Poem of the Day: ‘Before Breughel the Elder’ by Aleksander Wat

Before Breughel the Elder

Work is a blessing.
I tell you that, I — professional sluggard!
Who slobbered in so many prisons! Fourteen!
And in so many hospitals! Ten! And innumerable inns!
Work is a blessing.
How else could we deal with the lava of fratricidal love
        towards fellow men?
With those storms of extermination of all by all?
With brutality, bottomless and measureless?
With the black and white era which does not want to
endlessly repeating itself da capo like a record
forgotten on a turntable
spinning by itself?
Or perhaps someone invisible watches over the phono-
        graph? Horror!
How, if not for work, could we live in the paradise of
        social hygienists
who never soak their hands in blood without aseptic gloves?
How else could we cope with death?
That Siamese sister of life who grows together with it — in us, and is extinguished
       with it
and surely for that reason is ineffective.
And so we have to live without end,
without end. Horror!
How, if not for work, could we cope with ineffective
(Do not scoff!)
which is like a sea,
where everyone is an Icarus, one of nearly three billion,
while besides, so many things happen
and everything is equally unimportant, precisely,
although so difficult, so inhumanly difficult, so painful!
How then could we cope with all that?
Work is our rescue.
I tell you that — I, Breughel, the Elder (and I, for one,
your modest servant, Wat, Aleksander) — work is our

The Saturation of the Deer

Yo, behold this pleasant 1846 painting by Moritz von Schwind:


I admired it in person at the Hamburger Kunsthalle last weekend. It seemed darker in person — I think the digital version may have been brightened a little. Nevertheless, a nice chunk of late Romanticism, dusted with kitsch. The modeling of the buck's solid, sagging flesh and horns is nicely plastic.

Here is the translation of the picture's title:

Von Schwind

I chuckled over the translation of the German word tränken as "saturate". But then I became thoughtful, and stroked my chin. There's no easy translation for tränken. Tränken describes only how animals drink. Humans trinken, animals tränken. Same thing for eating: humans essen, while animals fressen. Add to that the fact that English has no simple transitive word for "give water to". You can "water" plants, but that always implies pouring water over or into something. You wouldn't water your dogs or your children, you would only give them something to drink.

The translators seemed to realize this, but then fatally chose "saturate" as the proper translation from the other entries on the dict.leo.org list. But how can we blame them? The meaning comes across, sort of, and the only other alternatives would have doubled the length of the title, which doesn't seem right.

The other titles were translated quite well.

German Rule of the Week: Postmortem Social Control

Serbian cemeteries feature family gravesites with the likenesses of all family members laser-etched into marble, even the ones who are still living:

Family Plot in Gracanica, Kosovo 2010
Jewish cemeteries feature the columns, books, pillars and obelisks you would expect from children of the Enlightenment:

Grave in Jewish Section of Vienna Zentralfriedhof, 2010
French and Belgian cemeteries are studded with Art Nouveau tombs that look like alien eggs. And Latin cemeteries in the swampy sections of the New World feature above-ground crypts that crumble picturesquely in the humidity:

Tombs in Lafayette Cemetery, Louisiana, 2001
And German cemeteries? Suidically dull, thanks to plodding, literal-minded regulations meant to ensure no gravestone will offend even the most tight-assed musty old Spießburger. And since Spießer-Ressentiment can be triggered by even the slightest trace of humor or originality, the list of rules must be long indeed.

Enter the Friedhofsordnung (Cemetery regulations) for the Protestant Cemetery of Falkenstein/Vogtl. It has 45 separate sections, including at least 5 dedicated to telling people exactly what their graves must look like — including a table (!) specifying the precise volume, in cubic meters, of acceptable gravestones. Cross-shaped headstones are permitted to be up to 20% wider than square ones, you'll be happy to know, as long as the cubic-meter measurement is not affected.

But that's just the beginning. Here's Section 36:

Section 36 Material, Form, and Composition

1.     For gravestones, only natural rock, wood, and cast or sculptured metal is allowed.

2.    The form of the gravestone must conform to the material and must be simple and well-proportioned.

3.     The gravestones must be formed from one piece of material.

4.    All sides of the gravestone must be equally well-worked in a manner consistent with the material.

5.     Finishes and fine engraving are permitted only as a design element in connections with letters, symbols and ornaments which, for their part, may only occupy an area in proportion to the size of the headstone.

6.    Surfaces may not be rounded.

7.     All materials, ingredients, and finishing and design elements that are not listed above are forbidden, in particular concrete, glass, plastic, pictures, engravings, plaster, porcelain, aluminum, etc.

8.    The Church Guidlines on Headstone Design from 15 September 1992 (Exhibit 1) are hereby incorporated by reference into these Cemetery Regulations.

The rules go on, and on, and on. I can't translate the rest — even the small excerpt above left me profoundly depressed. The English, it seems, are not the only ones suffering from ghastly good taste.

Andre Aciman on Stefan Zweig

Andre Aciman has a beautiful essay on Stefan Zweig in Slate:

From Aus­tria, to France, to England, to the United States, and now far-flung Brazil, he must have felt like an untethered punt drifting up against a river­bank. "I ceased to feel as if I quite belonged to myself. A part of the natural identity with my original and essential ego was destroyed for­ever." He might well have been glad to build a new existence in Brazil, since, as he wrote, "the world of my own language [had] disap­peared for me and my spiritual home, Europe, [had] destroyed itself." But not at the age of 60. Suddenly, thrust into the wings of his­tory, this urbane man about Europe had be­come yesterday's man.

But the damage was done not in 1933 when Hitler became chancellor of Germany, or on Kristallnacht in 1938, or on Sept. 1, 1939, when Germany unleashed World War II. The real damage was done in 1914 when the "world of security," as Zweig referred to it, came to a sudden end. Unfit for military serv­ice, he had been assigned to the archives of the Ministry of War, but by 1917, while on leave in Switzerland, was finally dismissed from service. It was in neutral Switzerland, under the aegis of the 1915 Nobel laureate Romain Rolland, that he became a confirmed pacifist. It was also in Switzerland that he became aware of a certain cast of people who, in his words, lived "amphibiously"—that is, between countries, between languages, between loyalties and identities: in short, in exile.

German Word of the Week: Glitzkrieg

I'm a couple months late linking to this clip, in which the Daily Show's Jason Jones interviews Scott Lively, president of an American lobbying group called Defend the Family. Lively is one of those countless American ideologues who rip isolated facts out of history (especially Germany's history) and use them to cover their prejudices with a spray-on sheen of truthiness.

After literally dozens of minutes of research, Lively returned from the library, panting and out of breath, waving a yellowing news clipping: "There were — gasp — gay Nazis!" He quickly attached a tube to this fact and pumped it full of Significance. He even published a book about the results of his research, The Pink Swastika.

In the interview below, Lively calmly explains that homosexuals are violent sadists, which is why Hitler liked them so much. Oh, and Hitler was also gay.

Jones lets Lively ramble on about his cockamamie theories, while the producers illustrate them with a documentary-style voice overs. During one of these "historical interludes", if I may, Jones invents the word Glitzkrieg. Badly needed inventing, if you ask me!

Have fun! (Warning: The image that appears at about 1:00 into this report may haunt your children's children).

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Gay Reichs
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

“I Have an Optimistic, But I am Alone”

I just got this beauty in my inbox, from one belen.belen from francetelecom.com:

How do you do

How to pay

I formed, kind. I have an optimistic, but I am alone.

Expensive hits at an affordable price

I Inna live in Yelabuga

Greetings from Peter

Come to my chat

Dreams all here

It inspired me to go to the archive for an episode of the late, lamented Spamasterpiece Theatre, entitled THE STOMATOLOGIST1:

1 Some variation of the word 'Stomatologxxx' is the word for dentist in lots of Eastern European languages, and thus 'Stomatologist' is the 'English' translation for dentist which you will find in cheap, outdated bilingual dictionaries.