Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Huis Clos

I went to where we keep the old school papers and mementos and dug out my translation of No Exit, to see what I'd done with the first lines. There it was under two copies of my thesis (Towards a New Theater: A Comparison of the Ideas of Jerzy Grotowski and Karol Wojtyla), a thin comb-bound book with a teal cover -- I remember picking out the cardstock from the college bindery up near the faculty offices. And there was my maiden name on the cover too, something I haven't seen in print for a long time.

Since Bearing was commenting on Gilbert's infelicitous translation of the opening of No Exit, I thought I'd put up what I'd done with the first page. My translation was so many computer eons ago that all I have is a hard copy. What a vulnerable feeling it is -- I have the only remaining copy of my translation in the world.
A room in the Second Empire style. A bronze sculpture on the mantel. 
GARCIN: (enters and looks about him): Well, here it is. 
VALET: Here it is. 
GARCIN: It's like this? 
VALET: It's like this. 
GARCIN: I... I suppose that in the end one must get used to the furniture. 
VALET: That depends on the person. 
GARCIN: Are all the rooms the same? 
VALET: What do you think? We serve Chinese and Hindus. What do you expect them to make of a Second Empire armchair? 
GARCIN: What do you expect me to make of it? Do you know who I was? (Snorts) It's not important any more. After all, I always lived with furniture I didn't like and in false situations; I loved that. An awkward situation in an awkward chair, you know? 
VALET: Then a Second Empire drawing room won't be so bad.

Here's Sartre:

GARCIN, il entre et regard autour de lui. -- Alors voilà. 
LE GARÇON. -- Voilà. 
GARCIN. -- C'est comme ça... 
LE GARÇON. -- C'est comme ça. 
GARCIN. -- Je... Je pense qu'à la longue on doit s'habituer aux meubles. 
LE GARÇON. -- Ça dépend des personnes. 
GARCIN. -- Est-ce que toutes les chambre sont pareilles? 
LE GARÇON. -- Pensez-vous. Il nous vient des Chinois, des Hindous. Qu'est-ce que vous voulez qu'ils fassent d'un fauteuil Second Empire? 
GARCIN. -- Et moi, qu'est-ce que vous voulez que j'en fasse? Savez-vous qui j'étais? Bah! ça n'a aucune importance. Après tout, je vivais toujours dans des meubles que je n'aimais pas et des situations fausses; j'adorais ça. Une situation fausse dans une salle à manger Louis-Philippe, ca ne vous dit rien? 
LE GARÇON. -- Vous verrez; dans un salon Second Empire, ça n'est pas mal non plus.

And here is Gilbert's translation of the same:
GARCIN [enters, accompanied by the Room-Valet, and glances around him]: Hm! So here we are? 
VALET: Yes, Mr. Garcin. 
GARCIN: And this is what it looks like? 
VALET: Yes. 
GARCIN: Second Empire furniture, I observe... Well, well. I dare say one gets used to it in time. 
VALET: Some do. Some don't. 
GARCIN: Are all the other rooms like this? 
VALET: How could they be? We cater for all sorts: Chinamen and Indians, for example. What use would they have for a Second Empire chair? 
GARCIN: And what use do you suppose I have for one? Do you knwo who I was? ... Oh, well, it's no great matter. And, to tell the truth, I had quite a habit of living among furniture that I didn't relish, and in false positions. I'd even come to like it. A false position in a Louis-Philippe dining-room -- you know the style? -- well, that had its points, you know. Bogus in bogus, so to speak.  
VALET: And you'll find that living in a Second Empire drawing room has its points.

Readers might be interested to know that Louis-Philippe was the king whom the young revolutionaries were protesting at the barricades in Les Miserables, in 1832. The notes in my French version say that Louis-Philippe furniture is the epitome of petty, bourgeois taste. I translated, "Une situation fausse dans une salle à manger Louis-Philippe, ca ne vous dit rien?" as "An awkward situation in an awkward chair, you know?" because neither Louis-Philippe nor Second Empire had any resonance with my college audience, or with me for that matter.


bearing said...

"Bogus in bogus?" Sheesh.

The references to the furniture style could be seen as a flaw in an otherwise great work, because they date it (and place it) quite securely. And the themes in Huis Clos are timeless -- in more ways than one. The reader of the play can rely on a footnote to tell him what the author meant to connote with his Louis-Philippe furniture, but it gets in the way of understanding the play as performed -- unless you can pull it off with the actor's body language. The point is that the furniture is ugly and tasteless from his point of view, and I would hope a good actor could get that across.

Still, if I were translating it for a modern audience I'd be tempted to elide the furniture style names entirely.

Anonymous said...

Wow, nicely done. I like yours a lot better (and I have read the original French). Type that up and keep it!

Brandon said...

Agree with Anonymous.

Also curious about Grotowski and Wojtyla.

mrsdarwin said...

Bearing, when I directed my show my couches were simply three sets of three black folding chairs. There was nothing approaching Second Empire furniture in any of the college lockups, and I was on too low a budget to pick up anything. Instead, I had my actors wear shirts in the appropriate colors -- so Garcin was in green, Inez in blood red, and Estelle in powder blue. The positions of the couches were the characters' power positions, so when Inez ran the show, the activity moved to her side, etc. I did have a door and the paper knife and the bronze -- I found a suitably hideous lamp base in the props closet.


Here's Karol Wojtyla, anyway:

I don't know what happened to the promised continuation, but a month later, there was this:

I haven't read my thesis for eight years, but here's what I recall about Jerzy Grotowski. He was another Polish theater artist (we have to say "theater artist" because he was kind of all over the place) who worked in the 60s. He was a party member, so he got funding for his deconstructions of Polish classics, which as you can imagine really peeved people working outside the establishment. Grotowski believed in theater as sacrament and salvation -- he was an atheist, but saw theater as the new Mass, where audiences could come to watch the vicarious suffering of the actors. He believed that actors should pour themselves into their characters so much that they truly became them, feeling what they felt. Of course, this was a heavy burden for the actors to bear, especially when their roles required some kind of physical suffering (and Grotowski thought that sort of thing built character). But theater can't handle the weight of being the new Mass -- some of his actors had mental breakdowns, some are reputed to have commited suicide, but of course he was seen as visionary, whereas Karol Wojtyla, who had a far more visionary view of the role of theater in transmitting the power of the word, is neglected or ignored -- probably because he didn't quit his day job.

He's mentioned in My Dinner With Andre.

bearing said...

Now I want to read Huis Clos again.

Here is a little translation story. In high school, 4th-year French, we read Sartre's Les Jeux Sont Faits, a novel with themes of powerlessness to change past choices. My teacher (really, a great teacher) told us the title meant something like "The Game is Up" or "The Jig is Up," but didn't spend much time on it. I remember being displeased with that translation -- I knew kind of what the title meant (along the lines of "There's no going back now") and I knew that neither "The Game is Up" or "The Jig is Up" really meant that -- those have connotations of guilty discovery, which is technically a theme in the book but is a minor theme, not really worthy of the title. It bugged me. This is before Wikipedia and Google.

Some years later I was watching Casablanca, some scene in the casino where gambling was taking place in the background behind the stars -- I would have to watch it again to find the specific scene -- and my ears pricked up, because in the background the French-speaking roulette croupier was announcing that the time for placing bets was over: "Les jeux sont faits, les jeux sont faits." I yelped, "So that's what that means!" confusing my companion.

Idioms are fun, but you have to be able to recognize them. Googling the phrase now, I discover that the novel's title has been rendered most often as The Chips Are Down. I don't frequent Las Vegas often enough to know what roulette croupiers say there to stop people from betting as the wheel's turning begins to slow.

Brandon said...


That's fascinating; it's a topic I'll have to look into further.

mrsdarwin said...

Anon, this weekend Darwin blew the dust off an old hard drive and discovered that we did have a copy of my No Exit, albeit in an almost unreadable format. I spent a nice part of the weekend cleaning it up and reformatting, and now lo! it looks like new. Hurrah for old backups!

Modern virus software killed off the bug that had infested the file thanks to the floppy disks I had to use at the college computer labs. Ah, those were the days...