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Thread: a language problem!

  1. #1
    Registered User Silvia's Avatar
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    Talking a language problem!

    Hi!
    I have just read the book and, to tell the truth, I find it GREAT!
    The only thing I complain about is that I read the Italo Calvino's translation (which is the best one in Italian, by the way) and I'm afraid the style and the language lose something.....
    Unfortunaly I'm not able to read the English version, because I'm not so good at English yet and Melville's vocabulary is too a complex one for my present level (actually, there are tecnical words I do not understand even in Italian!).
    The reason why I joined this community is that I'm really, really, really keen on books and I'm starting to read them in English, both because I want to get exactly the same meaning the author is giving and because I think it's a good way to improve my skills (I'm 17 and I'm attending a language school in Milan)....
    It would be wonderful if you answered me so that we can share opinions.
    thank you!
    silvia

  2. #2
    X (or) Y=X and Y=-X Jean-Baptiste's Avatar
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    Welcome to the forums, Silvia! I'm sure you'll fit right in here.

    I have not read Moby Dick, but I can say that Melville's style does not appeal to me, based on some of his short stories that I've read. He seems to fall into the trap of the self-educated in making his vocabulary and sentence structure work doubly hard in an attempt to compensate, or prove that formal education is unnecessary. I think this may be where you're finding difficulties, and I'm sure that it's not the fault of the translator. It's been insisted to me that his ideas are profound, tragic, and influential, but all I've ever seen is a garble of trite tripe. Again, I can't speak for Moby Dick, and perhaps he concentrated his best mental exertion on that work. The thing that strikes me most about his writing is his tendency to rearrange the standard English usage in sentence structures. This always throws up a red flag to me that one is trying to make their writing seem more sophisticated than it is. I have heard the argument that his sentences follow the standards of his time, but I find nothing like them in Hawthorne or Poe.

    In any case, your English seems very good, for one insisting that it is not--and I see no reason why you should deny your ability to tackle Melville in the original.

    Again, welcome! I look forward to your contribution to the forums.
    These fragments I have shored against my ruins

    James Joyce, the pirate. Why don't you write books people can read? -Nora Barnacle

    Insupportable claim: Reading my stories will make you a better person. Do your best to prove me right. http://www.online-literature.com/for...ad.php?t=20367

  3. #3
    Registered User Silvia's Avatar
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    Smile

    thank you, Giovan-Battista, for answering!
    I have been thinking about a suitable reply, some kind of critical comment, but I'm not really the type!
    Anyway, I came across your blog and I found out you're a writer!!!
    which is such an incredible discovery to me.....
    I believe one of the most noble things you can do in life is just to write something good and let it speak for you.
    Well, I have to do some research for the school....so I think I'll go....what I promise is that I will enter your blog every now and then and write something down, if you don't mind!

    silvia

  4. #4
    X (or) Y=X and Y=-X Jean-Baptiste's Avatar
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    I don't mind a bit if you comment in my blog, in fact I would be honored, but you can make your own blog here as well. I don't do much with mine. I'm really not much of a writer, though I do like to dabble in short fiction. There are many fine pieces of writing to be found on these forums by other members. (I'd recommend, to name a couple, "Revels Before Lent" by SleepyWitch, and "Shop Talk" by Virgil--they are both excellent, in my opinion.) I agree that it is a noble pursuit, writing. Perhaps I should take it up in earnest.

    Giovan-Battista. I like that! Have fun with your research; come back soon and often.
    These fragments I have shored against my ruins

    James Joyce, the pirate. Why don't you write books people can read? -Nora Barnacle

    Insupportable claim: Reading my stories will make you a better person. Do your best to prove me right. http://www.online-literature.com/for...ad.php?t=20367

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Silvia View Post
    I have just read the book and, to tell the truth, I find it GREAT!
    ...
    It would be wonderful if you answered me so that we can share opinions.
    I'm glad you enjoyed it! If you post some specific questions or topics, I'm sure there are people here who would respond. I really enjoyed Moby Dick, too. I thought it was quite unique; it's remarkable that it manages to keep the reader's interest piqued even though it is enormously long and devoid of things like pitched battles, romantic interests, and shocking plot twists. I think Billy Budd, Sailor would be a good follow-up if you enjoyed Moby Dick. It is much shorter, but also very enjoyable.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jean-Baptiste View Post
    I have not read Moby Dick, but I can say that Melville's style does not appeal to me, based on some of his short stories that I've read. He seems to fall into the trap of the self-educated in making his vocabulary and sentence structure work doubly hard in an attempt to compensate, or prove that formal education is unnecessary.
    ...
    The thing that strikes me most about his writing is his tendency to rearrange the standard English usage in sentence structures. This always throws up a red flag to me that one is trying to make their writing seem more sophisticated than it is. I have heard the argument that his sentences follow the standards of his time, but I find nothing like them in Hawthorne or Poe.
    I haven't noticed this, but I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a very sensitive reader, and it's likely that the forced sophistication went over my head. I, personally, didn't find Melville any more unnatural than Nathaniel Hawthorne or Henry James. If you care to expand on this, I'd be very interested to know your thoughts.
    Optima dies ... prima fugit

  6. #6
    X (or) Y=X and Y=-X Jean-Baptiste's Avatar
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    At all events, I saw that go he would not.
    This is an example of what I mean, taken from "Bartleby, the Scrivener". As I said, I cannot speak for _Moby Dick_, but I've been perhaps irreversibly turned off Melville to the point that read more of him I should not like to do. I have an example of another complaint that I have with his sentences, taken from the same piece:
    In the morning, one might say, his face was of a fine florid hue, but after twelve o'clock, meridian--his dinner hour--it blazed like a grate full of Christmas coals; and continued blazing--but, as it were, with a gradual wane--till 6 o'clock, P.M. or thereabouts, after which I saw no more of the proprietor of the face, which gaining its meridian with the sun, seemed to set with it, to rise, culminate, and decline the following day, with the like regularity and undiminished glory.
    His use of commas, and generally endless modifications to sentences, while I often find this sort of writing attractive--such as that created by William Faulkner, who's sentences can cover pages--does not seem to appeal to me coming from Melville's pen. Now, I know that I haven't given him a fair chance, as I said before, but who says fairness is required when judging the dead? Actually, to tell you the truth--and this may be a great reason to disregard my opinion of Melville, as it seems that most people, including nearly all of my friends and professors, prefer to do--I may have been searching for a reason to scratch Melville off of my "to read" list, and found a healthy means and justification in his somewhat quirky sentences. Anyway, what do you think of sentences like this? Perhaps you could try to persuade me with reason to restore his name to my list. I really would enjoy a good run-down of the brilliance and benefit inherent in this novel. Again, I didn't mean to be too hard on Melville; it was mainly for convenience' sake. Yes, Henry James can be guilty of this sort of thing at times. He was scratched off the list for a while also--but I was reasoned into restoring him.
    These fragments I have shored against my ruins

    James Joyce, the pirate. Why don't you write books people can read? -Nora Barnacle

    Insupportable claim: Reading my stories will make you a better person. Do your best to prove me right. http://www.online-literature.com/for...ad.php?t=20367

  7. #7
    At all events, I saw that go he would not.
    ...
    In the morning, one might say, his face was of a fine florid hue, but after twelve o'clock, meridian--his dinner hour--it blazed like a grate full of Christmas coals; and continued blazing--but, as it were, with a gradual wane--till 6 o'clock, P.M. or thereabouts, after which I saw no more of the proprietor of the face, which gaining its meridian with the sun, seemed to set with it, to rise, culminate, and decline the following day, with the like regularity and undiminished glory.
    It's interesting that you picked passages from Bartleby the Scrivener. I thought the overly sophisticated style was perfectly consistent with the character of the narrator. He seems to be very concerned about what others think of him, or at least what he thinks others ought to think of him (quite unlike Bartleby) -- just the kind of man that might begin his story by meditating on his own character and intersperse remarks about his own character throughout his story and use phrases like "the proprietor of the face". On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bartleby's sentences can't be simpler, and Bartleby couldn't be less bothered by what others thought of him. In this particular instance, I thought that the unnatural language was quite useful for conveying what kind of person the narrator is.

    That's just my opinion, though, and of course, it just might be a fortunate accident in your choice of examples. Do any other examples come to mind?

    I suppose there's no need for you to be persuaded to read more Melville; if you're like me, there are far more books to read than there is time for, anyways. I personally enjoy Melville, so I love the chance to talk about it and hear your thoughts.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jean-Baptiste
    I've been perhaps irreversibly turned off Melville to the point that read more of him I should not like to do.
    Very funny!
    Last edited by bluevictim; 01-18-2007 at 11:32 PM.
    Optima dies ... prima fugit

  8. #8
    X (or) Y=X and Y=-X Jean-Baptiste's Avatar
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    I have no way of actually defending my snap judgement of Melville; you're right--it does seem necessary for the sentences to be produced that way based on the narrator's characteristics. I was put off by the entire story, as it seemed that it was not a realistic portrayal of human reactions. Although, I know I can't hold Melville to any strict practice of Realism. It just frustrated me to no end that Bartleby was indeed exempt from any sort of comeupance. Someone would have socked him in the nose in reality! Why the reluctance to call the police, at least? It seems that Melville made no attempt to provide a valid reason for these timid reactions. My literature professor called me a weasel when after he asked what made the story a tragedy I said that it wasn't a tragedy. (I know this is throwing the thread severely off topic, sorry.)

    Quote Originally Posted by bluevictim View Post
    if you're like me, there are far more books to read than there is time for, anyways.
    Yes, apparently I am like you. My sentiments exactly. Although, I really am aware that I'm missing out on something great. Piles of readers can't be wrong, right? I have to admit that I am a bit intrigued by some of the things I've heard about Moby Dick. For instance, the idea of incorporating large chunks of nonfiction, expositional material into the body of a novel. That sounds like a novel idea. How do you feel about that aspect of it?
    These fragments I have shored against my ruins

    James Joyce, the pirate. Why don't you write books people can read? -Nora Barnacle

    Insupportable claim: Reading my stories will make you a better person. Do your best to prove me right. http://www.online-literature.com/for...ad.php?t=20367

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Jean-Baptiste View Post
    It just frustrated me to no end that Bartleby was indeed exempt from any sort of comeupance. Someone would have socked him in the nose in reality! Why the reluctance to call the police, at least? It seems that Melville made no attempt to provide a valid reason for these timid reactions.
    Haha! I actually found quite a lot in that story that I could identify with, but I definitely know that feeling of frustration when a so-called great piece of literature seems completely pointless.

    Anyways, back to Moby Dick.
    I have to admit that I am a bit intrigued by some of the things I've heard about Moby Dick. For instance, the idea of incorporating large chunks of nonfiction, expositional material into the body of a novel. That sounds like a novel idea. How do you feel about that aspect of it?
    A lot of people I know thought those parts were boring. I think the nonfiction passages play an important role in giving the novel its gravity. Without them, it would have been harder to take seriously a story about a captain sending his whole whaling ship to destruction to take revenge on an animal that injured him when he was hunting it (I might point out that this premise was used for comedic effect in that movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou). Besides a feeling of realism, they also helped to create an atmosphere of hardship in which the characters of the novel are tested and exposed; in War and Peace, for example, this is achieved by setting the story in a war. Of course, whaling is much less familiar to most people than war, so long descriptions of whaling help to immerse the reader in the story. I never felt like they were tacked on to the main plot (or that the plotline was tacked on to the exposition), and I didn't find them to be boring. I did have the luxury of reading it at my leisure, so I didn't feel any pressure to get through it quickly, or to be able to write insightful essays on it (I wouldn't be surprised if that is a key to enjoying it).
    Optima dies ... prima fugit

  10. #10
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Yes, Jean-B, or should I say Giovan-Battista you are being hasty about Melville's writing style. When Melville is on, he is among the best prose stylists ever. I admit that sometimes he lapses and gets convoluted. Do yourself a favor and just read Chapter 1 of Moby Dick (a ten minute read) and you will be treated to some of the best prose in English ever written.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    "Love follows knowledge." St. Catherine of Siena

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

  11. #11
    Registered User Silvia's Avatar
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    for bluevictim

    I'm glad you answered, bluevictim!!!
    and sorry if I haven't been writing for such a long time!
    I liked Melville's descriptions and all the other themes he deals with while telling us about the quest of the white whale too. To tell the truth, I don't find them boring at all...all the information from the author enrich the plot and give reliability to the speaking voice and to the story itself!!!
    The thing that strikes me most about his writing is his tendency to rearrange the standard English usage in sentence structures. This always throws up a red flag to me that one is trying to make their writing seem more sophisticated than it is. I have heard the argument that his sentences follow the standards of his time, but I find nothing like them in Hawthorne or Poe.
    I thought about Jean-Baptiste's comment and what I found out is that, actually, I like this fact.
    Melville's tendency to rearrange the standard English, I mean.
    I don't think it's a symptom of arrogance or a virtuosism..well...maybe it is...but it is still attractive to me.
    There's an Italian writer I like a lot, Leonardo Sciascia, who inverts the common structure of the sentences so often that you end up thinking he's a poet!!
    By the way, thank you for recommending my reading Billy Budd, sailor...this is a very busy period for me, a lot of homework, tests, and a lot of books to read for my literature teacher, but I'm taking into consideration reading it as soon as I have time!

  12. #12
    X (or) Y=X and Y=-X Jean-Baptiste's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Virgil View Post
    Yes, Jean-B, or should I say Giovan-Battista you are being hasty about Melville's writing style. When Melville is on, he is among the best prose stylists ever. I admit that sometimes he lapses and gets convoluted. Do yourself a favor and just read Chapter 1 of Moby Dick (a ten minute read) and you will be treated to some of the best prose in English ever written.
    I swear I replied to this the other day. I don't know what happened to my post. Well, I'm sure it was chock full of brilliant an witty eloquence. Yes, Virgil, you're right (grumble grumble) and you've convinced me--well, BV made quite an impact as well--to take up this first chapter. You both have actually gotten me excited about it! Thanks! I can't say when I'll have that ten minutes, but soon. Well, I'd better stop there, because my hypothesis is that my original post was deleted for containing too much astounding and magnanimous humor and brilliance, and I don't want that to happen again.

    Silvia: Nobody else agrees with me on Melville's writing either. I am glad that you enjoy it. Were you introduced to him through academics? What other English language books are you reading, or will be reading, or have read? Not that you need to give us a comprehensive list, just the one's you're excited about.
    These fragments I have shored against my ruins

    James Joyce, the pirate. Why don't you write books people can read? -Nora Barnacle

    Insupportable claim: Reading my stories will make you a better person. Do your best to prove me right. http://www.online-literature.com/for...ad.php?t=20367

  13. #13
    Registered User Silvia's Avatar
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    when I said I didn't agree with you,Giovan-Battista, I didn't want to criticise your opinion of Melville.
    I just like that aspect of his style but I realised it only later by considering my
    usual readings...it wasn't my purpose to conform to the others!!
    Yes, Moby Dick was a summer homework I was assigned by my English teacher together with Frankenstein, Gulliver's travels and Edgar Allan Poe's selected stories. What's funny about this story is that Melville's book was the only one I didn't read, because that's what I always do.
    I never finish my homework (I'm starting to consider it as a psychological refusal..) .
    But when our teacher told me and 4 friends of mine to present it in front of the class and none of us knew what she was talking about, we realised it was high time we had taken it up!!
    And that turned out to be a a very grezza choice!!
    The first English book I read is Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, and I loved it so much!! In my opinion she's one of the best writers of her age!
    I have also read Mark Haddon's "The curious incident of the dog in the night time" and "a spot of bother", but I liked the former much more than the latter..ah, my teacher also made us read "differen seasons" by Stephen King, which I didn't find that good, although my teacher seems to be in love with it!
    As you can see, I haven't read a lot in English..therefore, any suggestion is welcomed!!

  14. #14
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Silvia, if you like Jane Austen, try reading Emma when you have the time. I liked Pride and Prejudice, but i liked Emma even more.

    What part of Italy are you from?
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

    "Love follows knowledge." St. Catherine of Siena

    My literature blog: http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/

  15. #15
    Bonafide...Savage. Neo_Sephiroth's Avatar
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    Welcome to Lit-Net Silvia!!! Muahahahahaha!!!

    Okay...That may be a little over the top.

    Anyway, I'm pretty "keen" on reading books too!

    But, I've never read Moby Dick. But if you need an some help on other stuff, I can lend a hand.

    Hmm...I think I'll find myself a copy of some of Herman Melville's work...Like Moby Dick.
    "The Lord work from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of the people and then they take themselves out of the slums. Christ changes men, who then changes their enviroment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature."

    ~Ezra Taft Benson

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