Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Kindly Ones





"The real danger for mankind is me, is you. And if you're not convinced of this, don't bother to read any further. You'll understand nothing and you'll get angry, with little profit for you or me."


The Kindly Ones
by Jonathan Littel

A strange, controversial, intriguing, sometimes obscene and yet mesmerizing book.

"Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened. I am not your brother, you'll retort, and I don't want to know. And it certainly is true that this is a bleak story, but an edifying one too, a real morality play, I assure you. You might find it a bit long--a lot of things happened, after all--but perhaps you're not in too much of a hurry; with a little luck you'll have some time to spare. And also, this concerns you; you'll see that this concerns you. Don't think I am trying to convince you of anything; after all, your opinions are your own business. If after all these years I've made up my mind to write, it's to set the record straight for myself, not for you. For a long time we crawl on this earth like caterpillars, waiting for the splendid, diaphanous butterfly we bear within ourselves. And then times passes and the nymph stage never comes, we remain larvae--what do we do with such an appalling realization? Suicide, of course, is always an option. But to tell the truth suicide doesn't tempt me much."
















5 comments:

shaggy dog pix said...

This line killed the book immediately: "And then times passes and the nymph stage never comes, we remain larvae". "Nymphs", entomologically-speaking, are larvae. A writer who doesn't understand the simplest aspects of what he's writing isn't a lot of fun to read.

tim atherton said...

Actually it's a translators/translation problem (Littel writes in French)

shaggy dog pix said...

It'd be nice to think so, but, really? "Larva" in French is "larve", and "nymph" is "nymphe". Granted, Littel may have used an obscure colloquialism for each term, but that just shifts blame for incompetence to his publishers for hiring an equally incompetent translator. The hazards of gaining an international audience, I guess.

tim atherton said...

Not to get too far into a discussion about French entomological etymology, but on double checking, the translation it is only slightly confusing/incorrect, as the term nymph(e) essentially switches meaning between English and French - and perhaps she wasn't a biologist.



That is, in French the term nymphe is commonly used for the third stage of development for insects which undergo complete metamorphosis (what in English is called the pupa). - e.g. Butterflies, flies, beetles etc



Whereas in English, nymph is normally only used for the second stage for insects which undergo incomplete metamorphosis. e.g. dragonflies, grasshoppers etc.(and for which the French commonly use the term larve as they also do for the second stage of complete metamorphism)




So more correctly perhaps, the passage should read:


For a long time we crawl on this earth like caterpillars, waiting for the splendid, diaphanous butterfly we bear within ourselves. And then times passes and the pupal stage never comes, we remain larvae

because in French, for butterflies, the "nymphal" phase is the pupal phase, following the larval stage

savanna said...

The author for that book, from that small passage that was shown, seems to have somewhat of an interesting perspective on the way people perceive life or really themselves. Seems to have a very honest tone, and I would be interested in reading it. Thanks for introducing it.