31 December 2011

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?

The worst defeat, all in all, is to forget, and especially to forget how you've been done in, and to croak without ever understanding what rotten swine people are. When we're standing beside our open graves we shouldn't try to be clever, but we shouldn't forget either. We should tell it all without changing a word, all of the most vicious things we've seen people do. Then we should shut up and climb down into the hole. As a life's work, that's enough.
The above is my own translation from Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s 1932 novel, Voyage au bout de la nuit [Journey to the End of the Night]. My source text was the Folio paperback (Paris: Gallimard, 1972), p. 38. The book was most recently translated by Ralph Manheim in 1988, although John H. P. Marks' 1934 version still has a gritty charm. The original French:
La grande défaite, en tout, c’est d’oublier, et surtout ce qui vous a fait crever, et de crever sans comprendre jamais jusqu’à quel point les hommes sont vaches. Quand on sera au bord du trou faudra pas faire les malins nous autres, mais faudra pas oublier non plus, faudra raconter tout sans changer un mot, de ce qu’on a vu de plus vicieux chez les hommes et puis poser sa chique et puis descendre. Ça suffit comme boulot pour une vie tout entière.