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Monday, January 04, 2016
Paul Casanova's seduction technique
Paul Casanova loved his long chain-smoking sentences. Here is the start of La Fin du Monde in French:
On admet généralement que le texte du Coran, tel qu’il nous est parvenu, est authentique (1) et qu’il reproduit exactement la pensée de Mohammed, fidèlement recueillie par ses secrétaires au fur et à mesure des révélations. On sait que quelques-uns de ses secrétaires étaient fort sujets à caution, que le successeur immédiat du Prophète fit une recension sévère, que, quelques années plus tard, la disposition du texte fut remaniée. On a des exemples évidents de versets supprimés, et la façon si bizarre dont le texte nous est présenté (par ordre de grandeur des chapitres ou sourates) prouve bien le caractère artificiel du Coran que nous possédons.
I saw this same writing-style with Frank-Kamenetzky, and with Noeldeke; so, maybe that's just how they rolled in the early 1910s.
Here is how Ibn Warraq had translated this a decade ago. My underlines, my linebreaks:
It is generally admitted that the text of the Koran, such as it has come down to us, is authentic and that it reproduces exactly the thought of Muhammad, faithfully gathered by his secretaries as the revelations gradually appeared.
Casanova has in this paragraph, as you can see, flipped its tone almost exactly 180 degrees. At first, there is the general "admission" (I would render on admet, "it is assumed as axiom") that the text is authentic. At end, the assumption is shown not to suit the nature of the Qur'anic textus receptus. And this much, Ibn Warraq as translator has accurately captured.
But: where, exactly, has Casanova flipped the switch? Also, the last sentence reads like the translator just gave up and spewed out literally-translated impressionistic gibberish - that he "punted", as we American Football viewers term it.
The problem here, is that Casanova has employed three different means of obscuring exactly who is proposing what. English has a passive voice; and so does French. A rhetorician also has a habit of addressing the audience as if he were one of them, by "we"; in French, nous. (French also has what I call the passive-aggressive voice, thankfully not seen here.) And lastly English passive-voice might also take the form of "one must -" but this is much more common in French. Here Casanova does that at the beginning of his sentences.
I think Casanova did take some care over his word-choices. Yes, some of this could just be clumsy French. Still, this is the "laymans'-terms" part of the whole ouevre. Not only that but this is the start of it all.
If Casanova has en effet chosen his words carefully, then the paragraph's tonal switch has taken place more gradually than Ibn Warraq has allowed here. I think the second block is there to instill that first aroma of doubt. The third block assuages that doubt - but leads into that fourth block, where - at last - our author sheds his clothes and prepares to unburden us of our innocence.
So to speak.
So this is how I would translate the passage:
One generally assumes of the text of the Koran, such as it has come down to us, that it is authentic and that it reproduces exactly the thought of Muhammad, faithfully gathered by his secretaries as the revelations gradually appeared. One learns that some of his secretaries were highly controversial at the time; that the immediate successor of the Prophet made a strict recension, such that, a few years later, the arrangement of the text was altered. One finds evident examples of verses canceled; and the so-bizarre way in which the text is presented to us (in order of the size of the chapters or surahs) shows well the artificial character of the Koran that we possess.
Translation is tafsir.
UPDATE 9:40 PM - I might have cracked this code. Yes, the last sentence was hardest. And I needed to revisit fort sujets à caution; I knew "unreliable" was another "punt" but, still, that passive-voice was in the original too, and it demands a sujet. So I constrained it to the Companion / Successor era.
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