus d’amour, partant plus de joie.
Le lion tint conseil, et dit: «Mes chers amis,
Je crois que le Ciel a permis
Pour nos péchés cette infortune;
Que le plus coupable de nous
Se sacrifie aux traits du céleste courroux;
Peut-être il obtiendra la guérison commune.
L’histoire nous apprend qu’en de tels accidents
On fait de pareils dévouements
Ne nous flattons donc point, voyons sans indulgence
L’état de notre conscience
Pour moi, satisfaisant mes appétits gloutons,
J’ai dévoré force moutons.
Que m’avaient-ils fait? Nulle offense;
Même il m’est arrivé quelquefois de manger
Le berger.
Je me dévouerai donc, s’il le faut: mais je pense
Qu’il est bon que chacun s’accuse ainsi que moi:
Car on doit souhaiter, selon toute justice,
Que le plus coupable périsse.
– Sire, dit le renard, vous êtes trop bon roi;
Vos scrupules font voir trop de délicatesse.
Eh bien! manger moutons, canaille, sotte espèce.
Est-ce un péché? Non, non. Vous leur fîtes, Seigneur,
En les croquant, beaucoup d’honneur;
Et quant au berger, l’on peut dire
Qu’il était digne de tous maux,
Etant de ces gens-là qui sur les animaux
Se font un chimérique empire.»
Ainsi dit le renard; et flatteurs d’applaudir.
On n’osa trop approfondir
Du tigre, ni de l’ours, ni des autres puissances
Les moins pardonnables offenses:
Tous les gens querelleurs, jusqu’aux simples mâtins,
Au dire de chacun, étaient de petits saints.
L’âne vint à son tour, et dit: «J’ai souvenance
Qu’en un pré de moines passant,
La faim, l’occasion, l’herbe tendre, et, je pense,
Quelque diable aussi me poussant,
Je tondis de ce pré la largeur de ma langue.
Je n’en avais nul droit, puisqu’il faut parler
A ces mots on cria haro sur le baudet.
Un loup, quelque peu clerc, prouva par sa harangue
Qu’il fallait dévouer ce maudit animal,
Ce pelé, ce galeux, d’où venait tout le mal.
Sa peccadille fut jugée un cas pendable.
Manger l’herbe d’autrui! quel crime abominable!
Rien que la mort n’était capable
D’expier son forfait: on le lui fit bien voir.
Selon que vous serez puissant ou misérable,
Les jugements de cour vous rendront blanc ou noir.

The ‘haro’ of Baudelaire (much more forgettable) is here in full otherwise the pertinent bit is more of a complaint about market failure in the sale rooms:

Non, je ne suis pas injuste à ce point; mais il est bon de hausser la voix et de crier haro sur la bêtise contemporaine, quand, à la même époque où un ravissant tableau de Delacroix trouvait difficilement acheteur à mille francs, les figures imperceptibles de Meissonier se faisaient payer dix fois et vingt fois plus. Mais ces beaux temps sont passés; nous sommes tombés plus bas, et M. Meissonier, qui, malgré tous ses mérites, eut le malheur d’introduire et de populariser le goût du petit, est un véritable géant auprès des faiseurs de babioles actuels.

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Delusional journalism (Matthew Parris edition)

“I can talk up a storm on the folly of George W. Bush or the evil that is Osama bin Laden” boasts Matthew Parris in his Saturday, July 7 column in The Times.

But Parris is volunteering for more hazardous columnising today. He is arguing that “the tide is turning against” Islamic terrorism. His evidence for this is “observation, hearsay and personal hunch.”

Parris declares: “We’re winning the battle – dare I utter the appalling cliché – of hearts and minds.”

Is it fair to describe this as delusional journalism? Are there metrics to substantiate this thesis? What sort of analysis are we dealing with here? A gnostic one contrasting the foolishness of George Bush with the evil of bin Laden. In which case, which “we” is winning? I propose the winner, insofar as Matthew is concerned, is foolishness.

Or I may misjudge him. Perhaps this is this one of these columns in which the gentle reader, guided by the observations and hunches of our fearless and cheekily revisionist columnist, finally sees through the falsity of received dogma. As the scoop of interpretation is revealed, the reader may rejoice that we are winning the war on terrorism after all. This perhaps is actually a redemptive column. The sort of thing to expect from an ernest vicar.

Yet Parris’s opinion is founded on nothing substantial at all. It exists detached completely from reality. Indeed it appears to have coincided with the most lethal car bombing so far, a siege to the death in Islamabad, the Glasgow doctors’ plot and no end whatsoever to the quotidian global horrors, albeit they have so far spared the Groucho club.

Compare Parris, purveyor of hunch, with some other journalism on offer. Because relative to the competition, Parris is writing tosh. Read the New Yorker on the poppy eradication program in Afghanistan, or Iraq Slogger, and in particular look at Le Monde Diplomatique, if you want a paradigm-shifting story about the changing nature of this thing called terror.

Reading Syed Saleem Shahzad in Le Monde Diplomatique, who has met many so-called terrorists, you are not likely to confuse his authority with that of Matthew Parris. It is in fact a contrast between two utterly different schools of journalism. One is revelatory, insightful, based on solid reporting. Parris is based on a hunch, a deadline and a fat check.

Syed’s article begins to describe the geography of a story rather than attempt to be the last word. But it is that rare thing in terrorism studies: an article with some intellectual coherence. Instead of triggering a bullshit detector, it has the smell of verissimilitude, as we say in the copy-tasting room, where we spit most of the stories out into a pot in the floor, and swallow only a few.

Syed writes of the struggles within islam itself and his story not only provides the outline of a sensible way of considering this problem, but additionally contains the uncomfortable reminder that this is not just about the comfort of Parris and his metropolitan friends. Almost all the victims of this war – or more properly, a series of armed conficts between state and non-state actors – are themselves muslims. I think this is much more interesting than Matthew’s wishful theories on hearts and minds. Compared to Parris’s theory that “we” are winning, Syed offers a different dimension of journalism, in which a complicated problem can be seen for what it is.

The on-line summary at Le Monde Diplo hardly does justice to Syed’s reporting.

Deux stratégies islamistes qui s’opposent – two opposing Islamist strategies

Al-Qaida contre les talibans – something genuinely fascinating – the old firm has broken up.

De la Somalie à l’Afghanistan, de l’Irak au Liban, en passant par la Palestine (lire « Comment le monde a enterré la Palestine »), se dessine un arc du chaos caractérisé par l’affaiblissement des Etats et le rôle croissant de groupes armés disposant d’un armement efficace (notamment roquettes et fusées) et échappant à tout contrôle centralisé. Pour les Etats-Unis, ces zones sont devenues le terrain principal de la « troisième guerre mondiale », de la « guerre contre le terrorisme ». Cette vision nourrit la stratégie de l’organisation Al-Qaida, engagée dans une lutte à mort contre « les croisés et les juifs ». Pourtant, sur le terrain, ces discours simplistes ne recouvrent pas une réalité bien plus contradictoire. En Irak, on assiste à une mobilisation d’une partie de la résistance sunnite contre les dérives d’Al-Qaida qui s’est lancée dans un sanglant combat contre les chiites, n’hésitant pas à s’en prendre à leurs lieux de culte. En Afghanistan, de violents incidents ont opposé les talibans aux combattants étrangers d’Al-Qaida, les premiers privilégiant une stratégie nationale (et la recherche d’un modus vivendi avec le pouvoir pakistanais) et les seconds appelant au renversement des régimes musulmans en place, dénoncés comme « impies ».

An arc of chaos is described by the map of Somalia to Afhagnistan, Iraq to the Lebanon, passing through Palestine. This is characterised by the weaknening of states and the growing role of armed groups outside of all effective centralised control and armed with effective weapons, notably rockets and explosives. For the United States these zones have become the principle battleground of the third world war or of the war against terrorism. This vision has in fact nourished, fed into the startegy of al-Qaida which is engaged in its own struggle to the death against christians and jews. Meanwhile on the ground, these simplistic discourses do not capture the reality which is much more conflicted. In Iraq one part of the sunni resistance is mobilising against Al-Qaida who have launched themselves in bloody fighting with the shiia… In Afghanistan there have been violent clashes between the taliban and the foreign fighters of al-Qaida, the Taliban primarily nationalists seeking a strategy including a modus vivendi with the Pakistani power next door; al-Qaida calling for the overthrow of Islamic regimes already in power which they denouce as impious.

 

Compared to this, Parris is not even starting to understand what he is writing about. One must mention in passing that more than 150 people were killed in one Iraqi city in terrorist attacks on the very day that Parris’s column appeared, although none of them will have been known to Parris.

In the campaign to purge delusion from the media on the subject of terrorism, one cannot help notice today’s Sunday Telegraph with its splash warning of a 15-year fight against terror. This is an intriguing new benchmark – one previously undisclosed, I believe. We have been warned that this is generational. But 15 years sound rather specific. A target!

Admiral Sir Alan West, a former first sea lord, now a war counsellor to Grodon Brown, choses a Tory paper to predict that the war on terror will take a decade and a half to win, and went on to make similar points on Sky News. So this was entirely manufactured news.

Interestingly, though, with the scoop that this is no more than three five-year plans. Fifteen years is in fact a dramatic improvement since the forecast of Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, our man in Kabul, last month that it would take 30 years to win the instant struggle. (Apparently, the largest British embassy in the world is being built in Kabul so Cowper-Coles may just have been making the case for a longer mortgage. His embassy should be a long way out of town, in a defensible position, is my advice.)

So more happy news on the war on terror. Within a fortnight of the Brown administration taking over, the time to win has been reduced by decades, from those now obsolete estimates of Cowper-Coles, to the really rather encouraging estimate of Admiral West.

Oh, but we mustn’t call it a “war on terror”. West says of the phrase: “I hate that expression. When I first heard it – I think it came over from the states – I thought it was totally the wrong thing.”

He continues, oddly, that,”it’s not like a war in that sense at all. It demeans the value of a war and it demeans the value of a lot of things.” Demeans the nobility of war, perhaps? What does he mean? That terrorists fight dirty?

Reading Parris, West and Syed Saleem Shahzad I am not sure how we will know when we have won the war on terror – perhaps there will be no more terrorists. West is right, however, that a new approach is badly needed to tackle it. But what is this to be? Be nicer to muslims? More bombs? Poppy eradication? Information war?

The fundamental problem is one that nobody dares acknowledge. The versions of democracy and justice on offer on our side are actually pretty unconvincing. Our example is frankly not so persuasive in the battle for hearts and minds. Maybe if there were no secret prisons, no torturers, elections were decided by voters and not lawyers, seats were not for sale in parliament, corrupt arms dealers were not operating in collusion with governments, for example, the “west” could offer some rentable values to the world.

Until then, it does sound as if the answers to the problem of terror are less likely to be found in the west than within islam itself.

We are all capable of writing real nonsense from time to time. It is odd how the war on terrorism brings out the worst in many journalists as well as most politicians.

*****

A useful Wikipedia discussion of the expression “war on terror” can be found here.

I have previously written of delusional media here, questioning Channel 4 News’s theories on muslim alienation.

 

From here and elsewhere…

Posted in Language by Deputy city editor on June 11, 2007

“I lost it via my bloody Blackberry” is a brilliant gem of a phrase – thank you so much Susan Douglas for sharing this with me. It is adduced to explain the loss of vital communications or data ostensibly due to a fault in the eponymous hand-held communications device. Or possibly by the failure of the operator to have read and understand the operating instructions. This is currently very much a first-world problem.

The brilliant abaporu blog of this parish reports the phenomenon of communicating through “missed calls” – dialing and hanging-up right away before the correspondent picks up.

This is free, since there is no actual call, and it leaves a trace in the form of a ‘missed call message’. Depending on the context, it can mean anything from “call me back” to “I’m thinking of you” or “pick me up at the train station.” In Africa’s English-speaking countries, this is usually called “beeping” or “flashing”, a practical verb: “I’ll beep you when I get there”, or “he keeps flashing me.”

French kids are using the verb “biper” in the same way, says abaporu:

“Je l’ai bipé, il m’a raplé.” They also use “faire sonner” as in “il m’a fait sonner une fois dans la galerie marchande“, or simply “sonner”: “Il m’a sonné today pour le revoir, ça me fait ultra plaisir”.

I note that this form of minimal communication can also be observed on Facebook where users may “poke” one another.

Greeta’s Grandma’s Tales is great fun and she is another great teacher- blogger. (I notice blogging teachers are another phenomenon.) Discussing what it takes to become fluent in a new language, she suggests: “Getting pickled in the language.” Now there’s another lovely phrase.

 

 

Boccaccio on Nicostrata (Carmenta), inventor of letters

Posted in Language by Deputy city editor on May 31, 2007

 

 

Nicostrata introducing a student to the tower of learning, from: Gregor Reisch. Margarita philosophica. Freiburg: Johann. Schott, 1503.

There is rather little of Nicostrata, subsequently Carmenta, on the Internet. Her treatment in English, Italian and German on Wikipedia is perfunctory and not much better in French. It’s most pénible of all in Latin. Boccaccio’s text written in Spanish with Italian interference is here. There is a very good page here from Kings College London on Gregor Reisch’s Margarita philosophica used as a university textbook in the early sixteenth century, particularly in Germany. Discussing the woodcut reproduced above, Hugh Cahill notes:

“In Reisch’s scheme Grammar is the foundation of all learning. She is depicted as Nicostrata (legendary inventor of the alphabet) holding a hornbook and key and introducing a child into a tower of learning with six levels. On the two bottom levels of the tower we see the grammarians Donatus and Priscian. The upper levels are taken up with various portraits of historical figures representing the subjects of the trivium, the quadrivium and natural and moral philosophy. On the uppermost the level of the tower, we see Peter Lombard representing Theology.”

The Boccaccio text is not easy going. With grateful acknowledgement to Yvette Angelats, romance linguist extraordinaire, here is a flavour (errors all mine, not hers):

After noting Nicostrata’s possible maternity of Evandro, king of Arcadia, with Mercury, Boccaccio describes her settling in Italy where she found that the people were not savages, having learned to farm. But judging them not learned, with the help of God she worked with all her might to give the people their own written language, inventing 16 different letters in the same way as Cadmo, founder of Thebes, had invented the Greek letters.

We call these 16 letters the “Latin letters” and it is thanks to her that we have these. Learned people later added more letters but they kept all of the old 16. And although Latin people marvelled at the prophecies of this woman, nevertheless they found this invention of characters and letters so wonderful that they clung to the belief that Carmenta was not a mortal but a goddess. And so as they celebrated her and honoured her, after her death they built a temple to her and named it after her and to perpetuate her name and memory they called the surrounding area Carmentales. And Rome for all her might and power did not allow these names to disappear and for many centuries they called the gate to the city Carmental after Carmenta.

Boccaccio notes that in addition to giving us much of the alphabet Carmenta “is also believed” to have given us the first seeds and foundations of grammar (dado la primera simiente y los primeros fundamientos de la gramatica), which the ancients, with time, later expanded.

“God showed them so much partiality that Hebraic and Greek letters lost much of their glory and the whole of Europe and many countries use our letters; the books in all schools/universities shine and glow with them and with them the exploits and the history of men and God’s miracles are safeguarded for posterity, so that through them we are able to know what we could not witness.”

Further research leads me to a superb book, Famous Women, translated and edited by Virginia Brown, a Toronto medievalist. She has translated Boccaccio’s 106 tales of women from the autograph manuscript of Latin. Boccaccio’s Decameron is justly celebrated but with Famous Women, Virginia Brown has provided an indispensible text for anyone who wants to get closer to the inventor of letters and many other famous women.