Thursday, April 28, 2016

John Berger on Translation

John Berger writes in the The Guardian:
true translation is not a binary affair between two languages but a triangular affair. The third point of the triangle being what lay behind the words of the original text before it was written. True translation demands a return to the pre-verbal. One reads and rereads the words of the original text in order to penetrate through them to reach, to touch, the vision or experience that prompted them. One then gathers up what one has found there and takes this quivering almost wordless “thing” and places it behind the language it needs to be translated into. And now the principal task is to persuade the host language to take in and welcome the “thing” that is waiting to be articulated.
This is not my experience. An I am bilingual (German-English), have translated from English to German (generally recommended, as that is my native language) and from German to English (not generally recommended, as it goes from the native language to the language I speak and think in now, that is, for the last 48 years).[1]

In fact, I don't know what it would mean to "return to the pre-verbal." I have never had any access to this level. Even when I dream, I dream in English or in German. Nor do I understand what he means by characterizing translation as a "binary affair." If he means that it is something that resembles Searle's "Chinese room," I agree. It's not a question of simply correlating a definite set of words in one language with some definite set of words in the other (in accordance with certain rules). It's much more complicated and involves reconstruction. If, however, he suggests that there is another kind of language between the source language and target language, I strongly disagree. But perhaps I am just more deficient than Berger.


1. Even though I have I have lived in English for much longer than in German, my English is weaker. It's like handedness. A left-handed person may become very good at using her right hand, but that does not mean that she will become right-handed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Essay and Self

From a recent review of books on essays by Harper's:
To throw in our lot with the essay — to place it at the center of our literary culture — is to accept the idea of a more or less continuous self that can make its observations, emotions, interpretations, and opinions intelligible to others. From Montaigne to Didion, essayists have shown that even questions about the very coherence of the self or the legibility of experience can be addressed from within the essay. Does this mean we’re walking away from the more recent modernist and postmodernist challenges to certainties about the self? Can everything important be filtered through a talking “I”? What do we do with our skepticism of the bourgeois subject and his abiding interest in his personal experiences, his foibles, his feelings?
Is that true? Is it even coherent?

I somehow doubt it. To use Montaigne's musings as proof for an abiding self seems rather strange--just as strange as the claim that essays are the center of literary culture, or the claim that literary culture is most central to our understanding of self.

Hume (and others) have shown--at least to my satisfaction--that there is less to "self" than this articles implies.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Samuel Butler on the Fundamental Principles of Note-taking

I had read Butler's Note-Books before. But this weekend I read them again in a Kindle Edition.[1] Here are some characteristic passage:
That our ideas are baseless, or rotten at the roots, is what few who study them will deny; but they are rotten in the same way as property is robbery, and property is robbery in the same way as our ideas are rotten at the roots, that is to say it is a robbery and it is not. No title to property, no idea and no living form (which is the embodiment of idea) is indefeasible if search be made far enough. Granted that our thoughts are baseless, yet they are so in the same way as the earth itself is both baseless and most firmly based, or again most stable and yet most in motion (at location 4389).
Butler gives in this note colorful expression to his belief that there can be no ultimate foundation in taking notes on any and all subjects. In his view, "the error springs from supposing that there is any absolute right or absolute truth, and also from supposing that truth and right are any the less real for being not absolute but relative" (at location 4404).

The most important thins is to take care "not to accept ideas which though very agreeable at first disagree with us afterwards, and keep rising on our mental stomachs, as garlic does upon our bodily" (at location 4414). In other words, "we should aim not at a supposed absolute standard but at the greatest coming-together-ness or convenience of all our ideas and practices; that is to say, at their most harmonious working with one another" (at location 4405). In other words, he accepted what has been called the coherence theory of truth. It's the connections that count (in this view), not the correspondence to some (ultimately unknowable) reality.

And the moral of the story seems to be: "The only thing to do is to glance at the chaos on which our thoughts are founded, recognise that it is a chaos and that, in the nature of things, no theoretically firm ground is even conceivable, and then to turn aside with the disgust, fear and horror of one who has been looking into his own entrails" (at location 4713).

I believe that this Nietzschean dramaticism is uncalled for.[2] Nor is looking at one's own "entrails" necessarily inducing fear and horror. Perhaps we should remember that he wrote before x-ray radiation and other non-intrusive ways of looking at our "entrails" became widely available. Whether Butler is ultimately right is, of course, still another story.[3]



1. Samuel Butler, The Note-Books of Samuel Butler. transcribed from the 1912 Fifield edition by David Price. Apparently Butler was a great influence on James Joyce.

2. Apparently, Butler never read Nietzsche, even though his thoughts resemble those of Nietzsche in many ways.

3. Butler incessantly worked on his notes. From 1891 he "made it a rule to spend an hour every morning re-editing his notes and keeping his index up to date. At his death, in 1902, he left five bound volumes, with the contents dated and indexed, about 225 pages of closely written sermon paper to each volume, and more than enough unbound and unindexed sheets to made a sixth volume of equal size" (at location 11).

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Lamy 2000 Mechanical Pencil

Here is a good review of the Lamy 2000 Mechanical Pencil. It's hard to believe the design dates back 60 years. I own one of these, but I have hardly ever used it.[1]





1. By way of Bleistift. The review site takes very long to load for me.

Smart Writing Set

Moleskine has created what they call a "new set of tools to write, draw and work with." It's supposed to allow you to "easily create digital text and images and share them right away with your smartphone or tablet."

In other words, "is a system made up of three objects – the special Paper Tablet notebook, the smart Pen+ and a companion App – that enable you to digitally edit and share what you create on paper in real-time without taking a photo, uploading files, or scanning documents." The notes application is available for the iPad and for Androids.

The entire setup costs $199.00.

It looks interesting, but I am not sure I need (or want) it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Textexpander, Again

Received another e-mail from Smile today. Among other things, it says:
You, and other current TextExpander customers, receive a 50% lifetime discount on the new TextExpander. This brings the yearly cost of the Life Hacker plan to $20, which is comparable to previous upgrade costs ($19.95).
This option still takes away my choice and makes payments automatic. Nor do I have any use at all for the "sharing feature." By the way, Netflix just increased their membership by about $2.00 a month for long-time members. I have a limited budget for both software and video. Sorry!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Textexpander now by Subscription only

Today, Textexpander introduced its new "Pricing Plans" for Textexpander 6.0. For a single user it will cost "$3.96/month billed annually or "4.95 monthly." I am sure this will not excite many of its users in the right sort of way. I am not sure what will happen to my installation of TextExpander 5.0 as a result.

Needless to say, I don't like the change.[1]

There is also a new version for Windows which I will not use given that I can do more with AutoHotKey already. In fact, what I would really like is a version of AutoHotKey for the Mac.

Added on April 6 at 7:51: MacSparky writes: "Smile has switched TextExpander to a subscription model. I know that makes some users nervous but, frankly, I think it is a good idea. As a fan of productivity software, I’d really like the companies that make my favorite tools stay in business. In order for TextExpander to continue to get the love and attention it needs to make my life so much easier, it needs ongoing support. TextExpander is so worth it." The subscription model does not make me nervous. It is too expensive for me (and I suppose many other people who are unwilling or unable to spend almost fifty dollars a year for just one piece of software). To say nothing about the precedent this sets, if it is successful.

Added on April 7 at 22;35: In today's e-mail from Smile, I read: "We'll continue to support TextExpander 5 in El Capitan and beyond to the upcoming version of OS X." I suppose that means support will stop with the next OS update. I am getting more upset with every new announcement! Is this the right way to treat customers?



1. Nor do I have any use for their new sync service!