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Book Reviews - Note de lecture

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Books I DON'T read ! - Copernique Marshall

(Précédé d'un texte de Simon Popp)

Langue et réalité

J'ai refilé le texte suivant à Copernique en espérant qu'il le commentera sous peu en nous donnant également son opinion sur la disparition annoncée du livre-papier (* voir à la fin *).

Il est tiré d'une conférence que feu Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) a donnée, en 2011, à la Rutgers University, en la ville de New Brunswick (New Jersey) :

" Il est grandement temps que nous inventions un nouveau langage pour décrire le Nouveau Monde - ou plutôt le Nouveau Cosmos que nous sommes en train de créer - non, je devrais dire plutôt qui est en train de nous être révélé, quoique "créer" et "révélé" sont des mots que je devrais utiliser avec beaucoup de précaution - disons : qui nous sont de plus en plus divulgués grâce au télescope Hubble ou à notre connaissance de l'ADN, en cette période de l'histoire, de la nature de l'humanité ou celle de l'univers peuvent maintenant être discutées sans racisme, sans tribalisme, sans créationnisme et sans superstition.

Nous occupons une position privilégiée qu'aucun de nos ancêtres aurait pu prévoir. Une page de Stephen Hawkins sur l'horizon des événements ou sur les trous noirs est beaucoup plus inspirante, infiniment plus inspirante et infiniment plus impressionnante que n'importe quelle ligne sur le buisson ardent de la Genèse, ou sur les écrits d'Ézéchiel, ou tout bavardage sur l'apocalypse, mais nous persistons à décrire les événements qui nous entourent avec les métaphores chancelantes de notre préhistoire.

Nous sommes prisonniers du milieu dont nous avons hérité, persistant à dépeindre toute nouvelle découverte avec la stylistique sécurisante et réconfortante du patois qu'on nous a enseigné.

Un exemple ?

Parlant de l'achèvement du projet de génome humain, le président Clinton, disait, au printemps dernier, en parfait Elmer Gantry, que nous avions maintenant en main le dictionnaire que Dieu avait utilisé pour nous créer. - Du véritable bagou !

Au moment où je vous parle, notre langue est à la traîne, à la traîne de la science, derrière toutes nouvelles découvertes et derrière - je dois le souligner - l'humanité. [...] Il nous faut combler ce fossé pour remédier à cet extraordinaire décalage."

Fin de la citation.

(*) Je viens d'apprendre que les ventes des enregistrements électroniques ("streaming") viennent de dépasser celles des CD. - Un signe précurseur de la disparition éventuelle du livre papier ? - Chose certaine : les éditeurs-distributeurs de musique enregistrée semblent s'être organisés plus rapidement que les éditeurs de livres, journaux, magazines, etc. qui en sont encore à leurs premiers balbutiements. - Autre fait : à ma dernière visite chez Renaud-Bray (Ste-Foy, Québec), j'ai noté que plus de la moitié de l'espace était occupée par des jouets et des bibelots...

Simon

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I'll comment on Hitchen's opinion eventually (see Simon Popp's column above) as it involves a complex problem which I haven't been able to resolve yet : mixing language, content and information now being distributed in different ways.

For the moment, I'd like to answer, because I found it interesting, a question I was asked recently which dealt with books I haven't read. It read like this : "What are the books or authors you have never been able to read ?" - By that, I suppose my correspondent wanted to know which books, to which I had or have had access, I found or had found too difficult (or is it boring ?) that I couldn't go beyond their first pages.

As a boutade, I would be inclined to say "all the books that are not in my library" but that would encompass six or seven collections of books the size of the Library of Congress, the British Museum, La Bibliothèque Nationale de France and, I'm sure those in Russia, China or India including Japan, Teheran and various other cities as there must exist thousands of libraries which would take a couple of hundred human lives just to look at their catalogues and summaries.

Let me rephrase the question :

"What are the books, I bought, stole, borrowed, held in my hands, at one point or another, looked like very interesting, started reading and abandoned after a while ?"

And I'll even paraphrase it :

"What are the books I believe I should have read and haven't ?"

We're okay with this ?

As a whole I think the quantity must be in the hundred ; perhaps even in the several hundred but that would be exaggerating more than a little.

Let's start with authors :

The first name that pops into mind is Henry James. - As much as I like Proust's endless sentences and John Ruskin's vocabulary and complicated style, I've never been able to read his ten lines explanations of something that should have required four parenthesis and a couple of hyphens or dashes. Reminds me of a friend of mine who wrote a book in which every word had been looked up in a dictionary and every sentence checked in a serious grammar. - Totally unreadable.

The second is Homer. - Oh, I've read passages, here and there, wonderful they were, like reading an ancient and much more talented Shakespeare, but the endless references to obscure Gods.... just made me want to go back to Lewis Carrol.

And, to cut essay this short, let me add a third : John Dos Passos. - I'd rather listen to John Cage who seems to make more sense.

Then let me mention books but, first, books written by favourite authors of mine :

Le Journal des Goncourt. - Four pages and you have twenty names to look up on Google or a sixteen volume Encylopedia. They knew everybody, most of which are, today, nobodies and their descriptions doesn't help a bit except if you like a little venom with your breakfast or tea. - Like walking into a huge party and learning that the fourth person standing besides the Count of Trasmalia had had a face-lift. - Only way to read them is to start from the list of names, at the end and only go to the pertaining passages.

Most comedies written by Shakespeare. - Sorry old bard, your tragedies and a couple of history plays are enough.

Anything written by Sartre, Camus (and others) that were essays of some kind or another, unless taken with a grain of salt whilst using laughing gaz.

And finally, books that, after having read three, four pages, I wouldn't finish even if my life depended on it :

Those by Anatole France. - "Jamais talent pareil ne fut mis au service de la platitude." said Cocteau and he was right.

Michel Tremblay's plays - Just because [most] people understand what he has written doesn't mean that he has said something, and saying it again and again, louder and louder, doesn't seem to help.

Everything written by Julien Green except his "Journal" which, ironically, I consider to be one of the greatest series of books ever printed in the 20th Century.

And I'll stop here because I don't think one should write about bad books. They speak for themselves.

On the other hand, I recoil everytime I hear "Tous les goûts sont dans la nature" more or less hinting that every one is entitled to his opinion and that there are no good nor bad books, that Harlequin's novels are good books for certain people and bad books for others. - I recoil because I don't want to get involved into discussions in which, for example, James Joyce and L. Ron Hubbard are mentioned in the same sentence.

Copernique Marshall

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