4.7 L'argot/Argot 11/5/11-14/5/11

Abaissé re-reads the novel in its entirety! All welcome, no matter whether you're reading in French or some other translation. Discussion topics for each step along the way.

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4.7 L'argot/Argot 11/5/11-14/5/11

Postby Ulkis » Wed May 11, 2011 5:23 am

Volume 4: The Idyll of the Rue Plumet and the Epic of the Rue Saint-Denis, book 7: Argot

Chapters:

1. Origine/Its Origins
2. Racines/Roots
3. Argot qui pleure et argot qui rit/Argot That Weeps and Argot That Laughs
5. Les deux devoirs: veiller et espérer/The Two Duties; to Watch and Hope

In which we learn a lot about thieves' slang.

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Re: 4.7 L'argot/Argot 11/5/11-14/5/11

Postby Ulkis » Thu May 12, 2011 4:43 pm

I am reading this chapter and it is not horrifically boring as I feared it would be. Totally brings the narrative to a halt, sure, but not boring. I guess I remember it being so because Dennys put it as an appendix at the end and when I first read it, I was totally confused as to what it had to do anything and why was it at the back of the book.

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Re: 4.7 L'argot/Argot 11/5/11-14/5/11

Postby MmeBahorel » Fri May 13, 2011 12:39 am

I always liked the Argot chapter. We'll see how I feel about it upon this re-read :)

Livre 7

Chapitre 1
1 (Origin [Chapter title]): Une bonne part de la documentation de Hugo vient des Mémoires d'un forban philosophe, roman anonyme de 1829, dont Léonie Biard a assuré pour lui une partie du dépouillement. Mais, nous le verrons plus loin, Hugo était depuis longtemps très attentif à la langue de la misère, comme en témoignent ses carnets – voir, par exemple, Choses vues, ouv. Cit., 1830-1846, p. 436-437.
A good part of Hugo's documentation comes from Memoirs of a Pirate Philosopher, anonymous novel from 1829, of which Léonie Biard ensured him a share in the perusal. But, we will see further on, Hugo was for a long time very attentive to the language of misery, as testify his notebooks – see, for example, Things Seen, op. Cit., 1830-1846, p. 436-437.

2 (Pigritia): Paresse.
Laziness/sloth.

3 (to two Carthaginian soldiers): Dans la comédie Poenulus, << Le Carthaginois >>.
In the comedy Poenulus, “The Carthaginian”.

Chapitre 2
4 (and by extension “in the past”): Littré cité l'emploi de ce mot au XVe siècle chez Froissart, ce qui semble prouver qu'il n'était pas argotique à l'époque de Villon.
Littré cited the use of this word in the 15th century in Froissart's work, which seems to prove that it was not a slang expression in Villon's time.

5 (the word décarade): Il semble que ce mot ne figure pas dans l'oeuvre de F. Villon.
It seems this word doesn't turn up in Villon's work.

6 (and becomes “the baker”): On peut se demander si ce n'est pas pour cette signification argotique que Hugo a situé l'auberge Thénardier ruelle du Boulanger, à Montfermeil (I, 4, 1). << Enfourner >>, dans le récit déjà cité (note 12 ci-dessu) de la visite de la Conciergerie, signifie aussi dans l'argot du bourreau << attacher le condamné sur la planche de la guillotine >>.
One can wonder if it was not for this slang meaning that Hugo put the Thénardier inn on the ruelle du Boulanger [Baker Lane] in Montfermeil (I, 4, 1). “To put in the oven” [four = oven], in the telling already cited (note 12 above) of the visit to the Conciergerie, means also in the executioner's slang “to attach the condemned to the guillotine's plank”.

7 (in the special vocabulary, the lirlonfa): Hugo avait commenté, transcrit et reproduit en fac similé une de ces chansons dans Le Dernier Jour d'un condamné, chapitre XVI et Note 2.
Hugo had commented, transcribed, and reproduced in facsimile one of these songs in The Last Day of a Condemned Man, chapter XVI and Note 2.

Chapitre 3
8 (it is Restif de la Bretonne): Restif de la Bretonne (1734-1806) surnommé << le Rousseau du ruisseau >>, était l'auteur, entre 250 volumes, du Paysan perverti.
Restif de la Bretonne (1734-1805) nicknamed “the Rousseau of the gutter”, was the author, among 250 volumes, of The Perverted Peasant. [And its companion piece, The Perverted Peasant Girl. And a whole lot of rather random stuff. He's the forerunner to Parent-Duchâtelet in both sewers AND prostitution.] [And aaaah, random things I cite in fic should not be turning up in the footnotes!]

9 (The great resort of the red spectre is broken.): Voir en III, 3, 2 la note 3.
See in III, 3, 2 note 3. [Red Spectres.]
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: 4.7 L'argot/Argot 11/5/11-14/5/11

Postby Ulkis » Fri May 13, 2011 4:51 pm

Restif de la Bretonne (1734-1805) nicknamed “the Rousseau of the gutter”, was the author, among 250 volumes, of The Perverted Peasant. [And its companion piece, The Perverted Peasant Girl. And a whole lot of rather random stuff. He's the forerunner to Parent-Duchâtelet in both sewers AND prostitution.] [And aaaah, random things I cite in fic should not be turning up in the footnotes!]


When I read that paragraph about secret books it automatically put me in mind of "Forbidden Bestsellers of Pre-Revolutionary France" (by Robert Darnton, pretty interesting stuff) and I went and looked up there if there was anything more about Restif de la Bretonne and he didn't seem to be too scandalacious compared to the rest of the authors mentioned in the book that Hugo should mention him by name. Maybe he was just a sucky writer to boot, heh.

The few other tidbits about him from Darnton:

"But what is pornagraphy, or rather, what was it in eighteenth-century France? The word itself hardly existed, although Restif de la Bretonne coined the term pornographe in a work of 1769, which argued, rather non-salaciously, for a state run system of legal prostitution (p. 86)."

"True, readers turned increasingly to periodicals and other kinds of literature that had been relatively scarce in the seventeenth century. Reading habits no longer conformed to the picture of the paterfamilias declaiming Scripture to his household. But that picture never corresponded closely to practices in France, despite the sentimental evocation of it by Restif de la Bretonne in 1779 (p. 118-19)."

"In the literary newspaper of Jean-Francois de la Harpe, [Louis-Sebastian] Mercier appears as a failed playwright, vulgar compiler, and bosom companion of Restif (p. 228)"

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Re: 4.7 L'argot/Argot 11/5/11-14/5/11

Postby MmeBahorel » Sun May 15, 2011 5:15 am

Chapter 1:
It's really rather fascinating (and kind of hilarious) to read how Hugo describes and justifies the use of slang. It's OMG so evil and that's why it must be dredged up from the ooze, so we can contemplate it in all its horror. To a modern reader, it's pretty damned ridiculous, in part because we are used to realist literature and in part because in modern society, we take our slang from anywhere that strikes us, including the language of the prisons or the inner cities, through rap and hip hop and media that focus on these subcultures. There's also a bit of a translation issue here. If translated directly according to a contemporary dictionary, “argot” is slang and “jargon” would be jargon. It looks as if Hugo is attempting to justify himself by conflating the two. However, in French, the specialised language that certain professions use, is also termed “argot” (while “jargon” in historical dictionaries tends always to be used to refer to thieves slang or the type of language used by outsiders that ordinary people find incomprehensible). So when Hugo says “not everyone will agree with this understanding of the word”, it plays into what in English translation initially looked like a conflation of slang and jargon, but in 19th century French is people not reading the dictionary. (The definition “by extension, the particular words adopted, between themselves, by the people of certain professions” first appears in 1835.) Prior to the 19th century, the word applied solely to thieves' cant, so that when Hugo then refers to “the old acceptation”, he means this usage.

Only after this do we finally get the real justification, the only valid justification (the jargon bit doesn't actually help his case after what we've already seen in the novel): “the study of social deformities and infirmities and attention drawn to them in order to cure them, is not a work in which choice is permissible.” Here is the real key, coming back around to “scientists have to study tarantulas, too” (which sadly ignores that tarantulas are awesome, but I don't expect many people to share that opinion of mine). And then he very nicely argues in favour of social history before going all creepy again.

A few additional notes on his examples:
Montpellier, Marseille – I think they're talking olive oil, as oil pressing/refining is a major shared industry to the cities in the 19th century (Montpellier mostly turned it to candles and other waxen items; Marseille focused on soaps). If earlier, it sounds like woollens, to be honest.

Norman law is followed in the Channel Islands, which is the reason Hugo is using this particular example.

FMA skipped a few elements (missing ones starred and translated for those working off this translation):
Le marchand qui dit : Montpellier disponible ; Marseille belle qualité
l'agent de change qui dit : report, prime, fin courant
le joueur qui dit : tiers et tout, refait de pique,
l'huissier des îles normandes quit dit : l'affieffeur s'arrêtant à son fonds ne peut clâmer les fruits de ce fonds pendant la saisie héréditale desimmeubles du renonciateur
*le vaudevilliste qui dit : on a égayé l'ours (the vaudevillian who says, we dressed up the bear – [bear: a play that has aged without being produced, if I have managed that definition correctly.])
le comédien qui dit : j'ai fait four
*le philosophe qui dit : triplicité phénoménale (the philosopher who says, phenomenal triplicity [this comes from either Kant or Hegel or both])
le chasseur qui dit : voileci allais, voileci fuyant
le phrénologue qui dit : amativité, combativité, sécrétivité
*le fantassin qui dit : ma clarinette (the infantryman who says, my clarinet)
*le cavalier qui dit : mon poulet d'Inde (the cavalier who says, my turkey)
le maître d'armes qui dit : tierce, quarte, rompez
l'imprimeur qui dit : parlons batio

Phrenologyamativeness, combativeness, secretiveness.

There's also some weird stuff going on with the list of apprentices:
*le peintre qui dit : mon rapin (painter – rapin [technically the apprentice to a painter, also colloquially used for a bad painter, a dauber: note Grantaire's description])
*le notaire qui dit : mon saute-ruisseau (notary – gutter jumper)
le perruquier qui dit : mon commis (hair dresser – subaltern/aid)
le savetier qui dit : mon gniaf (shoe repairman – itinerant [gniaf – colloquial usage for an itinerant shoe repairman or, by extension, a bad bootmaker or cobbler])

Hôtel de Rambouillet

I cannot figure out this M. de Montmorency thing.

Sailors: Jean Bart, Duquesne, Suffren, Duperré.

Chapter 2
Mandrin – highwayman with a famous ballad and a microbrewery (yes, I'm serious on the last one)

La Fontaine's admirable line comes from La Coche et la Mouche (The Coach and the Fly).

Levantine, as language is really Sabir, also known as lingua franca or Mediterranean Lingua Franca. It is the original lingua franca.

“Romance Romance” is Old Gallo-Romance in English.

Isn't “pharos” for general/prefect/minister probably derivative of the Pharos, lighthouse – something high that looks over everything? Not seeing this one coming out of whole cloth.

What FMA translate as “it's raining pitchforks” is “it's raining halberds”.

“wittier but less grand, something like Racine after Corneille, like Euripides after Aeschylus” - I think we have the answer to Prouvaire's literary preferences, or at least the reasoning: Prouvaire prefers the grand to the witty, as Hugo seems to do here.

Is it true that orgue is derivative of sorgue? Or does it just sound poetic? Is it really like saying “trap” is derived from “strap”? I don't actually trust Hugo here, because while he's laying all this out as fact, he's also justifying its study, and making selections from what he knows but also what proves his point that thieves' cant is just as worthy as high-flown poetry, just as beautiful in the same way.

A condemned man is legally dead, actually. The Napoleonic Code states “Sentence to natural death shall imply civil death” (II, II, 23). Which alone makes me wonder if it is not merely those who are condemned to death who are referred to as dead before the deed is done, but those with life sentences that include civil death as well – and if these references pre-date any of these legal terms. If the speakers are constantly in and out of the legal system, they are hardly ignorant of the system and will make reference to it in ways those who have little direct contact with the system would not necessarily think of.

Poulailler – a robber. I'm taking this from Harper's Monthly Magazine, 1851 (story begins on page 489). Born in Brittany, he began before the age of 10 or so with theft, fraud following close thereafter, and a little Robin-Hooding on the side. Escapes from the law, beloved by women, supposedly walled up an informer alive (shades of Poe, there), and is generally hella awesome, someone who fills in nicely the void left by the capture of Cartouche. Which is what Hugo is referencing, as opposed to the reality, which was that he was a thief of poultry and livestock, and his “band” of five guys had just graduated to armed robbery when he was arrested. (Violence in Early Modern Europe, 1500-1800, Julius Ralph Ruff, p. 30)

Damn you, JK Rowling, I see “hippogriffs” and start cracking up. The liberator rides hippogriffs – I'm sure Sirius believes in that, but I'm not so sure about the rest of us in any other context *g*. And then you get all porny with Andromeda. You couldn't just use Prometheus, no, you had to go for the naked chick, because you are Victor Hugo.

The end of this chapter just kind of makes me go “wow”, in that Carolyn Hax “I cannot believe you said something so jaw-droppingly awful” way. We've had all these examples of where slang constructions come from, then the more poetic ones are justified through explication of the metaphors. We have a very distressing picture of the treatment of prisoners under the Ancien Regime. And then, just as we have elevated the language, we drag it back down as a pitiful form of language, a cry of the misérables, and we hope it will be stamped out, in imagery that looks like an overblown flight of fancy, and ends with a hot naked chick tied to a rock. To use Andromeda is to feminise the misérables, to render them weak and helpless; Prometheus is also chained to a rock until he is rescued by a hero who slays monsters, but it is in punishment for having rendered a service, for acting against the overlords on behalf of the weak, and therefore he can't be used here because that would mean the misérables have agency, are capable of action on their own behalf and on behalf of others. And we can't have that, now, can we?

Chapter 3
I have no idea what he means here about Restif de la Bretonne. The man wrote a lot of stuff – a lot of random stuff. He comes up in my research in the contexts of prostitution and sewers, as a precursor to Parent-Duchâtelet and companion to Mercier. The problem seems to be that unlike the Enlightenment philosophers/writers, Restif de la Bretonne was leading his lower class readers down a path Hugo despises. The sort of thing that is exemplified in Schiller's The Robbers. I wonder if this has anything to do with what the wiki writer characterises as Restif de la Bretonne's proto-communism, as opposed to the milder socialism Hugo espouses in his revolutionary chapters. That there's something more “breaking of the altars” and “you have nothing to lose but your chains” than “equitable distribution of wealth”. Because boy does he go off on Schiller for ruining Germany and the rest of Europe.

The bourgeois is coming out very strongly here. Thank god the French Revolution, that embodiment of Enlightenment philosophy, came along when it did to cut off the potential for a peasant uprising. He admits that the anger has cause, but that can all be dissolved with the giving of rights – see how wonderful the people behave in revolutions led by their betters? *gag* Peasant uprisings are dead because peasants have civil rights?

Chapter 4
So, instead of uprisings, we have to worry about crime, which is the slow attack on the body politic as opposed to the “apoplexy” of a rising. Our solutions must therefore be top-down, in the ways we believe are needed, and instead of shaking up the hierarchy, we will believe that a rising tide will lift all boats and thus no change in the hierarchy will be necessary. And without acknowledging that education can create wrath should it lack opportunities (as in, if the hierarchy does not enable men to climb but merely assumes that everyone is advancing equally therefore no one is actually getting ahead), we will assume that suffering will end and so will the wrath of the people. “If there is anything more poignant than a body agonizing for want of bread, it's a soul dying of hunger for light.” But that's not what you've been supporting; you'll feed the body, but the soul cries out to be permitted to use the light it is granted, and I'm not seeing that in these paragraphs.

Now for more complaints about Louis-Napoleon.

Boy have we ended up far away from a discussion of slang. It's as if these two chapters don't actually belong here, but here's as good a place as any to stick them. He went on a bit long, got carried away, and never bothered to try to work back around to language. And left his bourgeois ass showing.

The intended audience for these portions is the bourgeois reader, and it make sense that he plays to them. But I don't think he's playing to them so much as that he is them. I wonder what his lower-class readers thought of chapters like these last two, where any agency to better their sufferings is removed from them – they are not even to be partners in their salvation – and given wholly over to those who are already in charge.
What kind of literature and what kind of life is the same question. - Tom Stoppard

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Re: 4.7 L'argot/Argot 11/5/11-14/5/11

Postby Ulkis » Sun May 15, 2011 5:58 pm

I wonder if this has anything to do with what the wiki writer characterises as Restif de la Bretonne's proto-communism, as opposed to the milder socialism Hugo espouses in his revolutionary chapters. That there's something more “breaking of the altars” and “you have nothing to lose but your chains” than “equitable distribution of wealth”. Because boy does he go off on Schiller for ruining Germany and the rest of Europe.


I got confused here - was it Restid de la Bretonne or Hugo who went off on Schiller?

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Re: 4.7 L'argot/Argot 11/5/11-14/5/11

Postby MmeBahorel » Sun May 15, 2011 6:13 pm

Hugo goes off on Schiller. He invokes Restif as the person who dug the worst channel through the Parisian populace, then says (paraphrasing) "the Germans are the worst offenders in all of Europe on this score, look at Schiller's The Robbers!"
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Re: 4.7 L'argot/Argot 11/5/11-14/5/11

Postby Ulkis » Sun May 15, 2011 6:19 pm

Oh, okay, thanks. Yeah, I got confused when I read that part in the book. I think I thought that Hugo was in fact attacking Schiller but then I thought, why would he do that? Schiller seems to be lame, rousing-up-the-masses-wise. I've only read Mary Stuart and his Joan of Arc and both of those plays seemed to tame the title characters quite a bit, especially Joan. From those two plays, I wouldn't've thought Schiller could write something so rabble rousing that Hugo disapproved, heh.

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Re: 4.7 L'argot/Argot 11/5/11-14/5/11

Postby MmeBahorel » Sun May 15, 2011 8:33 pm

That's why the citation of The Robbers - it's the play that has Hugo pissed off (the whole forest anarchy part). I'm not sure (since i haven't read it or any of Schiller's other work) if Schiller is espousing this thread of political philosophy or if he is merely describing an existing thread, one that Hugo can't stand. On first reading, I thought he was going off on Schiller, but he's just stating that Schiller summed up this philosophy in that play. So while Hugo is blaming certain aspects of the intelligentsia for the spread of certain ideas, he could plausibly back off if Schiller argued with him about the characterisation and say "I just said you talked about it, which is trufax".
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