What Ever Happened to Josipovici’s Editor? or How the Disenchantment of the World Became the Divestment of the World

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A monolingual proofreader or editor isn’t always the best solution as the example of What Ever Happened to Modernism? nicely illustrates.

Let me put one thing straight right away, I have, so far, only read 16 pages of Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism? and had to frown already more than once. I think that someone who, in the early pages, mentions fellow critic’s books, labelling them as “dreadful”, should be a bit more careful when exposing his own train of thought and how he chooses to underline his theory.

To quote or not to quote? is not the key question. Crucial is how you do it.  In the original language and offering a translation? Or the translation only?

I did not understand why Josipovici does in some cases quote the English translation followed by the original or in other cases followed only by bits of the original and sometimes only the translation. Let’s presume he has his reasons, that I didn’t get and let’s leave it at that but when I come upon a key expression like Max Weber’s “disenchantment of the world” and find the German original expression – in brackets – rendered as Die Entziehung der Welt and not, as it should say correctly, Die Entzauberung der Welt (p. 11), then something must have gone really wrong. There are only two explanations. Josipovicis’ editor doesn’t speak German or he himself doesn’t speak German. If the latter is the case, I have a few additional problems.

How could that happen? How could die “Entzauberung” become die “Entziehung”? The first means “disenchantment” and is the correct term used by Max Weber while the other signifies “divestment”. I think, this is embarrassing. Maybe Josipovici’s book is not dreadful but his German sure is. Entziehung isn’t even a proper noun but a noun that has been built by adding the affix -ung to a verb (entziehen – Entziehung), unlike Entzug. “Entziehen” also signifies “to withdraw”.

Additionally I’m still thinking about his definition of modernism. Modernism, as he writes, should neither be seen as a period nor a style but rather as art that makes its production one of its key themes (yes, I do simplify), self-conscious art that reflects itself, so-called metafiction.  I thought that was the definition of postmodernism. To make something clear here, the term metafiction isn’t used (he is talking about art in general anyway), Josipovici is very accessible, not a complicated writer at all. He is neither a Blanchot, Derrida nor a Barthes. No, the way he writes is very Anglo-Saxon. Funny that.

To be honest, I am,  among other things, a linguist with a fondness of Freudian slips and that is why I will finish Josipovici’s book. I appreciate things that make me laugh.

On a more generous note, I would say that, early on, Josipovici has, unconsciously and through a lapse, revealed what he really wanted to write about which isn’t the disenchantment but the divestment of the world. Or rather the divestment of literature. I do agree with his subconscious. I think, literature doesn’t suffer so much from being too modernist or not modernist enough but because it buys too much into consumerism.

By the way, I’m not a native English speaker and I didn’t have a proofreader. Mistakes and lapses are entirely my own.

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24 thoughts on “What Ever Happened to Josipovici’s Editor? or How the Disenchantment of the World Became the Divestment of the World

    • I knew you would… I was going hehehe the whole time after I discovered it. I really wonder what happened. This is almost the key idea and to quote your source like this…. A whole part is called The Disenchantment of the World…. And I’m not finished, I have detected a lot of other things…

        • I wouldn’t go as far as that, no, I’m still open but I think this is a huge blunder and it shouldn’t happen. And I didn’t care for the condescending tone in which he slags off fellow critics. It may still prove to be a worthy read. I don’t mind that he is accessible at all, on the contrary, it’s quite alright. I only start to suspect that it is less critical than polemical.

      • I still find it very funny. Very Mafalda. I can even imagine the kind of face Quino would have given to his character. Can’t wait the other post(s?) Only you could notice that.

        I wonder if the mistake(s) will remain in the French translation. IF it is translated, I’m not sure there’s a large audience for this here.

        • I am disappointed that hardly anyone else thinks this is interesting or funny… (Maybe it’s a case of un aveugle ne peut pas reprocher à l’autre de n’avoir rien vu. hehehe.)
          I think if no one well positioned reads my post, they will have to wait for a German translation until they are found out. I will go on reading and who knows what I will come up with. He does speak French, btw. That shouldn’t happen in French quotes.

          • When I read your post I also thought “ah ah ah l’arroseur arrosé”.
            I was wondering if the French publisher would check the German or take what’s in the book for granted.
            Do you think it’s going to be translated? It seems to be an Anglo-Saxon debate. I think here it wouldn’t go further than universities and this book is aimed at people like me, isn’t it? so not scientific enough for serious students and too intellectual for “grand public”.

            • I had a feeling it isn’t very academic but it is published by Yale University Press. He does attack British novelists and Irène Nemirovsky as well. She is NOT good. Did you not get that? I start to suspect that he mixes up story telling and literature and decidedly I have the feeling that a lot of the modernist writers he names are incapable of telling a story. But I should finish the book first before going on making assumptions… or I will end up being scolded like you…

              • I haven’t read Irene Nemirovsky, it never really tempted me. But a friend lent it to me a couple of days ago, so I’ll give it a try.
                I don’t mind being scolded especially when I deserve it. :-) (which I do in this case as I didn’t read the book and can’t read it unless it gets translated into French)

                    • I think it is bad behaviour and, like Litlove says, very old school. On top of that the paradigm isn’t all that new. In German you would say “alter Wein in neuen Schläuchen” (meaning old wine in new skins… does that exist in English?)

  1. I’ve read a couple of other reviews of this book and it has raised a few eyebrows for other reasons as well. Somehow I feel as though I am not perhaps the right audience for this book, since I don’t read many books he would consider modernist. Interesting about the translation error.

    • The things is that the expression “Die Entzauberung der Welt” has been quoted so often in Germany that it has become trite. It’s almost embarrassing to use it but quote it wrong beats it!
      I really don’t like the finger pointing. He picks critcs and novelists and says: “You are a bad writer. Your book is dreadful… ” He also tells the readers that they have no clue what is good and what is not…

      • I think that is what others mentioned about the book–that, as Litlove says he tends to denigrate others and it comes off badly. I think I’d rather like to learn what works well in a book rather than having something completely dismissed.

        • I started to pay attention to his use of adjectives and noticed he never says anything about a book or a writer without the use of a strong adjective. I start to susect that the whole book is just a transcript of the lecture and hasn’t been reworked much…

  2. Oh this is hilarious! I never noticed it, but then I haven’t spoken or read German for twenty years and my vocabulary is no longer what it was. But what I really love is your interpretation of the slip, as pointing up something he actually does want to say about literature. I thought that was brilliant.

    I do know what you mean about the condescending tone. I felt that GJ was doing old school criticism, where you champion a writer or a movement, and thus feel obliged to denigrate others. It’s not the sort of criticism I would ever write myself because it has to be based on a subjective opinion that is elevated to the status of authority. And of course, one of modernism’s challenges is to the easy assumption of authority. Plus, you do look extra silly when you make silly mistakes.

    As far as I can see, the big difference GJ wants to posit between modernism and postmodernism is that the latter is playful and unconcerned about the dark discoveries of modern times, such as the absence of dependable truth, loss of reliable hierarchies, and the fizzling out of the numinous. He repeats several times that the authors he respects laid their lives on the line for art, and this seems very important to him. Beyond that, however, I often find him talking about authors I think of as primarily postmodern (the nouveaux romanciers in particular) and lining them up with modernist concerns. I’m really looking forward to what you’ll say about this book next!

    • Thanks, Litlove. It is quite funny and I can’t help but read meaning into slips. I’m not even sure all that many German readers would have noticed. I did a lot of copyediting and it is still to a lesser degree part of my work.
      Plus the moment I see someone criticizing others like he does, I start to pay extra attention. One is often rewarded.
      After 16 pages I can really not say all that much about his theories, I just found, from the beginning it wasn’t very stringent. And quite emotional at times. I’m all for emotions but not in this context.
      I read quite a few books on postmodernism and many arguments he uses can be found there as well.
      I’m interested to read the rest, I also want to find out if he just says so and so is a bad writer without giving a good reason. In the case of the “dreadful” critic it sounded as if the person had a very different point of view but this should hardly be a reason to call something dreadful. It sounded a bit as if he thinks he found absolute truth…

  3. Hehehe very entertaining. I like your intelligent rant.

    It sounds like this man is a bitter man. I don’t think you will find me reading this book. Looking forward to reading your thought after you finish the book.
    Thanks for the German lesson ;)

    • It really is funny. It is the kind of thing one always hopes to find when someone is quite obnoxious… Glad you enjoyed it. When you look at his picture, funny enough, he doesn’t look bitter, he looks quite likable…
      My pleasure. :)

  4. I was reading a review of Josipovici’s from 2005 of the Brothers Grimm, where he quotes the following passage:

    There was once a king’s daughter who went out into the forest and sat down by a cool well. She had a golden ball which was her favourite toy; she would throw it up high and catch it again in the air, and enjoyed herself as she did this [this to my ear does not quite capture the self-absorbed quality of und hatte ihre Lust daran]. One day the ball had risen very high she had already stretched out her hand and curled her fingers ready to catch it when it bounced past onto the ground quite close to her and rolled straight into the water [rollte und rollte und geradezu in das Wasser hinein].

    The bits in square brackets are Josipovici – so he certainly affects to know German. Enough to criticise someone else’s translation.

    • Thanks a lot for your comment Obooki. In this case it is even less excusable that this silly mistake was made. I have to agree with him on the quality of this translation but the Brothers Grimm are said to possibly write the most beautiful German that has ever been written. I think, if I would criticize a translation like he does here, I would include mine, to show the difference.

  5. For your information, Josipovici doesn’t read German and the error has been corrected in the paperback.

    Elsewhere I see you think a novel of his is “total crap. Badly written!” I recommend reading some more and then providing a more considered opinion.

    • Still a funny error. And indeed, “crap” is far from a subtle way of talking about anyone’s books, I agree but I suppose when someone utters views like he does he has to be prepared that his books will be more closely scrutinized than anyone else’s… The review is still due. I’m just not keen on writing negative reviews.

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