Having read the Swedish original and the English and German translations, I had to get the French one too. (I wish I coulThe Great Karlsson Experiment
Having read the Swedish original and the English and German translations, I had to get the French one too. (I wish I could read it in Russian, but my command of the language is insufficient). Out of the four I can appreciate, it seems to me the relative quality is pretty clear. In Swedish, it's a masterpiece. In German, it's nearly as good. In French, it's okay but not really anything special. And in English, it's disappointing.
Not, who's read it in English, pours scorn on my opinions. How can I know it's funnier in one language than another? I just know, it's bleeding obvious, but as usual with humor it's hard to justify my claims. Things don't get funnier when you explain them.
So, here's the Great Karlsson Experiment. (World's best experiment in comparative translation studies, guess what that is?) If you have read Karlsson in at least two languages, please message me to say what your ranking is. I will compile statistics and find out how well people agree. I predict there will be good correlation... but experience tells me that you are often surprised when you actually look at the data!
If you want to read it for free online, here are links for Swedish, German, English and Russian. It's nice and short - I just read the French version, which certainly didn't take more than a couple of hours. And if you've got kids of an appropriate age, pretty much everyone says it's a great bednight book.
It's terrible, I've opened up some kind of Pandora's Box here. No sooner have I revised the story of one Ainsi va la vie book than I feel have to do tIt's terrible, I've opened up some kind of Pandora's Box here. No sooner have I revised the story of one Ainsi va la vie book than I feel have to do the same with another. Alas, Not's arguments seem irrefutable... but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me give you the facts and you can form your own opinion. To start, here's Take 1, the original story from the book:
Coming out of school one day, Max rushes across the road without looking and is hit by a car. He's taken to hospital, where the nice doctor tells him that he's broken his leg in two places. "Am I going to die?" asks Max. "Course not!" says the doctor. "We're going to do a little operation, then you'll be fine. You'll just have to wear a cast for six weeks." Pretty soon, Mom has turned up and is being her usual kind, supportive self. The operation proceeds as expected (the book gives interesting details about how a general anaesthetic is administered, and that it's no big deal). Max is anxious at first about having to spend several more nights in hospital. But it soon becomes clear that the cute girl in the next bed over is kind of sweet on him, and in the end he's sorry to have to go home. She draws a big red heart on his cast as a farewell gift. When the day comes to remove the plaster, he asks the doctor if he can keep it.
Awwww! But Not's right: this could give kids the idea that getting run over is a fun and life-enhancing experience. Here's Take 2, written more in accordance with traditional Brothers Grimm values:
Max dashes across the road without looking and is hit by a car. He's taken to hospital and put into intensive care. "Will he be okay?" asks his mother tearfully when she arrives. The doctor tells her to sit down, then gives her the news. Max will probably survive, but they'll have to amputate both legs. There is also brain damage. There is no chance he'll have a normal life.
Max spends several months at the hospital before finally being allowed to come home. He is no longer the same boy. He suffers constant, excruciating pain and has wild mood swings, screaming every night until the small hours. The strain on his parents is intolerable. Barbara starts drinking heavily, then begins an affair with Paul's brother. When Paul finds out, he files for divorce and says he never wants to see her again. He starts to drink too.
One night, when surfing the web, Paul suddenly decides he wants to get married again. He selects a mail-order bride, a platinum blonde 22-year-old from Kirgyzstan. As soon as Olga turns up, it's clear that she and Lili can't stand each other. Things, already bad, start to spiral further downhill. It doesn't help that Olga is also an alcoholic.
A month later, Olga tells Paul that she's made arrangements for Lili to go to boarding school overseas; it's the best solution for everyone. Paul barely reacts, signing all the papers without even reading them. Lili is not going to boarding school. When she gets off the plane, she finds she's now working for a high-class brothel, in fact Olga's former employer. But she's reached bottom and finally gets a lucky break. One of her regular clients, a wealthy gangster, decides he likes her enough that he'll make her his mistress. Lili, smart as always, does everything in her power to please him. Vladimir is smitten with his young French girlfriend. A few months later, he asks her to marry him. In their remote corner of Kirgyzstan, it's perfectly legal despite the fact that she's still only 11.
"I have two conditions," says Lili. "I want you to bring Max and Dad here to live with us. And I want my stepmother killed. Slowly." Vladimir doesn't even hesitate. He makes arrangements for his right-hand man, an artist with the electric drill, to visit Olga the same week. She holds on for nearly six hours before passing out for the last time. Paul and Max arrive on the next flight.
And they all lived happily ever after. Nonetheless, the moral is clear: kids, road safety is important!
Okay, give me your honest opinion. Which version is more responsible? ______________________________
Update: Not disowns all responsibility for this review, and my attempts to get her to read the Brothers Grimm have also been uniformly unsuccessful. She says she'll just stick with nice, safe Jim Thompson, Georges Simenon, Ruth Rendell, etc etc... ...more
It is rare that I feel I want to rewrite any book in this excellent series, but Max raconte des bobards is an exception. Here is the story, includingIt is rare that I feel I want to rewrite any book in this excellent series, but Max raconte des bobards is an exception. Here is the story, including my suggested amendations:
Max and Lili are on vacation at a Normandy beach town. None of the big kids will take Max seriously, so he starts making up more and more unlikely tales: he's allowed to ride on his cousin's scooter, he's an expert fisherman (just not today), he's beaten a boy several years older than himself at arm-wrestling, etc. Within a couple of days, he's become a pathological liar. He and a friend try to sneak into the beauty contest to look at the bikini babes, despite the sign at the entrance saying ADULTS: 10 FRANCS. "I'm ten," says Max with barefaced bravado. "Are you sure?" asks the ticket lady kindly. "Under tens are free." Max changes his mind without missing a beat. The bikini babes are very well done and come in all shapes and sizes.
But Max's lying has caught up with him - he'd told his parents a different story about how he was going to spend the afternoon. Suddenly he's been outed and no one will believe a word he says! So when he runs over to his friends to tell them that a girl has been cut off by the incoming tide on a little rock and is yelling for help, they laugh in his face. Nothing deterred, Max grabs a surfboard, paddles out and rescues her all on his own. He returns in triumph pushing the distressed damsel on the board, while he swims along behind it. "Gotta believe in yourself," he murmurs as he accepts congratulations on his heroism. The girl drowns, and her shocked mother screams hysterically that if only he hadn't told so many lies her daughter would still be alive. Max has a nervous breakdown and is clearly going to spend the rest of his life seeing psychiatrists.
Ah, sorry. After-effects of reading the Brothers Grimm last week... ...more
PAUL BRYANT: I'm sorry God, this just isn't good enough. Too much pain and suffering and Nazi atrocities. You'll have to do better than that if you wa
PAUL BRYANT: I'm sorry God, this just isn't good enough. Too much pain and suffering and Nazi atrocities. You'll have to do better than that if you want me to believe.
GOD: Right Paul, let's see what you think of my latest miracle! I've written a play exclusively for you, where I discuss these very matters with Sigmund Freud in 1938 Vienna.
PB: And what's your general line of reasoning?
GOD: Oh, you know... free will, that sort of thing. You've seen most of it already. But it's so obviously tailored exactly to fit your objections, and what's more it was written before you even made them. How about that then?
PB: Doesn't sound very convincing. Am I mentioned by name?
GOD: Well... not in so many words. But I've asked my servant Manny to say I had you in mind. He's very reliable, you must know that.
PB: I wouldn't trust Manny further than I could throw him. Which won't be very far considering that he's been stuffing himself on Australian food for the last forty days and nights.
GOD: It's true, he has rather been ignoring My dietary advice.
PB: So it's no deal. Unless I see an honest-to-goodness miracle right now, in front of my nose and without any possibility of cheating.
GOD: Come on Paul! Faith doesn't work that way. You know you won't feel any real satisfaction in overcoming your doubts if I make it so--
PB: Enough of your slippery theology, God! Put up or shut up! Where's that miracle, eh?
GOD: Oh, alright, alright. I sometimes wonder if I didn't overdo things a little when I created you. Gabriel will deliver a thousand votes as soon as he's finished taking care of today's falling sparrows. Now do you believe?
PB: Did you say a thousand votes?
GOD: It's a cheap price to pay for your everlasting salvation, Paul.
PB: Alright God, as soon as they arrive I officially promise I'm changing my mind.
GOD: Would you mind signing that in blood? Just a formality, you understand.
PB: Hey, wait a minute! I didn't think--
GOD: Honestly, Paul, don't be so skeptical all the time. Here, I'll prick your finger for you. That wasn't so bad, was it?
PB: I guess not. So, which review will they be on? Maybe my Murakami--
GOD: Oh, they're not for you. Whatever gave you that idea? They're for Manny.
PB: What?? Give me back that contract! I don't think you're God at all, you dirty--
GOD: Sorry Paul, gotta go take care of a couple of mass extinctions and stuff. See you around!
VOTE FOR THIS REVIEW AND SAVE PAUL'S SOUL! NOT ONLY THAT, YOUR LAST THREE SINS WILL BE AUTOMATICALLY FORGIVEN. GUARANTEED BY THE POPE*
* The guy in the bar said he was the Pope, anyway. I guess I should have asked for ID.
A few weeks ago, I witnessed one of those little internet dramas that one often sees on Goodreads. A person calling himself "Edward" starting leavingA few weeks ago, I witnessed one of those little internet dramas that one often sees on Goodreads. A person calling himself "Edward" starting leaving comments on my reviews, particularly my long Charlie Hebdo thread. Most of Edward's comments didn't make sense, coming across either as extracts from an obscure postmodernist novel (the charitable interpretation) or the deranged ravings of somebody who'd forgotten to take his medication (the uncharitable one). Every now and then, however, Edward would say something that seemed directly unpleasant, usually to a woman.
I never much minded Edward; he seemed to me to be playing a complicated game whose rules were known only to himself, and I was rarely the target of impolite remarks. But other people, particularly the ones who had been singled out for direct abuse, were understandably less happy. After a while, they began to respond in kind. Edward sharpened his rhetoric, and soon a full-scale flame war had arisen. People began to dig around for other places where he had been active. Accusations surfaced that he had been posting dubious content in groups intended for children; soon he was openly being being called a pedophile. A few days later, he deleted all his comments, closed down his account and disappeared.
I still don't know what the truth was concerning Edward, but I thought of him while reading this rather fine little novel. M. Hire is an eccentric, unappealing but basically harmless person who exists on the margins of society. He scrapes a living doing something which lies in the gray area between immoral and illegal. He has no family or friends. Only one thing brightens his miserable existence: every evening, he switches off the light in good time and watches from his darkened window as the attractive redhead in the apartment opposite takes off her clothes and gets ready for bed.
Unfortunately for M. Hire, a prostitute is found murdered not far from his home. The police need to make an arrest, the redhead knows more about it than she should, and he's the ideal suspect. With amazing rapidity, everyone agrees that the evidence points in his direction. As the Kafka-like plot unfolded, I began to feel vaguely that perhaps we hadn't been fair to Edward; but I comforted myself with the thought that the accusations were probably justified, and anyway it had only been the web, not real life. ...more
I promise, after this no more wit and wisdom of LE CHAT...
Okay Are actors and opera singers somehow better than us? No? So why do you get dressed up whI promise, after this no more wit and wisdom of LE CHAT...
Okay Are actors and opera singers somehow better than us? No? So why do you get dressed up when you listen to them and just wear your usual crappy clothes for me? At the very least You can turn off your cellphone while you're reading my review Thank you
[On ashtray] SMOKING KILLS But that's no excuse for getting your fucking ashes everywhere
GREETING CARDS FOR EVERY OCCASION Pull yourself together! Crying won't bring him back
Look Isn't it better to be seriously ill than slightly dead?
If you absolutely insist on marrying that bitch then it's your problem dude
Wishing you a Happy Widowhood!
I hope I never see your dirty face again
Maybe you got fired because you were so fucking dumb
[Holding up architectural plan] The minister of education announces a new initiative for schools Classrooms will now be octagonal Twice as many corners to stand in
The last words of people who die in their sleep are usually "When should I set the alarm?"
A butterfly flaps its wings And you get a hurricane in Florida Hundreds dead Thousands injured Tens of thousands homeless Billions in damages [Butterfly goes past, cat stomps it] Got you, you little fucker!
What's wrong with me? I had this terrific idea and now I can't remember what it was. Well I guess it happened to Mozart and Einstein too.
[Waving goodbye] Thank you for your attention It has been a real pleasure to share this review with you You can turn on your cellphones now ...more
And for those who want still more wit and wisdom of LE CHAT...
[In front of coffee cup] The future seems less stressful now that I read it in decaff. [FreAnd for those who want still more wit and wisdom of LE CHAT...
[In front of coffee cup] The future seems less stressful now that I read it in decaff. [French psychics use coffee grounds rather than tea leaves]
If you steal a fish for a man You will feed him for a day. If you teach him how to steal He will eat all his life.
[Holding tennis racket and talking to journalist] JOURNALIST: So do you prefer grass or astroturf? LE CHAT: Dunno... I've never smoked astroturf.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And I am in no way averse to the thought that images (irrespective of whether they are digital, printed, televisual or distributed in the service of advertising), in our civilization, whether one wishes it or not, undoubtedly have the property that the graphical representation of an idea can have a more determinate effect on the reader's sensibilities than a long piece of verbiage in which each term, however appropriate it may be in itself, simultaneously acts both against itself and, more seriously, against the discourse viewed as a whole.
If an optimist has a ladder, he's happy! And if one day someone steals the rungs He doesn't say Damn! Someone's stolen my rungs! He says Hey! It's fine. I've got a pair of stilts. And if, a bit later, someone steals one of the stilts He doesn't say Shit! Someone's stolen my stilt! He says Hey! It's not so bad. I wanted to learn how to pole-vault. And if, still later, someone breaks his pole He doesn't say Fuck! Some bastard has broken my pole! He says Hey! Perfect! I'll cut it up in rung-sized pieces and if I later find two stilts, you know what? I'll be able to make a ladder!
You know the guy who said that only crazy people never change their minds? Well he wasn't crazy So he changed his mind And said Only crazy people change their minds And so he didn't change his mind.
[Admiring himself in mirror] I wouldn't mind being the girl who's going to fall for me
God He created everything, you know He created racism And he also created campaigns against racism With all due respect I think God's a bit fucked up ...more
If someone wrote a series of twenty books based on the premise that African-looking women with small breasts were mentally deficient, they'd quite likIf someone wrote a series of twenty books based on the premise that African-looking women with small breasts were mentally deficient, they'd quite likely be prosecuted. But when we're talking about Nordic-looking women with large breasts, apparently it's quite okay.
I suppose the reasoning is that, if you're a Nordic-looking woman with large breasts, you have such staggering natural advantages that you should accept a little good-natured teasing. Yes, that must be it. I'm starting to find them funnier already.
Yet more wit and wisdom of LE CHAT, freely translated
Take the third and sixth words of the first talk bubble from the Jan 8 strip. Add the fourth, eighYet more wit and wisdom of LE CHAT, freely translated
Take the third and sixth words of the first talk bubble from the Jan 8 strip. Add the fourth, eighth, ninth and thirteenth words of the second talk bubble from the Feb 22 strip. And you get a really funny joke! (Only for hardcore fans)
[Lying in bed next to beautiful woman] LE CHAT: Was it good for you? WOMAN: Oh yes. Especially when it stopped.
[At steering wheel, bottle in one hand, glass in the other] Drinking and driving. It's a problem. When I turn left, no sweat. I just automatically pour myself one. But when I turn right, everything tips out.
Studies show that mobile phones can cause brain damage. People who talk to morons are particularly at risk.
[Beaming 50s-style housewife in front of washing machine] Mrs Turin says: "Since I started using Ariel, I no longer get Messiah stains in my shrouds!"
[Lying in bed next to inflatable sex doll] LE CHAT: Was it good for you? DOLL: Pfffff...
Extracts from the wit and wisdom of LE CHAT, freely translated
Sometimes I talk to myself. Then at least I know someone's listening.
Humor gives you wingExtracts from the wit and wisdom of LE CHAT, freely translated
Sometimes I talk to myself. Then at least I know someone's listening.
Humor gives you wings. [Jumps off cliff, falls like a rock. At bottom...] Hm. It must be love.
Should we laugh at the misfortunes of others? That depends on whether they're funny.
[Faces reader and waves] Hi George! How's it goin'? [Stops to explain] I'm imagining some guy called George is reading my strip. He must be so happy to think he's my friend. [Considers it further] Wait a minute. I'm crazy to be doing this with guys. I could pick up girls like THAT. [Tries again] Hi Simone! Lookin' good!
Everything I say makes you laugh. Just as well. Because what I don't say would make you cry.
[Empty strip, just talk bubbles] The guy who draws me is so fucking drunk this evening he didn't notice he was drawing me with an eraser.
[At the gym] If I lift weights I build up my biceps. But if I THINK I'm lifting them I build up my brain.
The word "long" is shorter than the word "short". Weird, huh?
[With cocktail glass] I've been trying to drown my sorrows. But the fuckers have learned how to swim.
I have a sexy little car. Is that what they call autoeroticism?
The future scares me. I turn my back on it... and it's still in front of me.
If the guy who draws me died one day I would kill myself. ...more
This is a remarkable book, and it's quite likely the main reason why its illustrator, Charb, was killed on January 7 2015 along with most of the CharlThis is a remarkable book, and it's quite likely the main reason why its illustrator, Charb, was killed on January 7 2015 along with most of the Charlie Hebdo staff. First point to note for any members of Al-Quaeda who happen to be reading this: if the Kouachi brothers hadn't murdered Charb and his colleagues, I wouldn't be posting this review, I wouldn't have read the book, and, indeed, I wouldn't even have heard of it. I presume jihadists are all familiar with the concept of martyrdom. Well, it works both ways. Je suis Charlie.
Anyway, enough of that and let's talk about the book itself. It is, indeed, very blasphemous and also very funny. But why is it so blasphemous and so funny? It's easy to give a straightforward answer to these questions: it's very blasphemous, not merely to do a cartoon Life of the Prophet, but to depict him naked, having sex with his numerous women, going to the bathroom, etc; and, if you have a sufficiently warped mind, it's very funny to see how Charb's adroit pencil treats these subjects using his trademark deadpan humor. I completely understand that the preceding sentences will make any believing Muslim's blood boil with fury, but please don't martyr me until we get to the end of the review. You'll only have to wait a couple of minutes.
I submit that there is a more interesting reason why La vie de Mahomet is both blasphemous and funny, and that is that the book, at least according to what I've seen so far, presents a fairly standard biography of the Prophet; the text has been written by "Zineb", an Arabic-speaking scholar who's very familiar with Islamic traditions, and contains numerous direct quotes from the surahs and hadiths. I hope one of my Muslim friends will suggest a mainstream book that I can read and compare with this one, so that I can be surer of my facts; but, at least as far as I am aware right now, Charb has done no more than supply the illustrations.
I think that Charb is making a worthwhile point here that isn't frivolous at all. The Muslim prohibition against depicting the Prophet doesn't strike me as irrational or wrong, but on the contrary entirely sensible. Religions have a well-known tendency towards idolatry, worshiping humanly created symbols (statues, paintings, cathedrals) rather than the thought behind them; the Catholic Church has historically been one of the most egregious sufferers from this syndrome. Clearly idolatry is wrong, and a simple way to limit its spread is to be brutal about controlling the production of idols. But, unfortunately, people have a deep-rooted love of idols, and if they aren't allowed to worship a statue they'll find the next best thing available. Charb is just pointing out in his satirical way that Muslims, even though they aren't allowed to idolize painted depictions of the Prophet, are idolizing the story of his life; when you add pictures, you can see at once that a lot of it is evidently just another ridiculous human construct. The core message of monotheism, which comes across clearly in this book, is that we should worship the intangible and immaterial One, not earthly symbols that stand for Him. This in particular includes people. People are weak and fallible. They are greedy for food and sex, they are full of petty anger and jealousy, they lie when it suits them and they think they can get away with it, and they should not be confused with God. But, somehow, we want to do it, even though we know it's wrong.
That, in my humble opinion, is the contrast which makes Charb's book so funny. Okay, I'm sorry to have kept you waiting. You can shoot me now. ...more
This week, on Dystopia! Michel Houellebecq discusses the future with Robert Heinlein
- Good evening, M. Houellebecq.
- Bonsoir, M. Heinlein. Alors, pleaThis week, on Dystopia! Michel Houellebecq discusses the future with Robert Heinlein
- Good evening, M. Houellebecq.
- Bonsoir, M. Heinlein. Alors, please, tell me your vision of the future.
- Sure. So Western civilization, it's already--
- --in a process of, ah, désintegration?
- You got it, buddy. As my old friend Cyril Kornbluth used to say, they breed faster than we do.
- Muslims, monsieur?
- People with low IQs. Same difference.
- Excusez-moi, monsieur, my novel is respectful towards the Muslim world.
- But you do say they breed faster than us?
- I do--
- You ain't foolin' anyone, Michel. I rest my case.
- We must, ah, agree to disagree. Alors, la désintegration de la civilisation occidentale. There will be increasing relaxation of the mœurs sexuels. Women will comport themselves like prostitutes, openly flaunting their faces, their legs, their breasts-
- I think it's important to describe this process explicitly.
- Absoluement, très important. The reader must be shown how these femmes décadentes behave.
- At length.
- This time, I see we agree, M. Heinlein! And then, there will be violence.
- Limited nuclear war.
- Disruption of the élection présidentielle française.
- Details, details, Michel. We can sort that out later. But the important thing is, the West is finished.
- Oui, fini.
- They will take over. It's inevitable.
- C'est inévitable.
- But there will be a few strong, survivor types. Rugged, well-prepared libertarians.
- Oui, professors of nineteenth century literature.
- They will still be there. They will take younger women.
- Jeunes étudiantes.
- Their daughters-in-law.
- Again, M. Heinlein, des détails. We agree that there is only one thing to do?
I send this belated Easter missive from the Loire valley, where I have for the last week beenTo the Good Reads Club, Pall Mall, London
8th April, 1873
I send this belated Easter missive from the Loire valley, where I have for the last week been the guest of an old friend, M. le Baron de Y___. The Baron is a delightful host, and it would be a brave man who dared find fault with his cellars; they put to shame even the High Table of my old Cambridge college. But exquisite as the Baron's taste may be regarding hock and claret, his taste in books surpasses it; he has regaled me with so many choice volumes, both old and new, that I was frankly at a loss to know which I should describe first, and for a moment felt myself in the unfortunate predicament of Buridan's ass. Nonetheless, the mail pouch leaves in an hour; and possessing intellectual faculties firmer of purpose than those of the philosopher's unfortunate beast, I rapidly concluded my choice in favour of M. Pierre Larousse's inestimable dictionary, the eighth volume of which I have just been fortunate enough to read.
There are doubtless those among you, unfamiliar with M. Larousse's magnum opus, who wonder how a mere reference book could so excite my interest. I hasten to explain that it is quite unlike its English cousins, and is at one and the same time a philosophical treatise, a work of literature, and, in no way least, an entertainment. In order to persuade the doubting Thomases of the club that my protestations be not devoid of sense, I cast about for an entry suitable to illustrate the nature of this singular book: and I can do no better than to take that for femme.
Had M. Larousse written a dictionary in the English style, his explanation would have covered but a scant page and consisted of a definition, a note on etymology and some quotations illustrating the use of the word "woman". I found that M. Larousse, to my delight, has not contented himself with such a paltry treatment of this theme. His disquisition, which has the form of a lengthy essay, covers nearly a hundred pages, almost a book in itself: and despite the lateness of the hour and the smallness of the print, I confess that, once I had started reading, I could not tear myself from it until I had reached the end.
M. Larousse considers the word femme from all its aspects. He begins much as our own dear Doctor Johnson, with definitions and quotations, but this is the merest introduction; he then goes on to discuss feminine anatomy and physiology and the history and geography of the female race. There was much here to instruct, and I was moved to anger and indignation by his accounts of how women, in almost all barbarian countries, are reduced to a level of servitude which scarcely distinguishes them from livestock: this is particularly the case for those races where Mahometanism has taken the ascendancy. Here, I am entirely of M. Larousse's opinion: the Mahometan faith is antipathetic to all Christian principles, and nowhere shows its character more clearly than in its shameful treatment of the weaker sex. I am sure that some members of the Club will disagree with me; I hope I may counsel them, in all humility, to read M. Larousse's work and reflect further on the matter.
But, even in the enlightened countries of Europe, there are many who claim that women are oppressed by the hands of men and seek an amelioration of their condition. In a long section, M. Larousse presents the opinions of four French philosophers, who boldly examine what is surely the crux of the question: is woman inescapably the inferior of man, or should she hope one day to achieve a status of equality between the two sexes? During this part of the article, I was in particular struck by the contrast between the views of M. Fourier and M. Proudhon. M. Fourier goes as far as to argue that woman may intellectually be man's superior; in support of his ideas, for example, he tells us that most reigning queens are women of force and character, while most kings are incompetent degenerates. An interesting point, which I look forward to discussing with you all on my return; though it is, naturally, hard to pay serious heed to such extraordinary notions, they are perhaps more worthy of attention than they first appear.
M. Proudhon is of a more sober and philosophical bent, and I was more inclined to sympathize with him. He begins with the incontestable fact that men exceed women with regard to physical strength, where he estimates their preponderance as being in the ratio of 3 to 2. He then argues that intellectual power is inescapably linked to physical ability, and in a telling passage lays out his case. Active intelligence is a consequence of the virile force that ultimately comes from the seminal fluid, a resource available only to the male sex. M. Proudhon, evidently a disciple of Herr Kant, notes that women are unable to formulate universals or categories of their own accord, and can only receive them from male thinkers; they are, in a word, antimetaphysical, the consequence being that their lack of seminal fluid leads to their mental inferiority being as great as their physical inferiority, namely falling in the same ratio of 3 to 2. Using similar arguments, M. Proudhon determines that the identical ratio of 3 to 2 applies also in the case of moral capacity. As society depends on physical, intellectual and moral abilities, with each one mutually influencing the others, we find that the superiority of male over female is as 3 times 3 times 3 to 2 times 2 times 2, or 27 to 8; indeed a very important difference, and one that adequately explains the facts of our society. But despite the compelling nature of M. Proudhon's arguments and my own very meagre knowlege of physiology and mathematics, I cannot shake off the feeling that the case may be less simple than it appears. I am sure that our medical colleague will have his own opinions, and I anticipate another lively discussion over the port!
There is much that I would add, but the boy informs me that the pouch will wait no longer; I am forced to end here, except to convey, once again, my fondest wishes to you all.
I remain, as ever, your humble and devoted servant,
A question that's been bothering me all morning is whether I have a moral right not to order a T-shirt with an offensive cartoon of the Prophet MuḥammA question that's been bothering me all morning is whether I have a moral right not to order a T-shirt with an offensive cartoon of the Prophet Muḥammad (PBUH) and start wearing it. Until yesterday, I would not have dreamed of doing such a thing, which would have been gratuitously offensive to all my Muslim friends. But now, I wonder if I'm only refraining from showing solidarity with the dead cartoonists because I'm afraid someone will shoot me.
My intuitions are confused. Not doing something out of politeness and respect for other people's religious feelings is clearly right. But not doing it out of craven cowardice is clearly wrong. Which principle applies here? I hope some experts on ethical philosophy are preparing an answer. _____________________________________
The comment thread has already become very long, so may I just briefly summarize my main response.
The suggestion I make here was inspired by the many public readings of The Satanic Verses held after the fatwa was issued against Salman Rushdie. The purpose of those readings was to show solidarity with Rushdie and demonstrate belief in the freedom of speech. Without them, the publisher might well have decided that Rushdie's book was too hot to handle, establishing an extremely dangerous precedent. It was generally held afterwards that the public readings had been a good thing.
In this case, people have also been quick to agree on the importance of solidarity. Everywhere you look, you find the phrase JE SUIS CHARLIE. But it seems to me that this is quite different from the response to the Rushdie case. When you hold up a sign saying JE SUIS CHARLIE, you are not really taking any risk, since you are not repeating the offensive material. I'm just being logical here: the real way to say JE SUIS CHARLIE is to repeat one of the cartoons that got them firebombed and then shot down in cold blood. Like this one.
For people who don't read French, it really is quite funny. The title CHARLIE HEBDO at the top is replaced by SHARIA HEBDO. The speech bubble says "A hundred lashes if you don't die laughing". _____________________________________
Wastrel reminds me that Charlie Hebdo didn't just offend Muslims. After a couple of minutes of searching, I found the following splendidly tasteless cover:
It took me a little while to figure it out, but apparently the reference is to a Mgr. Vingt-Trois, who had made some outspoken comments against gay marriage. The headline says "MGR VINGT-TROIS HAS THREE DADDIES" (I am guessing this may allude to the children's book Jennifer Has Two Daddies), and the speech bubbles say "The Father", "The Son" and "The Holy Ghost". [Yann in #307 says this is not quite right: the cover refers to a heated public debate on adoption by homosexual couples, where the Catholics who were campaigning against it used the slogan "Un papa et une maman" ("One daddy and one mommy")]
Or if you're looking for outrageous and inappropriate anti-Israeli humor:
The headline says "ALREADY CHRISTMAS IN PALESTINE". The arrow pointing left says "Costume for Israeli child". The arrow pointing right says "Costume for Palestinian child".
But this even more outrageous cover, which has been widely reprinted, is not genuine CH: it's a parody by Joe le Corbeau, an associate of the notorious racist comedian Dieudonné. I was fooled, as were many newspapers. [Thank you again Yann for catching this!]
Speech bubble: "1 million reduction on the 6, in exchange for Palestine!" _____________________________________
People who want to see more examples of Charlie Hebdo covers should look at Yann's review. These guys were really funny and disrespectful, about everything: the Muslims, yes, but at least as much the Israelis, the US, the Russians, the French, the Germans, the extreme right, the Catholic church, and pretty much anything else you can think of.
I'm very sorry that they had to be killed in this horrible way before I ever got around to looking at their work. It should have been easier to get my attention. _____________________________________
The cover for the latest issue, which is due out tomorrow:
"ALL IS FORGIVEN"
You gotta hand it to them, these guys really have a sense of humor. _____________________________________
Even though the new issue is already out in France, it won't be on sale here until tomorrow. The local papers can talk about nothing else. The print run has been increased twice, from one million to three million and then to five million, and supply is still not meeting demand. People in Paris are queuing up outside the newsagents before they open, and a few minutes later every copy has been sold.
Tribune de Genève reproduces one of the cartoons on its front page. Below, a crowd of robot-like commuters are all intently reading their copies of Charlie Hebdo. Above, the four murdered cartoonists sit on a cloud and remark C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons ("It's hard to be loved by idiots"). This is a reference to one of CH's most famous covers, where the Prophet Muḥammad (PBUH), weeping, is saying the same thing.
You can't get copies here for love or money, though admittedly I haven't yet explored the first alternative. According to the ever-reliable Tribune, the station newsstand was all sold out by 5.30 am.
Well, we live right next door to la Gare de Cornavin - it's literally a two minute walk. I will try getting up very early tomorrow morning. If necessary I will propose to the woman behind the counter. _____________________________________
I finally managed to obtain a copy of the Survivor's Number and have been looking at it this evening. It's very moving.
Here was the bit I liked most, which doesn't seem to have been widely remarked on. It's a paragraph from the tribute piece by Zineb El Rhazoui, the woman who wrote the text for the wonderful Vie de Mahomet:
Before they executed the team, the killers shouted twice "God is great!" Well, no, fuckwits. If he really existed, do you think he would have let your terminal stupidity extinguish the brilliant minds of Wolinski, Cabu, Honoré, Charb, Tignous, Bernard Maris, Elsa Cayat and Mustapha Ourrad? Allah Akbar! was Charb's war-cry, the greeting he used in mails and SMSs. "Allah Akbar! Do you think you could have your copy ready for tomorrow?" One day, I remember we were teasing him at the office: "Charb, stop yelling that, the day they arrive to kill you we won't know if it's a joke!" And they did arrive. At Charlie, we knew that humor was something very serious.
A young woman finds a book abandoned on a park bench. There's a note inside saying that the previous reader had taken great pleasure from it, and that
A young woman finds a book abandoned on a park bench. There's a note inside saying that the previous reader had taken great pleasure from it, and that they hope the person who finds the book will enjoy it as much as they did. The woman takes the book home and starts reading; after a while, she just can't put it down. Her boyfriend, who never reads anything more demanding than his smartphone manual, doesn't get it. But she becomes more and more curious about the book. Some of the words are circled. Is there a hidden message that will tell her where it came from?
I found this graphic novel next to my seat when we had breakfast at the Cottage Café earlier today, and, like the heroine, I couldn't put it down either. It's charming, funny and sexy, and my only complaint is that I'll have to get hold of part 2 to discover what the secret is. Recommended for anyone who reads French and prefers books to smartphones. _______________________________
Like Camélia in the book, I cannot rest until I know where the mysterious messages are coming from. On the way back from a shopping trip, I deviously steered our path so that we went past Payot. (Not, who hates graphic novels, was less than pleased by my subterfuge). The assistant, as always, was very helpful; but alas, it turns out that the sequel has not yet been published.
Curses! I must find out! Maybe I can track down the author's address and start going through his garbage? I'm sure Camélia wouldn't just tamely admit defeat and wait for the damn thing to appear... _______________________________
The spy-cam I've installed in Mig's studio has given some tantalizing hints of what part 2 will contain ((view spoiler)[ (hide spoiler)]). But I still can't figure out the secret.
I would never have heard of this book if Scarlett Johansson hadn't recently sued the author, but, having noticed an article in The Independent, I becaI would never have heard of this book if Scarlett Johansson hadn't recently sued the author, but, having noticed an article in The Independent, I became curious. Why, exactly, had Ms Johansson become so angry? From the author's description, it didn't seem reasonable; but there are usually two sides to a story. Not, well aware of my fascination with censorship and celebrity gossip, kindly gave me a copy as a birthday present. I've just finished it.
Well: if things had been different, and the story had been about a woman whose life was ruined because she happened to look like a generic famous actress, I would have been unreservedly positive. It's quite a good example of that melancholy kind of French love story, where you know from the start that it can't possibly end happily, but you still enjoy watching the doomed pair being messed around by Fate and maybe weep a few tears at the end. The writing is fine. People are unlikely to compare it with Madame Bovary, Antigone or Betty Blue, but it'll fill the gap until the next masterpiece of that kind comes along.
As things are, though, the author hasn't used a generic actress. He's used Scarlett Johansson, and it is unfortunately rather clear what her reasons are for taking offence. I do not know why the author is pretending that he doesn't understand, but his book does an excellent job of explaining the problem. Jeanine, his heroine, looks exactly like the beautiful Scarlett, and it eventually drives her mad. No one is interested in her. They only care about the celebrity she resembles, and when they try to get into her pants (virtually every man she meets does), it's really Scarlett they're after. In the end, poor Jeanine can't take any more of it.
There may or may not be women in the world who look exactly like Scarlett Johansson; but there is at least one person whose life has been made very difficult because of her resemblance to the star, and that is Ms. Johansson herself. In the book, you can see how all the men, even the nice hero, are obsessed with her hair, her face, her voice, her breasts. Particularly her breasts: the first sentence of the book is Arthur Dreyfuss aimait les gros seins, and it pretty much continues as it starts. I have yet to meet the woman who would appreciate quite this degree of interest in her cleavage.
M. Delacourt, Scarlett is well aware that she has often been described as the most beautiful woman in the world. She's 29 and pregnant, and I doubt she enjoys having her nose rubbed in minute descriptions of how she used to look five or ten years ago. There are almost certainly things about her which she considers more important than the exact shape of her tits. Whatever you may claim in interviews, you have hardly treated her in a chivalrous way. To quote one of your more sympathetic characters: t'es pire que con. _______________________________
Some authors just keep turning out the same book over and over again (Dan Brown, Ian Fleming, Iris Murdoch), while others get bored with their originaSome authors just keep turning out the same book over and over again (Dan Brown, Ian Fleming, Iris Murdoch), while others get bored with their original formula and want to try something different (Doris Lessing, Gustave Flaubert, James Joyce). Well, it would be an exaggeration to compare Dominique de Saint Mars with Flaubert, but she's no Dan Brown either. If you compare the early books with the later ones in her hundred volume children's series you see a staggering difference. This is an artist who cares about developing her talent.
The difference became very clear to me yesterday when I started reading through the stash of Ainsi va la vie that Not had found at the fleeflea market. (60 Swiss francs for 28 volumes! How's that for value!) This morning, I reviewed the brilliant Lili trouve sa maîtresse méchante, which is #57 in the series; immediately after, I read this book, which is #4. It's not bad - if it had been, I guess the later volumes would never have been written - but so disappointing when you're used to her mature work. The characters of the main players haven't properly gelled yet, and they come across as generic stereotypes. The artwork has a curiously hesitant look to it; people who have seen early Doonesbury will know what I mean.
Though even if the story is on the bland side, the punchline is okay. Lili keeps fighting with her brother (the best feature of the book is the imaginative insults). Mom keeps trying to break it up, and is particularly keen to dispell the idea that Max is her favorite. "I love you both just as much!" she almost screams. The kids aren't impressed, and they only make it up when Lili's pet turtle escapes and Max has to be persuaded to lure it out from under the fridge. They've more or less signed their peace treaty when they hear their parents in the next room. Dad's just come home, and he's yelling at Mom because she's left the headlights on AGAIN.
"Now, now," says Max, as he opens the kitchen door. "Why can't you play nice for once?"
"Yeah," says Lili, just behind him. "The important thing is, we love you both just as much!"
Okay, you saw it coming a mile away. But I'm glad her editor saw what potential she had and encouraged her to go on writing. ...more
I hadn't read an Ainsi va la vie for a few months, but Not bought a bunch of them cheap at a book stall yesterday and I'm catching up. This one has thI hadn't read an Ainsi va la vie for a few months, but Not bought a bunch of them cheap at a book stall yesterday and I'm catching up. This one has the author on top form, showing you with her usual effortless ease how a 40 page graphic novel for small children can combine insight, suspense and psychological accuracy in a character-driven narrative. How does she do it?
Lili, our young Everywoman, is having problems at school again. This time it's her teacher. Usually kind and mild-mannered, she has turned into a monster who yells at the kids for the smallest thing - sometimes even things she's imagined. Lili, a diligent and hard-working girl, is mortified when she's accused of cheating on a math test. The teacher's sure she's got the goods on her: her working was wrong but she got the right answer, so she must have copied from Marlène, who's sitting next to her?
"I didn't cheat!" says Lili. "It's not true!" Marlène backs her up. But Teacher refuses to believe either of them and then makes a gratuitous comment about chubby Marlène's obvious love of chocolate. Lili gets a black mark, and Marlène is so angry about the teacher's spiteful words that she says she'll never talk to her again. When Lili goes home and complains to her parents, they refuse to listen. "A teacher's got to maintain order in the classroom," says Mom primly, ignoring her daughter's tears.
The kids get together and discuss the problem. Some of them agree with Lili, but others aren't so sure. "They used to beat you!" says one kid. "They'd pull down your pants and smack you on the bottom. Even the girls!" Another points out that their teacher is far from being the worst one in the school. There's another who sometimes does crazy things like sticking tape over the kids' mouths when they say something he doesn't like. But one quiet boy has some genuinely useful information to contribute. "My dad knows her a bit!" he says. "It's her husband. He's, like, really sick or something."
The kids think about it. Lili remembers that Teacher told her once how she had been adopted after her own parents died when she was very young. She can suddenly see it from her perspective: she's all alone in the world, and now she's terrified that something awful is going to happen to her guy. But they still have to do something. "Look," says one kid to Lili. "Why don't you, you know, tell her that we understand, but she needs to lighten up a bit?"
"You're asking me to tell her?" asks Lili, not believing what she's hearing.
"Yeah!" says the boy. "You're good at that kind of thing! We'll give you room!"
Somehow, Lili gets stuck with this delicate diplomatic mission. The next morning, the class is deathly quiet. Teacher asks what's going on. Lili puts her hand up, and, horribly nervous, starts in on her prepared speech. She's about halfway through when a secretary comes in. "Urgent phone call for you," she says awkwardly. Teacher is out of the room in two seconds. "I'm leaving you in charge," she says to Lili as she departs. "And I don't want any trouble."
It's really not Lili's day: now she's somehow ended up responsible for a whole class of rowdy kids, who have no respect whatsoever for her new authority. Within twenty seconds, it's chaos. The crazy teacher who puts tape over the kids' mouths suddenly comes in. "You're in charge?" he says to Lili. "Tell me who was making all that noise!" Lili hesitates. "Give me their names!!" he yells, and grabs hold of her by her hair. But Lili still won't snitch on her friends.
The door opens again; it's the class's regular teacher, back from the urgent phone call. One look at her face is enough to see that it was good news. "Let go of my student at once!" she says to the psycho. She hustles him out and closes the door.
"I'm so sorry," she says, as she faces the class. "I've been having a really hard time, but it's all okay now. Can we just forget everything?"
"As long as you forget our homework assignment too!" yells the smart guy at the back of the class. Smiles all round: life has returned to normal.
Here's a weird little children's book that I found earlier today in my physiotherapist's waiting room. Kiki the sheep wakes up one morning and decidesHere's a weird little children's book that I found earlier today in my physiotherapist's waiting room. Kiki the sheep wakes up one morning and decides that she's in the mood for love. She asks a giraffe if he's interested in an emotionally meaningful relationship, but they decide that the height incompatibility is too great. Similarly, the elephant is too fat, the fish only likes partners who are into water sports, and the crocodile is way too oral.
Kiki is about to give up, when a strange creature appears. Is it a wolf? (Even a two-year-old will be able to see that it's actually another sheep wearing a wolf mask). Our heroine has a sudden vision of being eaten for dinner together with a nice glass of bourgogne, but decides that she cannot resist Fate. And, indeed, they live happily ever after.
I have never in my life seen such bizarre advice on romantic matters. Confused kids who've read this book should switch to Ainsi va la vie before they're fucked up permanently.
Emir, in comment #3 below, seems to believe that the sheep could plausibly be played by Cameron Diaz, and suggests that examination of relevant photos might persuade other people too. Well, here is the evidence. Judge for yourself.
As far as I can make out from a little background reading, the origin of this book came in 1948. Jacques Monod, a highly distinguished molecular bioloAs far as I can make out from a little background reading, the origin of this book came in 1948. Jacques Monod, a highly distinguished molecular biologist who would later win the 1965 Nobel Prize, was asked by his friend Albert Camus to write a critique of Lysenkoism; at the time this was officially declared by Stalin as holy writ to which all right-thinking Marxists had to subscribe on pain of excommunication. Monod, appalled at Lysenko's mendacious pseudo-scientific nonsense, tore it to pieces. But I get the impression that he then thought a great deal about how things had got to this point, and discussed the ideas with Camus and other people. The eventual result was Le hasard et la nécessité, which came out nearly 20 years later.
Monod was evidently a very deep thinker. If you want to pin Lysenkoism on someone, the obvious culprit is Lysenko himself, and the next most obvious is his protector Stalin. Monod wasn't satisfied with blaming Stalin, or even Marx. He looks at the philosophical basis of Marxism, which, he persuasively argues, is really just another example of what he refers to as "animism": the belief that the world is somehow infused with a purpose. For a Christian, that purpose comes from God, and for a Marxist it comes from the dialectical interpretation of history.
Monod thinks that Christianity, Marxism and all other "animist" philosophies are equally off-target. In the main body of the text, he presents a brilliantly condensed account of how his work in molecular biology led him to this position; although the book was written in the late 60s, his line of reasoning still comes across as extremely convincing. Monod starts by considering the similarities and differences between three general kinds of things: living creatures, artifacts, and "natural objects". He shows how difficult it is to frame clear rules to distinguish them, and concludes that there is in fact no hard-and-fast difference separating a living creature from a crystal. In both cases, the patterns and symmetries we see come from the mathematical nature of the underlying molecular structures; crystal lattices in one case, DNA in the other. The real difference is that living creatures are vastly more complicated.
Monod goes on to elaborate this correspondance, and shows how the processes by which living creatures reproduce are fundamentally similar, at a molecular level, to those that make a crystal grow. He spends a good deal of time explaining the fascinating details of how enzymes, the complex proteins involved in the process of DNA replication, are both created by the DNA and also used by it to perform this task. He shows how these enzymes are to all intents and purposes wonderfully ingenious machines, which give every appearance of having been designed to serve highly specific purposes; but, just when you think he's contradicted himself, he goes on to demonstrate that their structure reveals they can only be the product of blind chance. There is no one running the show: not God, History, the Life Force or anything else. As Lucretius said a couple of thousand years earlier, there is just atoms and void.
After the long segue into molecular biology, Monod concludes by looping back to his starting point. Nothing in the universe, he says, gives it external purpose. We are the ones who give it purpose, based on our billions of years of inherited molecular experience; we must keep our objectivity, and be careful not to confuse facts and values. As an Existentialist sermon, I have never seen it done better. Chapeau, Monsieur. ...more
[HARRY LIME is soliloquising to HOLLY MARTINS on the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel]
LIME: In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare
[HARRY LIME is soliloquising to HOLLY MARTINS on the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel]
LIME: In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed. But they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, and they had five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
MARTINS: Well, it's funny you should say that.
LIME: I'm sorry?
MARTINS: To start with, the cuckoo clock doesn't originate in Switzerland. They were first produced on a large scale in the Black Forest.
[LIME waves this aside impatiently, but MARTINS continues]
MARTINS: And during the period of the Borgias - the late 15th and early 16th centuries - Switzerland was anything but peaceful. They were just reaching the end of their expansionist phase. If they hadn't lost the battle of Marignano in 1515, there's no telling how long it could have continued.
LIME: But that's not--
MARTINS: Their defeat was completely unexpected. They'd won virtually every battle they'd ever fought, often against enemies who were better equipped and numerically superior. They routed the Hapsburg forces at Morgarten in 1315, and at Sempach in 1386. Why do you think the Pope wanted Swiss soldiers for the Papal Guard?
MARTIN: Because they were the best, that's why. And they were willing to hire themselves out after 1515. They became state-sponsored mercenaries. They fought for whoever could pay them and they weren't fussy. It was very profitable.
MARTIN: And don't give me that brotherly love crap. Sometimes those Swiss mercenaries ended up on both sides of a battle. A striking example was Bailén, in 1808. There were thousands of Swiss fighting for France and thousands more fighting for Spain. They were quite willing to kill each other when ordered.
MARTIN: But it's hardly surprising, is it? These were people who'd fought five civil wars already and were going to fight another one. Not exactly what I'd call brotherly love. Oh yes, and did you say democracy? Until 1798, Switzerland was a loose federation of feudal oligarchies. About as far from democracy as you could imagine. Torture was an integral part of their primitive legal system.
LIME: All the same--
MARTIN: You know, I think you'd have rather liked Switzerland. No principles. Everything's for sale. Nonetheless, they managed to produce some great men and women of culture. Rousseau. Euler. Pestalozzi. Madame de Staël. Most recently, Einstein.
LIME: But you're not--
MARTIN: Sorry, was there some part of your little speech I forgot to refute?
LIME: Uh... no... no. Well, I've got to go and get iconically trapped in a sewer. But it's been nice talking. Very educational.
MARTIN: Here, take this. You might find some time to read it before you're shot down like a cornered rat.
[He gives LIME a copy of L'histoire de la Suisse pour les Nuls]
[Bilingual review: original English text by me, French translation provided by the author.]
The author, a friend of a friend, sent me a copy of this s[Bilingual review: original English text by me, French translation provided by the author.]
The author, a friend of a friend, sent me a copy of this short novel a couple of weeks ago and wondered if I'd like to review it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's in fact rather good. It's a first-person narrative, which apparently has points of contact with the author's own life story. Frédéric, a naive and somewhat stupid young Genevan, has decided that his tame existence as a Swiss physiotherapist lacks Meaning and gives him no opportunity to Help People and Make A Difference. He takes off for the Middle East, learns Arabic, and tries various things; in the end, he settles in Cairo, where he realizes a life-long dream of learning to play the oud, the Arabic lute. Purely by chance, he ends up sharing an apartment with Karim, another music student, who comes from the Gaza Strip. After a while, he discovers that Karim is an active member of a Palestinian terrorist organization.
What is Frédéric to do? He absolutely doesn't want to help Karim and his friends; a good Swiss citizen, he abhors violence in all its forms. He doesn't want to turn them over to the brutal and corrupt Egyptian police, much less the Israeli security services. But maybe he can find a third way, a magic compromise which will let him have his cake and eat it as well: stop the terrorists from exploding nail bombs on Israeli buses, while respecting them as people and making sure that no harm comes to them. Yes, that's it! Really, it's clear he has no choice in the matter.
You know from a flash-forward in the first couple of pages that it's going to end dreadfully, but it's not at all clear how it'll get there. The writing is simple and unpretentious (it doesn't have that overpolished look characteristic of French prose, which to be honest can become a bit tiresome), and the plot moves along nicely. I finished it in a bit more than a day. Recommended. ______________________________________
L’auteur, l’ami d’une amie, m’a envoyé une copie de ce court roman il y a deux semaines, me demandant si j’aimerais en faire une critique. J’ai été agréablement surpris de le trouver, en fait, plutôt bon. C’est un récit à la première personne, qui a apparemment des points de contacts avec la propre vie de l’auteur. Frédéric, un jeune Genevois naïf et plutôt stupide, a décidé que son existence insipide de physiothérapeute suisse manque de Sens et ne lui donne pas l’occasion d’Aider les Gens et de Faire une Différence. Il part pour le Moyen Orient, apprend l’arabe et s’essaie à différentes choses ; finalement, il s’installe au Caire, où il réalise le rêve de sa vie : apprendre à jouer du oud, le luth arabe. Par pure coïncidence, il se retrouve à partager un appartement avec Karim, un autre étudiant en musique, qui vient de la bande de Gaza. Au bout d’un moment, il découvre que Karim est un membre actif d’une organisation terroriste palestinienne.
Que doit faire Frédéric ? Il ne veut absolument pas aider Karim et ses amis ; bon citoyen suisse, il déteste la violence sous toutes ses formes. Il ne veut pas les livrer à la police égyptienne, brutale et corrompue, encore moins aux services se sécurité israéliens. Mais il peut peut-être trouver une troisième voie, un compromis magique qui lui laissera le beurre et l’argent du beurre : empêcher les terroristes de faire exploser des bombes à clous dans les bus israéliens, tout en les respectant en tant que personnes et en s’assurant qu’il ne leur arrivera rien de mal. Oui, c’est ça ! Vraiment, il est clair qu’il n’a pas le choix.
On sait par un flash-forward dans les deux premières pages que cela va se terminer très mal, mais la manière dont on va arriver là n’est pas vraiment claire. L’écriture est simple et sans prétention (elle n’a pas ce côté surélégant de la prose française qui, à dire vrai, peut devenir un peu fatigante). Je l’ai terminé en un peu moins d’une journée. Recommandé. ...more
Since the pages for Roland Omnès and all his books are still broken, for reasons explained in this thread, I am unable to review the one I have just fSince the pages for Roland Omnès and all his books are still broken, for reasons explained in this thread, I am unable to review the one I have just finished. Instead, I present
Celebrity Death Match Special: Philosophie de la science contemporaine versus Divergent
A new girl joins the group today. She arrives at dinner time and just sits at a table on her own, reading a book. After ten minutes, one of the Physicists, a thickset boy called Kyle, goes over to her. She doesn't even look up.
"What's your name?" he asks, when it's become clear she's going to ignore him if he doesn't say anything.
"Omnèsia," she replies. "But people call me Omnès."
"So tell me what you're reading, Omnès," says Kyle. He doesn't sound too friendly. She sighs and puts the book down.
"Philosophie de la science contemporaine", she says. "Philosophy of contemporary science."
"And you're a Physicist?" he persists.
"Could be," she grunts. Kyle looks at her, shocked.
"What do you mean, could be? You're over sixteen. You're a Physicist, a Mathematical, a Philosophy, a Literature or a Religious. Or are you telling us you're D--"
"I'm a Physicist," she says reluctantly. I see now that she has a tattoo on the back of her neck; it looks like the Dirac equation.
"So what are you doing reading that book?" asks Kyle. "You're a Physicist. You don't need to know what some German pussy said three hundred years ago. You--"
"Kant," she says, interrupting him. Kyle looks like he's been slapped in the face. "Not 'German pussy', Kant. Can't you say it? According to this book, a lot of the great twentieth-century physicists read him. Some of his ideas are still pretty relevant today. The interdiction on thinking about the Ding an sich - isn't that a lot like Bohr's interdiction on thinking directly about the quantum realm? But I guess you wouldn't ever have heard of the Ding an sich, right?"
Kyle shakes his head. He seems too angry even to say anything. She just goes on talking.
"It's not like I agree with everything Kant says." She makes a point of pronouncing the name as clearly as possible; she's needling him, seeing how far she can go. "About how space and time are necessary windows through which we are forced to perceive the world. We now know that's wrong. Modern science is essentially formal, so not limited to the traditional categories. But what's going to replace them? Don't you think that's an important question?"
"Maybe important if you're Philosophy," says Kyle. It's an open insult. One of the girls gasps and tries to move forward to say something, but the boy next to her pulls her back. Omnès doesn't seem bothered though.
"It's important if you're Philosophy," she agrees in a calm and reasonable voice. "And if you're a Mathematical. Maybe even if you're Literature or Religious. It's definitely important to Physicists. Wouldn't you like to hear more?"
Kyle's jaw muscles are jumping all over the place and I know something bad is going to happen. But at that moment the bell rings, and we all troop off to the dormitory. There's the usual frantic scramble to get ready, then the lights go out for the night. I think I'm going to be too tense to go to sleep, but my eyes close before I realize what's happened.
I don't know how long I've been asleep when I'm woken up by the screaming. I've never heard anyone scream like this before. Suddenly the lights come on again, and there's Kyle, lying three bunks over, his face covered in blood. There's a butter knife sticking out of his right eye. He's screaming and clawing at the knife.
"Look," says Omnès in her unnaturally calm voice. "That's just what I mean. Even if the Many Worlds Interpretation is internally consistent and can be explained in terms of the phenomenon of decoherence, the possible existence of other branches of the wave function is a purely formal result and has no necessary connection to the reality we perceive. Don't you agree?"
Match point: Philosophie de la science contemporaine ...more