July 14, 2004

A little Sartre goes a long way

I defaced a poster last night on the way home from work. Well, not a poster exactly. More like a sign. The conductor posted a handwritten sign with the words "No Exit" over the door to the train carriage closest to where I and many others were sitting. Of course it was an exit. In point of fact, it was the chosen exit for those of us in that part of the carriage and we all did actually end up exiting through it. I think the sign may have been left over from a different route. No matter. I was the first to line up at the door to await my station stop. I stood in front of this sign and couldn't help myself. I took up my pen and glanced quickly over my shoulder (thus establishing to the complete satisfaction of even the most casual observer that I was about to do something either suspicious or improper or both). I then wrote huis clos on the sign. Often enough, when you commute sitting near some idiot who has his cell phone fixed to his ear and his voice set to stun, you agree with Sartre that hell really is other people.

Inject a little existentialism in everybody's day.

Posted by Random Penseur at July 14, 2004 06:49 AM

What's huis clos?

Posted by: Hannah at July 14, 2004 09:57 AM

Huis Clos is the French title for Sartre's play, No Exit. It is a fascinating play and a great read. I highly recommend it.

Posted by: RP at July 14, 2004 10:07 AM

God, I loved that play! Talk about making me reconsider my options...whew.

Yup. It's the most perfect definition of hell I'd ever read about.

Posted by: Helen at July 14, 2004 11:53 AM

Cher Penseur,

I take it that you do know that even though "Huis Clos" is popularly translated as "No Exit" in English, it, in fact, means something else in French? Something more akin to 'Close Quarters' or 'Shut-In.' The title of the play is not captured well by the English "No Exit" (even though it is consistent with the idea of the play).

Anyhow, what do you have to say about translators who use inaccurate (often tired) translations in place of better literal and figurative renderings? Are they slaves to tradition? I think of Proust's "Dans l'ombre de jeune filles en fleur" being butchered as "In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower." The French is MUCH more evocative without being over-sexualized. Do not get me started on "A la recherche du temos perdus!"


Posted by: Leifur at July 14, 2004 10:47 PM

Yup, having read the play in French, I do know about the title translation difference. That said, what can you do? It's been "No Exit" in English for so long that, in fact, that's how I've even come to think of it in French. And as even you point out, that translation does give a very good flavor of the trapped in hell theme of the play.

You raise an interesting point about translation, and I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Translation always is second best but the best of it is an art form itself, even if you are taken farther and farther from the author. That said, if it weren't for translation, I'd never have read any Russian literature or Chinese literature. Further in support of what you say, though, even l'ombre seems to be a different feeling word from shadow.

Thanks again, Leifur, for such an interesting take on things.

Posted by: RP at July 15, 2004 09:53 AM
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