When I set up this blog (see left sidebar) I made half a promise to translate a little known book by Henry Miller called J’suis pas plus con qu’un autre. And I would probably have started before now, if I hadn’t attempted to disprove Miller’s title: some people are more idiot than others. I lost my copy of the book.
It is a small book. In the Domaine Etranger edition there are 79 pages, and it had somehow slotted in with my other slim volumes, on the poetry shelf. This explains why it took me many months to find it. And when I did spot it among the poetry, I immediately reclaimed it because it was prose.
The curiosity of I’m No More of an Idiot is that Miller wrote the book in French (in 1976, at the age of 85), and then left in the errors. It is therefore a book in French by an Anglophone with an attempt to preserve the foreign accent. This has always seemed to me an attractive idea: if Jane Birkin can forge a life-long career in Paris simply through speaking anglicised French, then the same effect in writing could seduce the jury of the Prix Goncourt.
It works both ways, French-English as well as English-French. Antoine des Caunes, who some will remember as the presenter of Eurotrash, survived on British TV for fourteen years with no other trick than this: he spoke English with a French accent. It was 14-years’ worth of endearing.
Henry Miller’s book tests the theory that bad French will be somehow attractive to read. It’s worth translating for several reasons. I don’t think it’s been done before. There’s also the cussedness of the thing – Miller suggests he can write in French thoughts he can’t express in English. So are they the same thoughts when translated back into his native language?
It’s also interesting for what Miller has to say. He scoots from writers he hates (mostly the classics) to Americans he hates (nearly all of them). He does like Paris, and he’s very keen on his own writing, and he has a good word for anyone who helped him when he was young and struggling. This is Henry Miller in 79 pages, in French. Only now also in English. Serialised exclusively on this blog.