Version classiqueVersion mobile

Thomas Pynchon

 | 
Bénédicte Chorier-Fryd
, 
Gilles Chamerois

Langue-en-joue: Bilingual Jokes in Mason & Dixon

Gilles Chamerois

Texte intégral

  • 1 This nearly fits, though not quite, with one of Delabastita’s four categories of polyglot puns, “tr (...)
  • 2 Maybe these poor attempts will be excused if they give occasion to ponder on the direction of trans (...)

1Bilingual puns are numerous in Mason & Dixon, and more often than not they take the form of what we will call bilingual jokes, or literal translations of English figurative expressions into a language other than English.1 Pynchon uses them to excess: “il tartine à la truelle,” to use the pseudo-French phrase. Studying these “foot-of-the-letter”2 expressions and the way they question the link between language, representation and the quest for meaning is I think a good way to approach Pynchon’s playful hermeneutics. Let us first note that these translations are but one of the strategies that use the comical potential of the literal use of figurative meaning. The first one to appear in the novel, and the most pervasive, is that of the zeugma. We will spend some time delineating the way it works because it shares quite a few characteristics with bilingual jokes, but let us first turn to a simpler example of the use of the literal by way of introduction.

  • 3 I will only give two examples, a variety of coarse canvas called “duck” (463), reasonably topical a (...)
  • 4 The OED gives a 1611 example using the expression as an explanatory equivalent to a French saying: (...)
  • 5 Which, according to the etymology of the word—and OED definition 2—, is a she, and not a drake.

2Among the novel’s numerous attacks on verisimilitude, Vaucanson’s Automatick Duck is a weapon of choice, but in fact nearly all the definitions of the word “duck” to be found in the OED are deployed throughout the pages of the novel, often anachronistically,3 and often in the form of set expressions, such as “Duck and Ducklings” (62, 121) or “teach thy Grandam to grope Ducks”4 (230). Here is one among all these references, many of which in fact precede and in a way announce the coming of the ‘real’ duck.5 Summer storms at Christiana Bridge find

the Gentlemen indoors at their Merriment, whilst Ducks of all sorts, lounging in the Weather as if ’twere sun-shine, fly into a Frenzy at each blast of Lightning and Thunder, then, immediately forgetting, settle back into their pluvial Comforts. (328)

  • 6 It should be noted that the same holds true of the parallel expression in Sky my husband!, “ass of (...)

3This seemingly innocent vignette stages two contradictory phrases, “fine day for ducks”—particularly rainy weather—and “like a duck in thunder”—in a state of total panic. The two expressions coexist a few inches from one another in the dictionary, each is meaningful, and this meaning is conveyed by the images evoked, in one case to describe the weather, in the other a psychological state. But the two images cannot coexist on the stage of mimesis, as their confrontation cannot but drive the poor ducks to schizophrenia. Perhaps the parallel with bilingual jokes can be sensed. Here two expressions from the same language are taken literally, but in each case representation plays a key role. Set phrases are figurative, they are ‘images,’ but the image is the very locus where they may come to crisis. The numerous French books which take French or English expressions literally for comical effect always use the image. Taking things literally does not only mean translating word for word, but also ‘translating’ each word with an image. The expression “une fin morte,” taken from Sky my wife!, is funny because there is no way the images associated to “fin,” or “end,” and those associated to “morte,” or “dead,” can together create the image of a “dead end.”6

Diverting the Flow of Words and the Reader

4More precisely, the fact that the two images, in the case of the ducks in the rain the two images associated to the two expressions, are made to coexist on the stage of mimesis at the same time creates a comical effect and spotlights this very stage, and exposes the usually unconscious links between language and representation in a sort of reductio ad absurdum. Now this is a major preoccupation in the novel, but it is often treated in a minor mode, and the zeugma is the favored trope. In the first sentence of the novel there are two zeugmas. The first is semantic: in “the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins,” “Sides” should not govern the two prepositional clauses, as each is based on a different definition of the word. The second is grammatical: in “the Sleds are brought in and their Runners carefully dried and greased, shoes deposited in the back Hall, a stoking-foot Descent made upon the great Kitchen,” the ellipsis of “are” is grammatically incorrect, as the correct form of the verb should be “is” in the last segment (‘a stoking-foot Descent [is] made’). Of course neither of these zeugmas hinders comprehension, but they are typical of Pynchon’s writing strategies: beyond, or rather beneath the numerous lyrical moments and purple patches, which foreground their obscure words and convoluted syntax, there is often something the matter with the most seemingly clear and innocent segment, a small something which can lead the reader to question the most ‘natural’ words, and the very nature of language.

  • 7 The Reverend is a master at this. The first time he speaks in the novel, he commits a zeugma which (...)
  • 8 See page 364, “to divert its flow, not to mention his guests,” and pages 279, 287 and 447 for prete (...)

5Zeugmas question the linear order of the sentence in at least two ways. Firstly, they bring together two definitions extracted from the dictionary’s vertical list, and secondly they force the reader to go back to the beginning of the sentence to make sense of it. However, they never really block the reader, who finally resumes reading once the excess of sense has been recognized as a comical figure. This comical figure often has to do with the novel’s most serious considerations,7 and this reversal of values has an important corollary: as is the case for puns, the most terrible zeugmas are also the best ones, as this particular one can witness: “needlewomen drop stitches not to mention Beaux” (578). First, let us note it is not by chance that the use of preterition, or mention of an element while claiming not to mention it, is on several occasions associated to zeugmas.8 As the enunciator chooses words in the unfolding of his sentence, aimed at a tentative meaning, each choice of word also entails the choice of one of its definitions, at the exclusion of the others. The preterition takes this exclusion literally, and in so doing of course foils it. The literal sense is also at the core of the comical effect of the zeugma, quite paradoxically as it yokes two different figurative meanings of the verb “to drop”: “to miss [stitches]” and “to get rid of [a Beau].” But as in the example involving schizophrenic ducks, the two figurative meanings are incompatible as two entries of the dictionary are made to clash on the scene of representation, and the comical effect is created by the image of a falling object, as the literal sense, the only common denominator between the two figurative meanings, creates the slapstick effect of the sentence. Zeugmas counter the representations associated with words, but in the same movement use them as the main source of their comical effect.

  • 9 I am here translating a French translation of I Kings 19: 12 proposed by Emmanuel Lévinas (Rosolato(...)

6Another zeugma more explicitly questions the link between language and what escapes language, and so also the link between languages. During the 1767 Transit of Venus, amateur and professional astronomers the world over cry out ecstatically, in a nice scientific unison, “in Latin, in Chinese, in Polish, in Silence” (97). The final zeugma questions the supposed equivalence and simultaneity of the reactions, and also questions the link between languages, verbal and non-verbal. In the expression “in Polish” and in the expression “in silence,” “in” does not have the same meaning. And if it does not, who can really say if the exclamations really have the same meaning in Latin and in Chinese? The punch line also makes apparent a subtle progression between the terms of the list, which runs counter to their supposed equivalence, and their supposed equivalence with other languages, of which the reader first surmised they were but a representative sample, set in the typical ternary rhythm of the Pynchonian sentence. Latin is the language of the urbi et orbi, and of scientific universality, Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, Polish is a minor language and silence, which nobody speaks, closes the list and makes us realize that in fact everybody speaks it, that it is the “voice of fine silence” which precedes all words.9

Capillosection of some Latinisms

  • 10 See Millard 107–108 on the Royal Society’s motto, “nullius in verbia.” This might also be seen as o (...)
  • 11 Of course the word in fraught with meaning in Mason & Dixon, which opens during the Advent.
  • 12 Examples are numerous in the novel of abstruse Latinate or Hellenic words for prosaic realities, le (...)

7We will now turn to some examples of Latinisms and Hellenisms, which are also a privileged way to put to the test the pretention to universality of both Latin and non-verbal language, in one sense the ideal of scientific language.10 They also play on what we could call the bilingualism of the English language itself. Latinisms are of course possible in other languages, but in English they take on a special meaning, as the language is structured by the opposition between Anglo-Saxon roots and Latin roots. Contrary to what may be inferred from the scientific connotations associated to many Latin-rooted words, they are extremely versatile sources of word play, because of their easy combinations and because their obscurity transforms them into compact riddles. “Pygephanous,” for example, is a word the comprehension of which necessitates complex gymnastics between the few words which use one of the two Greek roots, and which are an obligatory passage to reconstruct meaning: “phan” will thus be extracted from ‘epiphany,’11 and “pyge” and the suffix “ous” from ‘callypygous.’ Of course the comical effect mainly rests on the contrast between the scientific-sounding signifier and the prosaic referent, “Foretopman Bodine’s Bi-Lunar Exhibition” (570).12 Furthermore, and contrary to the common view which holds that a joke has failed miserably if it needs to be explained, what makes its value here is the very work necessary in order to extract meaning from the obscure word, and in particular the fact that words such as ‘epiphany’ and ‘callypygous’ are obligatory steps, whereas their highbrow character lies at the antipodes of Bodine’s moons. The play with Latin and Greek roots can transform a single word into a miniature stage where the whole dramaturgy of synthesis and analysis demanded to extract meaning from language can unfold, the very work that everyday language keeps hidden in its false transparency.

  • 13 The asterisk is here given its meaning in linguistics, indicating that a sentence is not grammatica (...)
  • 14 “R. Garnett, Life Carlyle iv, They had unanimously turned their thumbs up. ‘Sartor,’ the publisher (...)
  • 15 See Morris et al. on successive translations of the same passage in Juvenal (189).
  • 16 The most important of these changes for the diegesis is the ground-breaking shift in surveying from (...)

8Let us consider “desuperpollicate” (581). Like “pygephanous,” the word refers to a meaningful gesture, rebellion in case of “pygephanous,” disapprobation here, “to give the thumbs down.” But the meaning of Bodine’s gesture was rather transparent, whereas that of the thumb is in fact arbitrary. The word is also quite arbitrary, apart from the fact that it is much more opaque. Why not “*subpollicate,” for a start?13 A reason might be that the non-verbal sign works in a system of opposition with the contrary sign of turning the thumb up, “*superpollicate.” As soon as a sign is oriented in space, its reversal becomes possible, and in fact the sign of the thumb has been subjected to such a reversal since the Roman times. “To close down the thumb (premere) was a sign of approbation; to extend it (vertere, convertere; pollex infestus) a sign of disapprobation” (OED). So the neologism’s Latinate form refers to antique Rome, but its negative meaning to the twentieth century. As late as 1887, and thus long after the eighteenth century of the diegesis, the meaning associated to the gesture remained the reverse of what it is today.14 In fact, in particular through sword-and-sandal films, but also through modern day translations from the Latin, which in turn corroborated the inversion,15 the past meaning of the gesture was reinvented in contemporary appropriations. More than a simple reversal, what occurred was a complete change of the terms of reference. As far as can be ascertained, the Roman gesture saw the movement of the thumb towards the centre as positive, and that towards the exterior as negative, whereas the opposition between up and down is no longer centered on the ‘enunciator’ of the gesture. The whole novel opposes this model based on transcendent coordinates to centered systems of reference.16

  • 17 In the myth, Asarhaddon, through turning around the tablet meting out the sentence, can change from (...)

9A simple (?) word can thus lead to a reflection on a whole system of reference, and also to a reflection on the opacity of writing and its origins. Indeed the gesture referred to with “desuperpollicate,” as that referred to with “pygephanous,” is already a writing inscribed in space. Anne-Marie Christin, in her ground-breaking book on the materiality of writing, dedicates a whole chapter to sign language, “a language close to writing, inasmuch as it is visual” (78). She quotes Saint Augustine, who notes that the status of visual signs is linked to that of representation and like representation oscillates between the natural and the arbitrary, and that what is supposedly natural in fact depends on “unanimous assent” (78). The association of up with positive values and of down with negative ones is linked to a history and to a culture, to a culture of transcendence that Pynchon has never ceased questioning, a culture of transcendence which, Christin notes, is extremely wary of sign language since “the visible, even the simple sketching of a figure in the air, is necessarily material” (79). The opacity of the neologism is in fact an image of the opacity which constitutes the sign or the gesture in its very materiality, which for Christin is at the core of the power of writing, linked since its origins to the possibility of reversal. Studying a Babylonian myth on the creation of writing as a means to escape the gods’ edicts,17 she concludes that if the power of the spoken word is that of the divine, the power of writing is that of man, and that “writing is meant to undo the orders given by the spoken word, is meant to change them” (35). It is quite impossible to minimize how relevant this is for Pynchon, for his relation to the Puritan model of predestination and for his use of irony, the potential reversal of meaning at the core of writing.

Ovorum intrīta sine ovo infracto non est

10We now come to bilingual jokes proper, whereby a figurative expression in English is translated literally into another language, and a number of the elements we have delineated so far will apply. We have seen that at least part of the comical effect is created by the deciphering work asked of the reader. We have also shown that the image is both the source of the effect of the wordplay and its target, what it aims to question. Pynchon, like the Indians, is “worshiping laughter . . . as a serious, indeed holy, Force in Nature, never to be invok’d idly” (598), and more often than not uses it as a tool to probe the falsely natural way in which representation is born out of language. As we have spent some time on Latinisms, as indeed the quote above is but a transcultural version of serio ludere, let us stay with Latin with our first example of a bilingual joke:

“The first thing an Emerson pupil learns, is that there is no Perpetual-Motion,” said Dixon . . .
“What are we to do . . .? ’Tis a Law of the Universe, —Prandium gratis non est . . . .” (317)

  • 18 Which is but the pessimistic corollary to the quote by von Braun which opens part 1 of Gravity’s Ra (...)
  • 19 Elizabeth Wall Hinds has referred to it in relation to wordplay in “Sari, Sorry, and the Vortex of (...)
  • 20 See Vinay & Darbelnet 166 and more particularly 170: “[translating] machines, however perfect, can (...)
  • 21 The French translation is a feat, and a work of love, but it could not but falter when untranslatab (...)

11Prandium gratis non est” is the word for word translation of the expression “there is no such thing as a free lunch,” itself an illustration of the fact that you cannot get something for nothing in economic matters, but maybe also more generally that nothing comes of nothing.18 This in turn has to do with entropy. We won’t dwell on the importance of the concept in Pynchon,19 but will only note here that it applies perfectly to the work of double translation asked of the reader. The dialogue between Emerson and Dixon has to do with perpetual motion, which is impossible precisely because of entropy: one cannot change energy into work then work back into energy without some sort of loss. But the concept is also used in translation: translating from source language to target language has a cost.20 The double translation, from the English expression to the Latin by the author, then from the Latin back to the English by the reader, can reach back to the original message, but not without some work, some cost, and some remainder. The process has also run the risk of informational entropy, the risk of noise and incomprehension. The French translation of Mason & Dixon offers in this instance a good example: the translators chose not to translate the Latin, but as the expression has no meaning whatsoever in French, the message has been lost. The untranslatable character of the original expression is of course at the core of the comical effect.21

12I am in a good situation to assess this untranslatability as regards the examples where the target language is French. The first one describes a bellicose French ship:

always upon the qui vive for a scrap, never quite reaching the level of Glory it desir’d, always téton dernier of the Squadron. (40)

  • 22 I owe the definition, and so much on Latinisms and bilingual jokes that I cannot begin to acknowled (...)
  • 23 This is close to a joke in Astérix chez les Bretons, an album in which the Britons talk French but, (...)

13Qui vive” is in the OED, but “téton dernier” runs no such risk: it is an inexact, incomplete and literal reference to “the rural American metaphor hind tit (or teat). The place of lower status.”22 Fluency in French is more hindrance than help in this instance, as the noun and the adjective do not make sense together and are not in the right order.23

  • 24 Whose name of course, like Hervé du T.’s, corresponds perfectly to the standard definition of the b (...)

14Another example is provided by the French cuisinier extraordinaire Armand Allègre :24

Ha, ha ha, what a droll remark, I must tell Madame la Marquise de Pompadour, next time we ‘faisons le Déjeuner,’ . . . (373)

15The French translation keeps the expression, with the famous asterisk indicating “in French in the text,” but of course the literal translation of the trendy—at the time of publication, presumably—expression “do lunch” could not have been uttered by a Frenchman, and especially not by an eighteenth-century Frenchman. The comical effect of bilingual jokes lies precisely in that they attribute to another language an utterance which makes no sense in that language. To have a Frenchman say the words undermines any pretence at referential illusion, if any was left at that stage in the novel. What is more, it stages the very contract necessary for any referential illusion to exist in the first place. This is postmodern tarte à la crème, of course, but it is nevertheless exemplary of Pynchon’s meditation on authority. Armand Allègre’s impossible sentence is one of the anchoring points, in Lacan’s expression, of the fictional contract, one of the points where, paradoxically, the contract is sealed synchronically, in the very act of reading. Lacan says of the synchronic structure of the anchoring point that it is hidden, and he adds:

and it is this structure that takes us to the source. It is metaphor in so far as the first attribution is constituted in it—the attribution that promulgates ‘the dog goes miaow, the cat goes woof-woof’, by which the child, by disconnecting the animal from its cry, suddenly raises the sign to the function of the signifier, and reality to the sophistics of signification, and by contempt for verisimilitude, opens up the diversity of objectifications of the same thing that has to be verified.
(231–232)

  • 25 See on the subject Zofia Kolbuszewska, “The Gospel of Thomas (Pynchon): An Apocryphal America in Ma (...)

16By having the French cat go woof-woof, or rather ouah-ouah, Pynchon foregrounds the apocryphal nature of his history.25 What is at stake is not only the questioning of grand narratives by a multiplicity of micro-narratives, and the relative equivalence of the heterodox and of the orthodox. Rather, the question is to demonstrate that any utterance is apocryphal in the etymological sense, that is to say that its origin is hidden. What the apocryphal versions—and here Armand Allègre’s necessarily apocryphal words—show, is that the authenticity of any word depends upon an act of faith in “Authorial Authority” (354). All the attacks on verisimilitude are so many chords in a hymn to Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief,” and a meditation on the link between credit and credence. Asking the reader for evermore exorbitant credit, the author stages the act of faith implicit in any act of speech, and he stages it through mise en abyme. Armand Allègre’s words are a mise en abyme of the author’s status as regards the implausibility of his tale. And in the last example we are going to study, the mise en abyme is that of the reader’s incomprehension.

Turning the Mystery into an Enigma

17The horrible Jesuit Zarpazo is speaking to an assembly of novices, accusing them of secretly practicing Chinese magic, which he cannot fail to discover:

“ . . . Someone always confesses. Or in plain Spanish, Siempre Alguien derrama las Judías.”
“What’s he saying?”
“Something about scattering the Jewesses.”
“Now ’tis Kabbalism, in a moment he’ll be rattling in ancient Hebrew  . . .” (523)

  • 26 Well, except that the expression “spill the beans” is anachronistic, with a first recorded occurren (...)

18Derrama las Judías” is the word for word translation of “spill the beans.” The meaning is indicated immediately before the expression, in plain English, “confess.” Of course “in plain Spanish” is ironical, as the listeners’ reaction makes plain. The sentence has no meaning in Spanish, but the ambiguity of “Judías” leads to a possible interpretation, which can only be a misinterpretation. One meaning of “Judías,” that of “Jewess,” is chosen by the listeners over that of “butter bean,” not only because it is more common but also because of the religious context, and because the pun is indeed intended by Zarpazo.26 By collocation, “derramar” is not given its exact translation, “to spill,” but rather “to scatter,” in reference to the diaspora—the word is Greek for “dispersion” or “scattering.”

19Zarpazo takes on the theme of Jewish conversion a few lines later: “Conversion is no guarantee of a Christly life. Jews are ‘converted.’ Savages, English wives, Chinese, what matters?—once con-verted, all then re-vert” (524). The topical reference, given Zarpazo’s inquisitorial role, is to the forced conversion of Jews in Spain, and to the Conversos, or Marranos, and more particularly to the Judaizing Marranos said to continue practicing their faith in secret. Jews can appear to be converted, in particular they can pretend to be converted, but beneath this pretence, beneath the lies of language they can keep their true heretical nature. It is because he says he can see beyond the veil of appearances, beyond the veil of language that Zarpazo grants himself the right to persecute all. People in positions of power can always decide to see in apparent conversion nothing but a further proof of duplicity. What the bilingual joke states, however, is that if words lend themselves to all kinds of reversals and misrepresentations, there is no truth behind the veil of language but the twin truths of naked power and of liberating laughter. If an Inquisitor can speak in Kabbalistic cipher, then the Marranos themselves have to learn a few bilingual turns of their own, and we as readers should remember that the consequences drawn by the Marranos might still hold true:

In these conditions, the problem of trust became cardinal, as well as the problem of speech. Language had to be controlled, used with caution, managed prudently, and the skill of dual language—necessary in every repressive regime—became a life’s necessity and a kind of art. Similarly, a gap was forming between the official façade of society and the real life, creating the typically Spanish sense of an “inverse world” that comes across much of Spanish literature of the time.
(Yovel 264)

20And indeed the novel as a whole adopts a genre that, according to Yirmiyahu Yovel, was much influenced by the Marrano worldview, that of the picaresque, “with its knack for ironic realism, dual language and allusion, and its aesthetic exploitation of the idea of an inverted, underground world, opposing yet reflecting the official world in a game of crooked mirrors” (267).

21The process at work in bilingual jokes seems exemplary of Pynchon’s playful hermeneutics. The whole novel is in a kind of coded language, with endless and often esoteric historical or scientific references, but these references do not point to a subtext that would be the “real” one, nor do they simply constitute an aimless riddle. Between these two pitfalls for criticism, the Charybdis of the “hidden message” and the Scylla of the postmodern mirror games, the aim is to turn the mystery into an énigme, to use the expression of Marie-José Mondzain (15, 37, 52). Pynchon does not claim to show the truth behind the veil, nor does he pretend that it is there behind the veil, sublimely unbearable to human eyes. Rather, he weaves this supposedly sublime mystery into the énigme of language and shows that the only truth we can share is that of the veil of language, that it is real, but only inasmuch as it is shared. He does not expose the mystery behind the veil but the enigmatic interweaving of words and figures which is the stuff the veil is made of. The distinction between mystery and énigme, I feel, complements that proposed by Florian Tréguer between enigma and riddle (two possible translations for the French énigme):

In Pynchon the énigme oscillates between “riddle” (in its morphological aspect as questioning) and “enigma” (as it postulates higher stakes). This semantic tension gives the novels their evolutive structure: starting as formal games (“riddle”), they develop the énigme towards a critical crux whereby the exercise of the game is abolished in the revelation of the mystery of what is at stake (“enigma”).
(322n)

22Tréguer is extremely convincing throughout his analysis of the movement, but I think the oscillation does not stop on the revelation of the mystery, and that countering this movement towards evermore gravitas, the sublime of the inexpressible mystery is constantly being turned into an énigme which shares something with the riddle. We should not think of it as the derisory debunking of highbrow pursuits, but quite on the contrary as the only way in which these pursuits can become objects of exchange and of discourse. The minor riddles, as Tréguer explains and as I have tried to show, have led to major questions, but in turn these can only be thought out in a minor mode if they are not to give way to the abolishment of language which is in fact a favored weapon of the powers that be.

  • 27 As Œdipa Maas in The Crying of Lot 49 well knows, sorting is work (68).

23Let us go back to our last bilingual joke. The hidden meaning is only the source expression, “spill the beans,” and all the deciphering has only brought us back to language, and the most familiar language at that. But the reader’s hermeneutical work has nevertheless been real, he has had to sort possible definitions,27 and the result is more than a return to the starting point or than a postmodern surface effect. Work has produced laughter or at least a smile, and a crisis in the relation between words, of what is at stake between words. Finally it has produced misinterpretations, and in this case mistranslations, which themselves turn into new tracks to follow. Most of all, let us remember with Proust that “great literature is written in a sort of foreign language. To each sentence we attach a meaning, or at any rate a mental image, which is often a mistranslation. But in great literature all our mistranslations result in beauty” (303, Deleuze & Parnet 5).

Bibliographie

Works Cited

Barnes, Julian. Talking It Over. 1991. Londres: Picador, 1992.

Barthes Roland. “De la science à la littérature.” Le bruissement de la langue. Paris: Seuil, 1984. 13–20.

Chiflet, Jean-Loup. Sky, my husband! Ciel, mon mari!: Guide d’anglais courant. Guide of the running english. Paris, Seuil, 1987.

Chiflet, Jean-Loup. Sky, my wife! Ciel ma femme!: Dictionary of the current English. Dictionnaire de l’anglais courant. Paris: Seuil, 1990.

Christin, Anne-Marie. L’Image écrite. 1995. Paris: Champs Flammarion, 2001.

Committee on Integrated Land Data Mapping, Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics and Resources, National Research Council. Modernization of the Public Land Survey System. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1982.

Delabastita, Dirk. “Cross-language Comedy in Shakespeare.” Humor— International Journal of Humor Research 18.2 (2005): 161–184.

Deleuze, Gilles & Claire Parnet. Dialogues II. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. New York: Columbia UP, 2007.

Goscinny, René & Albert Uderzo. Astérix chez les Bretons. Paris: Dargaud, 1966.

Guignery, Vanessa. “Excentricité et interlinguisme dans Metroland et Talking It Over de Julian Barnes.” Études Britanniques Contemporaines 15 (1998): 13–24.

Kolbuszewska, Zofia. “The Gospel of Thomas (Pynchon): an Apocryphal America in Mason & Dixon.” Transit of Venus. Spec. issue of Pynchon Notes (forthcoming).

Lacan, Jacques. “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian Unconscious.” Écrits: a Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. London: Tavistock/Routledge, 1977, 323–360.

Leeds, Christopher B. “Bilingual Anglo-French humor: an Analysis of the Potential for Humor Based on the Interlocking of the Two Languages.” Humor—International Journal of Humor Research 5.1–2 (Jan.1992): 129–148.

Lexicon recentis latinitatis, parvum verborum novatorum Léxicum, Latinitas, The Roman Curia, www.vatican.va/roman_curia/institutions_connected/latinitas/documents/rc_latinitas_20040601_lexicon_it.html. Web. Accessed 10 Sept. 2011.

Mason & Dixon”. Pynchon Wiki. Hyperarts. Web. Accessed 10 Nov. 2011.

Millard, William B. “Delineations of Madness and Science: Mason & Dixon, Pynchonian Space and the Snovian Disjunction.” American Postmodernity: Essays on the Recent Fiction of Thomas Pynchon. Ed. Ian D. Copestake. Berne: Peter Lang, 2003. 83–127.

Mondzain, Marie-Josée. Image, Icône, économie: les sources byzantines de l’imaginaire contemporain. Paris: Seuil, 1996.

Morris, Desmond, Peter Collett, Peter Marsh & Marie O’Shaugnessy. Gestures: Their Origins and Distribution. New York: Stein and Day, 1979.

Oxford English Dictionary on CD-Rom. 2nd ed., version 1.13, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994.

Perec, George. “Experimental Demonstration of the Tomatotopic Organization in the Soprano (Cantatrix sopranica L.).Cantatrix Sopranica L. et autres écrits scientifiques. Paris: Seuil, 1991.

Proust, Marcel. Contre Sainte-Beuve. Paris, Gallimard (Pléiade), 1971.

Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. 1966. New York: Harper, 1986.

Pynchon, Thomas. Mason & Dixon. New York, NY, Henry Holt, 1997.

Pynchon, Thomas. Gravity’s Rainbow. 1973. London: Vintage, 2000.

Pynchon, Thomas. Mason & Dixon. Trans. Christophe Claro and Brice Matthieussent. Paris: Seuil, 2001.

Rosolato, Guy. “La voix.” Essais sur le symbolique. Paris: Tel Gallimard, 1969, 287–305.

Tréguer, Florian. “Thomas Pynchon et la résistance de la question.” L’Énigme. Spec. issue of La licorne 64 (2003): 319–339.

Vinay, Jean-Paul & Jean Darbelnet. Comparative Stylistics of French and English: a Methodology for Translation. Trans. Juan C. Sager & M.-L. Hamel. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1995.

Wall Hinds, Elizabeth Jane. “Sari, Sorry, and the Vortex of History: Calendar Reform, Anachronism, and Language Change in Mason & Dixon.” American Literary History 12.1 & 2 (Spring/Summer 2000): 187–215.

Yovel, Yirmiyahu. “Conversos in Spanish Culture and Religious Reform.” Contemporary Philosophy: a New Survey. Vol. 10: Philosophy of Religion. Ed. Guttorm Fløistad. Dordrecht: Springer, 2010, 261–274.

Notes

1 This nearly fits, though not quite, with one of Delabastita’s four categories of polyglot puns, “translation-based monolingual source-language wordplay.”

2 Maybe these poor attempts will be excused if they give occasion to ponder on the direction of translation. “At the foot of the letter” is a literal translation of au pied de la lettre, “literally.” Of course the direction of the translation of figurative expression is all-important. It is quite different for an English speaker—with some French—to say “avoir son gâteau et le manger” than to say “to have the butter and the butter’s money,” which is the literal translation of the equivalent French expression. The translation of the French into English is strange, sometimes hilariously so, but that of the English into French is also, in the Freudian sense, uncanny—or “disquietingly strange” to use the rendering into English of the French translation of unheimlich—, in that it disquiets the familiar expression. See Delabastita for similar remarks on “translation-based monolingual target-language wordplay,” of which the phrase “he wants the butter and the butter’s money” is a good example. I borrowed it from Jean-Loup Chiflet (aka John-Wolf Whistle)’s Sky my husband!, which translates French expressions into literal English, whereas its companion Sky my wife! gave me “avoir son gâteau et le manger.”

3 I will only give two examples, a variety of coarse canvas called “duck” (463), reasonably topical as one of the references given by the OED is from Thomas Jefferson in 1780, and “duck-boards” (694), “in the war of 1914–1918, a slatted timber path laid down on wet or muddy ground in the trenches or in camps, also in wider use” (OED).

4 The OED gives a 1611 example using the expression as an explanatory equivalent to a French saying: “apprendre aux poissons à nager, to teach fishes to swimme, (an idle, vaine, or needlesse labour) we say, to teach his granddame to grope ducks.”

5 Which, according to the etymology of the word—and OED definition 2—, is a she, and not a drake.

6 It should be noted that the same holds true of the parallel expression in Sky my husband!, “ass of bag,” which is a literal translation of the French for “dead end,” “cul de sac.”

7 The Reverend is a master at this. The first time he speaks in the novel, he commits a zeugma which reflects on the relation between space, time, and death: “Some are gone to Kentucky, and some, —as now poor Mason, —to Dust” (7). Witness also his Unpublished Sermons, and the grammatical zeugma in “as planets do the Sun, we orbit ’round God” (94). The use of the auxiliary in a transitive construction whereas the verb is used in an intransitive construction is ungrammatical, but it reflects on our relation to God: is it transitive, or intransitive?

8 See page 364, “to divert its flow, not to mention his guests,” and pages 279, 287 and 447 for preteritions associated to grammatical zeugmas. There are at least 25 uses of the preterition introduced by “not to mention” in the novel. For obvious reasons in the case of Pynchon, we prefer the term “preterition,” which is the standard one in French (‘prétérition‘), to “paraleipsis.”

9 I am here translating a French translation of I Kings 19: 12 proposed by Emmanuel Lévinas (Rosolato 293, all translations of references given in French are mine).

10 See Millard 107–108 on the Royal Society’s motto, “nullius in verbia.” This might also be seen as one of the multiple dimensions of the ampersand on the cover, using the Latin ‘et’ and claiming universality, postulating the possible equivalence between all languages. The title of the book is written identically in all its translations—in Roman alphabet at least—, but pronounced differently according to the language. George Perec makes great use of this in his hilarious “Cantatrix sopranica L.,” which pokes fun at scientific conventions with such bibliographic references as Wait H. & See C., Sinon, E., Evero, I & Ben Trovato. Jeanpace & Desmeyeurs, but I cannot resist giving a full reference: Timeo, W., Danaos, I. & Dona-Ferentes, H.E.W. Brain cutting and cooking. Arch. metaphys. endogen. Gastrom. 56, 98–105, 1971.

11 Of course the word in fraught with meaning in Mason & Dixon, which opens during the Advent.

12 Examples are numerous in the novel of abstruse Latinate or Hellenic words for prosaic realities, let us only mention “ovine Flatulence” (79), “aviating Swine” (257), “Hepatomachy” (378) for stomachache, “linguo-beccal Fricatives” (375) for a Daffy-Duck accent, “poultrification” (687) for ‘turning chicken,’ “acufloral” (336) for ‘knit-flower,’ and “coprophagously a-grin” (427) for ‘with a shit-eating grin on his face.’ In Julian Barnes’s Talking It Over, the character Oliver Russell commits one of his own, which he goes on to explain: “Steatopygous? Means his bum sticks out: the Hottentot derrière” (23, quoted in Guignery 17). Incidentally, he also has a bilingual joke involving a duck, “C’est un canard mort” (131, see Guignery 21–22 for enlightening comments).

13 The asterisk is here given its meaning in linguistics, indicating that a sentence is not grammatical, or that a word is not attested, even in Pynchon. The verb “pollicate”—not in the OED which only lists the adjective “pollicate,” “possessing thumbs”—is often used in the novel to refer to pointing with the thumb (30, 467, 568, 595, 751).

14 “R. Garnett, Life Carlyle iv, They had unanimously turned their thumbs up. ‘Sartor,’ the publisher acquainted him, excites universal disapprobation,’” quoted in the OED.

15 See Morris et al. on successive translations of the same passage in Juvenal (189).

16 The most important of these changes for the diegesis is the ground-breaking shift in surveying from metes and bounds to the Public Land System which would form the basis for the 1785 Land Ordinance, and which would use the methods devised during Mason and Dixon’s grand-scale surveying (Committee 11). Metes and bounds start from the particulars of the land, and from a particular point in the land to be surveyed, whereas the coordinates of the Public Land System are imposed from above and afar. More generally, the opposition between “holy” and “sacred” runs throughout the novel. In the first term the positive value is ascribed to what is whole and close, thus reminding us that the root of the word “good” is the Germanic “gath-,” “what one clings to,” found in “gather.” The etymology of the second term, “sacred,” is linked to exclusion, and the system of reference is exterior, transcendent and inaccessible.

17 In the myth, Asarhaddon, through turning around the tablet meting out the sentence, can change from seventy to eleven the number of years of atonement assigned by the god Marduk (35). That the oral Word is that of the gods and the written word allows for some degree of human freedom should, I think, be put in parallel with Roland Barthes’ postulate: “science is spoken and literature written” (15).

18 Which is but the pessimistic corollary to the quote by von Braun which opens part 1 of Gravity’s Rainbow: “Nature does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation” (my emphasis, von Braun himself cuts out part of the common saying attributed to Lavoisier, “nothing is lost, nothing is created, all is transformed,” while Lavoisier’s original remark was only “rien ne se crée”). In the economic and social sense, a more concise Latin expression in a similar vein is “quid-pro-quo,” on which the novel offers many variations (175, 327, 328, 368): you cannot get a “quo” without giving a “quid.”

19 Elizabeth Wall Hinds has referred to it in relation to wordplay in “Sari, Sorry, and the Vortex of History: Calendar Reform, Anachronism, and Language Change in Mason & Dixon.”

20 See Vinay & Darbelnet 166 and more particularly 170: “[translating] machines, however perfect, can only increase entropy, which automatically leads to a decrease in information. In this sense, translators are superior to machines because they can introduce gain in the message.”

21 The French translation is a feat, and a work of love, but it could not but falter when untranslatability was foregrounded. Here is a modest proposal in this particular case, with the help of the Vatican’s Lexicon recentis latinitatis, parvum verborum novatorum Léxicum: “ovorum intrīta sine ovo infracto non est,” a literal translation of “on ne fait pas d’omelette sans casser des œufs,” “you cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs”— “omelette” is easier to translate into Latin than into English. This is but a loose equivalent of the original expression, losing the essential reference to credit. Remember Emerson’s solution for perpetual motion: “Power may be borrow’d as needed, against repayment dates deferrable indefinitely” (317).

22 I owe the definition, and so much on Latinisms and bilingual jokes that I cannot begin to acknowledge it, to the collective efforts of the Mason & Dixon Wiki.

23 This is close to a joke in Astérix chez les Bretons, an album in which the Britons talk French but, among other differences, place their adjectives before the nouns, as is not always the case in French. Obélix surmises that the Britons reverse the order of adjectives and exclaims “vous avez vu mon chien petit?” (Goscinny 9), except that on this occasion, of course, the place of the adjective should be the same on either side of the Channel. Likewise the French, if they had any occasion to use the expression, which they haven’t, would say “dernier téton.”

24 Whose name of course, like Hervé du T.’s, corresponds perfectly to the standard definition of the bilingual pun, “where a lexical item from one language is used that is phonetically similar to a lexical item from another which has a different meaning” (Leeds, see also Delabastita), and is an approximate pun on the end of another expression involving cost, “to cost an arm and a leg” (the French themselves say ‘coûter les yeux de la tête,’ ‘to cost the eyes of the head’).

25 See on the subject Zofia Kolbuszewska, “The Gospel of Thomas (Pynchon): An Apocryphal America in Mason & Dixon.”

26 Well, except that the expression “spill the beans” is anachronistic, with a first recorded occurrence in 1910.

27 As Œdipa Maas in The Crying of Lot 49 well knows, sorting is work (68).

© Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2013

Licence OpenEdition Books

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search