Author Archives: Roger W. Smith

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor at St. John’s University. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Sites on WordPress hosted by Mr. Smith include: (1) rogersgleanings.com (a personal site comprised of essays on a wide range of topics) ; (2) rogers-rhetoric.com (covering principles and practices of writing); (3) roger-w-smiths-dreiser.site (devoted to the author Theodore Dreiser); and (4) pitirimsorokin.com (devoted to sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin).

Suffer little children …

 

 

I am in our living room this afternoon, thinking about going out.

Beautiful day. My wife was out.

A light tapping at the thick front door. Not a knock. Tapping. So faint; rare. Almost never occurs. Usually they ring bell. My wife will knock loudly sometimes if she’s coming home with groceries.

I open door and there are three little girls probably age seven to eight to preadolescent standing there. So cute and innocent looking — true is it not of most kids?

They live next door. A family from Yemen. One of the older girls had a head scarf. The father runs a deli/bodega on the corner that his father started.

There are a few adult women living there whom I rarely see. It seems that Muslim women remain indoors unless business calls them outside.

One day I encountered them standing on the front steps. They had head and face coverings. I thought they might not be willing to speak to me. Instead, they returned my greeting politely with friendly smiles.

The three girls explained to me that they had lost three (!) balls on our garage roof. I often hear them playing (rare with kids in NYC … music to my ears) in our common back yard or in the narrow space between our house and theirs.

Is there any way we could get access to the garage roof and retrieve the balls? I thought we could, but wasn’t sure.

If we can’t do that, they said next — before leaving — if, by any chance, we have a tall ladder, they would be willing to climb up it and get the balls themselves.

I told them I would see what I could do. They said thanks and left.

Except the youngest girl hesitated. She stood there with a fixed gaze, so innocent. Beautiful black eyes. Then she said bye and left too.

The world of childhood. Psychoanalyst Selma Fraiberg called them “the magic years.”

What preoccupies them. Their lack of guile. Their innocence.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 17, 2021

 

забаллотирована

 

 

Если же власть категорически примет ультиматум ‒ то и этот выход не устраняет, а только отсрочивает ее падение. Достаточно будет водвориться начаткам правового строя, появиться одной вольной газете, ослабеть террору… и на другой день власть будет забаллотирована или устранена небольшой группой заговорщиков, опирающихся на общее сочувствие народных масс. Такова трагическая дилемма, перед которой очутилась власть, дилемма, в обоих случаях сулящая ее падение. С той лишь разницей, что в первом случае мы пойдем к ее ликвидации путем, способным при достаточной гибкости власти растянуться на 4-6 лет, во втором ‒ «революционно-анархическим» путем. Только война или какая-нибудь мировая катавасия могут спасти ее…

If the government categorically accepts the ultimatum, then this withdrawal does not eliminate it, but only delays its fall. It will be enough to establish the rudiments of a legal system, to appear in one free newspaper, to weaken the terror… and the next day, the government will be voted out or eliminated by a small group of conspirators, relying on the general approval of the masses. Such is the tragic dilemma that the government faces, a dilemma that in both cases promises its downfall. The only difference is that in the first case, we will proceed to its elimination by a route that can, with sufficient flexibility on the part of the government, be prolonged for 4-6 years, in the second it will be “revolutionary-anarchic.” Only war or some kind of world disaster can save it …

— П. А. Сорокин, Современное состояние России (P. A. Sorokin, The Contemporary Condition of Russia), 1922

 

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I was working on this passage today as a co-translator of the above-named work; and I got to thinking what a rich language Russian is. It has continued since my college days to fascinate and challenge me.

 

… только отсрочивает ее падение

only delays its fall

отсрочивает (otsrochivayet) … delays

 

и на другой день власть будет забаллотирована ….

and the next day, the government will be voted out …,

забаллотирована (zaballotirovana) means “voted out” (as in voted out of office) … Russian makes such intricate, complex, often long, words German-style, with prefixes and endings adding complexity and specifying grammatical function and meaning.

 

… при достаточной гибкости власти растянуться на 4-6 лет

… with sufficient flexibility on the part of the government, be prolonged for 4-6 years

растянуться (rastyanut’sya) … be prolonged (passive/reflexive with perfective prefix)

 

And …

Россия ненавидит ее сейчас сильнее, чем старый режим в самые бесславные времена последнего. Да и за что любить ее какому бы то ни было классу! Исполнила ли она хотя бы одно из своих заманчивых обещаний?

Russia hates it [the government] now more than it did the old regime in the most inglorious times of the latter. And why should any class love it? Has it fulfilled at least one of its alluring promises?

заманчивых (zamanchivykh), alluring

 

Она дала вексель на постройку нового идеального общества. Вместо этого в крови и пожаре построила душную казарму, нищую, разбойничью, деспотическую, в которой население задыхалось и вы ушную мирало.

It gave a promissory note for the construction of a new ideal society. Instead, in blood and fire, it built a suffocating barracks, impoverished, thievish, despotic, in which the population suffocated and died out.

разбойничью (razboynich’yu), thievish

задыхалось (zadykhalos’), suffocated (literally, gasped); perfective passive verb

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2021

The main purpose of reading is not to ingest or process information.

 

 

The following is a recent comment on the website

cas d’intérêt

https://casdinteret.com/

April 28, 2021

 

One of the outcomes of our computer-based lives is that fewer people are doing sustained reading. In fact, many people who once were avid readers complain that they just don’t enjoy reading as much, get frustrated when they have to read closely for specific information, and don’t read as long as they once did. All of that is science fact discovered by real live scientists doing sciencey things.

Moreover, though, is that there are some of those wacky scientists who think it might be better for us since it more closely matches how we evolved to acquire and process information. Reading is unnatural, so sustained concentration is not required much outside of it. Now, that we don’t have to read as much anymore, people are losing the habit.

One thing all that truncated more to the point writing does for us, though, is make it possible to access more information in a shorter amount of time.

It’s a fascinating modern world we live in, isn’t it? But, I still prefer books to e-readers, newsprint to online papers, and sustained reading. I just wish there was more time for it.

 

 

Roger W. Smith, response:

I hope I don’t sound snide. I too prefer print books to e-books — in fact, I don’t like e-books (my sons seem to). But I disagree with several points here, or their implications. Yes, reading is an acquired skill, but one that is acquired early by most children. To nitpick: To me, it is not “unnatural” (I may be misconstruing what you meant). It is very relaxing and pleasurable to curl up with a book. And, also for me, the main purpose of reading is not to ingest or process information — it is something else, basically, aesthetic enjoyment (often) of good writing and being able to immerse myself in thoughts of great minds. To me, the only kind of reading is “sustained reading” — page by page. It is by definiiton a slow process, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I am talking about the reading of BOOKS.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

  April 30, 2020

true Christianity

 

 

The jurors had left the courtroom by the time Mr. Chauvin was handcuffed and led away, but when Mr. Mitchell saw video of him being taken into custody, he said he felt compassion for him. “He’s a human too,” he said.

“I almost broke down from that,” he said. “We decided his life. That’s tough. That’s tough to deal with. Even though it’s the right decision, it’s still tough.”

— “Derek Chauvin Juror: ‘We All Agreed at Some Point That It Was Too Much’; Brandon Mitchell, a basketball coach, says video of George Floyd’s death and prosecution medical expert witness were crucial evidence,” By Joe Barrett and Deena Winter, The Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2021

 

Brandon Mitchell was one of four blacks on the Chauvin trial jury.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    April 2021

the music of languages

 

This morning.

Russian among the barbers and employees of the barber shop. Spanish, spoken rapidly and with a distinct “New York” accent, on the sidewalks.

Only in New York.

 

– Roger W. Smith

April 10, 2021 (my father’s birthday)

 

Hemingway

 

 

I dutifully watched the three-part Ken Burns documentary “Hemingway” on PBS this week.

At times, I felt restless and wished the segments would end. But I learned a lot from the series, and the comments of critics and Hemingway biographers were illuminating.

Learning more about Hemingway’s life, his struggles as a writer, his failings as a person and husband, his devotion to this craft, his times was not a waste.

That said, something came to me at the end of the series tonight.

Why have I never particularly cared for — perhaps never cared, really — for Hemingway? Because, it struck me, his writing is monotonous and “anti-intellectual.” It does not engage the mind.

I read primarily for intellectual stimulation and enrichment. Words do have a powerful emotive aspect. I take delight in them. Embedded in passages of narration or description. And, yes, there is a rhythm to good prose, an authorial voice, the effect that good music also has, a cadence. But in the case of Hemingway, that cadence, that rhythm — unvarying, continual — becomes for me monotonous and unfulfilling. At times, if not often, it seems to be an affectation.

Compare the following “specimens” from Hemingway and two great writers — one American and the other English: Herman Melville and Daniel Defoe.

 

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When I came back to the front we still lived in that town. There were many more guns in the country around and the spring had come. The fields were green and there were small green shoots on the vines, the trees along the road had small leaves and a breeze came from the sea. I saw the town with the hill and the old castle above it in a cup in the hills with the mountains beyond, brown mountains with a little green on their slopes. In the town there were more guns, there were some new hospitals, you met British men and sometimes women, on the street, and a few more houses had been hit by shell-fire. It was warm and like the spring and I walked down the alleyway of trees, warmed from the sun on the wall, and found we still lived in the same house and that it all looked the same as when I had left it. The door was open, there was a soldier sitting on a bench outside in the sun, an ambulance was waiting by the side door and inside the door, as I went in, there was the smell of marble floors and hospital. It was all as I had left it except that now it was spring. I looked in the door of the big room and saw the major sitting at his desk, the window open and the sunlight coming into the room. He did not see me and I did not know whether to go in and report or go upstairs first and clean up. I decided to go on upstairs.

I was alone in the room. It was cool and did not smell like a hospital. The mattress was firm and comfortable, and I lay without moving, hardly breathing, happy in feeling the pain lessen. After a while I wanted a drink of water and found the bell on a cord by the bed and rang it, but nobody came. I went to sleep.

When I woke I looked around. There was sunlight coming in through the shutters. I saw the big armoire, the bare walls, and two chairs. My legs in the dirty bandages stuck straight out in the bed. I was careful not to move them. I was thirsty and I reached for the bell and pushed the button. I heard the door open and looked and it was a nurse. She looked young and pretty.

‘Good morning,’ I said.

‘Good morning,’ she said and came over to the bed. …

 

— Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms

 

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By this time it blew a terrible storm indeed; and now I began to see terror and amazement in the faces even of the seamen themselves. The master, though vigilant in the business of preserving the ship, yet as he went in and out of his cabin by me, I could hear him softly to himself say, several times, “Lord be merciful to us! we shall be all lost! we shall be all undone!” and the like. During these first hurries I was stupid, lying still in my cabin, which was in the steerage, and cannot describe my temper: I could ill resume the first penitence which I had so apparently trampled upon and hardened myself against: I thought the bitterness of death had been past, and that this would be nothing like the first; but when the master himself came by me, as I said just now, and said we should be all lost, I was dreadfully frighted. I got up out of my cabin and looked out; but such a dismal sight I never saw: the sea ran mountains high, and broke upon us every three or four minutes; when I could look about, I could see nothing but distress round us; two ships that rode near us, we found, had cut their masts by the board, being deep laden; and our men cried out that a ship which rode about a mile ahead of us was foundered. Two more ships, being driven from their anchors, were run out of the Roads to sea, at all adventures, and that with not a mast standing. The light ships fared the best, as not so much labouring in the sea; but two or three of them drove, and came close by us, running away with only their spritsail out before the wind. …

Any one may judge what a condition I must be in at all this, who was but a young sailor, and who had been in such a fright before at but a little. But if I can express at this distance the thoughts I had about me at that time, I was in tenfold more horror of mind upon account of my former convictions, and the having returned from them to the resolutions I had wickedly taken at first, than I was at death itself; and these, added to the terror of the storm, put me into such a condition that I can by no words describe it.

 

— Daniel Defoe, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

 

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Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.

Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster—tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?

But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand—miles of them—leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and avenues—north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither? …

Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger. For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it. Besides, passengers get sea-sick—grow quarrelsome—don’t sleep of nights—do not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing;—no, I never go as a passenger; nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to sea as a Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all honorable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not. …

No, when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor, right before the mast, plumb down into the forecastle, aloft there to the royal mast-head. True, they rather order me about some, and make me jump from spar to spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow. And at first, this sort of thing is unpleasant enough. It touches one’s sense of honor, particularly if you come of an old established family in the land, the Van Rensselaers, or Randolphs, or Hardicanutes. And more than all, if just previous to putting your hand into the tar-pot, you have been lording it as a country schoolmaster, making the tallest boys stand in awe of you. The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it. But even this wears off in time. What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to, weighed, I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly and respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may order me about—however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way—either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content.

Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But being paid,—what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!

Finally, I always go to sea as a sailor, because of the wholesome exercise and pure air of the fore-castle deck. …

 

— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  April 7, 2021

Broadway musicals

 

 

 

 

The great era of Broadway musicals, in my humble opinion, was the 1940s and 50s. Today’s hits are poor successors.

This music is in my and my siblings’ blood. My father was involved in such shows and music as a conductor and orchestra member in summer stock and theatrical group productions. The music was constantly playing in our house on LPs and on the piano — by my parents, my older brother, and my father; and I attended rehearsals over which my father presided as musical director.

My older brother would sit down at the piano — I always liked the way he played, with feeling and taste — and play a piece such as “My Time of Day” from Guys and Dolls. And I would develop an appreciation for the song.

My father was amused by the character in Guys and Dolls Nicely-Nicely Johnson and by the opening “Whadaya Talk Whadaya Talk Whadaya Talk” sequence in The Music Man, which I saw performed at the Carousel Theatre in Framingham, Massachusetts with my father in the orchestra. My father found it amusing that in Camelot, which I also saw at the Carousel Theatre with my father performing, Merlin doesn’t age, he “youth-eths.” My mother loved the song “Come to Me, Bend Me” from Brigadoon.

My father said that he considered My Fair Lady to be a perfect work. He pointed out that the song “Good Night My Someone” from The Music Man was the same melody as “Seventy Six Trombones” with only the tempo changed.

I have posted a few of my all-time favorite songs here. Many of them, upon repeated hearings,  produce a lump in my throat. The good taste and musicality of the songs and the performances are notable. And the performers and their voices are marvelous.

My favorite songs (musical with songs)? It’s a tough call. I would say The King and I. Carousel a close second.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   April 2021

Since when was a translator’s race important? (Since now.)

 

 

Alex Marshall

 

Regarding a New York Times article from last week which I have posted here:

“Amanda Gorman’s Poetry United Critics. It’s Dividing Translators.”

By Alex Marshall

The New York Times

March 26, 2021

 

I posted the following comments on Facebook yesterday evening:

This is reverse racism pure and simple. We have gotten so far removed from the idealism of Martin Luther King, Jr. that it is very sad to contemplate. I hope to be able to find the time to write more about this. So, in order to be hired as a translator, one has to pass a skin color check? What about persons descended (as many of us are) from various racial or ethnic groups? What if I wrote a novel with some black characters in it? Why hasn’t “Porgy and Bess” been canceled yet? (Don’t worry — in due time.) White men and French missionaries did heroic work translating from and studying the languages of Native American tribes. Should they have been prohibited from doing so? How dare Mozart write an opera with Italian characters in it? Or Tolstoy a novel about Chechnyans? If I were hiring a translator, I would want the best person for the job. Think about it: That would be the way to honor and do justice to Amanda Gorman’s poetry.

A translator translates WORDS. The essential requirement in this instance is a knowledge of English and the target language. Plus the rare ability to translate poetry. Of course, words have connotations and in the case of literature a literal translation is almost never desirable; and then there are special challenges in translating poetry. And of course in a poem or any work of literature the writer’s personal experience and feelings, outlook, culture, and identity as they conceive it come into play. What deserves great care and respect from a translator is the writer’s words, what they said and meant, not other, external factors. The cancel culture types could care less about this.

In a college course devoted to world literature, I taught a novel regarded as a classic: “Snow Country” ( 雪国) by Yasunari Kawabata. We read it in translation. The English translation was by Edward Seidensticker, an American (white, not Asian!) who was born and raised in the West and was of German, English and Irish heritage. The novel is a brilliant and there is something very Japanese about it. You know this is not Western literature. You feel very much in a different culture and place. It was obviously a very difficult work to translate. Should someone have laid down the law that the job should have been reserved for a translator who was Japanese? The translation is regarded as brilliant. I am so glad that the work was available in English. This is the sort of thing that cancel culture philistines never even think about.

 

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Here are a few excerpts (in italics) from the article, with my comments (in all caps):

 

Should a white writer translate a Black poet’s work? A debate in Europe has exposed the lack of diversity in the world of literary translation. [subtitle of Times article]

THIS IS AN IDIOTIC QUESTION.

 

Ms. Haruna-Oelker, one of the German translators, said one disappointing outcome of the debate in Europe was that it had diverted attention from the message of Gorman’s poem. “The Hill We Climb” spoke about bringing people together, Ms. Haruna-Oelker said, just as the German publisher had done by assembling a team.

“We’ve tried a beautiful experiment here, and this is where the future lies,” Ms. Gumusay said. “The future lies in trying to find new forms of collaboration, trying to bring together more voices, more sets of eyes, more perspectives to create something new.”

GREAT TO BRING TOGETHER. THE REVEREND DOCTOR KING WOULD HAVE AGREED, BUT POEMS ARE NOT POSITION PAPERS. AND I THOUGHT WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THE MATTER OF TRANSLATION, A RARE SKILL AND SOMETHING THAT IS OFTEN DONE BY INDIVIDUALS (AS WELL AS BY TEAMS, USUALLY COMPRISED OF TWO PERSONS.

 

Several other European publishers named Black musicians as their translators. Timbuktu, a rapper, has completed a Swedish version, and Marie-Pierra Kakoma, a singer better known as Lous and the Yakuza, has translated the French edition, which will be published by Editions Fayard in May.

“I thought Lous’s writing skills, her sense of rhythm, her connection with spoken poetry would be tremendous assets,” Sophie de Closets, a publisher at Fayard, said in an email explaining why she chose a pop star.

RAPPER?

POP STAR?

HOW ABOUT LeBRON JAMES?

 

Aylin LaMorey-Salzmann, the editor of the German edition for publisher Hoffmann und Campe, said in a phone interview that the rights owner had to agree to the choice, which had to be someone of similar profile to Ms. Gorman.

A TRANSLATOR HAS TO HAVE A “SIMILAR PROFILE” TO THE WRITER WHOSE WORK THEY ARE TRANSLATING?

 

Irene Christopoulou, an editor at Psichogios, the poem’s Greek publisher, was still waiting for approval for its choice of translator. The translator was a white “emerging female poet,” Ms. Christopoulou said in an email. “Due to the racial profile of the Greek population, there are no translators/poets of color to choose from,” she added.

CAN YOU IMAGINE? WHAT A PROBLEM!

.
A translator’s main task is to capture the nuance and feeling of a language in a way that you could never achieve with Google Translate,

THEY FIGURED THAT OUT?

and most translators have long happily wrestled with questions of how to faithfully translate works when they are about people completely unlike them.

THIS IS IRRELEVANT … IF I WERE TRANSLATING TOLSTOY. WOULD I TEND TO THINK OR CARE WHETHER HE WAS OF THE SAME NATIONALITY OR WHATEVER AS ME? I MIGHT ASK MYSELF, IS THIS A GOOD BOOK? IS IT WORTH TRANSLATING? I WOULD HAVE DONE THIS BEFORE BEGINNING THE JOB.

 

{Marieke Lucas] Rijneveld, who uses the pronouns they and them, was the “ideal candidate,” Meulenhoff said in a statement. But many social media users disagreed, asking why a white writer had been chosen when Gorman’s reading at the inauguration had been a significant cultural moment for Black people.

SHE USES THE PRONOUNS THEY AND THEM. WOW! THAT SURE TELLS THE PUBLISHER A LOT ABOUT HER QUALIFICATIONS AS A TRANSLATOR.

 

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Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted to bring people together, not divide them. He envisioned a society where there was no discrimination or segregation.

These ignorant meddlers in decisions about translation and translators — something they know nothing about — want to do the opposite. It’s as if they were conducting a recruiting session or an audition and they said: “All blacks and people of color, step to the front. Whites and ethic Europeans, move to the rear. Any blacks present, raise your hands.”

Irrespective of the issues here, what counts for me is PERSONS, human beings. A person as an individual. What is he or she like and is to get to know? And their mind and intellect, to the extent that it’s relevant?

A poet is also a person. But what is being translated is the poetry of that person. This is not a matter of eugenics or social engineering.

The people intervening in this know nothing about what’s involved.

How could or would they? They don’t really care about poetry or words, including this poet’s.

They are crude, ignorant social reformers doing a hatchet job on poetry, literature, and culture in general.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 29, 2021

apologias for censorship

 

 

Ross Douthat, ‘Do Liberals Care if Books Disappear’

 

Alyssa Rosenberg, ‘The Great Dr. Seuss Hysteria’

 

 

A couple of weeks ago I posted on Facebook the following op-ed by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat:

 

Do Liberals Care if Books Disappear?

The Dr. Seuss cancellation illustrates all the problems that they used to have with censorship.

The New York Times

March 6, 2021

 

Theodor Geisel, known as Dr. Seuss, was an author of illustrated children’s books.

 

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This led to the following exchange on Facebook:

 

Roger W. Smith

I always thought censorship was a bad thing, but now we are being told it’s often a good thing. And if you ban some books by an author but not all of them, that’s not censorship. And here I was choosing whom to read on the basis of what I thought of the book as a literary work, monograph, etc. But now I find that certain works are contaminated and may not be available any longer. Who decided that? The self-appointed cultural commissars. Have they actually read the banned authors? Want to guess? We are dealing with philistines posing as trustees of culture. How many of them, do you think, are familiar with what Milton had to say about this 400 years ago? Or have a clue as to who Milton is?

“This week I learned from a different kind of liberalism that only easily triggered rubes care when offensive books are made to disappear. … often the Seuss cancellation was dismissed as a boob bait for Fox News viewers and a move to which only someone sunk in white anxiety could possibly object. … Plus, we were told, it’s only six books. And is Seuss so great anyway?’ ” — Ross Douthat

This is the very definition of sophistry (what Douthat is identifying).

But since Fox News types are crying censorship, it (censorship) must be okay now. The establishment approves of it, so it has suddenly become not okay and impolitic to object. It’s a matter of choosing the “right side,” and that means the book banners. How suddenly things change. It’s hard to keep up with the expectations of correctness our superiors have of us benighted, querulous intellectuals. They don’t care about out reading habits.

 

a reply from an acquaintance of mine

We aren’t burning books. No one is banning Shakespeare. or Moby Dick. Or Robinson Crusoe or Joyce or Twain. This is all just unnecessary fear.

 

Roger W. Smith

So it’s okay to ban “lesser” authors? Who decides who will escape banning by the self-appointed censors? And which books by the “transgressors”? I like Henry Miller and got pleasure from reading him. He insults Jews and other races and religious groups; and it’s worse with his portrayal of women. I fear Tropic of Cancer may be headed for the dustbin. Miller is very unlikely to achieve canonical status and he seems to be a good target for the censors. When they get around to it. They have a lot of vetting to do. I wonder if Porgy and Bess and the King and I (those Asian stereotypes!) will survive the cut.

Seems like you know which works are bannable and which are privileged and safe from harm. You see, most kids never heard of James Joyce, but they do know and like Dr. Seuss.

 

a reply from an acquaintance of mine

No one is banning any authors.

 

Roger W. Smith

Oh, and I should have pointed out that while Joyce observed that Defoe was what we would probably call today a white supremacist with racist, imperialist views, he thought Defoe was a great author and Robinson Crusoe a great book, as do I.

 

Roger W. Smith

You are so off base here, it isn’t funny. Liberal, PC, cancel culture types can’t see or admit what they are doing: banning books? I do (see it). I have been researching the author Theodore Dreiser in the 1930s. He had a lot of cockeyed, wrong opinions. That didn’t stop the Nazis from burning his books in their public book burnings. You can’t see the danger and the harm being done here? Ross Douthat says it all. Why not ban some Shakespeare? Just “a few” plays — The Merchant of Venice and the Taming of the Shrew. Why not Moby-Dick? Isn’t Queequeg a stereotype of a pagan infidel? Let’s get rid of Robinson Crusoe for the sin of Defoe’s preconceived opinions, which, as James Joyce noted, are represented in the character of Crusoe, the quintessential smug proto-English imperialist, who while he values his servant (read, slave) Friday, treats him with condescension. Said Joyce: Defoe “is the true prototype of the British colonist just as Friday (the faithful savage who arrives one ill-starred day) is the symbol of the subject race.” You better get to work. There is lot of stuff for you to comb through. I thought you loved literature for its own sake. And, yes, children’s books are literature.

 

a reply from an acquaintance of mine

Liberals had nothing to do with the decision not to reprint certain Seuss books. This is a tempest in a teapot.

 

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Another long time acquaintance copied and posted the following on Facebook:

No one is cancelling Dr. Seuss. There are 6 books that HIS OWN ESTATE are ceasing to publish because of overtly racist content.

They are using them as a way to say “this is the heritage that we came from, and we have learned and are doing better now.” 6 books out of hundreds isn’t cancelling, it’s learning. It’s like when you rocked whatever horrible fashion was trendy when you were 13, and at 30 you’re like ”phew, glad I got over that tragic look!”

Dr. Seuss, and most of his work, is alive and well. NOT cancelled. 6 books are no longer being published.

It’s the right thing to do.

— “No One is Cancelling Dr. Seuss (or Mr. Potato Head),” MediaChomp March 5, 2021

 

No One is Cancelling Dr. Seuss (or Mr. Potato Head)

 

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I had previously read and posted a comment on the Washington Post site re the following op-ed by Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg:

The Great Dr. Seuss Hysteria of 2021 shows how silly and unimaginative adults can be

The Washington Post

March 3, 2021

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/03/03/dr-seuss-hysteria-2021-shows-how-silly-unimaginative-adults-can-be/

in which I stated: “Too bad. Ms. Rosenberg just doesn’t get it. This is Jesuitical sophistry, a weak apologia for the banning of beloved children’s books. I loved them as a young reader. My sons and relatives’ children did. I am a liberal Democrat and a writer myself. Who is she to be opining about what kids should enjoy?”

 

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Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” has always held a place in my consciousness.

Its penetrating insight.

Everyone admires the emperor’s new suit of clothes as he parades down the street before assembled onlookers. A child finally speaks up and says, “”But he hasn’t got anything on.”

Why did it take an innocent child who “didn’t know better” to state this truth?

(1) Because he (the emperor, that is; not the child) was the emperor. (2) Because everyone had been assembled to admire his magnificent new costume; and they were compelled to buy into this.

 

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The defenders of censorship, in this case (they vehemently maintain that it is not censorship), have similarly put on blindfolds. They have decided overnight that censorship in some instances (a “lesser” or minor author; some but not all of that author’s works) is copacetic. Why? Because the people with “correct” views and lifestyles have ordained it.

But here’s the key thing: Fox News commentators and the extreme right have raised a hullabaloo about this very case. Well, if it offended them, it can’t, a priori, be offensive. It’s “a tempest in a teapot.” What’s all the fuss about? (They say, pompously).

Censorship used to matter (until it seems like just the other day) to so called liberals. But their opinions are subject to modification when they see who is lined up on which side; and then scurry to the other one while suddenly deciding it’s not so important if a few beloved children’s books are banned after all. (Oops, I misspoke. They are not being banned! They are … what is the euphemism?)

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 2021