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Bewildering Stories

The Critics’ Corner

“The Flight of Jenny Appleseed”

by Bertrand Cayzac
and Don Webb

Bertrand Cayzac’s correspondence is not only a gloss on the Floozman we’ve come to know and love, it’s also a reflection of the story itself: an erudition that’s playful and humorous and yet respectful at the same time.

The following letter shows an author at work with keen attention to detail. It’s also an example of the French intellectual tradition at its best: an existential perspective that has its feet planted firmly — and with an unflagging sense of irony — in reality.

Readers will understand the correspondence better by knowing that Bertrand has translated Floozman himself and that yours truly, the Managing Editor, has been verifying the English version against the original as well as providing the assistance we customarily offer here at Bewildering Stories to contributors writing in English as a second language.

The character Jenny Appleseed took shape in a kind of rush of élan vital, a will to power and chemically pure capitalism. It crystallized in a way that allowed me to introduce a personal, poetic note. I’m very pleasantly surprised that you find qualities of simplicity in the prose; I was afraid it might be a little “cumbersome.”

With Jenny and the Cosmitics enterprise, the universe of “Figs” takes a decidedly futuristic, science fiction shape. Humanity (or rather Life in Henri Bergson’s sense of the term) has set forth on the conquest of space. Likewise, this will constitute one of the themes of “Floozman in Space,” the device “torn from the Earth” according to a frequently-quoted phrase of Heidegger’s: “technology tears men loose from the earth and uproots them” (fortunately I’ve managed to find the exact reference; it would have taken me three hundred years to read Being and Time as long as I weren’t interrupted). And that’s what brings us back to existentialism.

I have only two remarks about “The Flight of Jenny Appleseed.” Again, thank you for the accuracy in all the adjustments you’ve made, especially in the replacement for “pure mind,” in the end, your solution is closer to what I meant.

“She told herself, Go for it! And then she left the community of her birth, her family, and her father’s house, and she rode forth on a little motorbike.”

My impression is that “Go for yourself” is found only in the literal translations of Genesis 12:1, such as Young’s Literal Translation.

I’m happy with “Go for it!” which agrees perfectly with the image of Jenny’s escape by motorbike (indeed, it is a small, somewhat pathetic bike, like the machines we had in my village when we were teenagers).

Nonetheless, I do miss “Go for yourself” (or “she went for herself,” to paraphrase), which is the deep meaning of what Jenny does. “Go for it” packs more punch by continuing to evoke the literal text. And the form doesn’t disturb the reader.

What would you say to keeping “Go for it” and following it with: “and then she went for herself, leaving the community of her birth,” etc.? It might add a humorous touch with the repetition of “go for.” But I’ll leave it up to you.

Le personnage de Jenny Appleseed a pris corps dans une sorte de précipité d’élan vital, de volonté de puissance et de capitalisme chimiquement pur. Sa cristallisation s’est produite d’une manière qui m’a permis d’introduire une note personnelle sur un mode poétique. Je suis très agréablement surpris que vous trouviez des qualités de simplicité à cette prose: j’avais peur que ce soit un peu “cumbersome”.

Avec Jenny et l’entreprise Cosmitics, l’univers de « Figs » prend une dimension résolument futuriste/SF. L’humanité (ou plutôt la Vie au sens de Bergson) s’est lancée à la conquête de l’espace. Dans le même mouvement, et ceci constituera un des themes de « Floozman dans l’espace », la technique « l’arrache à la Terre » comme le dit une formule Heidegger fréquemment citée: “technology tears men loose from the earth and uproots them” (heureusement que j’ai réussi à trouver la réference exacte, il m’aurait fallu trois cents ans pour lire “l’Etre et le Temps” — à condition de ne pas être dérangé). Voilà qui nous ramène à l’existentialisme.

Voici mes deux seules remarques concernant « La fuite ». Encore une fois, merci pour la justesse de tous les arrangements, notamment le remplacement de “pure mind” qui a un sens finalement plus éloigné de ce que je voulais dire que votre solution.

“She told herself, Go for it! And then she left the community of her birth, her family, and her father’s house, and she rode forth on a little motorbike.”

J’ai l’impression que “Go for yourself” ne se rencontre que dans les traductions littérales de Genèse 12:1 comme la Young’s Literal Translation.

J’aime bien “Go for it!” qui s’accorde parfaitement avec l’image de la fuite en moto (effectivement une petite moto, un peu pathétique, comme ces machines que nous avions dans mon village lorsque nous étions adolescents).

Néanmoins, je regrette un peu “Go for yourself” (ou “she went for herself” sur le mode de la paraphrase) qui correspond en profondeur à ce que fait Jenny. “Go for it” a plus de punch tout en continuant d’évoquer le texte littéral. Et cette forme ne perturbe pas le lecteur.

Que diriez-vous de conserver “Go for it” en le faisant suivre de “and then she went for herself, leaving the community of her birth etc....” ce qui pourrait presque apporter une petite touche humoristique par la repetition de la forme “go for...” Je vous laisse juge...

Copyright © 2009 by Bertrand Cayzac

Thank you for the kind compliments, Bertrand. Our readers ought to expect Bewildering Stories to give Floozman the care and attention it deserves; the Review Editors and I are happy to help in any way we can.

The crise de Sartre that Jenny experiences as a young girl leaps to the eye; it’s a philosophical summary well worth noting for both its brevity and its accuracy. And it is a key to understanding Floozman: what makes Fred Looseman a victim, and what he struggles against in his role of financial superhero.

Jenny’s sense of alienation is so complete that listening to a cat or a person amounts to the same thing. And when she departs, her vehicle is as sad as her philosophy: today’s readers would have to be shown in pictures how pathetic her little mobylette really is.

Jenny’s departure amounts to a philosophical and cultural suicide that non-French readers can hardly imagine. I’m reminded of a French film — I forget which it was — in which a character declares melodramatically, “Je quitte la France.” An American would ask, “Okay, so where are you going?” without realizing that it doesn’t matter: the character has all but said “I’m going to blow my brains out.” And Jenny’s flight is continuous: we see her planning to leave Earth just as she left her native province, her home town and, in almost Biblical terms, her father’s house.

The important thing is the exposure of motive, the inner vacuum that draws Jenny ever away. I’ve called it a nihilisme égoïste — a ‘self-centered nihilism’ — by borrowing from Albert Camus’ analysis of Nazism and the limits of pacifism in his Lettres à un ami allemand, “Letters to a German Friend.” The consequences for Jenny are, as you’ve pointed out, a Wille zur Macht — a will to power — and a “chemically pure capitalism.” Floozman, on the contrary and as we have seen, fights not the Devil, which is immortal, but the Devil’s symbol of power, namely money, by making money irrelevant.

The problem with “Go for yourself” or “She went for herself” is one of idiom. “Go for it” — the equivalent of Vas-y — is common and universally understood. “Go for yourself” reflects — yet again — the cultural problem inherent in translation: people take everything literally unless they know to do otherwise, hence the proliferation of bizarre Biblically-based misinterpretations and even heresies over the centuries.

The expression “Go for yourself” may have been quite understandable in ancient Greek or Hebrew, but it means nothing to today’s English-speaking reader. We might come close by saying somehow that she goes to seek her fortune. But no emphasis is needed: the story makes it perfectly clear that Jenny fails to realize she has acquired almost literally the whole world — at the cost we know.


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