Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Great American scholarship

Further evidence that including Bodin in my dissertation was a good idea: in addition to the problems posed by mystical numerology and a 1606 English translation, today I had what I can only term a "near-archival experience," which is like a near-death experience, except for those of us who've fled history departments primarily in order to avoid dealing with archives.

Before writing his better-known books, Bodin published a speech on education in Toulouse in 1559, and while I'm primarily writing on his ideas about sovereignty, the actual topic of my dissertation is education, so I thought I should probably take a look at this speech. Well, fellow Latin ignoramuses (ignorami?), this is easier said than done. Obviously, the speech is in Latin. But then, miracle! I found an English translation cited in a bibliography, put out by a certain "Country Dollar Press," which is a curious name for a publisher of translations of obscure 16th century Latin texts. Unsurprisingly, the UCSD library does not own this book (upside of UCSD not owning any books: if they do by some serendipitous miracle happen to own it, you can be assured that it will never be recalled from you), but Berkeley does, so problem solved.

The book arrived today, and let's just say that it can only be called a "book" in the most generous sense of the term. It is actually an unbound collection of mimeographed pages of varying sizes, not reliably in the correct order, with occasional lines handwritten in. Also, it smells a bit like a dead animal. The thing itself belongs in an archive.

When I looked into its provenance, I learned that "Country Dollar Press," was the one-man operation of a Col. George Albert Moore (1893-1971), retired military man, poet, Georgetown political science PhD, fishing enthusiast, and reader of under-appreciated 16th century texts, who typed up and "published" translations to a number of such works, including some parts of Suarez, Botero, and several texts by Bellarmine. He also self-published his own translation of the Vulgate ("FRESH, objective, Independent, unsponsored, scholarly, uncompromised - just what the Greek says" - his description, not mine), a volume on fishing entitled, Fish, Fishermen, and Fishing: Philosophy and Practice, and his poetry, which may or may not include this work, entitled, awesomely, Collected Sandwiches.

Here is what it looks like:
The illustrious publishing house (notice the larger page behind this one - as I said, pages of varying size)

Hard to read (in real life too), but the list of Moore's other publications

The translation

It may sound like I'm mocking this, and sure, it's pretty quaint (and occasionally unreadable and also very smelly) compared with our slick blue Cambridge UP translations, but as far as amateur undertakings go, this is 100 percent awesome. It is like the polar opposite of this approach to independent scholarship (on which, more another time). I'm wholly unqualified to speak to the quality of the translation, but it seems legitimate, and the idea of a retirement spent in suburban Maryland translating untranslated 16th century Latin pamphlets to send out to academic libraries is pretty much the greatest encapsulation of America (you know, after the Constitution and all that) that I can think of. Aмерика! живут же люди!*

*Largely unrelated to this post, I received a copy of the previously-mentioned potential Russian successor to Democracy in America for my birthday, only to discover that I can't even translate the subtitle (which is the above "живут же люди!"). The NYT had it as "What a life!", but it seems like it should be something more like, "How they live!" Thoughts, Russophiles? It goes without saying however that the entire 400 pages of this thing will take me 400 decades to translate.

Finally, here is a wholly unrelated photo of a Pacific sunset in La Jolla:


Flavia said...

This is, in fact, 100% awesome.

Well, except for the fact that the title "Collected Sandwiches" is now taken.

Sigivald said...

* I assumed on initial reading that that was you making a subtle Team America joke: "America, Fuck Yeah!" in Russian.

It'd work.

Jeff said...

I love this sort of thing. I'm always pleasantly stunned when someone translates obscure Latin texts in the joyful hope that someone, someday will need it.

(My Russian classes are 25 years in the past, but I recognized живут as some form of the verb "to live," and люди is "people." Like you, I'd guess it's an idiom that's literally, clunkily something like, "Oh, how people live!")

Miss Self-Important said...

Flavia: Of all the indignities of academic life, imagine having really thought, "One day, after employment, after book contract, after tenure...I will finally publish my epic poetic work, Collected Sandwiches!", only to discover that...

Sigivald: That was the implied meaning.

Jeff: That's what I thought.