Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Cinema House and the World (review)

Could the lack of English translations of Serge Daney be finally over? The publication by Semiotext(e) of the first volume of Daney's "complete" writings, The Cinema House and the World, as well as their appetite for more (They are thinking about the three other volumes and La Rampe is in-progress) certainly feels like a pivotal moment. 

Until now, English readers had few options to ready any of Daney's 1,742 written texts (estimated from Pierre Eugène's Daney.net). They could contend with reading him in French (I know many of you do) or work from translations gleaned online (all hopefully listed on this blog). The only book published in English, Postcards from the Cinema, was an odd one: it wasn't written by Daney (apart from the first chapter "The Tracking Shot in Kapo") and takes the form of a long interview conducted by Cahiers du cinéma comrade Serge Toubiana (partly reviewed by Daney who died before completing the project).

So it's a key moment and fantastic news. Let's hope it's sufficiently successful to encourage future attempts. 

What to make of this new translation? 

If you're looking for a review, check out those: Richard Brody's or Beatrice Layza's, but also Thomas Quist's, Nick Pickerton's and Ed Halter's

If you need a taster, several texts are free online: A. S. Hamrah's introduction, Daney's reviews of Rio Bravo (1962), Night of the Living Dead (1970), Apocalypse Now (1979), We Can't Go Home Again (1980), Elephant Man (1981) as well as a coverage of a tennis game (1979).

To learn more about the book contents and its 200 entries, see this blog post.

Below are simply my notes about the book, mostly from a translator's point of view. Full confession: I am nowhere near finishing it (has anyone read it in full?). I'm slow, the book is more conducive to "dip in and out" reading, like an encyclopaedia, and, despite having received the digital galleys ahead of the publication, I could only brave these 600 pages in paper.

1. First delight: A. S. Hamrah's reference to the cinephiles who for decades translated Daney bit by bit, in the form of "samizdats" (about 200 texts, check out the right-hand column of this blog). It reminded me how many people went about it, sustaining the interest for Daney and laying the ground for a proper book. I've tried to list of all the translators I could find. Credit to them all (and to their editors / publishers).

  • Andy Rector
  • Adrian Martin
  • Annwyl William
  • Arindam Sen & Ivana Miloš
  • Bill Krohn
  • Brian Holmes
  • Charles Cameron Bal
  • Charles Fairbanks
  • Chloé Galibert-Laîné 
  • Chris Darke
  • Craig Keller
  • Daniel Fairfax
  • David Davidson
  • Fergus Daly
  • Frank Matcha
  • Hemlata Agarwal Beck
  • Jack Siebert
  • John Barrett
  • John Kelsey
  • Jonathan Rosenbaum
  • K. Chandrasekhar
  • Liz Heron
  • Mark A. Cohen
  • Michael Temple
  • James S. Williams 
  • Kurt Walker
  • Michael Witt
  • Moritz Pfeifer
  • nletore & newland
  • Otis Wheeler
  • Paul Chouchana
  • Paul Grant
  • Seth Price
  • Sonja Bertucci
  • Steve Erickson
  • Srikanth Srinivasan
  • Stoffel Debuysere
  • Ted Fendt
  • Tom Mes
  • Tom Milne 

(If you spot someone I missed, let me know the reference and I'll add them to the list).

2. Take a bow to Christine Pichini for her fabulous work on the 200 or so articles in this first volume. Her translation is a genuine attempt to live up to the tone, directness and simplicity of Daney while avoiding any form of academic translation (elucidation over style, anti-Daney), especially with the sometimes “heavy” texts from the 1970s. Most texts read fluidly (Daney nearly always does, even when cryptic) and some really reflect Daney’s great ease of style, even in this early Cahiers period (e.g. the review of Annie Hall). I enjoyed how she plays with alternative syntax to Daney's sentences (a bold but necessary move, reforming all these long sentences in passive voice - she does this superbly). She also rightly ignores some untranslatable wordplays, something that will become harder in future volumes covering the Libération era (wordplays are a trademark style of the newspaper). I have found some very minor errors and omissions (a couple of instances of missing parentheses or short expressions here and there) but none of them really alter the text and I have been guilty of these myself. In the end, it's both the biggest translation effort and a great one too.

3.  A slight (very personal) frustration of not being able to spot clear choices in translating key Daneyian concepts. This is mainly because there are few over this period or that they present no difficulty in translating (e.g. the hated "progressive films"). Daney is both too precise to come up with easy formulas and too inventive to simply work with a small set of ideas. A lot of the ideas in this book are also in their infancy, evolve over time and tend to draw inspiration from the 1960s and 1970s French thinkers heavily used by Cahiers (Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, Legendre, Althusser, etc) which Semiotext(e) are expert in translating. We'll come to this with late Daney ("the visual", "the image", "the films that watched our childhood", "the art of showing", etc).

4. A great regret that the publication of Pierre Eugène's wonderful study of Daney's writings between 1962 and 1982 (almost an exact time match with this book, plus La Rampe) appeared to be delayed again. It will be the essential guide to better understand Daney over this period.

5. A small point, this English edition inherit the problems of the original French one. This was the first volume of Daney's complete writings and over the years, its editorial choices and omissions became clear: not only it does not include texts from books published during Daney's lifetime (La Rampe for the period), but also interviews, collaborative and unsigned texts (the latter is particularly important as Cahiers, during the militant phase, in the spirit of collective responsibility, published many unsigned and unattributed articles, some surely written or co-written by Daney, see Daniel Fairfax's excellent The Red Years of Cahiers du Cinéma). Jonathan Rosenbaum spotted these gaps at the time of the publication of the first volumes in French and Pierre Eugene has since sourced multiple texts not included in the book. Such a large edition is also, perhaps inevitably, not error-proof with some small errors (one example: "Lemon Popsicle" and "Jaws 2" incorrectly dated 1976 instead of 1979).

6. This book and possible future ones sort of raise an existential question for this blog. Its raison d'être was the lack of (official) translations. What to do if translations abound? No need to duplicate and I have had a long-standing personal policy of not undermining genuine, official and affordable translation efforts. If Semiotext(e) is on track to translate the whole of Daney, so be it. It will take time though (the volume two of The Cinema House and the World is nearly twice the size with just over a thousand pages in French), so I may keep indulging readers of this blog with a few more samizdats.

P.S.: I will be in New York (city) Dec 4th - 9th for work and hope to find somewhere to meet readers or anyone interested. Let me know if interested (Twitter DM). Suggestions of format / locations welcome.

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