Questions from Brickman (A Short Course in Reading French)

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Getting back to this after a short break...

I've having some trouble with this reading (Roland Barthes, Le plaisir du texte): it's not "difficult" exactly, but he seems to be using certain words/expressions in senses that I don't understand.

Toute une petite mythologie tend à nous faire croire que le plaisir (et singulièrement le plaisir du texte) est une idée de droite. A droite, on expédie d’un même mouvement vers la gauche tout ce qui est abstrait, ennuyeux, politique et l’on garde le plaisir pour soi : soyez les bienvenus parmi nous, vous qui venez enfin au plaisir de la littérature ! Et à gauche, par morale, (oubliant les cigares de Marx et de Brecht), on suspecte, on
dédaigne tout « résidu d’hédonisme ». A droite, le plaisir est revendiqué contre l’intellectualité, la cléricature : c’est le vieux mythe réactionnaire du coeur contre la tête, de la sensation contre le raisonnement, de la « vie » (chaude) contre « l’abstraction » (froide) : l’artiste ne doit-il pas, selon le précepte sinistre de Debussy, « chercher humblement à faire plaisir » ? A gauche, on oppose la connaissance, la méthode, l’engagement, le combat, à la « simple délectation » (et pourtant : si la connaissance ellemême était délicieuse ?). Des deux côtés, cette idée bizarre que le plaisir est chose simple, ce pour quoi on le revendique ou le méprise. Le plaisir, cependant, n’est pas un élément du texte, ce n’est pas un résidu naïf ; il ne dépend pas d’une logique de l’entendement et de la sensation ; c’est une dérive, quelque chose qui est à la fois révolutionnaire et asocial et ne peut être pris en charge par aucune collectivité, aucune mentalité, aucun idiolecte. Quelque chose de neutre ? On voit bien que le plaisir du texte est scandaleux : non parce qu’il est immoral, mais parce qu’il est atopique.

There is a whole little mythology which conspires to* make us believe that pleasure (and singularly the pleasure of the text) is an idea of the right. On the right, one expedits/sends (?) from the same movement against the left** all that which is abstract, tedious, political, and one reserves pleasure for oneself: be welcome among us, you who finally come to the pleasure of literature! And on the left, out of morality (forgetting the cigars of Marx and Brecht) one suspects, one despises every "trace of hedonism". On the right, pleasure is claimed against intellectuality, against clericalism (?): it is the old reactionary myth of the heart against the head, of sensation against reason, of "hot" life against "cold" abstraction: ought not the artist, according to the sinister precept of Debussy, "humbly seek to produce pleasure"? On the left, one opposes knowledge, method, engagement, combat to "simple enjoyment" (and yet: if knowledge itself were enjoyable)? From both sides, this bizarre idea that pleasure is a simple thing, that for which one claims or disdains it.*** Pleasure, however, is not an element of the text, it is not a naive residue (? I don't know what he means by this); it does not depend on a logic of understanding and of sensation; it is an excess/drift (maybe "byproduct"?), something which is at once revolutionary and asocial and can not be taken in charge by any collectivity, any mentality, any idiolect. Something of the neutral? One sees well that the pleasure of the text is scandalous; not because it is immoral, but because it is atopical.


* Literally "tends to".
** I don't know whether vers la gauche goes with expédie or with un même mouvement.
*** This doesn't appear to be a complete sentence.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
expedits/sends (?)
Sends (off, in a quick, dismissive manner).
from the same movement
With the same movement, i.e. in one (swift) motion, all at once.
against the left
To(ward) the left.
** I don't know whether vers la gauche goes with expédie or with un même mouvement.
With expédie.
clericalism (?)
Not sure. I don't know if this cléricature is about clergy or clerks.
of "hot" life against "cold" abstraction
Why have you changed the punctuation?
to produce pleasure
I guess that's close enough, but more exactly I would have said "to give pleasure" (faire plaisir à quelqu'un = to give someone pleasure, to please them, to make them happy...).
if knowledge itself were enjoyable
Wouldn't it be more idiomatic with a "what" before "if"?
The interrogation mark belongs within the parenthesis.
From both sides
I would say "on both sides".
From both sides, this bizarre idea that pleasure is a simple thing, that for which one claims or disdains it.
I'm not sure your "that for which" works very well, although it is a correct word-for-word translation. Maybe you should rather say something like "and therefore".
*** This doesn't appear to be a complete sentence.
It's elliptical. Something like "there is" is implied.
(? I don't know what he means by this)
Neither do I.
excess/drift (maybe "byproduct"?)
"Drift" seems to come closest. Alternatively maybe "deviation".
Something of the neutral?
Away with "of the".
 
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Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Why have you changed the punctuation?

The interrogation mark belongs within the parenthesis.
Oops, those were just accidental.

I guess that's close enough, but more exactly I would have said "to give pleasure" (faire plaisir à quelqu'un = to give someone pleasure, to please them, to make them happy...).
Ah, I didn't know that idiom.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Oh yes, forgot to ask:

si la connaissance ellemême était délicieuse ?
Why is this in the imparfait and not the conditionnel?
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
The conditionnel is used only in the apodosis (much like in English).
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Weird that my textbook never mentioned that. So the imparfait is usually used in the protasis (when the entire conditional is in present tense)?
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
In fact, though my textbook taught le conditionnel, it doesn't appear to anywhere talk about how to actually construct conditionals. :puzzled:
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Weird that my textbook never mentioned that. So the imparfait is usually used in the protasis (when the entire conditional is in present tense)?
Yes.

E.g.

If I were rich, I would buy a castle = Si j'étais riche, j'achèterais un château.

Note that people sometimes do use the conditional in the protasis, but it's a mistake.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Here's some Descartes, from his famous Méditations Métaphysiques (of "I think, therefore I am" fame). He appears to use subjunctives in ways (bolded below) that (if I understand them right) more or less make sense from Latin but that my textbook doesn't really discuss.

Il y a déjà quelque temps que je me suis aperçu que, dès mes premières années, j’avais reçu quantité de fausses opinions pour véritables, et que ce que j’ai depuis fondé sur des principes si mal assurés, ne pouvait être que fort douteux et incertain ; de façon qu’il me fallait entreprendre sérieusement une fois en ma vie de me défaire de toutes les opinions que j’avais reçues jusques alors en ma créance, et commencer tout de nouveau dès les fondements, si je voulais établir quelque chose de ferme et de constant dans les sciences. Mais cette entreprise me semblant être fort grande, j’ai attendu que j’eusse atteint un âge qui fût si mûr, que je n’en pusse espérer d’autre après lui, auquel je fusse plus propre à l’exécuter ; ce qui m’a fait différer si longtemps, que désormais je croirais commettre une faute, si j’employais encore à délibérer le temps qu’il me reste pour agir.
Maintenant donc que mon esprit est libre de tous soins, et que je me suis procuré un repos assuré dans une paisible solitude, je m’appliquerai sérieusement et avec liberté à détruire généralement toutes mes anciennes opinions.

It has already been some time since* I became aware that, from my first years, I had received/taken up a quantity** of false opinions for true ones, and that that which I have since (?) founded on such ill-assured principles could not be anything but extremely doubtful and uncertain; so that*** it was necessary for me to seriously undertake, once in my life, to rid myself of all the opinions which I had taken up until then**** into my belief, and to begin entirely anew from the foundations, if I wanted to establish something firm and constant in the sciences. But this enterprise seeming to be very great to me, I waited until [such a time as] I had attained an age which was ripe enough that I could not hope for any more of it [i.e. experience/ripeness] from another [age] after it [??]*****, at which [age] I would be more fit to execute it [i.e. the enterprise]; which has caused me to delay so long, that from now on I would think [myself] to commit a fault, if I continued to employ that time in deliberating which remains to me for doing.
Now, therefore, that my mind is free from all cares, and that I have obtained for myself a sure repose in a peaceful solitude, I will apply myself seriously and with liberty to broadly demolishing all my former opinions.


* This is rather puzzling. The rule my textbook gives is that il y a X que Y means "for X time, I have been doing Y". But 1) that doesn't seem to make much sense here, and 2) they don't give passé composé as an option for the tense (only present and imparfait).
** Why is the indefinite article missing?
*** Not sure about this transition.
**** Just guessing about this expression.
***** My best guess as this is confusing.
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
* This is rather puzzling. The rule my textbook gives is that il y a X que Y means "for X time, I have been doing Y". But 1) that doesn't seem to make much sense here, and 2) they don't give passé composé as an option for the tense (only present and imparfait).
With the passé composé, it translates the way you did here. ;)
** Why is the indefinite article missing?
It's just idiomatic. Quantité de = many.
since (?)
That's right.
so that***
That's correct too.
until then****
And this too.
any more of it [i.e. experience/ripeness] from another [age] after it [??]*****
That entire phrase is just "any other [age] after it"

You understood the subjunctives correctly. If your textbook hasn't dealt with such subjunctives, it's presumably because it focuses on more modern French. ;) Nobody speaks, and few people write, like that these days.
 
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Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
But what is the en doing, then?
It refers back to âge. You wouldn't say that in English of course, but it's literally "[in the way] of it (i.e. age)".
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Ah, so he's basically saying he can't hope to get much older before dying. That's what I thought at first, but I was determined to make that en fit :swearing:
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
If your textbook hasn't dealt with such subjunctives, it's presumably because it focuses on more modern French. ;) Nobody speaks, and few people write, like that these days.
So how would people express those ideas in modern French -- would they just use indicatives?
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
Let me see:

Mais cette entreprise me semblant être fort grande, j’ai attendu que j’eusse atteint un âge qui fût si mûr, que je n’en pusse espérer d’autre après lui, auquel je fusse plus propre à l’exécuter

I'd say maybe:

Mais cette entreprise me semblant être fort grande, j'ai attendu d'avoir atteint un âge (qui soit — quite unnecessary, though) si mûr que je ne puisse pas en espérer d'autre après lui auquel je sois plus propre à l'exécuter.

Or alternatively perhaps:

... que je ne pouvais pas en espérer d'autre après lui auquel je serais...
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
But I think the first version is closer to the original intent (casting it all into an "expectation" frame rather than a factual one).
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Oh, wait, now I think I may have misunderstood the auquel. Is it referring back to un âge qui fût si mûr, or is it a hypothetical elaboration of d’autre après lui?
 

Pacifica

grammaticissima
Staff member
The latter.
 

Callaina

Feles Curiosissima
Aha, I thought so -- then I did misunderstand it.
 
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