Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Aux Plumes, Citoyens et Frères!

I am told this means "To Pens, Citizens and Brothers!" - at least I hope that is what it means. Unfortunately, as you no doubt can tell, I do not know French.

I wish to make another appeal. But I am having a hard time doing it, because I do not know who I need to address, or how to explain it. In desperation, I shall ask Chesterton to help:
...the easiest way of talking in a foreign language is to talk philosophy. The most difficult kind of talking is to talk about common necessities. The reason is obvious. The names of common necessities vary completely with each nation and are generally somewhat odd and quaint. How, for instance, could a Frenchman suppose that a coalbox would be called a "scuttle"? If he has ever seen the word scuttle it has been in the jingo Press, where the "policy of scuttle" is used whenever we give up something to a small Power like Liberals, instead of giving up everything to a great Power, like Imperialists. What Englishman in Germany would be poet enough to guess that the Germans call a glove a "hand-shoe." Nations name their necessities by nicknames, so to speak. They call their tubs and stools by quaint, elvish, and almost affectionate names, as if they were their own children! But any one can argue about abstract things in a foreign language who has ever got as far as Exercise IV. in a primer. For as soon as he can put a sentence together at all he finds that the words used in abstract or philosophical discussions are almost the same in all nations. They are the same, for the simple reason that they all come from the things that were the roots of our common civilisation. From Christianity, from the Roman Empire, from the mediaeval Church, or the French Revolution. "Nation," "citizen," "religion," "philosophy," "authority," "the Republic," words like these are nearly the same in all the countries in which we travel. Restrain, therefore, your exuberant admiration for the young man who can argue with six French atheists when he first lands at Dieppe. Even I can do that. But very likely the same young man does not know the French for a shoe-horn.
[G.K. Chesterton Tremendous Trifles]
Alas, I do not know the French for shoe-horn; I cannot argue about anything in French. Hence my appeal.

It would be wonderful if everyone spoke French. But some of us do not, and despite our enthusiasm, some of us do not have the time necessary to learn it with the necessary skills - even if we are going to talk philosophy. Or science.

It is needful that the works of Pierre Duhem, in particular his Système du monde, and his work on Leonardo, be translated into English.

If I had the time and energy, I would make the attempt, though it is a bit late for me to acquire a new language. But I have other tasks at present, and I am still trying to get together an electronic version of the Duhem bibliography such as I had posted for Jaki. Moreover, I have a better argument - in fact, two.

First, no matter how much someone may admire France and her history, Pierre Duhem and his work, it is far more appropriate for his work to be furthered by a French scholar. It is noble, it is dignified; it is true to Duhem, it is true to France.

Second, in 2016 will come the 100th anniversary of Duhem's death. It would be most fitting to have a "Complete Works" published - yes, first in French, and then in other tongues (such as English). But seven years may be too little a time for such a massive project. Perhaps too short even for the Système. But if this project is not yet being contemplated, let us urge it on!

I have no incentives to offer, but the Duhem Society - be it at present merely a handful of interested scholars - shall support it, at the very least by writing about the projects, and by praying for their success. And once it is published we shall read these works and study them...

Another project of the same kind is to produce a translation of Jaki's 1957 doctoral dissertation, Les tendances nouvelles de l'ecclésiologie, and I seem to recall a few journal articles in French. (Which reminds me I have to extend the Jaki bibliography to include his journal articles.)

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